Batman, Broken Bones and Theee Bat
I’m back in Nishiogikubo for a punk gig at the Rinky Dink Studio’s live house “Flat”. Walking in to the venue, I announce which band I’m here to see, purchase my ticket and grab a beer. I wander through to a small live space, conspicuous in being the only foreigner in the place. I’m also one of the few girls, and one dressed more like a metaller than the surrounding punks poured into their skinny jeans and wearing an assortment of velvet jackets, t-shirts, studded belts and boots. Still, I settle in at the back and nervously clean my camera lenses. I`ve only been in the venue two minutes when an older woman standing next to me passes out beneath a table. The guy she’s with kneels on the ground, flailing about and unsure about what to do with this deadweight – alternately trying to lift her and then moving his beer bottle and putting it down again, all the while looking completely bewildered. After about a minute the woman comes round and exhales sweatily, “What the hell was that?” before getting to her feet and stumbling out into the Saturday night drizzle.
Meanwhile, (behind the facade of this innocent looking venue) Theee Bat having seemingly materialised from nowhere and begin setting up on stage. It’s one of their trademarks for me that I always see them turn up in their black-clad and kohl-eyed finery, like they’re ready to start playing at anytime, and sometimes seem to disappear into the night just as quickly.
The crowd gathers in anticipation and the band begin with a grimy and distorted version of the “Birthday Song” before launching into a
two-minute cacophonous version of the classic Batman Theme song, which acts as something of a fitting introduction to the Theee Bat show. The band keep to the classic two to three minute hard-hitting and boisterous punk standard for songs, keeping them fresh and entertaining no matter how many times you see them.
Interviewing the band after the gig, I asked them to tell me about themselves, for their image is a very iconic one – bastardized English police hats resplendent with iron crosses and skulls; classic bat-shaped guitars, and Batman logos. Where does this whole aesthetic originate from, I wondered?
“I really wanted a band with an animal name, like The Crickets or The Beatles,” says Mika (Gt&Vox), who formed Theee Bat 7 years ago and acknowledges a fascination with Batman. “We had the double “e-e” in the name, but a promoter misspelt it with three, so we kept it – `e-e-e`,” she adds, gesturing to the three members of the band.
Kabu (bass & screaming) goes on to add that Theee Bat had originated as an all-female band.
“We had one of the best female drummers,” says Mika, “but she got sick and couldn’t play anymore.”
Fool (drums & savage) has been playing with Theee Bat for around a year now – in fact, the first time I saw the band must have been in his very early days. That gig was one where Theee Bat took to the stage in what felt like a storm of feedback, to an intrigued but very un-punk audience. Mika and Kabu tore around the tiny venue, scissor kicking into the crowd, dragging wires all over the place, kicking over mic stands, and performing a variety of floor-based guitar acrobatics. Terrorizing the jubilantly surprised crowd, a drum bag went flying across the room and sent the paintings on the wall rocking precariously. My good friend and I looked at each other across the room and both communicated the same thought – this was the best band we’d ever seen play that venue. Theee Bat, quite frankly, are so infectiously high-energy, that they make me grin like a lunatic whenever I see them.
I ask the band where they get their stage characters. Mika admits to going for the hysterical angle, channeling a range of influences including The Mummies and Sid Vicious. Kabu, who likes to playfully antagonize the audience with a snarl and fluttering bat-wing hands, puts his stage presence down to “rock’n roll magic”. Fool, meanwhile, who off-stage is a demurely quiet and friendly says:
“I’m completely different on stage. I don’t know why – it’s like flicking a switch.” Fool’s trademark move is to pick up his cymbal stand
and carry it menacingly out into the audience, proceeding to frantically thrash away at it among the punters, sometimes leaving it stranded with a good dousing of beer for the rest of the set.
“At one venue,” Fools recounts, with mimes for added effect, “the manager clung onto the cymbal and told us to stop playing.”
And that’s only one of the problems they’ve had playing live. Kabu tells of a London gig where there was no bass coming out of the speakers for the entire show, and Mika tells of the numerous broken bones (feet, arms etc.) the band have sustained over the years.
On the subject of personalities then, and with upcoming live dates in Europe, I ask Theee Bat how their travels in places such as Spain, England and America compare with Japan.
“Spanish people are crazy!” both Mika and Kabu blurt simultaneously. They describe the English and American audiences as slightly more reserved, but this only encourages them to work harder for an audience response.
“In Tokyo, the audiences are similar to London, but a little more direct. In Osaka they’re more like the Latin crowds – more open.”
For all their travels, I bring Theee Bat back to Tokyo and the punk scene, which for me has never been something I’ve quite cracked, despite living in close proximity to the infamous punk town of Koenji and a habit for accruing badly reproduced gig fliers. It seems to me that unlike the Facebook savvy gaijin scene, punk resolutely clings to lo-fi photocopied fliers and word of mouth.
“I started off in a garage punk, but as there are many different bands in Tokyo, that whole scene is very segmented,” says Mika. “It’s difficult to get chances to play together. It’s split up.”
“Garage punk isn’t popular right now,” adds Kabu.
“It’s a really small scene,” continues Mika. “Punk [in general] is also like that, I guess. It’s a bunch of little scenes all over the place. Basically, everyone goes overseas by themselves, widening their connections.”
Theee Bat, in fact, were on tour with The 5678s last year in the US, playing with them as well as a number of other smaller gigs around Manhattan and New York.
“They [the bands] go on own their own steam, with no label support. Daddy-o-Nobu, who’s a big guy in garage punk, calls them the “2nd generation”. A lot of people who used to watch people like him have now formed their own bands, and say ‘Let’s do this by ourselves’. They get paid a little, but basically it’s plus-minus-zero, or a little bit of loss. Everyone is trying to do it by themselves, finding their own opportunities.”
Fool echoes the inspirational nature of punk music when I ask the band what they plan for the future:
“I always wanted to play CBGBs, but now I want to inspire the younger generation by playing hard.”
Kabu asks the live audience to “Just feel it”, while Mika exhorts their fans to “Go crazy!” as well as expressing a desire for the band to become better known.
After our interview, I join Theee Bat back inside the venue to watch the final band of the evening. They seem charmingly conspiratorial in their easy way with one another, jumping up and down to the band, or hanging off to one side drinking a beer. I again come back to the amusing dichotomy between their on and off-stage personas, and admire the clear joy the band derive from playing, even though it may be seemingly at odds with their grimy, mock-aggressive style.
As the final band finishes, I head off back home a few stops on the train and go through the photos I’ve shot that evening. I don’t think I’ve ever got a clear image of Theee Bat, which goes to show how frenetic and brilliantly chaotic they can be live. If you’re ever in with the chance of seeing them, I highly recommend checking them out. If you’re in England or Spain right now, you’ll be in with a good chance.
Theee Bat are playing this month:
6th Oct: Dirty Water Club, London, UK
7th Oct: Central Bar, Gateshead, UK (early show)
8th Oct: Brudenell Social Club, Leeds, UK
10th Oct: Brixton Windmill, London, UK
11th-13th: Funtastic Dracula Carnival, Benidorm, Spain
Check out the Theee Bat PV here:
Many thanks to Chiharu Yoshino for on-the-spot help with translating, Andrew Syfret for last-minute Japanese decoding, and Mikey Peregine for the broken bones question.