HESO Magazine

Photography, Music, Film, Hitchhiking, Craft Beer – Cultural Pugilist

Tag: Concert Photography

Fujirock Festival – Sideshows Steal The Show

Two questions are typically asked surrounding Fujirock: “Are you going?” and “How was it?” Recently the answer to the first has been yes, while the answer to the second generally begins with “Wet” and gets more complicated from there. Despite the weather perpetually being an issue during the three-day megafest in the mountains of Yuzawa, a little known town in rural Niigata, the mainstay of the now 13 year-old music festival is almost always the sideshows. So a fan would be excused if they were lured to the expensive midsummer exposition upon hearing that the likes of Oasis, Weezer, and Franz Ferdinand were headlining, but despite often disappointing sets by Green stage acts it’s the smaller, more carnival stages which hold the real untold treasures, just waiting to be discovered by the intrepid, if muddied, troubadour festival-goer.

Fujirock Festival – Sideshows Steal The Show

Fujirock Festival - Sideshows Steal The Show

Swedish gypsy punk band Räfven electrifies the audience at Fujirock

Truth is with over two hundred acts spanning the twelve or so stages it’s impossible to see everyone you would like to, or even a fraction of the talented musicians from all over the globe coalescing in the pine tree scented paradise of Naeba. So you pick, you choose, you try to schedule, but often you end up guessing or just plain stuck due to traffic jams, sudden downpours and mud delays. Sometimes these forays into chance take you toward the mini Naeba Shokudo stage on the edge of the Oasis foodcourt, sandwiched between the massive Green and more club-like Red Marquee stages, to happen upon bands like The Inspector Cluzo, a duet of drums and guitar who seem to have the classic bluesy-soul guitar rock highlighted with vocal bird call arpeggios sound down to a beautiful science. Or to the Orange Court, the farthest of the big stages (which was to host All-Night Fuji on Friday but had been turned into a field study in rainwater collection) to discover the gypsy jamband folk-punk stylings of Räfven (who performed an astonishing nine times), a infectively rabid band of street musicians all the way from Gothenburg. The Orange Court is also a place where someone like Juana Molina’s immense talent and ethereally disturbing voice and intricate instrumentation goes unappreciated on Sunday afternoon. Yet on Saturday evening in the more intimate Gypsy Avalon, it’s perfectly accompanied with a bit of wine from the nearby Organic Village and a space on the- shock and awe- semi-dry grass!

By far the best place to be a fan in the front is the Red Marquee, which was the only dry place in town all weekend. Potential electrocution might explain why Dinosaur Jr., who unloaded at least five more Marshall stacks on top of the already well-endowed PA equipment on hand, was scheduled to close the covered tent Saturday night. Not only is J. Mascis’ guitar – a massive wave of undulating sound wrapped in distortion in perfect time and balance to bassist Lou Barlow and drummer Murph- the loudest thing I’ve ever heard, it’s one of the most beautiful and melodic. Sadly, a few songs before they undoubtedly encored, I made a break for Public Enemy at the White Stage, headlining arguably the best stage / lineup combination of the entire weekend (Melvins, Zazen Boys, Bad Brains). Despite missing Flava Flav and Professor Griff due to “visa problems”, Chuck D promised a “real hip-hop show” and if the audience’s reaction was any indication, him promising to play their second studio LP It Takes a Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back in its entirety (broken up only by a tribute to MJ, name dropping various websites – publicenemy.com, rapstation.com, and introducing a new artist) was the performance they were waiting for.

Fujirock Festival - Sideshows Steal The Show

Band Member Teaches Crowd to Live Tweet During Bright Eyes final show at Fujirock

Starting off well is paramount to lasting on your feet all day and into the night, and the best way to do that is by taking the Dragondola, which claims to be the world’s longest gondola lift (despite that not being true), for a ride. Lasting about 15 minutes and not only soaring 5.5 km toward the 1800-meter high Mt. Takenoko, it provides a much needed and breeze-filled getaway from the muddied hordes milling about like so many insects below. As the early afternoon creeps closer and the big names crawl out of their luxury hotel suites to fulfill their 50-minute sets, hitting the airlift back down the hill and grabbing a couple of the tastiest and cheapest beers at the festival from Tokyo Brewing Company is a must before braving the over-crowded walkways for the likes of frenetic rock Nordlander Ida Maria and her succinct pop-punk ditties or the fragile-looking Nick Cave cohort Rowland Howard whose snaky, smoky, whiskey-honed voice will do things to you long after he exits stage left. And then there’s Bright Eyes who, according to Conor Oberst, is not a band anymore. So their appearance at Fujirock was part of a “one-night world tour”, and will disband after the release of their next album. All this didn’t seem to bother the largely perplexed and oddly small audience gathered to hear the strong Saturday afternoon set in the Red Marquee tent. What was confusing was the attractive young lady sitting in a chair, texting, twittering, and occasionally giggling, next to the caterwauling Oberst (who can pull some truly interesting sounds from a simple acoustic guitar), working the crowd up into mini Midwest tornadoes of passion, ennui and release until finally, our mystery lady pulled out her voice -alongside Mike Moggis’ Cornet- and stole the show. Sayonara Bright Eyes.

Fujirock Music Festival

Fans Reach Out to Touch Peaches as She performs an out of her ind set at Fujirock

Other notables were Tortoise, DJ Towa Tei, Longwave, Simian Mobile Disco and the standout State Circus of Mongolia. Glam and electronica rocker Peaches wins for most mouth-wateringly fruitlike S&M-ish costumes, fuck you swagger and stage presence, the longest stage dive (that I was witness to) while maintaining the song’s chorus (“Harder, harder”) perfectly, and just overall raw sexual energy and love of music. As the forty-plus year old Merrill Nisker (backed by the Herms) deftly maneuvered her hour-long set to the audience’s rapt glee, in support of her latest album, I Feel Cream, no one was thinking, “Hmmm, who’s on at the Green stage?”

Holy Fuck opening for the Airborne Toxic Event on the White Stage was an auspicious beginning to Sunday which turned out to peak with Clap Your Hands Say Yeah’s powerful set (see full gallery of CYHSY photos) of first album classics interspersed with a few newer tunes before petering out with Animal Collective’s introspective- at times masturbatorial- and overly hyped performance. By the time Röyksopp Nordic electro-magnetic vibes began spewing forth I had the good fortune to catch a guitarless Rivers Cuomo crooning the classic “My Name Is Jonas” while simultaneously being bitten by several ticks before passing out from three days of mud and blood, sweat and bugs, and of course lots of great side acts who deserve main stage attention. Like Räfven, Juana Molina, Diplo, Comeback My Daughters, Wilko Johnson, Justin Nozuka, Soil & “Pimp” Session, The Inspector Cluzo, Zaz and Seun Kuti & Egypt 80, among many others, who made multiple showings across three days in what feels more like an attempt to fill time slots than any genuine desire on the part of the lower echelon of artists’ to extend their stay. Perhaps I’m mistaken, but among other possibilities, it could be they weren’t invited to play at Fujirock’s sister festival in Korea, the Jisan Valley Rock Fest, like scores of other larger names were. Enough politics, the fans scream, give us more music. No problem.

Fujirock Festival - Sideshows Steal The Show

Patti Smith live at Fujirock

Ebony Bones takes home best costumes and most color amid the rock-steady downpours of Friday at the Green Stage. Despite hearing that Oasis wasn’t that bad (I couldn’t bring myself to actually watch) and stripping White Stage headliners The Neville Brothers of any audience whatsoever, the Green Stage redeemer is by far Patti Smith, who put on one of the more powerful performances I’ve been witness to at a festival. Shame that it came on Friday afternoon, as she seems as confident as ever, spitting and smiling alongside longtime guitarist Lenny Kaye and surprise guest Tom Verlaine. She sang as sure of voice as the wind pushing the sheets of rain down on the thousands gathered, watching her stomp through guitar romps and shake her trademark black beanie in the air declaring, “this one’s for the children!” amid dedications to Haile Selassie and MJ. Ending with the explosive “Rock and Roll Nigger,” aided by Verlaine’s intricate guitar work, Smith can still go blow for blow with the biggest names and walk away smiling.

Rumor has it Naeba’s days of hosting the popular festival are over and the days of Fujirock being nowhere near Mt. Fuji may be at an end. Who knows where the roving Japanese festival will end up? Likely I will be asked, “Are you going?” to which I will undoubtedly say yes (if I can hitch a ride out there…) and to the always difficult to answer, “How was it?” I’ll likely say, worth the time, effort and extraneous cash, if you should have it.

Fujirock Festival of the Future and Past

Fujirock – Festival of the Future and Past

Fujirock Festival of the Future and Past

The Boardwalk During a Rare Uncrowded Moment

The Buddha said that life is about contradictions. Vegetarians wearing leather. Environmental bumper stickers on SUVs. The Fuji Rock Festival being nowhere near Mt. Fuji.

Truth is, Smash (the organizer promoting the 3-day, 130,000 strong festival) did try to hold it at the foot of Mt. Fuji in its inaugural attempt back in 1997, but a typhoon famously, disastrously swooped off the sea and cancelled the show. Hence Mt. Naeba, a ski resort in Yuzawa, Niigata, a large rural prefecture located on the northwest shores of Japan (Yuzawa is the setting for Kawabata Yasunari’s classic Snow Country), has been hosting the country’s largest music festival since Hidaka Masahiro started it in 1999.

Fujirock – Festival of the Future and Past

Boasting musicians the likes of Lee “Scratch” Perry, Grand Master Flash, Bootsie Collins, Spearhead, Ian Brown and Primal Scream, this year’s lineup is eclectic to say the least. It includes many seemingly peripheral acts, though acts that have been delivering strong, rock-steady performances before some of these young concert-goers were out of diapers. Other plusses are the community spirit and low crime despite the close quarters (camping’s the norm unless you book a hotel a year in advance). Corporate sponsorship remains low, despite the relatively blasé attitude most Japanese have toward ever-advancing consumerism, and the banning of fliers and product campaigns with their annoying bullhorn approach to sales is almost as refreshing an experience as the near constant rainfall which seems to annually bless or plague (depending on your religious affiliation) the festival. Another aesthetic asset is that the festival aims to be “the cleanest festival in the world” and seems to be on the mark. Although garbage and recycling stations are relatively far apart, your young, well-behaved and environmentally conscious attendees are generally diligent about toting their own portable ashtrays and plastic bags (given out by the staff at the entrance) for hours at a time.

Minuses are the rocky pathways, which though peaceful and serenely set in a beautiful wooded area, are generally overcrowded and one-way, making getting to the Green Stage, for example, in time to see My Bloody Valentine headline Friday night from the Special Others (a great Japanese jamband) playing the Field of Heaven stage logistically impossible. Thank Buddha for press passes. But wait, the press doesn’t actually get anything resembling press passes at all, save for a lime green mesh photo jersey in which to sweat profusely. No press tent, no lockers or storage for necessary camera gear, no wi-fi. It’s truly roughing it.

The biggest, most internationally friendly event in Japan has come a long way since ’97 and still has a long way to go. I for one would like to see a more concerted effort to introduce a bit of anarchy into the three-day carnival atmosphere, but unless it occurs organically of its own volition, well, that would be a contradiction now wouldn’t it.

Ed Rodriguez of Deerhoof plays guitar live at The Liquid Room in Tokyo

Deerhoof Tokyo Interview

On paper they read like a relatively run-of-the-mill, up and coming alternative rock band: two guitars, bass, drums, female vocalist all playing their hearts out for an eclectic independent label from backwoods, USA. Yet Deerhoof is not your typical San Francisco band. Nor is KRS (Kill Rock Stars) your typical label. Though somehow the two are a perfect fit, Deerhoof ranking as the all-woman-run, Olympia-based label’s oldest and best-selling act. Originating as a drums and guitar duo in the mid-90s, it has taken over ten years, ten albums and ten (or so) musicians rotating in and out to solidify the current four-member lineup (Drummer Greg Saunier, Satomi Matsuzaki (Vocals/Bass), John Dieterich (guitar) and Ed Rodriguez (guitar)) into the band that Radiohead, for one, likes listening to.

The classically trained Greg Saunier, fresh out of Conservatory, got into the Bay Area music scene with Nitre Pit, a short-lived quartet, where he met bassist Rob Fisk, the other founding member of what would eventually become Deerhoof. Nitre Pit broke up and, suddenly a rhythm-heavy duet, they nonetheless fulfilled their remaining dates, one of which had a young Slim Moon, the founder of Kill Rock Stars, in the audience.

In typical Rock and Roll Dream fashion, they were signed after the show to produce the first of Deerhoof’s numerous recordings. When HESO sat down with the band on their recent mini-Japan tour, Greg had this to say about how many lives has the band been through.”A zillion (laughs). If we count the time some guy came dressed as Milkman (Milkman, Kill Rock Stars 2004) to a show and jumped on stage, that’s its own lineup for one night. Every time we do a record or make up a song it actually does feel like we get a new life, radically changing the way we work.”

It wasn’t until 1996 or so when the band set into place the distinctive skeleton of the modern Deerhoof by adding the diminutive Satomi Mastuzaki, just off the Tokyo boat to San Francisco and looking for adventure. Besides Matsuzaki’s high-pitched voice adding a pleasingly disjunctive aspect to the duet’s oft-improvised artrock, she tempered their tonal testosterone with a demure yet powerful cuteness, not to mention a rhythmic bass once Fisk left in 1999. Thus beginning the band’s love affair with Japan.

Satomi Mastuzaki of Deerhoof plays Live at The Liquid Room in Tokyo

Satomi Mastuzaki of Deerhoof plays Live at The Liquid Room in Tokyo

Deerhoof Tokyo Interview/h2>

HESO: How many times have you toured in Japan? And what are your overall thoughts about touring here?

DH: “6 or 7. Usually more than once per album. Including Fujirock (2007) this is our third tour on this album (Friend Opportunity, Kill Rock Stars 2007). Japan’s music world takes care of a band in quite a different way. There’re more stagehands than people in the band and the room is what would pass for a smallish venue back home, but the PA system and lights, just incredible care. We have a very skewed perspective on it. We get invited and everything’s taken care of. We are the honored guests.”

Deerhoof are notorious for not giving straightforward answers to interviewers, though when HESO met them on a strangely cool June day in Shibuya, they were all ears and mouths, talking incessantly about their new album, Offend Maggie (Kill Rock Stars 2008) and whether creating new material, songs, albums, is a process of touring or more this revolving lineup or both.

“It’s not necessarily to do with touring, since music comes from someplace that’s unpredictable‚ it’s a matter of allowing your music to follow where your imagination is telling you to go and having an idea of what that’ll be tomorrow.” said Greg.

John Dieterich, who entered the band in 1999 and whose savant-esque guitar gave rise to the creation of their next album, Reveille, which caused many seminal bands the likes of Sonic Youth and the aforementioned Radiohead, to take note of, added, “It’s also affected by who you see every night. You have to react. If you feel something, you’re constantly reevaluating how you approach it‚ we’re touring with the Tenniscoats and XIU XIU right now and they’re such different bands. But the most valuable experience as a musician, for me is touring and seeing new and different bands all the time. You get to see different kinds of depth. You’re experiencing it as it happens and it’s penetrating all other aspects of your life, not just playing or recording, but it’s life. It’s human.”

HESO: How do you guys come to an album? Is it a collaboration or does, for example, Satomi always come with lyrics?

Greg: It’s magic if we come up with anything at all. If we finally think it’s good, well, why is that? I don’t know how we stumble upon it. Trying a different process every song‚ I’m always amazed that the well doesn’t run dry. I always think, well, that’s it. That’s probably my last song. I wouldn’t know how to find it if I had to, there are no rules, no system, no precedent to follow. Just guessing and making it up as you go along.

John: It’s an intuitive process. In any given city in the US, there’s no system set up other than family. Theoretically there’re schools indoctrinating everyone, but that’s completely different for everyone.

Greg: In my school 2 + 2 is 4.

HESO: Well, being left-handed we had to write that backwards. I didn’t like that.

Greg: Tom Cruise said that Scientology cured his Dyslexia. (Laughs)

Deerhoof in Tokyo (Manny Santiago)

Deerhoof in Tokyo

HESO: He probably meant that Dyslexia cured his Scientology. Moving on. Ed, what was the process of you entering the band?

Ed: John and I have known each other for about 15 years, been playing music for about that long and we were in a band
together in Minneapolis. The first time I heard Deerhoof was when he sent recordings. I was so happy John was playing, it was so perfect. That was 1999.

HESO: Do you walk into the studio with a time limit, say two weeks, to get it all done?

John: Instead of going for a long stretch of time, we went in one day in March, and our original idea was to record the whole album and we were sure it would be so easy. We ended up getting four (tracks), one of which we canned. We ended up going back in a month later and recorded and went through the rest of everything.

Ed: The thinking is that we should really do everything ourselves. Greg & John have such a developed sense of mastering sound and working with recordings that as a band we try not going outside of it as much as possible. It seems incredibly foreign, the idea of putting that much care into writing material and recording and then hand it to someone else, wait a while and get it back. If you can dedicate yourself to all aspects then.

John: It’s pretty amazing the things you can do.

Deerhoof’s latest album, Offend Maggie, comes out in October and they already have January dates in Japan to support it. Why not support them?

Check out the Interview with Deerhoof and a review of their latest album La Isla Bonita.

Deerhoof Live In Tokyo

Deerhoof Live In Tokyo – Photos of the Indie band Deerhoof live at The Liquid Room in Ebisu, Tokyo

This Is Cornelius – Interview with Oyamada Keigo

Fantasma

Cornelius is not a man. Nor, for that matter, is he an ape (though the name comes from Planet of the Apes). Cornelius is a musical group founded by Oyamada Keigo (小山田圭吾) in the early 90s after his Shibuya-kei duo with Ozawa Kenji, Flipper’s Guitar, split up. Suddenly a solo act, Oyamada spent the next five or so years crafting his persona and honing his production skills, a sabbatical ultimately culminating in what made it all worth the wait—the music.

1997 saw Cornelius break into various European and American indie scenes with the infectious Fantasma (Matador Records, 1997), a melodic blending of traditional and esoteric poprock elements alongside sounds of nature wrapped candylike around backdrops of digital wash. I remember driving down Venice Boulevard toward the beach when my friend first put it in the CD player, mentioning something about “addictive…” In the strange part of my mind which catalogues beauty, I’m still on Venice Blvd, heading toward the beach, listening to “Chapter 8: Seashore and Horizon.” I’ve never turned back.

Recently HESO Magazine sat down with Oyamada at his Nakameguro studio. Between sips of Oolong tea, cigarettes and stealing glances at his massive cd collection, we chatted about his defunct label Trattoria, his plans after Sensuous, and the supporting Sensuous Synchronized Tour (the final Japan performance of which HESO attended at the Grand Cube Concert Hall in Osaka), back in Japan after finishing up some dates in Europe. When asked about his success abroad, he laughed and demurred, talking about other bands. But in the end, he added, “on this past tour, quite a few people came out to see me in the US and I even played at Disney Concert Hall. I’ve been doing this now for ten years, and finally I get to play live in a hall—I thought that was pretty good.”

What he sensuously synchronized in front of that audience was an audio-visual extravaganza. A veritable smörgåsbord for the senses. Imagine two hours of expertly crafted electro-rock music synched to an ever-changing reel of nebulous videos featuring miniature landscapes a la Hieronymus Bosch, walking fingers, children and animals, and a million other things you will have to buy the DVD to catch.

Sensuous

Cornelius Live at Grand Cube in Osaka

Cornelius Live at Grand Cube in Osaka

This Is Cornelius – Interview with Oyamada Keigo

HESO: I’m guessing you’ve probably been on tours all over, but which has been the most interesting place so far?

Keigo Oyamada: Anyplace I’ve never been before is interesting.

HESO: I think most bands tour in the US and Europe, but Björk for example goes to places like China and Indonesia. Have you ever been to any places like that?

O: Haven’t been to China yet. I’m going to Korea for the first time next week. That’s about it in Asia.

HESO: What about South America?

O: Never been to South America, either, though I’d like to go. I’ve been invited to Brazil, but it’s half a world away. Taking all my equipment there would incur enormous expenses, so it’s near impossible to do.

HESO: The last date of your Sensuous Synchronized Show was in Osaka I think…

O: Actually, we have a few more dates in Korea, but yeah, the last in Japan.

HESO: What are you thinking about doing after the tour? Collaborating with some other artists or making a new album?

O: I haven’t made any decisions yet. Well, maybe a few small things. I’m making a jingle for Tokyo FM.

HESO: Do you have any plans to exhibit your videos at any galleries or art institutions?

O: I made a DVD with images from my live performances using 5.1-channel sound. It’s already out in Japan, and will probably be out in the US in the summer. It’s coming out from Everloving, my label. That, and a tour DVD called Point from about five years ago. I’ll be showing those two at places like museums.

Flippers Guitar - On Pleasure Bent

Flippers Guitar – On Pleasure Bent

HESO: Are you doing all that by yourself? Or are you collaborating with anyone?

O: I have a film director for the video, Tsujikawa Koichiro. We’ve been working together for a long time. He made nearly seven or eight tracks. There’s also a film director in Kyoto—Groovisions. And then the Kyoto artist Takagi Masakatsu, who made one track.

HESO: Speaking of collaborations, you recently put out an EP titled Gum.

O: That was only in the U.S.

HESO: That’s right. And wasn’t Sakamoto Ryuichi on that third track?

O: Sakamoto did the chorus for me on that one. Hosono Haruomi is another of the members of YMO. It’s something Sakamoto and I did for a tribute album for the leader of YMO.

HESO: You were on tour with Hosono, weren’t you?

O: Yeah, as a guitarist.

HESO: If you could work with any artist you like, who would it be?

O: A band? Someone recent?… (He thinks for a while) He’s not very recent, but Takemitsu Toru—you hear a lot of him on film soundtracks. He’s from the 1950s or 60s. I listen to a lot of people who do contemporary Japanese music or film music.

HESO: Really? Recently, I’ve found the There Will Be Blood soundtrack by Johnny Greenwood to be pretty good.

O: Oh, I listen to a lot of Radiohead myself—In Rainbows for one.

HESO: If you could have dinner with any three people, alive or dead, who would it be?

O: Hmmm… dinner? Alive or dead?… People I would want to eat with?… My own family (laughter).

HESO: What first got you interested in music?

tenorionO: When I was about 7 or 8, we did taiko (Japanese drums) at school. In class, we would all dance, but the sound of those drums probably made me want to make my own music.

HESO: When did you first start thinking about becoming a musician?

O: Becoming a musician… I did music because I liked it, but I never really thought I could be a professional so I never really thought about becoming one. But then someone from a record company heard our band and asked us to put out a record. It was completely by accident.

HESO: It seems like your music draws influence from all over. You can hear natural sounds and Zen-like sounds like wind chimes. There’s a lot of East and West. With each album, do you think about which direction you are going to take it? Or do you simply listen to all kinds of sounds and go from there?

O: I love all kinds of music and am influenced by all kinds of music as well. I think most of those sounds just naturally come out. It’s not as if I like rock or only listen to classical—I have a great love for all kinds of music. My father is a musician, and I used to look through his record collection. It’s all because my father’s got some great records.

HESO: You mix sound and visuals and even produce it yourself—the DJ mixing, too.

O: It’s multi-media, isn’t it? I don’t do the DJ mixing, but I do kind of act like a VJ for the live shows.

HESO: I recently heard one of your old Breeze Block mixes on BBC’s Radio One…

O: Ah… I do radio programs. NHK, too. Now that you mention it, I was a DJ on NHK. I don’t DJ at clubs.

HESO: A friend asked me recently to sum your music up in a word and I couldn’t. What kind of music would you say do? How do you define your music?

O: Mmmmm, that’s a tough one. I don’t really know what to say, but basically it’s just Rock.

HESO: On stage, you play guitar, have keyboards and a Theremin, use a Tenorion with a projection behind you. How is it different from your process of making an album in the studio?

O: In the studio, I am playing most of the instruments myself. Live, I’m playing together with other musicians. I guess I’m basically interpreting the album.

HESO: It’s pretty common in the US, for example, to feature someone on your album, but do you ever play with anyone in the studio?

O: I work alone, but on Sensuous, I worked with the Kings of Convenience. They sang a track for me. Their acoustic guitar duet is kind of like Simon and Garfunkel. Other than that, I don’t really work with anyone else on albums. I do, however, work on quite a bit of collaborations and mixes with overseas artists.

HESO: How did you wind up with Kings of Convenience?

Oyamada Takes Photos of the crowd post show Osaka

Oyamada Takes Photos of the crowd post show Osaka

O: They just came to Japan for a tour and we happened to know each other—I had met them in England before. Hell, they were in Japan so I figured we should just do something.

HESO: It’s pretty damn good. I thought the synchronization between the sound and visuals was particularly strong. How did you start out with that?

O: I’ve been synching sound and visuals for about ten years now, since about the time I put out the album Fantasma. I gradually developed from there, and with the current title Sensuous Synchronized Show, I had the concept of synching everything—the visuals, the sound, the lights—and I’ve been doing it this way for about two years now.

HESO: Who made the videos in your show?

O: My friend Tsujikawa, whom I mentioned earlier, made about ten of them. After that, there are several other directors I’ve made some videos with since long ago. I guess I work with several people, but Tsujikawa is the main guy, and he makes most of them.

HESO: Where most other Japanese artists haven’t had similar success outside of Japan, why do you suppose you’ve had such international success? Some of the few Japanese artists with any popularity in America are Pizzicato Five and Cibo Matto.

O: What about The Boredoms?

HESO: Yeah, I guess them, too. And Ozawa Seiji.

O: (laughter) Before I was Cornelius, I was in a band called Flipper’s Guitar. It was in Japan, when I was about 20. There were only two members, but one of those members was Ozawa’s nephew!

HESO: Was it one of the so-called Shibuya-kei bands?

O: It was before Shibuya-kei. It was a little before that word “Shibuya-kei” came out. After we broke up we were labeled Shibuya-kei.

HESO: To finish up, what do you like to eat?

O: (laughter) What do I like to eat? I like rice.

Cornelius – Live in Osaka

Scroobius Pip Live in London (George Bull)

Scroobius Pip – The Interview

THOU SHALT THINK FOR YOURSELVES

“They say a picture’s worth a thousand words/ so with this thousand words/ I‘ll paint a picture in your mind that breaks the rule of thirds…” sound the first lines of Scroobius Pip’s album opener “1000 Words”. “Anyone can write a poem if you’ve got something to say,” he says when we meet before one of his recent London shows. Be that as it may, not everyone can stand and deliver like Scroobius Pip. Each time I revisit his self-released debut album No Commercial Breaks, I find a new reason to call everyone I know and tell them to get hold of it. A genuine wordsmith, ladies & gentlemen: this here Scroobius Pip might just be the most refreshingly original artist in the UK at the moment.

Actually, let’s take a long step back…

I meet him at The Pool, a dark lit bar in London’s East end Shoreditch. He’s due to play a gig tonight at the Strongrooms – an intimate affair given the small space, and it’ll just be him and the 6”2 Pianist this eve (Pip beat boxing into a loop peddle with 6”2 adding a rift, then coming in with the vocal) pushing his solo work, no Dan Le Sac with whom the first single “Thou Shalt Always Kill” is due out this month on LEX Records. He arrives just after 8pm clad in his trademark suit, skinny tie, and beard – that looks like it’s there for religious reasons he tells me – “I originally wanted a tight eighties moustache, but Hitler’s really got a captive market with that one.” He asks for a tap water (“very rock n roll, I know,” he says with a smile, sitting down).

Pip’s work is hip-hop, it’s jazz, it’s a cappella, but he is first and last a poet. The name in fact comes from the Edward Lear poem “The Scroobius Pip” – a man himself famous for his often nonsensical poetry. Scroobius himself is excellent company – effortlessly polite yet he’s bursting with enthusiasm and despite his sincere modesty, I’m also struck by a quiet confidence in him. He tells me he doesn’t really get nervous before gigs because his stuff is written as spoken word, to be SPOKEN and so if it’s sitting on the page, it’s not doing what it should be. Like the song “Angles” about a young guy who commits suicide after a run in with a security guard and whose brother then sets out to avenge him – “I wanted to write something that wasn’t just linear narrative, but made the listener respond like a viewer does to scenes in a film, characters expressing different points of view.” Originally recorded with a live jazz band on his solo album, this tune has now been blended with beats from friend Dan Le Sac and it may well prove to be this version that brings his sharp social commentary to a wide audience over the coming year.

He’s eager to talk about his influences and passionate about up and coming British artists he’s into at the moment like Kate Nash and Adele London. Spoken word artist Gil Scott Heron “was a big influence” – Saul Williams and Sage Francis are heroes. The history of this here Scroobius Pip shows a man with fresh ideas, who only a year ago made the decision to get his music out there – “this is still my rookie year.” Having made management at HMV then came decision time: “am I going to just keeping talking about my music or go out there and do it?” So he set off in his 1987 Space Cruiser and toured the country for a month doing street performances. He would check the listings and find out who was playing – people like Mr Scruff, the kind of gigs that would attract people who might appreciate the well-crafted spoken word offerings of Pip. He would just pitch up, set up a mic and give the punters a free gig before they got inside the venue to watch artists that Scroobius himself admired. “I was never a fan of the local band scenario. I didn’t play a gig in my hometown for ages, I wanted to get a genuine reaction on my stuff from people I didn’t know, strangers. First performance ever was outside a Buck 65 gig in Camden – I was outside doing my stuff and giving out flyers. Whatever happens Ill always keep doing spoken word,” he reassures me – “that’s where my roots are.”

Scroobius Pip (George Bull)

Scroobius Pip

Collaboration with Dan Le Sac came about more recently: the pair had known each other for years, though weren’t close mates at the time. Originally both photographers, they shared a big appreciation for underground label LEX Records, so when Dan remixed one of Scroobius’s tracks something clicked. XFM’s John Kennedy and Radio 1’s Rob da Bank picked up the demo for “Thou Shalt Always Kill” and championed it on their shows. The combined radio exposure and build up of public support led to more gigs and eventually the current release. Right now they’re both incredibly excited about forthcoming projects together, as well as the very real possibility of getting signed for an album deal.

“LEX Records was a huge honour. Dan and I both said even if our careers ended tomorrow we would be happy just to be able to hold up the LEX vinyl with our names on it.” In fact Scroobius had originally sent them his individual album – they liked it but didn’t think it was right for LEX. For now he’s putting a hold on his solo material, though it isn’t a case of this being separate to his work with Dan, there are certainly crossovers and he just focuses on whatever side of things are exciting him most at the time – and right now it’s the stuff with Le Sac: “We have an album worth. And we’re working fast – the buzz we’re getting from it all at the moment we could probably put it together in a couple of weeks given the chance!” For “Thou Shalt Always Kill” –Dan sent him the beats and he adapted a poem he had half written, recorded the vocal and sent it back within the hour. “It’s a list poem so it’s easy for people to get straight into it.” A list of commandments as an antidote for the wounds of a generation fed on tabloid news and the guns, bitches and bling scenario. They’d love to release another favourite live track – “Letter from God” using Radiohead’s “Planet Telex”, but that really depends on Radiohead. The pair want to be respectful and have stopped it from playing on the radio until they can approach the band for permission.

Our interview wraps up after 40 minutes or so and he asks if I’m going to come down to his show at the Shoreditch Strongrooms. I accept and head down. The little bar, it reminds me of poetry reading – and there’s Scroobius in the corner talking to the 6”2 pianist, bowling past, excited that all the artists and friends he’s mentioned during the evening are here to see him play “See, people will go anywhere for a free gig” he says, smiling.

To check out Dan le Sac Vs. Scroobius Pip, this summer’s British Festival Goers would be wise to hit Bestival 2007 on the Isle of White.

  • Thou Shalt Always Kill by Dan Le Sac Vs Scroobius Pip is available to download from ITunes now and on 7” from LEX Records.
  • To listen to Angles and Letter From God check out www.myspace.com/danlesacvsscroobiuspip
  • Scroobius Pip’s solo album No Commercial Breaks is available via www.scroobiuspip.co.uk

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