Live Wire: The Ultimate Japanese Psychedelic Freakout Band

By David Frazier  /  contributing reporter

Fri, Feb 22, 2013 - Page 11

The concert calendar continues to fill up with big names, interesting names and even legends. Santana will be at the Linkou Sports Arena on March 9 (NT$1,200 to NT$5,000). Paul Simon will play on March 20 at the Taipei International Convention Center (NT$1,200 to NT$5,800). The seminal postrock band Godspeed You! Black Emperor will be at NTU Arena on April 20 (NT$2,200 to NT$2,800). Cradle of Filth will be at KHS Hall (蘆洲功學社音樂廳) in Taipei on May 3 (NT$1,000 to NT$2,400). And though no date has been announced yet for Blur, there are persistent rumors of a bidding war between the two big concert organizers Brooks Brothers and Very Aspect, and a stadium date for the Britrock band will probably be announced for the second week of May. Stay tuned. Last year, Radiohead sold out in only a couple of days, so Blur tickets could go very fast.

Should we consider this streak of overpriced concerts to be exciting news? For more down-to-earth fun, check the Megaport Festival (www.megaport.com.tw) in Kaohsiung on March 2 and March 3. With headliners like Grizzly Bear and Boris, and three or four stages running for a full weekend, it will be well worth taking the High Speed Rail to Kaohsiung and the two-day ticket price of NT$1,600. If you can’t make it, you can catch these Taipei shows: Boris at The Wall on Feb 28 (NT$1,000 to NT$1,200), Grizzly Bear at Neo Studio on Mar 1 (NT$1,800 to NT$2,000), and Fucked Up at The Wall on Mar 6 (NT$1,600 to NT$1,800).

Then there is Acid Mothers Temple & the Cosmic Inferno, the greatest of all psychedelic Japanese freak-out bands, who will play at The Wall on Wednesday. The group formed in 1995 and 1996 in and around Osaka as a loose collective of long-haired weirdos who took all the darkest cues from the psychdelic 60s. Band art is full of mindwarp colors, skulls, ritualistic scenes and naked women, and the music is an expansive fusion of psychedelic jams, stoner rock and full-on noise-style freakouts. Guitarist and bandleader Makoto Kawabata has cited influences including Indian tambour music, UFOs, the electronic symphonies of Karlheinz Stockhausen and Deep Purple. By e-mail, he also claimed he can hear sounds form the “micro cosmos.” One of the group’s best-known songs, Pink Lady Lemonade (I Want to Drink You) has one recorded version that is 60 minutes long.

But if one word comes to mind when speaking of Acid Mothers, it is “freak-out,” which is not just a specialty of the band, but something of a Japanese musical genre.

“I don’t know the reason for that,” Kawabata said by e-mail, “but I guess it could be one thing. When we were teenagers in the 70s, there was not so much information about western music, or even rock music. We saw many pictures where bands set up a wall of amps! So we believed rock bands should play super loud as much as possible!”

Acid Mothers also adopted a communal and collaborative spirit that has made the group one of the most prolific and long-lived in Japan’s scene for noise and esoteric rock. They have worked with the Boredoms, Ruins, Afrirampo, Gong and Guru Guru to name a few, and the group’s constantly evolving lineup has incorporated a who’s who of this esoteric scene. In Taipei, we will see a five-member version of Acid Mothers Temple & the Cosmic Inferno, which includes Kawabata, former Boredoms bass player, Tabata Mitsuru, Shimara Koji on drums, Higashi Hiroshi on synthesizer and vocals and Opera on drums, vocals and violin.

The band’s main reputation is for live shows, which are mesmerizing, wild and immersive. The constant focus on live performance comes because “people can understand some really important things only through real live sounds, and these can’t be replicated in recordings or with any super technology,” said Kawabata.

Acid Mothers has also produced a huge catalogue of recorded music. But this is almost just a byproduct — like the Grateful Dead bootleg tapes. The CDs come out sporadically on small labels scattered across North America, Japan and Europe and can be very hard to find. It is also hard to pinpoint which recordings are definitive, if any.

“I don’t care about the music business,” says Kawabata “If I don’t finish a CD, I don’t care.”

“We worked with Sub Pop once” — for a 2003 split album with Kinski. “It’s a big label, isn’t it? But they didn’t respect us as an underground band. We signed a fat contract with such complicated English sentences. They sold more than 8,000 copies, but we got less than US$100! Also they re-mastered our mastered track, so the sound became just shit! And the artwork was unbelievable shit too! So I stopped working with any big labels,” he said.

“I prefer small labels, because they respect us. We don’t have any paper contracts, we just have trust! Trust is the one most important thing for a business partnership. It must be human!”

■ Acid Mothers Temple & the Cosmic Inferno play on Wednesday at 8pm at The Wall, B1, 200 Roosevelt Rd, Sec 4, Taipei City (台北市羅斯福路四段200號B1). Admission is NT$1200, or NT$1000 in advance via www.indievox.com.