Published Jun 01, 2005Truly one of the world's most challenging, bizarre and uncompromising groups, Osaka, Japan's Boredoms made their distinct mark in the mid-'90s when their sporadic brand of improvised "acid punk" - the term used by Yamatsuka Eye, the band's chief and shrieking lead singer, to describe their chaotic blend of spontaneous sound combustion and playful style deconstruction - granted them the admiration and support of some of that period's most respected talents (Kurt Cobain, Sonic Youth and John Zorn, to name a few), a devoted worldwide following and a major label recording deal that honours their creative freedom. After Boremania had reached its peak, around 1995, Boredoms went back underground, embraced a transitional period and recreated themselves as sun-worshipping mystics intent on following their tribal, drum-heavy sound into the very beating heart of being, an ascendance they further vibrate with their first new album in four years, Seadrum/House of Sun, and a North American tour that captures them headlining Victoriaville, Quebec's Festival Musique Actuelle.
1982 to 1985
Deep within Osaka's noise underground, an artistic breeding ground that had been bustling since it began in 1979, a violently extreme singer / noise musician / performance artist named Yamatsuka Eye begins performing with his open-ended performance-noise troupe, the Hanatarashi (translation: the Snotnose). An explosively violent reaction to seemingly all that surrounds them (as well as what's embodied within them), the Hanatarashi's extremely demanding physical performances and abrasive industrialized noise assaults (firecrackers and chainsaws were two commonly used instruments), led by Eye's inexplicable language of piercing spontaneous vocal combustion, quickly make them and Eye Japanese legends in their own right. One folkloric tale captures Eye bringing a dead cat on stage and tearing it in half with a chainsaw. Eye himself has verified two such incidents, one when he accidentally cuts open his leg with the power-saw that's strapped to his back, and another when he causes a whole lot of damage to a club while driving a mini-backhoe through it. The Hanatarashi's self-titled debut LP is released by Japan's Alchemy Records in 1985. The word "cock" appears in all eight of the track titles.
Almost as legendary as his days with the Hanatarashi is Eye's name. Many believe it to have some sort of mystic significance. The truth is he derived it from his younger sister's name, Aiko. "I took the Ai part, writing it out like the English word 'eye.' No story, I just did it," he told Oakland-based zine Browbeat. Over the years Yamatsuka Eye has changed to Yamantaka Eye, Yamataka Eye, eYe and EYE with the second "E" reversed. His real name is Tetsuo Yamatsuka.
1985 to 1986
Eye begins arranging rock-style jam sessions and live performances. The first players Eye works with are sometime Hanatarashi drummer Ikuo Taketani, bassist Hotoi, female singer Makki Sasara, and guitarist Tabata Mara (AKA Mitsuo Tabata), who is also a member of notable noise-rockers Noizunzuri. The band is characteristically aggressive, wild and chaotic, with a definite punk influence at play. They bare the extravagant name of Acid Makki & Combi and Zombie.
Eye and Taketani record a track for a compilation cassette by Japan's Beast 666 label called Kill S.P.K. (named in aggression toward S.P.K., an early Australian industrial group who had recently adopted synth-pop styling). They call this psychobilly-inspired slice of acid-punk chaos "U.S.A." and attribute it to Boredoms-possibly in reference to the Clash song "I'm So Bored with the U.S.A." though Eye has been quoted saying he was inspired by the Buzzcocks song, "Boredom." The name takes on a life of its own when "U.S.A." gets picked up for release some months later by the German label Dossier for their Dead Tech Sampler I: No Wave from Japan LP, a compilation that plays a significant role in uniting this latest wave of Japan's noise-rock underground. For Dead Tech, however, "U.S.A." is renamed "Super Punk King."
Sometime between the two releases of this first official Boredoms song, Taketani is kicked out of the band and replaced on drums by Eye's friend Yoshikawa. Legend has it that these two met at an Einsturzende Neubauten show when Yoshikawa let Eye sit up on his shoulders to see the show. Shortly after, the mysterious Makki Sasara also leaves the group, as does Hotoi, who is replaced by beginning bassist Hira (AKA Hilah), but Tabata sticks around on guitar. Possibly inspired by the attention Dead Tech had received, the band officially names itself Boredoms. The only "law" they agree to adhere to in their music is spontaneity.
Amidst this latticework of jumbled activity, Tabata introduces Eye to Yoshimi Yokota (AKA Yoshimi P-WE). Tabata had met Yoshimi (then a student at a Kyoto college) when he replied to some posters she put up around Kyoto, looking for potential noise musicians to collaborate with. It just so happens Tabata is a member of Yoshimi's favourite band, Noizunzuri, but the two don't click. However, she and Eye do, and the two form a noise project called Hasty Snail Baby (renamed UFO or Die a few years later), with Yoshikawa occasionally lending his hand to the energetic and inspired racket.
One hot summer afternoon in 1986, a season Eye spent working part-time digging a well, he and Tabata record the "Anal Trilogy": three riff-dismantling old-school punk tracks set to sporadically edited drum samples, lifted from an instructional cassette by jazz drummer Ponta Murakami. It becomes the first Boredoms release: Anal by Anal, a 7" EP for Trans Records, the contents of which are titled "Anal Eat" (later retitled "Anal Eater"), "God from Anal" and "Born to Anal." From cock to anal in a single year-Eye's unique and uncompromising artistic vision is continuing to take shape.
Tabata leaves Boredoms to join Taketani and noise-guitarist K.K. Null in the latter's new noise-rock outfit, the now-legendary Zeni Geva. The inimitable Yamamoto Seiichi (AKA Yama-Motor) takes Tabata's place as Boredoms' crazed guitar dismantler.
Curiously, Eye and Yoshimi release a track called "Hog Maiden is Super Bad Smell" as The Vickly & The Ohdorockanize on a compilation cassette called Dwarf from Japan's Beast 666 label. This is but one beautiful example of the pair's extreme motivation for numerous wildly sporadic (and colourfully credited) collaboration projects, which continue to branch out at alarming rates.
Boredoms' first album, Osorezan no Stooges Kyo, or The Stooges Craze in Osorezan is pressed in an edition of 1000 hand-drawn LP's by Japan's Selfish label. (Osorezan is a mountain in Japan where ghosts are said to assemble). The album sets Boredoms' standard: sporadic ideas and musical incidents crashing into each other like a punch-drunk party spun ecstatically out of control.
But there's one nagging problem: Yoshikawa's drumming. "The first album was not really musical because Yoshikawa didn't know how to play drums," Eye later explains to Browbeat. "It was great but it wasn't musical," chips in Yoshimi. "He would always kinda play around the edges, hit all kinds of strange parts on the drum," adds Eye. The problem is rectified when Eye invites Yoshimi to replace Yoshikawa behind the drum kit. She agrees and Yoshikawa moves over to co-lead vocals and percussion duties.
The band begins issuing volumes in a self-released cassette series called Boretronix (six of which reportedly exist, four verifiably so), which they sell out editions of during their many Japanese shows. Some of these shows find the band opening for Sonic Youth and the groups are fast friends.
Eye also befriends John Zorn after the New York avant-garde composer jumps up on stage, alto sax in hand, during an explosive one-off performance by noise-rock supergroup Geva Geva, which featured Eye, K.K. Null and Yoshida Tatsuya of prog-extremists Ruins.
Yoshikawa leaves Boredoms and is first briefly replaced on percussion duties by Hasegawa Chu (then a member of Yamamoto's experimental noise outfit Omoide-Hatoba), then finally a man named ATR. A mysterious female dancer named God Mama also joins the band. She would waltz in and out of Boredoms over the years.
US noise label RRRecords releases Hanatarash 3. The "i" that used to conclude the group's name has by now been dropped, making the individual ("Snotnose") an entity ("Snotnosed").
Eye becomes the official guest vocalist of John Zorn's new free-jazz grindcore experiment Naked City, which features a prolific line-up in Bill Frisell (guitar), Wayne Horovitz (keys), Fred Frith (bass) and Joey Baron (drums). The critically admired group release six albums over the course of as many years (the first of which is handled by Elektra / Nonesuch). Naked City successfully exposes both Zorn and Eye to a whole world of hardcore-metal listeners.
Boredoms second LP, Soul Discharge '99 is released in Japan by Selfish. Its vibrant cover photo portrays two people decked out in wild new-wave fashions, apparently freaking out. It is a fitting expression of the sounds inside.
1990 to 1991
Soul Discharge is issued stateside by New York's ultra-hip Shimmy Disc label (run by Kramer of prankster-rock deconstructionists Bongwater). It is the band's first full-fledged US release, and a confusingly modified version of the Japanese LP at that-it supplants a handful of the original's tracks with a pile of exclusive early recordings, which claim to date as far back as 1982 (suggesting much of the work is Eye solo material). The liner notes jokingly refer to the band's "psychoalphadiscobetaudioaquadoloop sound," a description cleverly indebted to George Clinton's antics with Parliament/Funkadelic.
Back in Japan, Boredoms release a 7" called "Michidai" / "Fuanteidei" on Public Bath and Eye and Yoshimi begin releasing material as UFO or Die on a variety of tiny Japanese labels.
Things change drastically for Boredoms when they sign a long-term recording contract with Warner Bros. Japan (WEA). The deal honours Boredoms complete creative freedom and artistic support, which they in return honour by recording and packaging what could very well be the most challenging music ever released by a major label. A US deal with Warner's sub-label, Reprise, is also negotiated where the label can pick and choose which Boredoms releases will reach North American soil without the weight of hefty import prices. (Europeans have always had to buy their Boredoms material as imports, either from the US or Japan.)
This siege of sound begins with the WEA / Reprise release of Pop Tatari. The album, which features a rejoined Yoshikawa on co-lead vocals and synthesizers, is an underground critical and listener success that brings Boredoms more media attention than ever, even if often by boggled critics (the running touchstone of comparison used is Butthole Surfers, a freaky Texas group who had creatively peaked the year Boredoms were formed, with their masterpiece de resistance, Rembrandt Pussyhorse). Tatari is Japanese for masturbation.
Yoshimi is invited to join Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon, ex-Pussy Galore member Julia Cafritz and Pavement bassist Mark Ibold as the drummer (and, occasionally, trumpeter) in their lo-fi riot grrrl-inspired side-project, Free Kitten. The band release two albums and a string of singles and EP's over the next four years, among them a 7" picture-disc which shows Yoshimi dressed as a Geisha girl and in a kinky leather outfit, overtop the band's cover of confrontational late-70s punk icons X-Ray Spex's "Oh Bondage, Up Yours!"
The flurry of activity continues: Wow 2, a full-length album recorded by John Zorn and Martin Bisi, is released on Zorn's Avant label. Public Bath releases UFO or Die's Cassettetape Superstar album in North America. Anal by Anal is reissued on CD (by Japan's SSE) with new cover art by Eye. The band also launches the ambitious Super Roots series with WEA, and both WEA and Reprise release the first volume. It features Boredoms in characteristically high-energy mode, though Hira was off camping when the EP was recorded, so he doesn't appear on it.
Recorded in just four days and mixed by Eye in a single week, Boredoms' Chocolate Synthesizer is released by WEA and Reprise. The Japanese version comes with mail-in order forms for a free copy of Super Roots 2, a five-and-a-half-minute 3" CD. It is quickly followed by Super Roots 3, which blasts Japanese ears with its single 30-minute thrash track.
Boredoms embark upon a European tour, the opening act for which is Tonki, a duet project between Eye and Yoshimi with the two sharing vocals and mini-drums. During this tour, Yoshikawa becomes frustrated with his role in the group (he apparently kept getting stuck having to set up and dismantle the mini-drums for Tonki) and leaves the group in mid-tour.
Stateside, Reprise releases Onanie Bomb Meets the Sex Pistols, which compiles the first EP and album. Onanie is Japanese slang for female masturbation.
It is the peak of Boremania. The buzz surrounding the group has reached proportions practically unheard of for such an uncompromising act. And the projects just keep coming Steve Albini taps both Boredoms and UFO or Die to record two tracks each for his double-volume of Bad Sun Rising compilations for the Nippon Guitar label. Eye and Dekoboko Hajime (AKA John Zorn) release a gleeful collaboration album called Nani Nani on Zorn's Tzadik label. Another EP surfaces shortly after, where the two bill themselves as Mystic Fugu Orchestra, adopting the pseudonyms Rav Yechida for Eye and Rav Tzizit for Zorn, who on this release accompanies Eye's vocals on harmonium.
Boredoms' biggest break materializes when they are asked to play Lollapalooza's main stage at the behest of Nirvana's Kurt Cobain and joy of founder Perry Farrel. (Cobain's first choice was '60s Brazilian psych-pop group os Mutantes, but since they were on extended hiatus at the time, Cobain pushed for Boredoms as a second choice.) The group is given the main stage's opening slot, following ceremonial introductions by the orange-robed Tibetan Buddhist Monks. However, most Lollapalooza audiences are little more than dumbfounded by Boredoms wild stage antics (karate kicks, bizarre home-made costumes in the forms of strange creatures and lots of jumping about were common in-concert occurrences at this point) and structurally chaotic music. It seems this is the closest they could come to mass acceptance.
Boredoms' Lollapalooza spot marks the end of the group's spastic chaos-rock period and the beginning of their ascent into exceedingly more spiritual, trance-inducing realms of sound-what is commonly referred to as Boredoms' "sun-worshipping" period.
Shortly after the tour, Super Roots 5 is released in Japan. Unlike anything they've released before, it is comprised of a single 64-minute dose of hardcore ambient trance music called "GO!!!!!" (It bears relevance to point out that there is no fourth Super Roots, either for copyright reasons-as the record company attributes-or because of the stigma of Japanese superstition attached to the number itself).
Nippon Guitar issues the self-titled Z-Rock Hawaii album, a hilariously edgy, guitar-driven collaboration (Eye later calls it "Gas Stand Sound") between Eye and indie-rock goofballs Ween, with many of the Boredoms making guest contributions. Eye later admits that he wanted to name the project WeyeN, and was disappointed with the name they chose.
Meanwhile, Eye relieves his anarchic urges with We are Voice & Rhythm Only (on Japan Overseas), a 3" CD of 48 brief bursts from Destroy 2, his side-project with former Boredoms drummer Chu. A modified version of this group, named Congratulation 2, would play Yoshimi's wedding reception a few years later.
Super Roots 6, reputedly an Eye solo project, continues Boredoms' ascent to spiritual realms of psychedelia and krautrock, referring to its sound as "hardcore ambient water music." Reprise releases the hour-long "EP" stateside and thus concludes the group's contract.
Boredoms contribute a song called "Pukulee + Rikulee" to Kill Rock Stars' Rock Stars Kill compilation. The Olympia, Washington-based label also releases the debut album from Yoshimi's full-band side-project, OOIOO (pronounced "oh oh eye oh oh"). Titled o8o (or "eight"), the album features guest spots by Julia Cafritz and Keigo Omayada (AKA Cornelius), among others. The band functions as a sort of feminine mirror to Boredoms, following the same evolutionary ascension. At this point they are very noisy and foster a definite post-punk influence. OOIOO's first shows are Japanese opening spots for Sonic Youth.
Around this time Boredoms enlist a third drummer, Eda, an older man Eye befriended through Mark Ibold. Eda used to play drums for Japanese pop star Inoue Yosui.
WEA goes all out to release Boredoms' latest single, "Super Go!!!!! -> Shine In, Shine On," issuing it as a 7", a 12" and in two different CD formats (standard and deluxe, the latter boasting a liquid-filled soft plastic cover). It is even commemorated by Super Seeeeee!!!!!, a 27-minute home video of live performance footage.
Hot on its heels, the band's first proper full-length in four years, Super Ae cements the band's metamorphosis from disorganized chaos to organized peace. The album's Japanese release comes in a soft plastic cover filled with neon greenish-yellow liquid. US indie label Birdman picks up the album in North America, and Eye's colourful marker art graces the cover.
This year also marks the launch of AOA, a new collaboration between Yoshimi, Eda, Hira and others. With its own evolving line-up, the group follow their debut EP with four more albums, released in Japan between 1999 and 2001.
Boredoms record a split 12" with 77 (or Nana, the infant daughter of Boredoms manager Junko). 77's side, "Super 77," is pretty much just baby talk, while Boredoms record "Super Sky," an ode to E.L.O.'s "Mr. Blue Sky," which greatly inspired Eye when he was in the sixth grade. The 12" is released through 500 order forms, which are given out at a July show in Osaka.
ATR moves over to percussion as he is suffering from an unnamed debilitating disease, which makes him unable to perform behind a full kit. His appearance has taken on a deathly look, but his commitment to the band never wavers. Luckily, he eventually recovers and reassumes his old position behind the skins.
Super Roots 7 is released by WEA. Another departure experiment, the EP is based around seminal leftist punk group the Mekons song "Where Were You."
WEA releases the single-length Super Roots 8. It is a psychedelic folk-style field recording that pays tribute to a '50s TV series called Jungle Taiteri, or Jungle King, which was created by Osamu Tezuka of Astro Boy fame.
Next, Boredoms release a 43-minute EP called Vision Creation Newsun with WEA. It is the precursor to their forthcoming album of the same name. OOIOO's outstanding sophomore album, Feather Float, is released on Japan's Polystar. It follows Boredoms' trajectory into the mystic.
Eye, now knee deep in the raving electronic revolution, puts out a colourful dance-floor inspired solo album (Planetary Natural Love Gas Webbin' 199999) as DJ Pica Pica Pica, for Japan's Comma label. Eye also does the cover art for Beck's Midnight Vultures, the back cover of which is copped from a Japanese noise compilation called Shock City Shockers, released the previous year.
As Y2K approaches, the Vision Creation Newsun box set is issued in Japan. It contains two CD's (the new album and an exclusive bonus EP), a sticker and a white-on-white t-shirt (ideal for ultraviolet club lights.) There is even an electronic device installed into the box that emits a 22-second sample of frog-like noises when the set becomes exposed to light. Musically, it takes the sound they established with Super Ae to even further heights of on-rushing tranquillity.
Boredoms usher in the new millennium by playing the SunShineShrine concert on Onikawa, the southernmost island of Japan. Their concerts during this period, and beyond, are truly ritualistic experiences that usually begin with a simple, quiet rhythm that over time gains momentum, building in intensity and volume, until finally the tension explodes and the music careens off into blissfully rolling waves of tribal ecstasy.
Vision Creation Newsun is reissued in Japan as a single CD, with a cover photo featuring young Nana (AKA "77") being eclipsed by the sun. Yoshimi, Eye and ATR form the Hawaiian-themed side-project SUN PM 0:00. The original Soul Discharge: 1999 album is reissued in Japan, as is UFO or Die's Cassettetape Superstar. Super Seeeeee!!!!! sees release as a region 2 DVD.
Yamamoto and Hira leave, Yamamoto perhaps to focus more on his other nine groups, which include the folkie Rashinban (formed in '91) and electro-acoustic minimalists Rovo (formed in '98).
In November, Boredoms and WEA launch the ambitious Rebore remix series, which invites renowned remix artists to have their way with past Boredoms recordings. The first volume is by UNKLE.
Rebore, Vol. 2, by Ken Ishii and Vol. 3, by DJ Krush are released early in the year. Vision Creation Newsun reaches the US in February by way of Birdman, who also issue OOIOO's Feather Float a few months later.
Boredoms oddly "cover" a Phish song called "Free" for a charity- (and, with its pill-laden cover art, drug-) endorsing tribute album called Sharin' the Groove: Celebrating the Music of Phish, alongside such alien acts as Dave Matthews and Jimmy Buffett.
Word spreads that Eye and Yoshimi have recently cut a second Z-Rock Hawaii album with Ween for Mike Patton's Ipecac label, a project that has yet to see release.
And then everything suddenly changes in an extremely radical way: On June 27, Boredoms play Japan's Fuji Rock Festival and recreate themselves as Vooredoms (the two "o"'s forming the symbol for infinity, the "V" representing a needle in a groove) with new members Izumi (electronics), Yamakita (percussion), Youjiro (drums), DIE5 (drums) and Akimi (drums), making for a total of five full drummers!
On July 7, as 7VO7, Vooredoms host the "7BO7" all-night concert, which features performances by such newly assembled splinter projects as Uoredoms (Eye, Yoshimi and ATR), Anarchy 7 (a hip-hop scratch duo featuring ATR), and SUN PM 0:00, among others.
Rebore, Vol. 0: Vision Recreation, on which Eye remixes Vision Creation Newsun tracks, is released in Japan, successfully avoiding the number "four" and concluding the series in one fell swoop.
2002 to 2003
The Flaming Lips name their new album Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots in honour of Yoshimi, who lends her signature yelps and screams to the album's otherwise instrumental title track. Meanwhile, Mike Patton's Ipecac label releases Flower with No Colour, Yoshimi's tranquil collaboration with Yuka Honda of Cibo Matto (as Yoshimi and Yuka).
Vooredoms continue to perform their tribal-like underground extravaganzas, only venturing out of Japan for European festival spots, like their double-year whammy at London's All Tomorrow's Parties, under the insistence of the years' curators Sonic Youth and Matt Groening, respectively.
On American shores, Boredoms "sun-worshipping" period has provided the chief inspiration (or grounds of reference) for a new wave of electronically infused psychedelia, a Brooklyn, New York-based movement ushered in by Black Dice's Beaches and Canyons (DFA) album. Eye shows his support by remixing "Endless Happiness" from Beaches and Canyons. It soon winds up as the b-side of Black Dice's DFA-released "Cone Toaster" 12-inch, proving Eye's skills to mesmerize are still intact.
Chicago's Thrill Jockey releases OOIOO's fourth full-length, Kila Kila Kila. London, England's Very Friendly label reissues Pop Tatari, Chocolate Synthesizer and Onanie Bomb Meets the Sex Pistols, which had all drifted out of print since Boredoms' dissolution with Reprise.
September marks WEA's release of a mysterious new Boredoms album, Seadrum/House of Sun. The group's first album since 2001, its two lengthy tracks features guitar meditations by the long-departed Yamamoto and breathtaking recordings of underwater drums, both produced years earlier (the latter incident was mentioned back in 2002 during a feature in Wire). It is speculated that WEA rejected the album years prior and that the band and label, who supported them for so long, have become estranged.
Vice Records give Boredoms a long-term US deal, which begins with Seadrum/House of Sun being domestically issued in May. The band announces a small, five-stop North American tour that includes a headlining spot at Victoriaville, Quebec's Festival Musique Actuelle. Though the band is still technically Vooredoms, it is agreed that they will tour under their old moniker of Boredoms to avoid confusion.
The Essential Boredoms
Pop Tatari (1992, WEA / Reprise, re: 2004, Very Friendly)
The first certifiable Boredoms classic, Pop Tatari (translation: Pop Masturbation) is to many the pivotal and most representative album from the band's sprawling, chaotic acid-punk days. Freewheeling, funny, unpredictable and bursting with energy, Pop Tatari still sounds as fresh and shocking today as it did when it first dropped.
Chocolate Synthesizer (1994, WEA / Reprise, re: 2004, Very Friendly)
Boredoms' follow-up to Pop Tatari and the final instalment of their acid-punk era finds them deepening their sound with added emphasis on synth tones and bass grooves. As sporadic and exciting a Boredoms offering as ever, Chocolate Synthesizer's slightly "safer" sounds would make an ideal starting point for those not familiar with this band's challenging oeuvre.
Super Ae (1998, WEA / Birdman)
The band launches its new "sun-worshipping" sound with what could very well be their finest album. Super Ae manages to combine the inherent intensity of their early work with a drum-heavy spiritual weightiness that is as enlightening as it is exciting. Recommended for fans of krautrock, psychedelia, free jazz and other adventurous forms of sound pursuit.