There is a weird, grungy scene in Brooklyn, New York that is literally on the fringe of the hipster colony of Williamsburg, in a neighborhood that the bands are near enough to play in all those hipster bars, but also far enough that they can keep their distance. This group of bands is about loud, punk-inspired music, and also about painting their own album covers, silkscreening their own t-shirts, skateboarding, rooftop parties and a kind of communal living that keeps rent low and the whole thing financially viable, though sometimes just barely. Their neighborhood is Bushwick, where Dominican bodegas and diners outnumber hipster coffee shops and hipster rock clubs at least four to one. And the headquarters is an industrial loft with an indoor halfpipe for skateboarding and four tree-house-style bunks that leave the rest of the space completely open and shared — for gigs that other live houses won’t book, jam sessions, skating, screening shirts and just hanging out.
Two of the bunk lofts in that apartment are occupied by native New Yorker Adam Aron Amram and Tokyo guitarist Kenichi “Ken” Minami, who form the band Ken South Rock. The other two bunks are occupied by Matt Reilly, bass player for Japanther (an arty skatepunk band that has played at both PS1 contemporary art museum and the Venice Biennial) and Space Meow (the project of Taiwanese film student and former lead singer of Varo, Doll Chao, 趙中慧).
On two previous tours of Taiwan, Ken South Rock already stirred local punks to raw amazement in a string of Brooklyn-style DIY shows, purportedly leaving one kid only able to speak in one-word sentences, exclaiming: “Wow. Energy. Cat. Samurai. Growling. Feedback. Dynamic. Fuzz. Urgent. Powerful. Raw. Life. Rock.” This weekend they return for the third time in two years, playing shows in Greater Tainan and Taipei.
Amram and Ken have very different backgrounds, but they have come together in an amazing way. Adam Amram is the son of David Amram, a jazz legend who has collaborated with everyone from Dizzy Gilespie and Miles Davis to Allen Ginsberg and Bob Dylan.
“I was raised playing with my father,” says Adam, contacted by phone in Taitung, where he is working with local aboriginal musicians after playing Beastie Rock in Taipei last weekend. “I played jazz with him from the age of four to 18, but it was always difficult, and I was never really having fun. One of the reasons was that I was playing with musicians who were incredibly gifted and practiced constantly, but I was lazy. I never practiced.”
“So I put down the drums for a while, but then I had the chance to play in a rock and roll show when I was 19. It was this really horrible band, and I was really nervous. But then from the first song, I just started playing crazy and dancing and just having a blast. There was no thinking. It was just playing. It was a really special feeling, and I still try to catch that feeling every time I play,” Amram says.
Ken had been playing in a three-piece hard rock band, Chubarari, in Tokyo for almost 10 years, but once the group broke up in 2010, he was left drifting.
“I wanted to refresh, so I put down the electric guitar and picked up an acoustic, because it was easy to take anywhere,” he says.
He wrote songs and toured on his own, mixing stretch-legged guitar stances and leg kicks with a fast acoustic sound, inspired, he says, by flamenco, but playing an acoustic guitar in a Kimono and red bellbottom jeans. He was not finding it a smooth transition, though, so “I just made a sudden decision. I am going to New York.”