Z/nz finds the right kind of wrong on debut album

by Ian Martin

Special To The Japan Times

‘We were outside the station at Yahata in Kitakyushu and there was this festival going on — this group of old guys playing in a band with all these young people dancing. It was a strange scene — what kind of festival is this? That’s where the album title ‘Nanka Festa’ (‘Something Festival’) came from.”

Certain themes start reappearing while I’m talking with drummer Kenta Toya: confusion, disorientation and the sense of normality becoming subtly distorted or clouded. His Fukuoka-based avant-rock trio is named z/nz (pronounced “Zutto Nazo,” which translates as “Total Mystery”), and the unconventional twin-guitar dynamic of bandmates Risato “Tori” Fukumoto and Sachiko “Sassy” Matsumoto adds a sonic layer to the band’s sense of dislocation.

“I first saw (Tori and Sassy) in their previous band, Me I Sashimi,” Toya explains. “The way they were playing was all wrong from a conventional perspective,. They don’t know chords; they created their sound just from listening and then creating harmonies by ear.”

After Me I Sashimi disbanded, Toya joined Tori and Sassy on drums, developing their sound with his more traditional technical skills. In its current form, z/nz fuses the rhythmical dissonance of British experimental rock band This Heat with the distortion and noise of early Sonic Youth, albeit from a starting point that Toya succinctly summarizes as “wanting to do Fugazi.”

Z/nz worked with producer Hajime Yoshida, of underground anti-rock-scene pioneers Panicsmile, for its debut, and also released the album on Yoshida’s Headache Sounds label. However, the trio had difficulty recreating on record the particular balance of awkwardness and harmony that it effortlessly produces on stage.

“I laid down the drums in one day,” explains Toya, “but the guitars then took four months to get right.”

The resulting dynamic on “Nanka Festa” has a centerless quality to it, with each instrument playfully auditioning for a lead role none of them really want. They endlessly circle around each other in a way that becomes as hypnotic as it is wilfully rawboned and awkward.

Sometimes arriving at the right kind of wrong sound can be a rough journey, but at the end of it, z/nz can at least claim the invaluable prize of having come up with something distinctly theirs.

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