All psyched out


October 18, 2002




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 "soul-manifesting."

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. That's all.

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 Ruins.

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 here?

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 Larry Tee.

Tickets are $15 at the door; call (773) 478-4408.