By Noah Hubbell
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"We fit in everywhere but nowhere," says Eye Yamatsuka, the mad scientist behind the avant-garde pop vivisectionists known as the Boredoms. What the wiry young vocalist is trying to convey by this statement is anyone's guess, but one thing is certain: Early arrivers at this year's Lollapalooza festival are in for a big surprise when the Boredoms hit the stage. The Osaka, Japan-based combo, which currently consists of Yamatsuka, bassist Hira, guitarist Yamamoto, vocalist Toyohito Yoshikawa and drummers Yoshimi P-We and ATR (also known as Atari), produces a joyfully disjointed racket that marks it as the most novel act on the tour. Then again, one would be hard pressed to find a comparable act anywhere on the planet. Only after imagining a supergroup featuring musicians from the Japanese equivalents of Can, Chaos U.K. and the Butthole Surfers will you start to understand the oeuvre of these bizarre performers.
Yamatsuka has his own description for the Boredoms' unearthly sound: He simply calls it "acid punk." Admittedly, it's not the world's most original definition, especially considering the speaker's open eccentricities. Attempting to gain further insight into the group's distinctive style, however, is about as easy as winning an exclusive interview with the emperor. Because of the linguistic--not to mention geographic--obstacles imposed on English-speaking monoglots such as yours truly, all of the Boredoms' U.S. interviews are being conducted in written form via the fax machine at Lollapalooza headquarters. Needless to say, the translations that result from these transactions are sketchy at best. For example, when asked which musicians he admires most, Yamatsuka replies, "Who is traditional but also free." Later, the singer offers the following pearl in response to a question about the type of personality needed to be a Boredom: "The blood type should not be A."
Coming from a lyricist who's penned lofty song titles such as "Cory & the Mandara Suicide Pyramid Action or Gas Satori," that's a pretty succinct retort. Fortunately, Yamatsuka is more intelligible when describing the Boredoms' extensive history. In 1986, the year he formed the Boredoms, he says his original goal was "to be able to put out a seven-inch single. I didn't have a full-time job at the time. If I needed money, I would work at 7-Eleven sometimes.
"In the beginning, the Boredoms was just me," he adds. "Then it was me and Yoshikawa. Then Hira and Yamamoto [joined]. Later, when Yoshimi joined, it became similar to the Boredoms now." The group also went through several other members during this time, including the enigmatic God Mama. According to Yamatsuka, "[God Mama] used to do video art. She also played noise with [a band called] God Machine. Now she's invisible. She's around us, but we don't know where she is or what she's doing."
Mama appeared on the Boredoms' first two albums, 1988's Osoresan no StoogesKyo and 1989's Soul Discharge 99, both of which were released on Japan's Selfish imprint. The latter caught the attention of avant-garde guru Kramer, who released Discharge stateside on his own Shimmy Disk label. Featuring such cryptic noise sandwiches as "Sun, Gun, Run" and "J.B. Dick + Tin Turner Pussy Badsmell," the record hardly took America's record-buying public by storm. On the contrary, Yamatsuka's convulsive grunts and insect-like squeals were completely ignored by all but the most open-minded music listeners. Still, this proved to be enough for the executives at Reprise Records: In one of the boldest moves in the imprint's history, they signed the band in 1992. Pop Tatari, the Boredoms' latest U.S. release (a more recent album, Wow 2, is available only as an import on John Zorn's Avant imprint) soon followed. Clocking in at more than 65 minutes, the disc is every bit as challenging--and weird--as the band's previous efforts. Molding gritty, freeform jazz improvisations ("Telehorse Uma") with punishing grindcore riffs ("Bocabola"), alien sound effects ("Bore Now Bore") and Yamatsuka's trademarked "Bore-language" ("It's a magic formula," the singer explains), Tatari stands as one of the most unusual musical offerings put out in this country since Edison started recording music on wax cylinders.
The Boredoms' various side projects are equally demented. Collectively, the band's members contribute to more than twenty bands, including Yamatsuka's abusive U.F.O. or Die, Yamamoto's comparatively melodic Omoide Hatoba and John Zorn's Naked City ensemble. Many of these bands have helped to define what Yamatsuka refers to as Osaka's "scum" music scene. "It's pretty fun," he notes.
The same can be said for the Boredoms' performances. While on stage, the players don flamboyant costumes made up of kitschy Japanese and American artifacts, S&M leather togs and protective sports gear--a necessity for Yamatsuka, who's well known for flinging himself into crowds. Those who've seen the group live insist it's an experience that must be seen to be believed. Audience reactions to the group are said to range between animated exuberance and helpless befuddlement. That apparently suits Yamatsuka just fine. "We just want people to enjoy [our show] in their own way," he says.
The Boredoms' upcoming album--its first in the U.S. since Tatari--should evoke similar reactions from listeners. Set for release in the States this fall, Yamatsuka describes the new offering as "Jyomon-era (Japanese Primitive) meets Space Age."