Afrirampo and Deerhoof at Club Fandango
Afrirampo is simply one of the most outstanding, live, avant-rock units I’ve ever seen. Oni (which means “demon” or “it” in a game of tag) is on guitar and Pikachu is on drums, and both of them often wear red kabuki style face makeup and handmade red dresses and go into some kind of trance in which they channel The Boredoms’s Pop Tatari as if it were being played by jungle animals. They purr, and growl, and howl, and squeak, and then feedback, and feedback, and large pounding drums, and sudden starts and stops, and mysterious chanting, and syncopated harmonies. They’re totally tight players together, if by tight you mean that they listen to each other and turn on each other’s phrases and rhythmic cues, but they leave a large cosmos for improvisation and none of the songs they played during their set sounded like practiced renditions of what can be found on their albums. Instead, Afrirampo played out as a spontaneous plant growth of punk rock animal tribalism, root and branch in red, rolling around on the feedback deck. At one point, the Oni tree grew slices of white bread and distributed them to the audience. Since she was in the Oni trance, the bread fell out like zoned fruit.
Afrirampo, which apparently can be translated as “naked rock,” are Osaka natives and are often associated with the Boredoms, Acid Mothers Temple, and other groups from the Kansai region. Actually, when I first heard the name “Afrirampo” I had no idea what it meant, and I assumed that it was a compound of “Africa” and something else. I thought I had found that something else in the form of Japanese horror/mystery writer Edogawa Rampo, who gets his name from the Japanese pronunciation of “Edgar Allen Poe,” but clearly I was wrong. Even though it turns out that the etymology that I was developing is completely false, however, I’m going to run with it anyhow, because it fits too well. In the first place, Oni and Pikachu often engage in a certain kind of tribal musicality — a chanting, rhythmic collaboration that emphasizes the toms and, importantly, tonal shifts in the drumming itself — that traces its inspiration back to the tribal music of Africa rather than simply through the direct transmission of rock’n’roll. They’ve made this connection explicit and have even, via an anthropologist friend, spent time living with Pygmy tribes in Cameroon and playing music with them. In the second place, a part of their show involves a kind of horror element that resembles demonic possession. It’s like the kabuki makeup is used to channel a demonic otherness that sits somewhere between a grade B 1960s horror epic and the deep history of Japanese ghost stories. This is why I like the Edogawa Rampo connection so much — Edogawa Rampo, who wrote mystery and horror, took his name from Edgar Allen Poe, but in the transmutation changed not only the sound, but also the sense of the name. Edogawa’s first name sounds phonetically like “Edo-gawa,” or “Edo River,” a river that doesn’t actually exist, but which nevertheless suggests the idea of Edo period culture and non-Western Japanese cultural practices. While this is clearly not an intentional transformation on Rampo’s part (he is, after all, writing in a form that originates with Poe), it does highlight the way in which hybridity often plays itself out in Japan. Afrirampo may mean “Naked Rock,” but for me there will also always be those two other senses enclosed within the name.
Edogawa Rampo’s most famous short story is about an ugly and obsessive furniture maker who builds an enormous chair that he can hide inside while unknowing women sit in his lap and he gazes at them through a tiny eyehole:
Beginning with this individual, several people ‘sat on my knees’ that day, as if they had patiently awaited their turn. No one, however, suspected even for a fleeting moment that the soft ‘cushion’ on which they were sitting was actually human flesh with blood circulating in its veins — confined in a strange world of darkness. What was it about this mystic hole that fascinated me so? I somehow felt like an animal living in a totally new world. And as for the people who lived in the world outside, I could distinguish them only as people who made weird noises, breathed heavily, talked, rustled their clothes, and possessed soft, round bodies.
(from Japanese Tales of Mystery and Imagination, by Edogawa Rampo)
So, after Afrirampo, I finally got a chance to see Deerhoof, which is one of my favorite bands, play live in Osaka. The irony is, Deerhoof is a Bay Area based band and, though I’ve wanted to see them live for years, I’ve always ended up missing them because of some wedding, or some deadline, or some other something like that. So, it was a real treat to have them play in Osaka on a double bill with Afrirampo. Deerhoof’s set was complimentary to Afrirampo’s, and also totally unlike. Abstract rhythms and tempos, beautiful melodies followed by loud rhythmics, followed by off-kilter harmonic colorations. Perhaps a bit like listening to a kaleidoscope with the color pieces composed of punk rock, avant-jazz, King Crimson, and children’s poems. Deerhoof are tight in the sense that they practice together constantly to build an intelligence into their music that then comes out to communicate its happiness to you. I felt rhythmic happiness patterns listening to Deerhoof. They closed with a trio of animal songs: “Panda,” a bunny song, and the awesome “Here Comes the Duck!” from Green Cosmos, one of my favorite Deerhoof albums. And Greg Saunier, the drummer, turns out to be a really nice guy.
Finally, let me just say, I’m officially old now. I wore musician’s earplugs to the concert and I can’t recommend them highly enough. The last three concerts I’ve been to, I’ve left with a ringing in my ears that lasted for days. Since I want to be listening to music to the end of my days, I decided to preserve my ears with musician’s earplugs, which let all the tones in, with not all of the loud. After the concert, I pulled them from my ears, and I could hear the world in its normal and sophisticated volumes.
Lastly, SAVE YOUR EARS!!!
Filed under: Japan, Kansai, music, Osaka, performance | 2 Comments
Tags: Afrirampo, avant rock, Deerhoof, live at Fandango