October 18, 2002
BY JIM DeROGATIS POP MUSIC CRITIC
It is a testament to the better aspects of globalization and an
ever-shrinking world that it is now possible for the American rock scene to
embrace an underground band from Japan that has recorded soundtracks for
Russian films and is dedicated to recapturing the creative spirit of an
obscure art-rock movement from Germany that was itself originally inspired
by American psychedelia.
Not that it's necessary to untangle any of these twisted blood lines in
order to enjoy the music of Acid Mothers Temple. It's more than enough to
simply close your eyes and let the surreal washes of sound transport you.
Formed by veteran musician Kawabata Makoto in 1996 as "a freak-out group
for the 21st century," the Acid Mothers Temple & the Melting Paraiso U.F.O.
(to use the group's full name) functions in Japan as a collective with some
30 members, including musicians, artists, dancers and farmers. It has been
amazingly prolific in the years since, releasing nine albums on its own
label and through other independents.
Acid Mothers Temple,
Kinski, Plastic Crimewave
* 9 p.m. Sunday
* Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western
* Tickets, $8
* (773) 276-3600; (800) 594-TIXX
My favorites include the band's soundtrack for "Wild Gals A Go-Go" by
Russian filmmaker Ivan Piskov, which puts a gonzo psychedelic spin on
typically cheesy porno soundtrack music; "Troubadours from Another Heavenly
World," which consists of three long, improvised tracks--"Heroin Heroine's
Heritage," "She Is a Rainbow in Curved Air" and "Acid Heart Mother"--and "In
C," which starts with a cover of the classical minimalist composition by
Terry Riley, then adds the originals "In E" and "In D."
Only a handful of the band members have been present at earlier American
shows, including a memorable freak-out at the Hideout and a mind-blowing
showcase at last year's South By Southwest Music and Media Conference. But
the sound is massive as Makoto leads the group with his searing guitar,
bassist Tsuyama Atsushi and drummer Ichiraku Yoshimitsu lock into a series
of ever-shifting trance grooves, Higashi Hiroshi fiddles with a homemade
synthesizer that seems to have been constructed with parts from Radio Shack,
and Cotton Casino shrieks and wails like a woman possessed.
The following interview with Makoto was conducted via e-mail from his
home in Japan and translated into English by a friend of the band in London.
Q. "Psychedelic" is a word that has come to mean bad, indulgent
jamming and tie-died hippies in the West, but I hear Acid Mothers Temple
fitting into a grander psychedelic-rock tradition, one which draws on the
original Greek roots of the word meaning "mind-revealing" or
A. Without a doubt, AMT are a rock group. We play trip music and
rock 'n' roll, and we all want to continue being rockers. Rock itself is our
way of life. We believe in rock's fantasy, its power and energy.
Q. To what extent have psychedelic drugs been an influence?
A. When I was younger, I tried every drug I could get my hands on.
I realized that drugs can provide you with a hint but they can't give you an
answer. I was able to find my way to the door with the help of drugs, but
for going beyond that door drugs were useless. Being high on drugs is only a
fake experience--it can only give you a hint of what you can do without
them. I don't need any drugs now because I learned a way to trip over to the
next stage without them. But at the same time, I don't deny the role that
drugs can play and I'm not against them. Everyone should be able to try them
and find those hints about how to get to the next stage. Whether you decide
to stop right there or progress depends on your own spiritual power. All I
can say is this: All you can learn from drugs is the way to the door that
hides the cosmic principle and perhaps a brief glimpse inside that door.
Q. How have Western psychedelic-rock bands influenced you?
A. I'm not sure what you mean by "psychedelic music." If you mean
'60s-style hippie music, then I feel that's retro, though it's still a form
of music that I love. Of course, I didn't experience that music in real time
during the late '60s, but I have been listening to the music now known as
Krautrock [German bands from the '70s such as Can, Faust and Amon Duul II]
since I was in high school over 20 years ago, so it feels kind of nostalgic
for me. Recently, it seems that there's been a flood of Krautrock reissues
in the U.S. and Europe, and that there's some kind of revival boom going on.
I don't care much about that, but it's good that people are able to
rediscover great music and they're able to track it down easily and at
reasonable prices. Compared to how it used to be, with the original LPs
fetching over $100 and bootlegs being the only way you could get to hear
this stuff, the current boom is actually really helpful.
I used to live in a Japanese beatnik/hippie commune, but for me, the
whole idea of being a hippie now is meaningless, and I don't feel any
longing for "psychedelic culture" as it used to exist. It may have meant
something at that particular time and place but it would be pointless to try
and resurrect that now. That's precisely why I came up with the idea of the
Acid Mothers Temple soul collective and why I respect old music which was
once great. But not everything that has been broadly categorized as
psychedelic music was good music.
I know nothing about the future. The creation of this idea of psychedelic
music is something that has come about with the passage of time. At this
point of time, it seems that punk is going the same way--being stripped of
all its original meaning.
Q. To what extent is traditional Japanese music an influence?
Where does Acid Mothers Temple fit in the spectrum of Japanese pop today?
A. I was interested in Japanese traditional music when I was a
teenager. But now I don't care, because I'm Japanese, I have Japanese blood!
I'm not interested in any Japanese pop and rock except for Keiji Haino and
Q. How much of what the group does onstage is improvised?
A. When AMT play live, there is a rough theme for each song, but
we are never sure how it will change from day to day. Playing to different
people, in different places, on different days, there is absolutely no point
in trying to decide things in advance. That's why tours are always so
exciting for us.
Q. The band has been incredibly prolific. What are the
difficulties of self-releasing music in Japan and of getting it noticed in
the U.S. and in Europe? And to what do you attribute your growing popularity
A. When we want to release anything, we can release it on our
label anytime. But if someone wants to release it, we can send the master
tape to them. It's all for us. If audiences want to hear our music, then it
doesn't matter where they're from--they're all the same in that sense. But
Japanese audiences are very quiet. That's how they enjoy shows. There's a
story about how when Deep Purple came to Japan in '72, the audience just sat
in their seats and clapped. The band thought they weren't enjoying the
concert, so they went back to their hotel without playing an encore. The
audience got [ticked] off, smashed up the venue and the next day's concert
had to be canceled. Personally, I prefer the straighter reaction you get
from audiences in the U.S. and Europe. To the people who've paid to be at
our concerts for an hour or two, we sell rock fantasy and rock dreams. If
you can enter into the AMT world, forget your troubles for that short space
of time, and enjoy yourself, then we're content.
* * *
A different sort of adventurous music takes over the Abbey Pub, 3420 W.
Grace, at 9 tonight and Saturday courtesy of Electroclash, a multiband tour
highlighting the sexy but abrasive sounds of a new wave of punkish
electronic performers from New York.
Peaches headlines the show and is probably the genre's best-known artist;
this column profiled her at length several months ago. She is joined on this
tour by Chicks On Speed, a female multimedia art group; W.I.T. (Whatever It
Takes), a three-piece electronic girl group; Tracy + the Plastics, a band
started by lesbian feminist video artist Wynne Greenwood, and tour organizer
Tickets are $15 at the door; call (773) 478-4408.