Reviewed by: Josh Meggitt
Reviewed: 22 November, 2005
Venue: 93 Feet East, Brick Lane, London
It was certainly audacious of Yoshida, Tsuyuma and Kawabata, as well as ironic, to label this event as “Japanese New Music Festival’, consisting as it did of performances only by these three musicians. Yet audacity, irony and restless invention are what these artists possess in abundance. On paper the Festival looked extensive and bona fide, with seven acts on the bill, all of which were solo, duets or trios comprising Yoshida, Tsuyuma and Kawabata. All three perform on a variety of instruments (electric guitar, electric bass, drums, flute, violin, electronics and all manner of handmade contraptions) and sing (and also howl, whistle, scream – or in Tsuyuma’s case, throat-sing), and their genre experiments fuse jazz, folk, chant, pop, punk and minimalism with psychedelic rock and shamanistic performance.
Duo Shrinp Wark was onstage as I arrived, creating a maelstrom of noise from Kawabata’s electric guitar and Yoshida’s drums. Seeming freely improvised and taking no pauses for breath, Shrinp Wark was intent on generating masses of blind rock aggression while avoiding any semblance of form or rhythm normally associated with rock music. It was a self-conscious mess with little to grab onto, but it finished quickly with Tsuyuma joining for Zubi Zuva X, an a cappella trio. Tsuyuma led the show with Mongolian throat-singing as the three sung forth their band name and mantra high and low, smooth and rough, and with classical references coupled with hardcore screech in a ridiculous but enjoyable set of performances.
After a short interval Yoshida was back behind the drums for Ruins Alone, once a drum and bass power-duo (Ruins) but now a solo project with sampled bass. Ruins Alone matched Shrinp Wark for intensity but was entirely composed. Roots firmly in mathematical progressive rock, endless time changes, and a similar reluctance to settle into patterns, found bass and drums welded together. Yoshida effortlessly matched every subtle and relentless change instigated by the bass while finding time to shout out bursts of incomprehensible lyrics.
Yoshida left Tsuyuma and Kawabata to Zoffy and a chance to indulge in playing covers of classic rock songs. Tsuyuma let down his hair to look ‘British rock style’ before deconstructing a number of “very, very famous songs” in various stylistic experiments. First and most memorable was Black Sabbath’s “Smoke on the Water” in the style of Bob Dylan, played hideously out of tune. Tsuyuma delivered an admirably lazy Dylan drawl. A similarly riotous Mongolian version of Led Zeppelin followed, with Kawabata sawing away badly on violin besides Tsuyuma’s throat-singing.
Acid Mothers Temple SWR followed, “the greatest, most extreme trip psychedelic group in the world”. Comprising Kawabata on lead guitar, Tsuyuma on rhythm guitar and Yoshida on drums, AMTSWR is a difficult group to ignore. Situated between the freeform chaos of Shrinp Wark and tight rigidity of Ruins Alone, Acid Mothers is concerned most closely with exploring the history and image of rock music. Kawabata appears the archetypal rock guitar hero, all sweaty long-black-hair and macho posturing. He takes the spotlight with wailing guitar solos, yet his playing is intentionally non-virtuoso, relying more on a contemporary awareness of producing ‘sound’ rather than ‘licks’. They are very much an ironic rock group, fusing sixties psychedelia with subsequent musical developments – punk, heavy metal, free jazz – and utilising all the obvious tropes to produce a spellbinding ‘Rock Show’. Tsuyuma even smashed his guitar, throwing it into the audience in a gesture of either contrived mannerism or absurd desperation.
The mood was hilariously switched for the final number with ‘the three’ being joined by a flautist for something derived from 1980s’ television soundtracks. Unashamedly trashy and tasteless, this final trip into cheesy cop-show funk consolidated the three as masters of pillaging of music’s rich, varied and occasionally embarrassing history.