+group A, Tokio. Avantgarde Noise und Performance

Das japanische Avantgarde Noise- und Performance-Duo group A wurde im Frühjahr 2012 gegründet und besteht aus Tommi Tokyo (Stimme, Synthis, Beats) und Sayaka Botanic (Violine, Keyboards).

Live glänzt die Band durch eine ausgeklügelte Licht- und Videoshow – aber auch musikalisch beeindrucken Tommi und Sayaka mit ihrer klassischen Noise Avantgarde-Komponente, die an die Herangehensweise der frühen experimentellen Industrial-Generation à la Throbbing Gristle, Cabaret Voltaire oder auch Tuxedomoon erinnert. Die visuell äußerst aufwendig inszenierten, attraktiven Live-Shows des Projekts gab es bis bisher fast nur in Japan zu sehen. Ende Mai ändert sich nun dieser Zustand: group A kommen für zwei Shows nach Deutschland (22.5., Berlin, WestGermany · 23.5., Leipzig, Gothic Pogo Festival).

Die Band hat bisher zwei Veröffentlichungen: Das Debüt „A“ ist im Oktober 2012 erschienen und hat in den üblichen japanischen Magazinen sofort für Medienecho gesorgt. Beim zweiten Album „Initiation“, das im Oktober 2013 veröffentlicht wurde, hat die Band einen größeren Wert auf den Faktor Sound gelegt – eine Konzeptarbeit zum Thema „Ritual“. Als kleines Nachspiel ist jetzt noch eine EP mit zwei Club-kompatiblen Remixen von Tom Furse/The Horrors erschienen – alle Releases sind via bandcamp erhältlich.

group A (c) Hidemasa Miyake

Hier ein Interview, das wir mit Tommi und Sayaka via E-Mail geführt haben:

Can you tell me how group A came into existence? How did you meet? What are the backgrounds of the group members, i.e. do you guys have a professional education as musicians or in (visual) arts?

Tommi: We met each other at some gig of our mutual friends and got to speak about how the boys around us were making music and how we would do better than them. That was the beginning of group A. I have studied visual design and photography in Tokyo, just graduated the other day.

Sayaka: We both have never had any academic education in music. I finished my degree in textile design, and worked in the demonic fashion industry afterwards – while dreaming to be involved in music. And then I met Tommi. Forming group A was an invitation to make music for me since I never thought that I’d be in a band until we exploded the first noise in the studio room.

Any special story behind the name „group A“?

S: Quite simple. We didn’t want to own any particular name for us. The “A” in group A could stand for “Avant-garde”, “Alchemy” or “Analog” or …

Are there any other projects the members of group A are involved in or have been involved in?

T: My stage debut was with “Happy Bunny” – the punk band I formed with Rhys and Joe from The Horrors around 2008 in London. In “Happy Bunny” I do the vocals and play synthesizer, Rhys is on the bass and Joe on the drums. We are currently on hiatus because I’m back in Tokyo, but every time we see each other we speak about our next gig and the songs we want to cover. I formed my second band “DAncer DAnger” after I came back to Tokyo in 2010, which was more influenced by the obscure rhythm and bass of post punk and no wave. I played the bass guitar in a Chinese dress and heavily ripped tights, and I would stick political terms which I had found in the newspaper all over my dress.
Dadaism was becoming influential in my life back then, we got our band name from one of Man Ray’s works, I liked it as it had “DA DA” in the name. I’m starting a new club night soon with my pals where we strictly only play obscure indie post punk records from ’78 to ’86. I throw many nights with them, but it’s hard to have a theme like this as there aren’t many DJs who can spin those kinds of vinyls in Japan, as far as I know. We hope to have a little exhibition room in the club, too, where we can show artworks and photography that is able to transport the DIY spirit, and the postpunk aesthetics from that era.

S: I regularly play with Albino Sound (who was an RBMA 2014 participant) in the analog electronics improvisational duo “Albino Botanic”. He is an old high school mate and has similar influences in music, particularly 70s Krautrock. The project originally just started for fun, we tried to develop a new form of dance music.
The improvised performances that I did in January this year with Kohhei Matsuda and Monchan from Bo Ningen were quite challenging. It was my first time as a violin player to play live with a real drummer.
Also, the experience of making music for movies has opened my eyes – I’ve played violin for the soundtrack of short experimental film “The Bird House” directed by Mina Arai in 2014. Apart from making music, I am DJ-ing with cassette tapes.
For me, group A is Tommi Tokyo’s and Sayaka Botanic’s mothership of creation. We depart on adventures, head into new territories all the time and come back home with an armful of experiences and new ideas for “A”.

Where do you see your roots as artists? What are your most important influences?

T: My mother makes clothes. When I was a child she was sitting at her sewing machine all the time, and so I started making my own clothes at the age of 10 already. My father used to take me and my sister out to rivers and mountains for picnic or camping where we had to pick up twigs and peel them with knives to make our own chop sticks before we got to eat. My DIY spirit definitely comes from my parents. I have been influenced by so many people, by culture, history, religion, philosophy and other studies. Even though it’s hard to tell what the most important influence was, having spent my early 20s in London definitely is very important for me. There were so many sources of inspiration every single day.

S: Naturally I started creating things when I was a kid. I found it somewhere inside of me – inspired by my family and friends, nature, and all the things I adored. Also the environment where I grew up made me keenly sensitive to the profound aesthetic world. I could go on forever if I had to discuss all factors and people who influenced me. Though if I had to point out my most important influences, I would say it was my childhood: I spent most of that time with my paternal grandmother who has a strong and noble personality, and also a lot of time with my maternal grandmother – she is a generous lover of nature, people and all living things. She gave me the chance to think about the meaning of life.

How strong is the conceptual part inside your work and how important is improvisation?

S: Fifty-fifty I would say. I believe in the beauty of instantaneous force (improvisation) as well as in the force of building firmness (concept). When we’re creating songs, we think about a story or draw some visual images based on a rough jam, and develop the image of a song. To have a solid platform would enlighten the improvisation and it would bring an unexpected chemistry. I believe that great creations should be born by the repetition of these two elements.

group A (c) Nao Takeda

group A has a very strong visual component in its artistic identity including the stage dress code, the performance elements, and not to forget video art. To me it looks like a mixture (or maybe a clash) of traditional elements of (Japanese) culture and hypermodern as in very technical visual elements. This tension further unfolds in your mix of traditional (violin) and modern (electronics) instrumentation. Quite a unique mix – is there any underlying concept?

S: The band was formed incidentally so we just brought any gear we had and wanted to play our first jam. We ended up with synth and violin. After a few jams we had some weird but certain feeling that we could make it, and that the two different elements worked surprisingly well.

The concept we jointly developed for group A is basically a mix of “primitive” and “electric”. There were TVs and PCs in the world when we were born into. And we both grew up in a big city, but it had remains of old houses along the streets and people also still followed traditional practices when we were kids. Some sort of warm feelings were there. We would stand up against the loss of the traditions and of warmness here in present Japan, and we have a longing and respect for the past. But at the same time we deeply love modern technology in the culture and the music we were brought up with. As the generation with such a paradox background, it is always on our mind what to present as part of the concept.

Do you have any connection with butoh dance?

S: As a band: not really.

Your second release “Initiation” focusses on rituals. What was your inspiration for this recording?

T: The Japanese tradition of power of stones and Shinto.

group A (c) Yume Satoh

Tom Furse from The Horrors mixed your tracks on “Vol. II: Sioux”. How did this collaboration come about and what role do collaborations generally play for group A?

T: He mixed two tracks. It was his idea; he has always shown his interest in our music. He’s one of the few people I can truly trust in terms of music. I hope we’ll get a chance to work together again, maybe on an album.

Do you have connections with other artists of the international noise scene like e.g. Pharmakon?

T: I’m not really interested in what seems to be called noise music. She’s come to play at some of my friends’ nights last year, though, I didn’t see her gig.

Have you played outside of Japan already?

T: We headlined the “Urban Nomad Film Festival” after party in Taipei, Taiwan, last year. The audience went totally crazy! I enjoyed it, but I also felt some distance between us and the audience, and that put me off.
The fact that Japanese fans (not just the fans, but the society itself) are very quiet and well-mannered has always encouraged us to play loud earsplitting noise, show something abnormal and bad mannered to take the piss.

What are the future plans of group A? Any plans of touring Europe?

We are going on our first European tour this month, starting in Faenza and Bologna in Italy, then onto Berlin and Leizpig in Germany. We are looking forward to seeing how the European audience is going to react to our show.

Thank you, Tommi and Sakaya for the great interview.


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group A. © Bilder von oben nach unten:
Billa Baldwin; Hidemasa Miyake; Nao Takeda; Yume Satoh.

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