Former buskers from Tokyo turn Europe on to Eastern psychedelia.
You onlY get one chance to make a first impression. Unfortunately for Japanese experimentalists Kikagaku Moyo, they haven’t always made the impression they intended.
“When we started, we couldn’t really play very well,” explains drummer and vocalist Go Kurosawa.“So we thought we’d create a bit of mystery around us by playing one of our early shows in Tokyo completely covered in smoke.
“We thought,‘No one will be able to see us because we’re invisible, and people will think we’re special.’” Unfortunately, there were unintended side-effects. “The venue thought that something had been set on fire, so they called the fire brigade, stopped the show and we were banned from the venue for life.”
Thankfully, in the years since their 2012 formation as a “free music collective”, the band have gone on to find more understanding homes for their shows, a stable line-up and an enthusiastic following, even after revealing their faces to the world. We meet them as they prepare to release their fourth album, Masana Temples, their most focused, groove-based release yet, but one which retains a freewheeling, genre-fluid vibe about it, born of their origins busking for hours on end in the lesser-populated metro stations of Tokyo, which served as their rehearsal spaces in the early days.
“On the street or in the metro you can play forever,” says guitarist Tomo Katsurada.“We’d only make three or four euros a day but we didn’t care. We’d get kicked out a lot and moved on but some stations, where there were less cops, you could play all night. It was better than paying for a studio or practice room.”
If that sounds like the kind of bohemian, improv-heavy origins that spawned the early krautrock bands and many more late-60s prog groups formed out of communal living and a shared creative philosophy, it’s no accident. Echoes of krautrock and the Canterbury scene are evident alongside hints of David Axelrod’s psychedelic studio visions.
“Can were a big inspiration for us, and also the British folk rock movement,” Kurosawa admits. “We’re fans of people like Soft Machine, but we also like the jazz approach of Magma. Yet all of this is combined, I think, with a Japanese sense of melody.”
They mostly record live with few overdubs, and share the psych era’s interest in Eastern exotica, evidenced in the sitar playing of Go’s brother Ryu, who was taught by legendary maestro Manilal Nag.
“He still goes to India once a year, and has Skype lessons from his guru,” says the elder Kurosawa.
Despite their Japanese origins, the five-piece are now an international affair, partly based in Amsterdam. That’s where Go and Tomo run Guruguru Brain, a label aiming to promote south-east Asian prog and psych music to western audiences. Can they recommend any of their roster?
“Minami Deutsch have a great new record this year and will be touring Europe next year, and Sundays & Cybele, from Hokkaido, play in the UK this autumn – they’re more like Japanese prog.
“What they have in common with us is that they take Western rock forms and add their own Asian identity.” JS
“CAN WERE A BIG INSPIRATION FOR US, AND ALSO THE BRITISH FOLK ROCK MOVEMENT.”
LOOK TO THE EAST: KIKAGAKU MOYO AREMAKING THEIR OWN STAMP ON PSYCHEDELIA.