The Japanese always force you to up your game. Coming from a culture where committing hara-kiri is preferable to suffering any form of indignity or shame, bands from the Land of the Rising Sun and Graying Population don’t get on stage to just see how things will go. They take to the stage with a mind to achieve a level of Zen perfection down to the most minute detail of musicianship, stage presence and audience command. We could dumb it down by simply saying Japanese bands don’t mess around, but that doesn’t begin to describe the phenomenon.
This weekend two bands hailing from Japan’s southern city of Osaka are coming to Taipei and Greater Kaohsiung for a quick weekend tour. Nemu plays a spacey mix of dub and post-hardcore— music born of the bad trips required to reach good truths. Oscillating and reverb-heavy riffs swirl over vocalist/bassist Ryo Otomashi’s delay-drowned delivery, alternating between ghostly prose and screaming angst. It’s the kind of heavy that doesn’t rely on down-tuned chug, but rather an unnerving feeling of walking along a razor’s edge with fathomless voids on either side. The band is born of a variety of influences, explaining the band’s eclectic approach to hardcore.
“All the members of Nemu like various kinds of music, hardcore, pop, folk,” says Otomashi. “We don’t have a main musical influence. We would like to make music that has a split-mentality.”
The three-piece has a lock on warped leads and dissonant, techy riffs torn from music’s avant-garde shadow lands. Where there might seem chaos, though, there is order. There is focus and control. And just when you think you might have it pinned down. Just when you think you’ve got it all figured out, all metaphysical hell breaks loose. Ringing clean chords of calm are deployed not as instruments of comfort, but of unease. When is this thing going to bust wide open? A catch on the cymbal. Sung choruses turn to screams of anguish. Surely it’s now. It’s tantalizing, like a masterful horror film director teasing along the big scare. You think you know it’s coming until you realize you have no idea, and it’s all the better that you don’t. But what is Otomashi talking about in the midst of all this?
“My words always evolve,” he says, “because that’s what it is to be human and making music. There are many decadent words I could apply to my past feelings. The theme of our latest songs are all positive, or about love.”
Does that somewhat cryptic revelation make this more or less unsettling? It’s a little like Hannibal Lecter revealing that he volunteers at an animal shelter on weekends because he can’t stand to see an animal suffer. Meanwhile, he’s wearing another man’s face on top of his own. But this exposes another side of the Japanese scene that is not limited to music — the post-WWII willingness, and almost the outright necessity, of getting weird. In many scenes around the world, the predilection is toward copying what has already been done. In Japan, there is an entire subculture dedicated wholly to running as far and fast away from the conventional. And that is the place Nemu comes from. From the place that brought the world bizarre fetish porn and bearded pro wrestlers dressed in pink bikinis. For Japan, like a certain counter-culture writer of note, it never got weird enough. And it never will.