Outside the Box
The Boredoms' iconic frontman EYE says musical
experimentation has its successes and its failures.
|l to r: Yojiro, Yoshimi,
As Japan begins to confront the downside of its conformist
culture, child crime, depression, and the uniquely Japanese
phenomenon of hikikomori (depressed young people who have
taken to holing up in their rooms) are issues of the moment.
But beyond the fringes of the mainstream, alternative forms
of expression such as Japan's thriving noise-music
community have long offered a healthier outlet for those who
don't fit the mold; and the contrast between its shaggy
practitioners and the cookie cutter Ayumi Hamazakis and Smaps
of the mainstream J-pop scene couldn't be more stark.
Among the bands that have emerged from Japan's noise-music
underground, none are more influential than Osaka's
Boredoms, who this year mark two decades of pushing the musical
Back in the early '90s, influential US alt-rock bands
Sonic Youth and Nirvana found inspiration in the visceral
shock of the Boredoms' anarchic performances, and used
their powers to get them signed to a major label record deal.
This period of worldwide exposure was capped by a tour with
the Lollapalooza festival in 1995.
But despite being subsequently dropped in the US by Reprise
and not having released a new album since 2001's electronica-influenced
Vision Creation Newsun, the Boredoms are still viewed as the
elder statesmen of noise-rock. Their cult following is dedicated,
their rare concerts always sell out, and Yamatsuka Eye, or
simply EYE as he is now known, has become a draw on his own
in his recent DJ incarnation.
Known for a volatile stage presence, EYE cuts a formidable
figure with his leonine head of dreadlocks and slightly manic
gaze. So it is with some trepidation that I sit down with
him following a DJ set before a recent Tokyo concert by Seattle's
experimental unit Critters Buggin'.
|"We put the drums
in the water and tried to play along with the sound of
Conversation naturally turns to the Boredoms' recent
activities-or seeming lack thereof-and it is
slightly unexpected to hear that the band still convenes once
a week for sessions in Osaka. Dropping its former, more conventional
rock instrumentation of guitar, bass and drums, the band,
now calling themselves the V∞REDOMS, perform occasionally
with EYE as DJ and effects manipulator and the other three
members arrayed around him playing drums.
A surprisingly sociable EYE says that the approach grew out
of a wish to upend the conventional rock concert experience
in which the band is on stage facing out towards the audience.
"What we really were aiming for was something like
in bon odori, in which the drummers are in the middle and
the audience dances around them in a circle."
He says that what they really would like to do is set up in
the middle of a concert hall with the audience around them,
but that they haven't yet found a hall that will accommodate
their wishes. As with many of EYE's unorthodox approaches,
which have included such undertakings as smashing an aquarium
on stage, the band has run up against the limits of the possible.
Their most recent attempt at recording, he explains, was a
disaster. Inspired by the sound of waves crashing on the shoreline
and thinking it sounded very much like a snare drum, he convinced
the Boredoms' domestic label Warner Japan to pay for
a mobile recording studio to set up by the ocean to record
them as they played the drums in what he envisioned would
be a conversation between the waves and percussion instruments.
"We put the drums in the water and tried to play along
with the sound of the waves. I thought if we recorded the
drums with the waves it would be magical. But it was a complete
failure. The drums got wet, and the owner got pissed off.
And because we were outside, the sound dissipated. It was
a difficult recording challenge and didn't work out
at all. The label was upset and won't pay for us to
do something like that again."
Notwithstanding such disappointments, however, EYE remains
undaunted in his efforts to push the boundaries of music.
Another ongoing project makes use of electronic sensors developed
by a friend at IBM that attach to the body to produce sounds
according to the body's movements. "Usually
one dances according to the music, but the premise of this
band reverses that: the music is generated according to our
movements," he says. "So this is in a way true
dance music. When you move quickly, it makes a fast sound.
When you move slowly, the music is slow."
EYE's concerns with the organic and physical aspects
of music, whether it be the vibrations of drums which he says
produce a healing effect, or his exploration of the intrinsic
links between music, dance and the body, have also led him
to a deep concern for Japan's environment.
While EYE says that the dirt and noise of Osaka provided the
crucible for the Boredoms' noise-rock experimentation,
he chooses to live now in the clean air of the countryside
outside Nara. He's also embarked recently on a search
for truly clean water, something that is unavailable in Tokyo
"In the past, water was clean enough to drink for everyone.
Now you need to buy water," EYE laments. "Recently
I'm interested in seeking out good water around Japan.
There's delicious water in the mountains, and in natural
springs. I have a guidebook to good water in Japan."
Where is the best water in Japan to be found? "Tottori.
That water was like a woman. Very soft, kind...I felt almost
orgasmic when I drank it."
EYE expresses dissatisfaction with the recordings the Boredoms
have been making of their weekly sessions, saying that they
fail to capture what is really intended as a live experience.
Nonetheless, fans will be glad to know that they are hoping
to edit them down and release something in the fall.
And while the album may not produce a hit single, the Boredoms'
recordings and performances constitute a body of work that
has changed the way we view music. Notwithstanding the various
disasters along the way, that kind of success is not in doubt.
The V∞REDOMS play Ebisu Liquid
Room on August 8. See concert listings for details.