Tag Archives: group A

group A: 70 + a =

Group A’s Throbbing Gristle-influenced industrial synth-noise as always grown hand-in-hand with their arresting, conceptual live performances, making albums difficult artefacts to assess. From their noisy debut A in 2013 to the same year’s follow-up Initiation, there was a clear progression though, and their new third album, 70 + a = is a further step forward.

Group A’s music always operated in the realm of minimalism, but they now wield the same limited range of tools with greater assurance and control, not to mention greater musicality. Sayaka’s violin, which used to be limited to harsh, scraping atmospherics now on tracks like We Are Surveyors (Ver.2) flirts with tone and melody – that’s not to say that her skill has grown (it was always very high) so much as that the rest of the music has advanced to the stage where it can support her.

That confidence also feeds into a newly assured approach to the minimalism and repetition that defines much of Group A’s sound, with the Yami -Saitei No Taisei- a simple, sparse opening track that resists the temptation to fill out the sound with noise – and ends up all the more atmospheric for its lack of atmospherics. The eight-and-a-half-minute Kikaika kicks off with a similarly sparse approach, but demonstrates Group A’s growing accomplishment with deploying small shifts in the sonic layers to dynamic effect, its minimal synthpop bass gradually overwhelmed by a building cacophony of samples.

Dynamics and discord will only get you so far though, and on 70 + a = Group A also surprise by showing a nascent talent in more straightforward aspects of songwriting. Labyrinth may take the form of an abstract drone, but its superficially amorphous structure gradually reveals an Enoesque, Velvetsy ebb and flow that goes beyond soundscapery. Somewhere in its black mechanical heart Suffocated is an actual for real pop song – in the early ‘80s French minimal wave KaS Product sense at least.

While Group A undoubtedly remain in thrall to their impeccably cool influences, 70 + a = also shows a group continuing to push their own creative envelope. Over the relatively short period since their 2013 debut, they have grown from a wild, raucous live conceptual art experience into something far more musical, and they don’t appear to be slowing down.

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group A: Initiation – mixed by Tom Furse (The Horrors)

Whatever you think about The Horrors’ own music (and some people really hate it, or at least pretend to to make a point), you’ve got to admit they have impeccable taste in the music they like. Group A exist at a rawer, more avant-garde location in roughly the same postpunk/kraut/industrial taste spectrum that The Horrors seem to occupy, so despite the obvious differences in how the two groups sound, the sensibility that they share ensures that shifting things a little bit one way or another maintains a sort of thematic consistency.

Group A’s original Initiation is a stark, metallic, minimal Throbbing Gristle pastiche, but in this remix, Tom Furse of The Horrors softens that somewhat, making the vocals clearer and adding a bouncy, if still menacing, synth bass. To say that this remix is poppier than the original says more about Group A’s own version than it does about Furse’s take on the track, which is thicker but still functions as a relentless early 80s-style synth-EBM drone. With her voice emerging from the back of the cavern of reverb that it had previously occupied, Tommi is here present as a sort of sneering cockney punk. The overall function is to bring the song up closer to the listener, more insistent than insidious, but also with an obvious understanding of and respect for what the original was trying to achieve.

The track will be available to download for free for a few more days and there’s apparently more to come, so keep an eye out.

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Diary of a Japan tour part 11: March 29th at Higashi Koenji 20000V/Ni-man Den-atsu – FINAL SHOW

20000V goes by the name Ni-man Den-atsu now in its new location for contractual reasons, but true believers know what it's really called.

20000V goes by the name Ni-man Den-atsu now in its new location for contractual reasons, but true believers know what it’s really called.

The final date of the tour was a show I had organised myself with the help of Tsuchi from synth-punk lunatics Jebiotto. As the final show, and as the official Tokyo release party, this was one I needed both to go off with a bang and bring in a properly big crowd. The shows leading up to it had all been good one way or another, most of them had been fantastic, and some of them — in particular the secret show at Koenji Ten, the Friday night in Fukuoka and the wonderful little show in Takamatsu — had been truly, truly sublime experiences. I was nervous.

Doing the opening night on a Wednesday in Tokyo and doing the only other Tokyo show as a secret gig had been in part an attempt to ensure that the greater part of N’toko’s audience was funnelled into this one show, and the decision to space out the two openly promoted shows at opposite ends of the tour was an attempt to avoid Slovenian rap fatigue in audiences and make sure as many people from the first date came back for the final one.

In terms of the bands, I had hoped to get a reasonably well-known name on the bill, but that’s a dangerous area. Once you start trying to book “name” acts, you’re paying the bands in addition to the venue — yes, I’m one of those shitty promoters who doesn’t always pay bands — which often means given the limited size of the venues and the limited reach of underground music anyway, you’re forced to increase the price for the people who do come rather than radically increase the audience. At best it’s a balancing act, where you have to book the right bands together with the “name” act because “name” acts rarely do anything to promote shows themselves, which means the way they bring benefit is more through acting as a booster to the other bands playing. Put simply, any audience Melt banana will bring themselves will likely be cancelled out by the cost of paying Melt Banana to play, but more Jebiotto fans will come if Melt Banana are on the bill. This can work, but it also means that you’re paying one band simply for being themselves, while you’re not able to pay other bands who are actually the ones whose fans are making the event such a success. I’ve been willing to do this in the past, but only for the right band, and this time round, I just couldn’t find the right band, so instead I went with people I liked and trusted, crossed my fingers and hoped.

The balance of artists was just about perfect for what I was trying to do though. Jebiotto were down from the start, and their brand of manic, synth-based punk/new wave was ideal, feeding into N’toko’s industrial side while at the same time anchoring the event in venue 20000V’s underground punk ethos. Tsuchi from Jebiotto brought in Dubideb, a techno-industrial noise duo featuring Ataraw Mochizuki from Groundcover. (also the manager of 20000V) and drummer Yana from Numbs, who also plays support drums with Jebiotto on occasion. It was the first time I’d seen them, but they blew the room apart from the get-go and were probably N’toko’s favourite band of the entire tour.Mukokyuu Kakokyuu Shinkokyuu digest (intro by YMO)

Takashi Nakayama, punk rock god.

Takashi Nakayama, punk rock god.

Next was Mukokyuu Kakokyuu Shinkokyuu, a postpunk/new wave orchestra in a definitively Japanese mould, taking cues from the Plastics and P-Model. The band’s leader Takashi Nakayama had worked with me before through his previous bands Skyfisher and Labsick Man-machine Remix, but Mukokyuu Kakokyuu Shinkokyuu was him at his best, all hyperactive pop melodies delivered with fierce, postpunk intensity, with added balloon animals.

Tommi Tokyo from group A.

Tommi Tokyo from group A.

group A were one of the first bands I booked for the show, and they were nervous before going on. They have a tendency to strip half naked and paint themselves white onstage but both members had needed to rush to the venue from other engagements and in the process had forgotten some of their stage gear. They went on in pants and t-shirts like primary school kids who’d forgotten their gym kit, and put in the most furious, raw performance I’ve ever seen them do, vocalist Tommi Tokyo channelling Genesis P Orridge at his most intense. When a band relies on a constructed stage image, that image can often become armour behind which the band hides, and I think that’s what happens a bit with group A. Here, clothed, they felt more stripped bare than they ever had naked.Jebiotto: AxNxC

Tsuchi from Jebiotto: Pop Zeus

Tsuchi from Jebiotto: Pop Zeus

Jebiotto might have had a hard time following such a powerful set, but they always have something in reserve and threw themselves into their set with reckless abandon, getting things whipped into a frenzy that peaked during N’toko’s headlining set. Where he could easily have done an encore in Takamatsu but shied away from indulging himself, here he let it all out and sent the room wild in a way that compared with the tiny, cramped experience of Koenji Ten on the 16th but which he carried off this time with a much bigger crowd. Throughout the tour, he and I had been binging on standup videos by the British comedian Stewart Lee, and through his work, deconstructing the art of performance to the point that by the end of the tour, N’toko was eager to start incorporating Lee’s lessons into his own shows. You could see that a little in this show, where he started his set by pre-narrating what he was going to do with his set, trivialising and diminishing the tricks he was going to play before hitting you with them every bit as effectively as if they had been delivered to you blind. At the end of the set, he started a song using an unfamiliar beat before sighing and saying, “Oh, you all know what song this is going to be,” flicking a switch and letting it turn into his theme song of sorts N’toko ne Obstaja. There are a lot of themes in common between Lee’s comedy and N’toko’s most recent Mind Business album, in that both artists play this slightly confused-seeming satire of themselves, seeking to reject and place themselves above commercialism and mocking themselves for having this attitude, and in both their work, there’s a sort of carefully constructed desperation of someone frantically pursuing relevance but not quite being able to make it work.N’toko: Minor Celebrity

So it was a bigger success than I could ever have hoped for and despite all the amazing shows that had preceded it, it was the highlight of the tour and one of the best shows I’ve ever seen. There’s an enormous pleasure in setting up an event and then sort of hitting “play” and seeing it roll along on its own wheels, like seeing a child walk for the first time or watching a meticulously constructed arrangement of dominoes tumble in sequence. It left me exhausted though, not wanting to do another event for the forseeable future. It was so good, I just wanted to stop there.

It also meant time had come for counting out the costs and income of the tour. After taking into account all transport and hotel costs, deducting some of my wife’s and my costs in Kyushu that came under “family holiday” expenses, we had come out of the tour with a small profit. This is obviously absolutely nothing in commercial terms: my 50% share of that profit is what I might drink in one evening while on the road, and N’toko’s share accounted for perhaps 10% of his plane ticket, but there was something psychologically satisfying about having gone through eleven gigs in the Japanese live house system and taken out more than you put in, even if that figure can only be gleaned from calculations that operate within severely constrained parameters.

Modest, qualified success.

Modest, qualified success.

Still, that was for a three week tour with one solo musician and a tour manager. I occasionally get mails from bands wanting to tour or sell their music in Japan, and I used to politely explain to them that I wasn’t a big enough operation to help them. Now I just ignore them, and this is why. Take that modest, qualified success, make it a band of three people and that figure immediately becomes an enormous loss — all that we achieved on tour in March evaporates upon contact with anything resembling an actual band.

That doesn’t detract from the wonderful feeling of achievement that came from pulling it off though, and in particular from the incredible people who made it happen. Tomo from Style Band Tokyo, DJ Rally, Kouhei from Come To My Party/Servals, Joe from VVDBLK, Eric and Julien from Lo-shi/Tententen, Ryota from Kumamoto Navaro, Harajiri from Fukuoka Utero, Iguz from Futtachi, Yoshida from Rag-G, Masumi from Miu Mau/Coet Cocoeh, Tsuchi from Jebiotto and Mochizuki and Ishida from 20000V. To that list, we could add Ayako and many others who I don’t even know, who designed flyers and helped promote the shows, plus more than a hundred musicians, some of whom had their own staff and drivers, nearly all of whom worked unpaid or for minimal fees to do something simply because it was artistically valuable. I salute them all.

Thank you!

Thank you!


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Call And Response Records — Appendix

As an appendix to the series of posts on the release history of my Call And Response Records label which started here, I’m just going to add a few more comments and thoughts.

First up, you’ll notice that the catalogue numbers often skip a few (and actually it doesn’t show here but in some cases are out of sequence). The reason for this is that some releases are free downloads or private CD/Rs and things that I chose to pass over in favour of the CDs I pressed and released professionally. They also sometimes fall out of sequence because I’m disorganised and sometimes things get delayed and something else slips into the gap. Anyway, this isn’t a big deal, but just in case anyone was wondering why the N’toko album was CAR-77 but the Black Sabbath Paranoid covers compilation was CAR-75, it’s because CAR-76 hasn’t been released yet die to production delays (next month, maybe?)Jebiotto (live at Kichijoji Planet K)

Looking forward, there’s a Jebiotto album (the much-delayed CAR-76) in the works, and a new issue of Quit Your Band! gradually taking shape, with Slow-Marico on the accompanying CD. There are friends of the label also working on new albums that even if they’re not on Call And Response, I’ll certainly be loudly cheering on, with Iguz Souseki’s psychedelic post-Zibanchinka band Futtachi foremost among these. September 27th 2014 will also mark the ten-year anniversary of the first Clear And Refreshing live event, so there’s going to be a big party to celebrate that.

Finally, in a purely hypothetical exercise (the last one was too recent for it to really be worth doing another one right now), I’m going to talk a bit about what a new Call And Response compilation in the Dancing After 1AM/1-2-3-Go! mould might look like if I were to make one now.

Firstly and obviously since it was only a year and a half ago, a lot of bands would be the same. Futtachi, Hysteric Picnic, Hyacca, Mir, Slow-Marico and Jebiotto would be right at the top of my list of people I’d be mailing. However, there are some bands who were on DA1AM who are probably a bit too famous or at least operate in a slightly more professional milieu now — bands who wouldn’t really benefit from being on the album and who I’m not really doing stuff at live events with these days. She Talks Silence, Extruders and The Mornings for example are bands I still very highly regard, but who are kind of above my level now, and while I’m not opposed to getting in popular bands who work musically with what Call And Response does, there is a balance between that and finding out new stuff that I feel should tilt more towards the latter than the former.Umez: Lingering Dream

Bands that have come onto my radar over the past year and a bit and who I’d definitely be trying to get something from for this hypothetical CD include indiepop jangleteers DYGL, noise-pop duo Umez, industrial/EBM duo group A, Fukuoka electronic glitchgaze duo Deltas, jittery Saga punk trio Hakuchi, Krautrock-kayoukyoku three-piece Fancy Numnum, new wave/artpunkers Compact Club, and Tokyo postpunk band illmilliliter. The marvellous Buddy Girl and Mechanic, who I missed out on with DA1AM, would be well up there among my priorities too, while it would please me greatly to get original 1-2-3-go! band Usagi Spiral A back to do something as well.Hakuchi: Suttokodokkoi

As I say, I’m in no hurry to make another compilation, but I’m not short of stuff I’m still excited enough by to do something with. Anyway, back to regular posting after this. Your attention has been greatly appreciated.


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Top 20 Releases of 2013: No.18 – group A – Initiation

Group A only started in 2012 but the industrial duo have been eagerly documenting their developing sound with two albums released in 2013 demonstrating the group’s honing of their conceptual and musical aspects. While February’s A was a collection of the material they had been developing more or less on the fly for their early live sets, Initiation is more of a concept album, built around the image of a cult initiation (hence the title) and emphasising the repetitive and ritualistic elements of their music. The title track is built around a tinny drum machine and a mantric chant, but as the album progresses it builds in buzzing, rough-edged EBM synths, eerie, heavily effected violin, and washes and waves of distortion, climaxing with the kosmische brain-trip of Trance and the postpunk/no wave-influenced Sioux. Initiation is a milestone in an extraordinarily rapid period of burgeoning artistic maturity and growth for this duo and while the live performance still retains more visceral power, Group A are now grappling with the album format with a confidence and conceptual development that few of their peers ever reach.

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Strange Boutique (December 2013 Appendix): Five bands to watch in 2014

The other thing The Japan Times and I try to do every year is pick up five new or newish bands to watch over the forthcoming year, and this year there are five that I’m genuinely very excited about. Read my comments on the bands on The Japan Times’ web site here, and have a listen below:

1. DYGL — Really so hard to write about this band. They headlined my label’s anniversary party this autumn and they drove people crazy. I tend to go for edgy, arty, angular postpunk bands, but sometimes I just want something full of beauty and passion. I also like how the central riff of this song is the same as the theme from Twin Peaks.DYGL: Let’s Get Into Your Car

2. Sayuu — I’ve written about them on this site a couple of times this year. I first heard about them from Naoki from Tacobonds in January when he said there’s this very “Ian-type” new band that I should check out. He was right.Sayuu: Nakunaranai

3. Hearsays — I’ve never seen this band, but they’re one that my friends in Fukuoka couldn’t stop going on about this year. Similar genre to DYGL but very different atmosphere. I mention The Blind in the JT piece, and I think it might be my song of the year.

4. group A — Anything that sounds as much like Throbbing Gristle as this lot do is always going to be worth listening to, but it was after speaking to them and hearing about how they approach their music that it really started to come together for me.

5. Compact Club — I’m crazy about early 80s Japanese new wave and postpunk, and this group combine into one band almost everything I like from that period, plus their live shows are really fun. I’ve always liked Polysics fine but never really loved them because they were always too clean and polished, they look like craftsmen doing a job, but (and I know this is heresy for a lot of their fans) for all their spazzing about, there seems so little genuine energy to it. Compact Club aren’t as good musicians, but they’re plenty good enough, and they feel right to me in a way Polysics never have.Compact Club: Roommate


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Interview: group A

I’ve been doing quite a lot of interviews lately, but this is the last one for a while. There’s a Q&A on MTV 81with Group A (officially stylised as “group A” but on these pages proper English grammar rules apply unless I otherwise say so).

Group A are relatively new and the interview backs up something I’ve suspected, which is that from fairly messy, arty and conceptual roots, they’ve rapidly grown musically, and they’ve done it largely through just forcing themselves into positions where they needed to get better quickly. There’s an admirable hunger to them, although the case with ambitious bands like that is that they find a point two or three years down the line where there is nowhere the scene is really structured to allow them to go, where they’re popular enough that they feel they’ve outgrown their scene peers, but there’s no place for them on the next rung up. Some try to break out by going overseas, but there’s no money in that unless you’re Melt Banana or Acid Mothers Temple, and some try to break the glass ceiling by making nice with those still in control of the levers of power, although if you’re making DAF/Neubauten/Throbbing Gristle-style industrial noise with violins, there are relatively few openings for bands like that in major label rosters. At the rate Group A are growing, however, they’re probably going to find themselves in a position like that sooner rather than later, so how they deal with it’ll be important.

Anyway, it was an interesting interview and they’re interesting people. All the stuff about stone circles and things it’s hard to tell how seriously they take it: sometimes they sounded genuinely cosmically inclined, whereas other times they seemed to have a more of a conceptual handle on it. Anyone whose heard the stuff Julian Cope did on the none-more-pagan Jehovahkill (or recorded naked inside ancient burial mounds) would have to admit that at least the cultural associations we’ve layered onto stones of various kinds can have a power of their own, even if the mystical aspects are clearly bollocks.

The stuff about the creative process and how they scraped the band together out of a sheer desire to do something and then worked it up into the genuinely quite impressive band they are now was the bit I found most interesting. The  fact that they were really eager to talk about their music and go into detail about it really helped as well, which might have been down to them coming from an art & design background. In any case, far too many bands seem completely uninterested in examining their own art, and so uncurious about what they themselves are doing that it’s quite refreshing to speak to a new band who are so enthusiastic about their own art.

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