The music I've been posting in the anime thread has inspired me to write a little something about Japanese noise rock from the 80s and 90s. So here. Kinda TL;DR, but hey.
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The Kansai Scene. A truly magical time in Japanese underground music, from the mid 80s until the mid 90s. Boredoms and eYe led the way of course, but one should never forget to honor the other members of the blessed trinity: the aforementioned Seiichi Yamamoto (Boredoms, Omoide Hatoba, Rovo, etc.) and the legendary Yoshimi P-Wee (OOIOO, Free Kitten, Saicobaba, etc.).
The headquarters for the movement was Osaka. The mutations that spawned from its public bathrooms and street corners mixed the exuberance and confrontational attitude of punk, the playful side of Japanese street culture, and brazenness of Osaka, and the trappings of Dadaism. Take a group like UFO or DIE. They'd travel around the city and put on performances in bathroom stalls, subway stations, public parks. Their instruments were themselves and whatever else they could get their hands on nearby. I recall an interview with eYe wherein the author describes him putting on a show while standing in a bathtub filled to the brim with toy instruments and trinketry.
Really, this sums it all up better than I ever could:
The mutation of Boredoms was constant, and really it was an encapsulated reflection of the entire scene's development. Super Roots, their collection of odds and ends published on successive CD releases, chronicled it all. They went from Three Stooges to Iggy and the Stooges, cut-up pastiche to marathon rock-runners. Then Super Roots 6 came, and for a brief time they transcended everything earthly to become the official band of dreamworld, channeling This Heat and all that motorik-rhythmic krautrock goodness that came to this planet from the edges of the cosmos. All filtered through the glitchridden lenses of Fennesz. It all solidified through their Mekongs tribute album (Super Roots 7) and culminated with Super AE, an artifact which stands as my favorite Boredoms album and maybe my favorite album of the 90s. Period.
Everything got more 'psychedelic' after that. Terribly overused as the word 'psychedelic' is, it's convenient, but in this case it doesn't really fit the bill. As I've said elsewhere, psychedelia has to tap into a very specific mindset and isn't the synonym for "weird" people often make it out to be. What Boredoms did after Super AE didn't tap into that mindset, but rather surpassed it. There is no substance or experience of said substance that can be invoked here beyond the stuff of pure joy. Vision Creation Newsun is like some celebration of just being alive, of being able to detect vibrations and hear sound. It's all that excitement of the Kansai Scene, only collapsed inward for a brief moment and rarified, before exploding outward again in release.
Boredoms left this world for the sun, and lo the Kansai Scene was done.
The numerous offshoots, that big extended family that centered around the main band, branched off in different directions. OOIOO embraced the psychedelic fervor even more tightly, and Yoshimi ended up authoring some of the most beautiful eastern-influenced ballads of the last few decades:
Along with Saicobaba's On the Roof of Kedar Lodge, OOIOO's Gold & Green is just one of those timeless albums that manages to "get there" more than just about anything else of its ilk.
As for Seiichi Yamamoto, he had left the Boredoms mothership, though eYe still used samples of his guitar work as integral parts of his compositions. He released a very touching album under the heading of Omoide Hatoba entitled Osaka Ra. To me it seems like the album Boredoms would have released had they continued with their earlier sound, as an older band. It was a love letter to Osaka and the whole scene, with samples taken off the streets. It invoked the spirit of UFO or DIE but with all the care of a symphony hall performance.
eYe had always been very conscious about the experience behind music, in particular the relationship between performers and audience members. This goes all the way back to his Hanatarash days when he'd throw barrels at people and plowed through the back wall of a club using a questionably procured piece of construction equipment. It's this relationship that speaks for the whole scene largely and cuts right to the heart of it all. More recently, eYe has been exploring this through his art exhibits and performances as a DJ.
Really DJ culture seems to go hand-in-hand with what Boredoms had always been about. When he finally returned to Earth after a post Newsun hiatus, what I can only imagine to be a sojourn around the universe, eYe began to enact his "cosmic turntable" theory. He jettisoned everything but a core group of four drummers. On top of their rhythmic tribal assault, he added samples and loops of Seiichi Yamamoto's achingly beautiful guitar work. The audience was to encircle the performers, directing their awareness toward a common central point. All of their movements---the side-to-side "scratching" that resulted from their dance---along with the positive energy from their enjoyment as spectators was to be focused inward. Direction.
Direction. For Boredoms, things seem to be heading in a direction that is a little hard to pin down right now. Hindsight will make things clearer once time has moved the pages away from our noses a bit, but for now it seems like a certain organic, living dance music is where eYe is headed. At least, in the realm of recorded media. Super Roots10 with its various remixes and interpretations is a very conscious tip of the hat to the notion of a recording's limitations. I maintained before that Boredoms have reached a stage---both literally and figuratively---where they can no longer be contained within the confines of recorded media. This is true of many bands, but here it goes further. The infamous BoaDrum concerts with seventy to eighty drummers all performing simultaneously is proof enough. When asked about the contents of a new record, eYe indicated that he was at a loss for what to put on one. Really all we can hope for are approximations, bits and pieces of a much richer whole.
And really, that has always been the case when it comes to the Kansai Scene. We've always been outsiders in one sense or another, always getting bits and pieces. The same legends and anecdotes have been handed down, and they've all come together to form a larger, beautiful mythos.
The history of contemporary music, particularly the 'underground' and various counter culture scenes, has always fascinated me. Japanese rock from the 60s onward has been a research subject of mine over the years, and really there's just so much under-the-radar stuff to celebrate.