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A primer on Japanese experimental masters EYE, Yoshimi, Seiichi Yamamoto and the hypnotic mess they’ve made.
The Boredoms aren’t an easy group to nail down. One of the strangest-ever signings to a U.S. major label (Warner Bros.), the Osaka-born posse started as a punk-inspired, Dada-esque noise band in the late 1980s but across the next two decades gradually evolved into a relentlessly meditative trance- and noise-rock concern that drew on ideas first envisioned by predecessors Amon Duul, Guru Guru and Hawkwind.
In 2007, for example, the group convened in Brooklyn Bridge Park for 77 Boadrum, the first in a series of mass-musician events. Featuring 77 musicians reacting to Eye and Yoshimi’s conducting, the band created a 77-minute tribal pound-fest. They did the same, but with 88 drummers, in 2008 at the La Brea Tar Pits.
Founded by screamer-programmer-visual-artist Yamantaka Eye — who goes by EyeA, EWE, EY3, EYE, EYE one, EYE X, Eye Y, Eye Yamataka, Eye Yamatska, Eye Yamatsuka, Eye Yamazka, EyeEye, EYƎ, eYɘ, Pamantaka Eye, Pamantaka EYƎ and Yakmatsu Eye — the Boredoms’ longest running line-up has also featured percussionist-yowler Yoshimi (a.k.a. the namesake of the Flaming Lips’ album Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots), guitarist Seiichi Yamamoto and dozens of on again, off again collaborators.
Eye is best known to non-Boredoms fanatics for his visual art, most famously his cover for Beck’s album Midnight Vultures. Eye has overseen the design on almost every Boredoms release. He’s also a deconstructionist remixer who’s worked on tracks by Black Dice, Todd Rundgren, Melvins, Yellow Magic Orchestra and Lindstrom.
The Boredoms Discographical Universe is vast, and exploring it at proper volume and attention can lead to hypnotically profound experiences. Below are a few places to start.
Boredoms – Super Roots
Starting in 1993, the Boredoms issued a series of Super Roots EPs that, when completed in 2010, had ten installments. The early ones, issued on Warner Bros. in the wake of the Nirvana-fueled gold rush to find the next big “alternative” thing, feature jarring, art-damaged noise rock. But as the series progressed, the band became more attuned with electronic music, repetition and lots and lots of drumming. Live shows in the 1990s were holy affairs — this writer witnessed them at the Cabaret Metro in Chicago — and the recordings of the time bear that out.
For Super Roots 7, the band tapped a three-chord riff from punk band the Mekons’ “Where Were You” to create Roman candle rhythms that, once they commence, gradually increase in intensity until they seem to heave and lurch.
Super Roots 8 is based on the catchy theme song to Japanese children’s show “Jungle Taitei.” Co-written by famed synth player Isao Tomita, the song gets the Super Roots treatment through rolling snare patterns and vast, pounding bass drums, with cosmic synth waves traveling through the measures. As the years progressed, Boredoms began relying less on energetic displays to a quieter brand of repetition. One performance in the early ‘10s featured three drum kits, a turntable, two CDJs and a 24-member choir.
In the early ‘00s, Eye commissioned a trio of producers to explore the group’s archival bounty. Granting access to all the stems, tracks, noises and wails in the Boredom arsenal, he invited Japanese techno producer Ken Ishii, downtempo beat maker DJ Krush and British trip hop renegade U.N.K.L.E. to partake. Each of the resulting three volumes is its own kind of epiphany, but are structurally similar: one 20-plus minute, uninterrupted piece on each side.
A fascinating project co-founded by longtime Boredoms guitarist Seiichi Yamamoto, Rovo began as a late 1990s expansion of Boredoms-generated ideas on extreme repetition and the ways in which hard, aggressive mantras can produce near-hallucinatory experiences with sound. Featuring players from Osaka’s fertile music scene, Rova has released 20 studio albums (!). Some of the earliest came out in the U.S. on John Zorn’s label Tzadik, but the best place to start is with the first, Imago. A mesmerizing space rock document, it’s a record that at full volume is an overwhelming listen.
The Boredoms first gained attention in the U.S. after New York label Shimmy Disc (Bongwater, Half Japanese, Velvet Monkeys) compiled the group’s ridiculously erratic noise-punk-metal songs onto an album called Soul Discharge. A yowl heard around the world, it roared through the New York experimental scene before denting the eardrums of John Zorn.
Teaming with Eye, Zorn gathered a crack band that included Wayne Horvitz, Fred Frith, Joey Baron and Bill Frisell to create Torture Garden. A wildly powerful single album that features 42 short song-bursts, only three of them last more than a minute. Eye spins through the album like the Tasmanian Devil, wrecking everything in his path. Note: This record will not relax you.
Though Eye founded the Boredoms, for much of its life Yoshimi has been his most consistent collaborator. If, on any Boredoms song, you hear high-pitched shrieks or retorts, that’s Yoshimi. A remarkable percussionist and composer in her own right, her ongoing project OOIOO has produced a series of singular experimental albums that feature percussion, synths, environmental textures and her blissfully free-flowing muse. Since 1997, OOIOO has released nine albums, and each is its own contemplative world.
To get a sense of his approach to DJ sets and remixing, here’s a rundown (per Discogs) of some of Eye’s pseudonyms: AEIOU, American Sex, Angry Noise Fly, the Ass Ess, DJ Chaos X, DJ Coswamp, DJ Pica Pica Pica, Electric Toilet Orchestra, Eye Ramone, the Fog, the Hum, the Lift Boys, Free Brain, I Can Melt For Shit, King Kazoo Eye, MC Hellshit, Miracle Disco Vomit, No.01, Odd Bodysuit E.Y.E., Onanie, PP Night, Pylamid Suicide, Rav Yechida, Silver Magic Machine, Skyeye, Space Maggots, Tetsuo Yamatsuka, Weyew and XXXXXX-Rated.
His DJ mixes, many of which remain inexpensive as used CDs, are absolutely ridiculous. His best, under his DJ Pica Pica Pica moniker, Planetary Love Gas Webbin’ 199999, is a seamlessly beat-matched mix that includes British folk, new age, tribal percussion, acid house and synth music — including precisely-edited cut-ins of tracks by Bill Laswell, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Henry Kaiser, Philip Glass and Mandingo.