Interview: Bo Ningen

I did an interview with Taigen from Bo Ningen for MTV 81 in advance of their Japan tour, which starts in Osaka on Valentine’s Day. It went up over the weekend and you can have a read of it here.

The comment about “opening your third eye” that ended up in the headline was actually a bit sneaky, since I kind of fed him the line. We were chatting by text on Skype, which takes longer than speaking aloud but which reduces the chances for misinterpreting or misunderstanding something. The problem is that sometimes certain inflections get lost, so when Taigen talked about the six senses, he dropped the idea in so casually that I wasn’t sure if he’d just made a genuine error or if he was talking in psychedelic Juliancopespeak, like “Of course there are six senses… at least!” I pulled him up on it later and said something like, “Six senses?!? Is that like for opening the third eye or something?” and then he came back with the line that was published. Some readers may be shocked to hear that interview transcripts are not always faithful, word-for-word accounts of the exact conversation that occurred, but in this case, it seemed best to give him the benefit of the doubt rather than painstakingly recount a rather clumsy to-and-fro between interviewer and interviewee.

There’s a bit more stuff about idols in there. Bo Ningen have worked with Dempa Gumi inc. in the past, and they’re touring together with them and N’Shukugawa Boys in March, but I didn’t want to make too much of a deal about it this time. I think idol music brought something important and valuable to the indie/underground scene in that alternative musicians can sometimes take themselves a bit too seriously, and idol music does a good job of giving people a release from such self-imposed pressures, reminding people of what simple, anarchic fun can be. I think now though that idol music in the underground scene is kind of played out, or maybe it’s better to say that it’s done its job and that now it’s time for the indie scene to start remembering again what its own special points are.

That said, Taigen is one of the most articulate and insightful people in the alternative scene when it comes to discussing idol music, and while we don’t go into it in so much depth in the MTV interview, he’s one of the few proponents of idol music whose opinion I think is really worth listening to.

I got the impression that Bo Ningen are a bit ambivalent about their status in the fashion scene. He didn’t say anything directly, but I think their work ethic perhaps means that they tend to eagerly accept offers of work from a variety of sources, but that they’re aware that being too closely associated with the fashion scene can become a bit of an albatross for UK-based bands and so there was a kind of wariness when we talked about that aspect of the band’s work, as if he felt he needed to put a bit of distance between the band’s core identity and the way their image is being used by others.

It’s interesting that Sony Music Entertainment Japan have taken a punt on Bo Ningen, and we kind of joked about it in the interview. It’ll be interesting though, because on the one hand, Bo Ningen seem like fairly aware, independent-minded people, who are probably better-equipped temperamentally to deal with a major label than many Japanese underground types, but on the other hand, the clearer separation that exists in Japan between major and indie means that once a band is signed to someone like Sony, it becomes much more difficult for them to continue to play shows with some of the weirder and more interesting bands. This is a world where once a band signs to a major label, their earlier, indie releases get airbrushed out of their band history and their first major release becomes their official “debut”. Bo Ningen are in a slightly different position, since Sony are just licensing the album from their UK label, and their tours are still being organised by a guy with roots in the indie scene, but there will clearly be conflicting pressures on the group now, so it’ll be interesting to see how it plays out.

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