REVIEW: Japanese New Music Festival at Cafe Oto

Tatsuya Yoshida at Cafe Oto
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2014. All Rights Reserved

Japanese New Music Festival
(Cafe Oto, 16 October 2014. Review and drawing by Geoff Winston)

The over-reaching title, Japanese New Music Festival, was just part of the irreverence. The trio of Tatsuya Yoshida (aka Ruins Alone), and Atsushi Tsuyama and Makoto Kawabata of Acid Mothers Temple (AMT) served up eight ‘projects’, as Tsuyama called them: two duets, three solo features and three trios, which together formed a single, intense and concentrated two-hour set.

‘Too old to rock and roll, too young to die!’ muttered Tsuyama-san – and, yes, Spinal Tap and Cheech and Chong were never that far from their repertoire. They were taking on and ironising music culture with all its formality and tribalism, yet underlying it all was deadly serious musicianship.

Delivered with exceptional virtuosity, and a cabaret troupe’s sharp timing, they revelled in a mixture of creative leaps and an infectious, wacky humour born of a total immersion in the ins and outs of myriad musical genres. They took in and blew out noise, free improv, heavy rock, fusion, pop, traditional Japanese, and throat singing – the roll-call was endless!

What made it work was the way they unearthed the potential humour lurking in the recesses and turned it in to an asset. Amid much mirth, Tsuyama insisted that they ‘respect British rock very much – why you laugh? Deep respect!’. Who else could get away with a totally convincing version of Deep Purple’s Smoke on the Water, ‘Captain Beefheart-style’, and Rod Stewart’s Maggie May, likewise? They delight in re-envisioning ‘Very, very famous songs’, not only deconstructing, but reconstructing them – and AMT, in their time, have meted out this treatment to entire concept albums – leaving Pink Floyd and Miles Davis floundering in their wake.

Yoshida kicked off proceedings with a complex drum, vocals and electronics set that, single-handedly, got close in feel to Magma’s unearthly bombast. Kawabata then took off where Jimmy Page left off, with violin bow coaxing out echoes on guitar in his solo piece. They would move on to respectfully trash Zep’s Immigrant Song, infusing it with a touch of Death Metal. Tsuyama’s lightly melodic bass runs took cues from Stanley Clarke, whereas his double recorder playing with accompanying leg actions, thumbed a nose at Tull rather than at than Kirk.

Their own trio jams, including a witty a cappella number, Zubi Zuba, with a spot for old shoe soles, had an irresistibly vibrancy to them – interspersing choppy, jazzy bass beats with searing psych-rock guitar, yet, especially in the confines of Cafe Oto, it was the inspired duetting by Yoshida and Tsuyama that brought out the widest grins – amplified toothbrushes, trouser zips, an SLR camera and a daikon radish being grated; it had to be done brilliantly to get away with it – which they did!

Tatsuya Yoshida (Ruins): drums, electronics, vocals, misc instruments
Atsushi Tsuyama (Acid Mothers Temple); electric bass, guitar, recorders, vocals, misc instruments
Makoto Kawabata (Acid Mothers Temple); guitar, electric bass, electronics, vocals, old shoes, misc instruments

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