Tag Archives: Melt-Banana

Interview: The Bathhouse Show

For those of you in Tokyo tomorrow (Saturday, February 13th), I recently did an interview with Ella Krivanek and Dorothy Siemens, who have put on this fascinating looking free art and music event at an abandoned bathhouse. The event features Melt-Banana and Hikashu, who are two of the best bands in Japan, as well as relative newcomers The Fin and The Boys Age, so get on down there early and check it out.

Here’s the interview in The Japan Times, so please check that out.

Because of the limited space, there was a lot of fascinating stuff that I just couldn’t include. Obviously as a music writer, the musical aspect of the event was the angle that I approach this from, although the event is clearly designed so that the art and music interact conceptually in various ways. As the person in charge of the music, I was particularly interested in some of what Siemens explained about how the music functions as art and how the borders artforms can be crossed, subverted or blurred.

“I was interested in getting bands that bridged a certain gap between art and music,” Siemens explained, “Koichi Makigami from Hikashu also works as a sound artist, and Melt-Banana have broken a lot of barriers – there’s a juxtaposition there in the whole descriptor of ‘noise music.’ Meanwhile Boys Age make music out of their bedroom – it’s very DIY and it’s very immediate.”

In the context of my travels around Japan and my interest in the relationship between music and the place in which it happens, this event touched on a lot of themes that I find interesting as well. I remarked on the way smaller towns and more remote areas push different kinds of stuff together that would never usually interact in Tokyo, and how this often leads to more interesting, unexpected or imaginative work as a virtue of necessity.

“The most exciting projects have taken place outside Tokyo,” agreed Krivanek, “There’s a side of it that says because there aren’t as many spaces, people have to make do with sharing space, but the other side is that they have the opportunity to do that because space isn’t nearly at such a premium, so you can rent physically bigger buildings. And people who are slightly weird in the countryside are drawn to one another regardless of whether they’re all fine artists or all musicians or whatever.”

There is also a sense that through this approach, it might be possible to point a way towards a new way of thinking about and doing music and art in Tokyo as well. In the music scene especially, I get the impression that some of the structures, like the live house system, are fraying at the edges, with people increasingly looking to alternative spaces to perform.

“There’s a need to look at new ways of doing things and beak out of these rigid structures of ‘this is how you become an artist or a musician’,” explained Siemens, “There are people who get sponsorship from galleries or sign to a major label, but that’s not the majority of people. It’s an opportunity to start a discussion in Tokyo about how we can do this in a new way, how we can create a new community of artists and musicians that support each other here in Tokyo.”

As Krivanek adds, “In terms of an intersection between fine art and music, I don’t think either that’s a new thing or something to be afraid of.”

This also brought to mind one of my pet concerns about music, which is the way that as it loses its value as a commercial product, it increasingly seems to be becoming subservient to lifestyle accessories and fashion, when really it deserves respect and consideration as an art in its own right. Perhaps aware of the near-Satanic position that one particular kind of goods holds in Call And Response Records demonology, this point kicked off a little exchange that made me chuckle:

SIEMENS: “There are so many of these lifestyle-branded bands that come with the pins, the t-shirts, the mechandise…”

KRIVANEK: “The tote bags!”

SIEMENS: “We have this opportunity to pull music back into this conversation of exploring it as a fine art”

All of which I absolutely agree with (even if they were taking the piss out of my irrational disdain for poor, innocent tote bags a bit).

Another related point we discussed was the way they decided to keep enough of a separation between between the musicians and fine artists, so that each has the space to be considered in their own right rather than as simply a soundtrack to the art or a visual accompaniment to the music. However, Krivanek and Siemens are intrigued by the possibilities this juxtaposition might open up in terms of what visitors take with them from the music into the art and vice versa when travelling between areas. In any case, like I say, if you get a chance, check out the show.

The event page on Facebook is here, or on Tokyo Gig Guide here.

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Filed under Features, Live, Live previews

Top 20 Releases of 2013: No.1 – Melt Banana – Fetch

Fetch

CD, A-Zap, 2013

As I’ve already mentioned elsewhere, Melt Banana won 2013 for me with this short, sweet thirty-minute rocket of an album. The group, now a duo, are able to use the newly electronic rhythm section to expand their blizzard of beats, effects and feedback into new territories and that freedom is apparent in the range of ideas they manage to incorporate into the otherwise limited form of the two-minute punk song. That Melt Banana are able to find anything new to say in the form after so many years is testament to their tireless capacity for invention and reinvention, their mastery of composition and structure, and Agata’s total command over the exhaustive range of sounds he is able to wrestle out of his guitar.Melt Banana: The Hive

Of the descriptors most often thrown at Melt Banana, bubblegum and hardcore are often inextricably linked, and it’s important to remember that in amongst their blast beats and layers of guitar noise, extremely catchy, poppy melodies often lurk. Schemes of the Tails is striking every bit as much for its melody as for its rhythmical structure, and The Hive is a joyously fun punk-pop nugget. Much has been made of their decision to throw a curveball at the end by closing with the disco-punk Zero, but from the opening shoegaze chords of Candy Gun and running through the entire album there’s a willingness to play around and incorporate any styles, ideas and effects that sound good in service of the greater spazzy musical delight, which is why from start to finish, Fetch fills you with joy and excitement, and why it’s 2013’s album of the year.

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Japan Times albums of the year

I’ll be posting a definitive list of my personal choices in the new year, but as a taster, last week Clear And Refreshing contributor Ryotaro Aoki and I joined James Hadfield, Mike Sunda and Patrick St. Michel in The Japan Times to talk about our favourite Japanese albums of 2013.

First up, my choices will perhaps not be much of a surprise to any regular readers of this blog, with Melt Banana’s Fetch taking top place among my recommendations. I suspect that under other circumstances, Ryotaro might have made the same pick, but instead he went with heavy riffsters Church of Misery’s Thy Kingdom Scum, which given that Ryotaro and I review all albums in our Quit Your Band! zine on something called the “Sabbath Scale” is a choice I am more than happy to endorse.Church of Misery: Brother Bishop

Patrick’s beat is pop, so he went with Kyary Pamyu Pamyu’s Nanda Collection. Kyary has always been my least favourite of Yasutaka Nakata’s musical projects, and I found Nanda Collection a difficult and pretty intense listen despite not actually disliking anything on it in particular. I don’t like to shy away from challenging music though, and it’s an album rich in musical ideas that pushes them further than Kyary’s earlier releases, so it may yet make my Top 20 of the year (although probably somewhere behind the top notch 2013 releases from Perfume and Capsule). Mike’s choice of Sappire Slows’ Allegoria ensured that the JT bests represented the woozy cut & paste bedroom electronic pop that seems to be everywhere these days. She’s certainly very good at it, although whether she’s one of the best is hard to tell since there really is so much of it. I might have gone with Jesse Ruins over this, but that may be more down to my 80s synth bias and not having spent enough time with the album I can’t really say. Definitely a worthy addition to the selection though. James Hadfield, who I do the monthly Fashion Crisis party with in Koenji, went with Yosi Hosikawa’s Vapor, which I must admit not having heard but James has impeccable taste and what I have heard from the album is marvellous.Yosi Horikawa: Stars

Note: If you’re running up against The Japan Times’ new paywall by clicking all these links, just register for free (they won’t spam you) and you get access to 20 articles a month, which will likely be more than you’ll ever need from this blog.

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Interview: Melt-Banana

Last month I met up with Melt-Banana to talk with them about their new album Fetch, the challenges of reconfiguring themselves as a duo, and an assortment of pop culture curiosities. I was joined by my comrade and CAR contributor Ryotaro Aoki and you can read the Japan Times feature I wrote here, and a full transcript of the interview over on Ryotaro’s blog here.

On the album, it’s been getting a lot of good press, and deservedly so because it’s a terrific record. Short, fierce, playful, boatloads of fun, and packed with exciting, cool little moments. As you might be able to glean from the interview, it’s an album that hangs a little between the familiar, chirrup-and-skree Melt-Banana way of doing things and the possibilities opened up for them by being able to go anywhere they like with the beats.

There’s not much more I think I need to add here, so just have a listen to The Hive again and get your hands on one of the albums of the year right away.Melt-Banana: The Hive

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Guardian Song of the Week: Melt-Banana, “The Hive”

This week’s pickup for The Guardian’s music from around the world guest blogging series is the triumphant comeback of one of the premier acts in the Japanese underground.


Melt-Banana: The Hive

Any connoisseur of Japanese underground music will be familiar with Melt-Banana. Going 20 years strong, they have managed to gather a cult-following around the world, thanks to touring Europe and the States relentlessly, with luminaries such as Mike Patton, John Peel, and Tool as part of their legion of loyal fans.

The band triumphantly return this week with Fetch, their eighth studio album. Now touring as a duo, they’ve come a long way from their Steve Albini-produced, tinnitus-inducing cacophony of their early days, with now a heavy emphasis on electronics and danceable beats (and still just as loud as ever).

“The Hive” is the lead track from Fetch, and has everything you would expect from a Melt-Banana track, and then some. Guitarist Agata’s sounds seem to be beamed down from space, the line between guitar riffs and samples becoming more blurred than ever – music pundits claiming the guitar to be dead should take a few notes. Vocalist Yako provides the searing track with a poppy, sing-along melody, until delivering the goods with the meticulous precision she’s become known for.

Fetch is a culmination of a band who has been through everything – from a constantly rotating roster of drummers, running over deer while on tour in America, and earthquakes and nuclear melt-downs. Don’t let the slimmed down line-up fool you; this is the tightest, most daring the band has ever been.

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Filed under Guardian new music blog, Reviews, Track