Since their formation in 1992, Japan’s Melt Banana have been blowing the minds of audiences worldwide with their hyper speed take on noise rock, which incorporates elements of punk, metal, J-pop, electronica and even hip-hop. It’s a bug eyed crazy sound, one that is full of energy and sends their fans into fits of joy whenever they play out.
Though not for everybody, the people who love them, love them intensely and it has lead the band to collaborate with such artists as Merzbow, John Zorn, Discordance Axis and Mike Patton. They have even opened for prog metal heavyweights Tool in the United States.
It’s been a long strange trip for the band, one that has seen them grow a sizable fan base among connoisseurs of way out aggressive music in both the United States and Europe. In fact, they end up touring these parts of the world more than their native Japan. One big reason could be the reaction they get from the audiences here and in Europe.
“When we started, we met K.K.Null from Zeni Geva. He gave us a chance to record our first album with Steve Albini in Chicago as well as play shows in Chicago and San Francisco. Our first show in the United States was in Chicago and we liked it a lot. It was totally different from shows we had done in Japan during that period. The audience was loud and told us what they thought about our music and our show. These days the Japanese audience is changing and I think they are getting similar to people in the United States. But it is still fun to play in different countries. So the reason to tour the United States, the UK, or Europe a lot is that we like it and fortunately we have very good people to help us to play shows in those countries,” said guitarist Ichirou Agata, who along with vocalist Yasuko Onuki and bassist Rika Hamamoto form the nucleus of the band. “As far as the fan base goes, we are not sure. The number of people who show up to our concerts, in the US or UK are bigger than the ones who show up in Japan. But we play more than 15 shows in Tokyo every year, so if we only play once every 2 years in Tokyo, then there might be more people showing up to our Tokyo shows,” he added.
As mentioned before, their music is a mish-mash of styles, one that is played with lightning speed and manic energy. Though earlier records have more of a lo-fi sound (recorded with Steve Albini) the newer ones have a clearer, cleaner production. But this doesn’t mean that the music is any less vicious. You can definitely say that the band doesn’t sound like anyone else out there and they wouldn’t want to have it any other way. In fact, that was their intention all along.
“When we started the band, actually we were not really good at playing instruments or singing. We were beginners. But we knew very well about the sound we liked. For example we liked feedback a lot more than just playing the "E" note or "G" note. We liked strange drums rather than normal rock or hip hop drums. So we were very bad at playing normal music, but we practiced a lot, playing our own thing. We wanted to control an obscure, noise sound. So we practiced again and again to play that same obscure, noise sound. It's like when you practice to sneeze again and again to make exactly the same sound every time you sneeze. While playing these sounds, we met many good bands at our shows and on tour and got influenced by them on how to use the "E" note or "G" note, or normal rock or hip hop drums. It's like when you practice saying words the same way every time you speak,” said Agata.
But for them, it’s just not about recording the music. It’s about getting out there and throwing down for their fans. People tend to go batshit crazy during their sets, and they would not have it any other way. But instead of being violent and destructive it’s a way for the band and audience to connect with each other. They form an unbreakable bond with their audience.
“The best thing about playing live is that I can share Melt Banana music with the audience. We are enjoying the music together. We can express and convey our music not only to people’s ears but also their eyes and all of their senses. Also it is nice to see people's faces from the stage. If they look like they are having fun during the show, I become happy too,” said Onuki.
With each tour, usually means they bring out a new drummer. For this current United States trek they have turned to old friend who will be returning to the throne after a little hiatus from the music business.
“Our live drummer for this tour is Takiya Terada. Actually he was with us when we toured with the Fantomas in 2004 and when we went to Europe with us in 2005. After that, he stopped playing music for private reasons, so I won’t talk those here. But, he started playing drums again, so we asked him if he can play with us again. He is a very good person and practices so hard. And since we had already played with him many times and knew about his skills, it was natural decision to ask him to can play music with us again,” said Agata.
Playing music has to be a release for them, because Japan has been a country plagued by a whole bunch of disasters over the past year. The country is hurting and according to Onuki it’s been rough on the people who live there.
“We are still in bad condition; disaster areas are still on the long way to recover, and also nuclear plant problems have been not solved yet and we are even having a hard time living in Tokyo. It is hard to see the truth too, unfortunately. But we need to go forward and solve all problems clearly. I really hope this happens,” said Onuki.
But if there is one thing that lifted the spirits of the Japanese, it was their women’s soccer team winning the World Cup this past summer. The band was in Finland to play a festival, but once they found out, they were quite proud of their fellow countrywomen.
“When I knew about their victory, I thought it was great. It seems like people in Japan got excited and they talked about the team members a lot in the media. But I did not know that there was a professional football league in Japan, so it was big news to me. But I think it is good that their winning brought a good mood to Japan,” said Agata.
After they finish their current North American tour the band is going to head into the studio to record another album for release on the band’s own A-Zap label in the spring or summer, as well doing a whole bunch singles too. They also plan to some things with Melt Banana lite, too.
“There are many things that we want to do!” said Onuki.
So, it looks like the band will be keeping busy, spreading manic, crazy, happy music to all that will be willing to hear it. This is an excellent time to catch the band at the Space. Last time the show sold out and I heard they had to remove all the furniture to make way for the crowd and their “dancing”. Once again, this is another can’t miss show. See you there.
Manic Productions Presents:
Fugue (Last Show)
Friday, October 28
295 Treadwell Street
$14 ($12 advance) – All Ages and 21+ to drink at the Outer Space – 7pm
BUY TICKETS NOW or pick them up at Redscroll.