Exploring the Gyre – An Interview with Vorchaos

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Vorchaos rehearsing, May 3rd 2014

“There are a lot of bands who do this as a hobby,” Vorchaos guitarist Kaz says, sipping on a beer, “but we want to be famous; we want be professional.”

I’m sitting with 4 out of 5 members of Tokyo-based metal band Vorchaos in their rehearsal studio one Saturday afternoon (Fuji sent me his answers via email). We’re seated on the floor around my recorder drinking beers and discussing what the band have been up to recently, their view of the Tokyo music scene, and their recent Japan tour, which has seen them finally branch out beyond their Tokyo stomping ground. That they’ve managed to play a succession of shows as comparative unknowns and come away from them triumphant is testimony to their unique sound and unparalleled stage presence, and certainly promises bigger things for the future.

Vorchaos formed back in 2008, with guitarists Kaz and Yuzo as original members along with vocalist Jun.

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Jun December 8th 2012 @ Kichijoji Crescendo

“They found me while I was playing with my previous band,” says their singer who sports a shock of black hair streaked purple and white. “It was kind of the same style as Vorchaos, but with a bit more singing,” continues Jun, who cites L’Arc~en~Ciel as an early influence, and sports a vocal range veering from purgatorial growling to a rounded and powerful clean voice. Bassist Fuji and drummer Ushi complete the line-up; Ushi telling me about how they had once met through a session his dentist had invited him to and later met again while working for Geki-rock. I ask Ushi about the first gig they played together.

“It was a bit over 2 years ago at Shibuya AUBE,” he says. “We played “Ao kagirinaku”, which was in it’s ‘prototype’ phase at the time, and so at the show we ended up jamming for 7 or 8 minutes.”

“The ending was my guitar solo,” adds Kaz. “It took a pretty long time…”

Kaz  Jan 12th 2014 @ Kichijoji Crescendo

Kaz
Jan 12th 2014 @ Kichijoji Crescendo

“Ao kagirinaku” is one of the standout tracks on Vorchaos’ debut album “Vortex of Chaos”. Used as a prolonged jazzy interlude at live shows, the song starts off with an easy-going drum intro and builds up with warm summery-sounding guitar tones with clean vocals throughout from Jun, backed by harmonies from the rest of the band. The song builds into an upbeat and multi-layered, guitar-driven power-ballad that makes you want to wave your lighter around above your head and sway from side to side.

“Vortex of Chaos” was released last November to a sold out show at Harajuku Astro Hall. With an ambitious 15 tracks on the album, one might expect it to be a little flabby, but the album makes for a cohesive whole (glued together by Fuji’s SE’s) in which every song earns its’ place on the CD. I asked the band to tell me about some of their favorite tracks, but before that I asked Jun about the lyrics. Being a heavier band, it is easy to make the assumption that their lyrical content is doused in rivers of blood, cataclysms, and gloom, but much in keeping with metalcore bands like Killswitch Engage, Jun claims quite the opposite:

“Songs like ’Gensou DIMENSION’ are very forward-looking. It depends on the song, but in this case it was based on past experiences and how those have influenced me. There’s no war or fighting in my lyrics. Our songs are about living.”

“My favorite is ‘Chaoscore’,” Kaz replies when we move on to talk songs, speaking of the album’s opening track – an unrelenting number that brings in elements of thrash, mixed up with prolonged solos and a brilliant vocal performance from Jun, who makes his vocal lunges seem effortless. “It was the first song I wrote for the band and it’s full of hope, because at the time I was wondering who I was going to play this song with in the future”.

Fuji Jan 12th 2014 @ Crescendo

Fuji
Jan 12th 2014 @ Crescendo

“’Monster’ is my favourite,” says Fuji, choosing the tribal-edged, anthemic and  feisty fifth track on the album. “I like the narrative in the lyrics, and the laughing at the beginning. The song started from the title and the lyrics and song came after that. It was an interesting way of making music.”

Yuzo talks about “Technobreak”, one of my particular favourites, and a firm crowd-pleaser at live shows. It’s amped-up, anarchic and makes you want to start a circle-pit which, at 153cm, is something this writer prefers to do mentally whilst observing the carnage from afar.

“The song started from a riff I wrote,” says the band’s guitarist and visual artist. “Kaz picked up on it and the song built from there.”

“It’s thanks to him,” Kaz says, insistently pointing at Yuzo, “that the song got made.”

“Ahh, that’s so sweet and well put,” Yuzo replies, comically batting eyelids at Kaz. “Is this some kind of bromance?”

“Ha ha,” laughs Kaz. “No homo.”

Yuzo Jan 12th 2014 @  Crescendo

Yuzo
Jan 12th 2014 @ Crescendo

Jesting aside, what does make Vorchaos’ alchemy so potent is that these 5 on-stage rock beasts get along so well. With massive onstage personas, it can feel a little at odds to find them so self-effacing and well mannered off of it, but it’s quite clear that they have a very close bond with each other and Yuzo’s artwork for the album cover reflects this by pulling in 5 strands that reflects the members and the different elements in the band. The only person who maintains that confidence off-stage is Ushi, whose time studying music in the USA cured him of the Japanese predisposition for reticence, a much needed trait for a band with their sights set high. I asked the band what they’d learned about each other from being out on the road during their tour. Ushi points at Kaz:

“He gets really talkative when he’s driving so he doesn’t fall asleep. Fuji doesn’t have a license so he’s mostly sleeping.”

“Sleeping all the time,” adds Kaz.

How’s the tour going so far?

“Our first show was in Aomori,” says Yuzo, speaking of his hometown, “and we played a metal event at a live house there. Every time I play there the show’s named ‘Volume 1’ or ‘Volume 2’, so this show was ‘Volume 44’. A lot of my guitarist friends came down to see us. We had a bit of equipment trouble but we chatted while things got sorted out. It was a really warm atmosphere.”

Ushi Jan 12th 2014 @ Crescendo

Ushi
Jan 12th 2014 @ Crescendo

“Our last show was in Yokkaichi,” adds Ushi. “The show was full of new punters, as well as fans from Tokyo, so we had a good time there. Every show has been so much fun.”

I move on to talk about the band as a whole, and their place in the music scene in Tokyo. To me, Vorchaos pull in elements of prog in their timing, thrash in their guitar driven songs and lengthy solos, as well as a bit of 80s metal (Kaz cites Loudness as an influence) in their more bombastic moments, yet none of it sounds derivative. I’d say they were a heavy metal band unlike anything the current crop of more popular bands has to offer. They stick out in the scene for not trying to emulate their musical influences but by going beyond them instead. Vorchaos, however, seem a little less certain how to define themselves:

“We’re metal but we’re not metal,” says Ushi. “ We might be pop, but we’re not. We’re rock…but we’re not.”

“I feel we’re a little confused on that point, though,” Kaz adds. “I think the most important thing is to express ourselves through our atmosphere. We like to be loud, but we don’t aim to be “metal”, per se. I don’t think we need to be defined by a genre.”

VorchaosWM 12_01_14-34The alternative music scene in Japan is woefully lacking in mainstream representation, save for bands like One OK Rock who pander MOR alt rock to packed stadium audiences. I have a feeling that this is why many “harder” bands I’ve come across seem unwilling to be defined by one genre of music for fear that this may prevent them from getting the attention they would like from prospective fans, and from the music industry. Whilst there’s nothing wrong with this, the Japanese pop-factory continues churning out pre-fab idol bands that cater to pedophilic peccadillos and tweenage hormones that can only thrive in the Japanese market. It’s the musical equivalent of Galapagos syndrome and as far as I can see, the only way to get ahead in rock is to allow a record company to take you and shape you to something they consider more fitting. Not a model that would suit Vorchaos, I feel.

The metal scene, meanwhile, is so underground that despite it’s size and the number of passionate people within it, it is a surprisingly disparate place to be a music fan and even more so to be a band.

“It is difficult,” agrees Kaz. “The metal scene is not so popular and there are only 3 or 4 dedicated live houses in Tokyo.”

“The metal scene is small: though there are a lot of bands, a lot of them are amateur projects,” adds Ushi. “As for the people in the scene, there are a lot of little groups, and people tend not to socialize so much at gigs.”

Fuji

Fuji

“Most bands bring their friends,” continues Kaz, “and they [the fans] are not really interested in meeting new people. They gather at big gigs like Loud Park, for example, when big bands come to Japan, but there’s no close relationship between fans.”

So, what’s in the works for Vorchaos? The band have long had plans to play outside of Japan, and with one Korean show under their belts they’ve had some opportunities, but just how are they going to get there? Attracting western audiences by singing in English?

“I’d always thought I’d have to write lyrics in English since we started because we want to play abroad in the future,” says Kaz. “But, we’re a Japanese band and there are some things that can only be expressed in Japanese. We’ve made the album all in Japanese, but depending on the situation [in the future] we might sing in both.”

With bands like Crossfaith and Coldrain making huge waves outside of Japan (as well as the curious rise of pop-metal princesses Babymetal), the global rock community is looking to Japan to see what else is going to come out of a country that could be defined as the weird foreign student of the music scene – seemingly awkward and unpopular, but most likely to do something that will be the talk of the town for days.   Vorchaos are a band quite unlike their contemporaries, and have a great deal of potential to take their own unique sound way beyond the confines of their home country. To do that, they need to keep up the momentum, widen their fanbase, and keep making music. When I ask about future albums (I could certainly do with another fix), Ushi smiles knowingly and says: “We’re working on it.”

 

Vorchaos finish their tour on July 11th at Harajuku’s Astrohall. Go check ‘em out!

Check out photos from their rehearsal in the gallery below:

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You can pick up “Vortex of Choas” at Tower Records, HMV and Disk Union in Japan, as well as at live shows.  For outside Japan, check out iTunes, where the album is available “earth-wide”.

Check out www.vorchaos.com and go find them on Facebook.

 

 

 

 

Thanks to Vorchaos for always being great guys to work with, Andy Levicky and Miho Tohmatsu for help with translations, and Kate Havas for proof-reading.

Izumi Ookawara @ Kichijoji Star Pines Cafe, April 17th 2014

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I shot Izumi last year at O-West when she really got the opportunity to shine  for 5 minutes with Iga Bang BB and Takeshi Nakatsuka backing her up.  So when she told me she had another gig coming up on April 17th – with a big band supporting – I was excited to see what she would be like having a whole set to herself, rather than her fleeting appearance at the Beat Communist show last year.

Being used to the sweaty, smoky confines of rock and metal live houses, the Star Pines Cafe in Kichijoji made for a pleasant change – tables and chairs, table service from the bar staff, and a wonderful second-floor seating area in a surprisingly cavernous space for somewhere so low-key.  And the lighting was great, which made me very happy. Perhaps the only downside was that the poor percussion was pretty impossible to shoot, sitting behind the wind section in the dark for most of the show – sorry, percussion guys.

It was a nice change of pace for me – no potential concussions ; no precariously teetering over the crowd on a ladder; and I got to enjoy a night of groovy bossa-nova inspired aural delights from the lovely Izumi.

Check out more photos below!

 

D.O.G.S – Dark Tunnel EP Review

DOGs-0088D.O.G.S are a bit of a trip down the anguished lanes of grunge, making you want to dig out some plaid and maybe even a bit of teenage angst to go with it. On their new EP, distorted guitars and pained, graveled roars from Koji conjure up Days of the New’s Travis Meeks on opener “Dark Tunnel” which begins with a quiet anticipatory bassline before the catchier main tune kicks in.

Steeped in American alternative-rock influences, second track “Complainer” leads with a grim, garage-rock vibe that wouldn’t be out of place in the same metaphorical dives The Mootekkis frequent. Inspired by a whining co-worker, the song communicates the annoyance of spending time with negative attitudes, cathartically turning the whole  experience into a punchy 4 minutes of roaring. Meanwhile, the final 3 tracks take on quieter, calmer tones, with “Alone” and “Home” running through disotorted whimsical adventure to riled-up ballad. “Silence Scream” closes out, veering between softer, sleepier lulls and soul-tearing gutturals.

Whilst it’s tempting to keep making comparisons, the mastering of the “Dark Tunnels” EP creates a depth and warmth the band’s musical forebears lacked in their stripped-down productions. The result is well-executed, a kind of sinking-into-late-night soundtrack that should involve cushions and whiskey. Well-worth checking out.

http://www.reverbnation.com/dogs

 

Photos taken at Gamuso, April 2014.

The Mootekkis Need You!!

Moo-0364Yeah, I know I know, it’s the third Mootekkis post I’ve made since the beginning of the year, but right now these lovely boys need your help.  They are currently in the running for the opportunity to play at Summer Sonic this year via Red Bull, but in order to do that they need your votes.

You can help them out by hitting the big red voting button on the link below, playing the video, tweeting about them and going back and doing it three or four times a day.  Hell, put the video on silent repeat while you’re doing other things.  It all adds up!

http://www.redbullliveontheroad.jp/band/2014/themootekkis

Taka promises to lick all the faces of those who vote.

Taka promises to lick all the faces of those who vote.

 

 

Distorted Veins @ Ogikubo Club Doctor, April 6th 2014

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I’ve covered Distorted Veins before, so they need no introduction.  The Tokyo-four piece were supporting Vaiwatt at the beginning of this month at Ogikubo’s Club Doctor, and so while I was there shooting Vaiwatt, I took the opportunity to shoot these guys too – they always put on a goo, bouncy show.

Homepage: http://distortedveins.wix.com/distortedveins

Vaiwatt @ Ogikubo Club Doctor, April 6th 2014

 

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I first came across Vaiwatt at the Wangan Sheep show in January  though I didn’t really speak to them much as I busy chinwagging with someone about Japanese hard- and metalcore.  To be honest, I got a bit blasted after I shot Wangan Sheep that night, so there were a few people who spoke to me at the Vaiwatt show earlier this month who I had no memory of meeting but who seemed to know me, which was…worrying.

I actually bumped into Tama and Ken walking down the street one night a few weeks after the January show and they stopped me and said: “Hey, you’re that photographer!”  And I said, “Yes, I am that photographer…”  and what with one thing and another I ended up at their show shooting the band.

They’re an unusual breed of punk band in that they have a DJ instead of a drummer.  Billing themselves as electro punk rock’n roll they have a great deal of stage energy and an equally enthusiastic crowd.

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Homepage: http://vaiwatt2013.blogspot.jp

 

 

 

 

 

 

henrytennis@ Roppongi Super Deluxe

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When I was asked to come down and review henrytennis at “Minna no Senkan”, a 2-day indie festival, I must say I was originally a little hesitant; after all, my taste in music tends more towards the growlier end of things. Watching the bands that came on before them, I can’t really say there was anything out the ordinary that took my fancy, but as soon as henrytennis started setting up and I saw a saxophone and (more importantly) a glockenspiel, my interest was immediately piqued.

henrytennis-8The band are rather an unassuming bunch, taking to the stage with little fanfare and only the briefest of banter. They prefer instead to let the music do the talking, and they pulled the audience in with guitarist Okamura’s chilled-out picking over some atmospheric synth. As the rhythm section kicked in, opening song “Holy Ghost”, took on a psychedelic and proggy edge, smoothed out later with a good dose of sax.

Over the course of the show though, the style varied throughout. While “Holy Ghost” was much more progressive in its timing and overall trippy atmospherics, “Luster Brain” harkened back to me more towards 60s British jazz musicians like Mike Taylor and Michael Garrick with its` meandering sax at the forefront of the song, backed up with some hypnotic bass and warm yet rangy guitar.

henrytennis-2New track “Free City” gave the glockenspiel a chance to shine, lending the song a very upbeat and whimsical feel, while “Hydration” was heavy on the funky keyboard and picked up the pace, with a frenetically busy “chorus” punctuated with extremely tight rising breakdowns that garnered whoops of appreciation from the crowd. “Jesus” finished off the band’s 40-minute set with a very dreamy meander, run through with soaring saxophone.

Overall, henrytennis were completely not what I was expecting, and the better for that – progressive, dreamy, and rather nostalgic sounding, they are the kind of thing you could imagine kicking back to at home on a summer’s evening on a record player with a few beers.

SETLIST

  1. Holy Ghost
  2. Luster Brain
  3. Free City
  4. Hydration
  5. The Electronic Flute
  6. Jesus

Having been on hiatus for a long while, henrytennis are definitely a band it’s good to have back around as their brand of mellow yet groovy indie rock is something very unique and very well worth checking out.  In fact, you can check out their  whole show at Super Deluxe here:

 

Thanks to Kyoko Oabayashi  for photos from the event!

henrytennis homepage:  http://henrytennis.com/wp/

 

Sunrise on Ko Samui

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The crazy pace of life in Tokyo tends to take a toll, so it’s always nice to escape for a bit of daily yoga, meditation, amazing food, and marvellous massages.  I took this photo a few years ago in Ko Samui, Thailand.  I got up three days in a row at around 5am to get the perfect sunrise.  Not being impartial to the occasional selfie, I took this photo of me in the sea.

As it happens, that photo may now be able to take me back to a yoga retreat in Bali.  By clicking on the link here http://www.oneworldretreats.com/contest/vote.php?id=73 and then hitting the like button, you’ll be putting me in with a chance to being in the top 5 photos selected for the final vote in July.  The winner receives a trip for 2 people to the wonderful One World Retreat in Bali. I’ll post all about that wonderful place in July if I get into the final round of voting!

So go vote, and get me some relax time in 2015.  If you like the photo, please feel free to share with your buddies too.

Thanks and namaste!

Gakido’s Farewell Show @ Shinjuku Blaze, Nov. 30th 2013

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Yeah, I know.  This one’s a little on the late side, but better that than never, ne?

Gakido were always a band I really enjoyed seeing, writing and shooting live.  While their music on CD had its moments (Liz Riot, Ocyame Pop, Checkmate) I  always thought they were much more enjoyable in the flesh.  A band with three singers, an irrepressible stage energy, and a box of fun for a wardrobe is gonna be hard to see go, and there was not a dry eye in the room by the end of the band’s final show last year.  Even I felt a little lump in my throat and I’m generally hard as a ten tonne monolith when it comes to goodbyes.

I made sure to be there for the final, as I felt it was my duty to shoot and say sayonara to a band who made me laugh out loud on more than one occasion, and who a lot more to give before their disbandment was announced last summer.

So, here are some of my favourite shots from the show.  There is also a photo report up at Rokkyuu you can check out, but this page contains a few images not in that report, including this one of Kahiro, my favourite spangly Arabian pirate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Mootekkis @ Club Edge, Roppongi

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I covered The Mootekkis last month when they launched their album, so I’m not going to say too much more about them here, merely that Mike asked me to come down and shoot them in a venue with better lighting. So I did.

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