By Andrew Hamlin
Northwest Asian Weekly
“Words to the Blind” begins with whispering. Soft words, soft intonations, and then harder intonation, pungent, like clouds of cigar smoke. Japanese words, and some French words. This is a collaboration—Bo Ningen is Japanese and the Savages are mostly English, with a French singer. The wisps climb higher and burn heavier. Then guitar lines, fired like warning shots across a ship’s bow, appear.
Bo Ningen, from Gumma, Tajimi, Nishinomiya, and Tokyo, by way of London, UK, consist of bassist Taigen Kawabe, guitarists Yuki Tsujii and Kohhei Matsuda, and drummer Monchan Monna. They got together in London and made friends with the Savages—singer Jehnny [sic] Beth (née Camille Berthomier), guitarist Gemma Thompson, bassist Ayse Hassan, and drummer Fay Milton. The eight musicians gathered and produced more than 30 minutes of continuous music for “Words To The Blind.”The Savages were cutting their debut album “Silence Yourself” in London in 2012 when they set off one night for fun and found Bo Ningen at Café OTO. Love at first twitch of the ear-hairs.
Savages said they wanted the feel of Zurich, 1916, when Hugo Ball’s Cabaret Voltaire—not exactly leading, because the Dada movement associated with Ball and Cabaret Voltaire refused the idea of leaders—demonstrated a path.
Opening a way through reality, through substance of everyday life, driven by outrage, expanded by grief (World War I was still on everyone’s mind), consuming and juggling any concept in its path.
Bo Ningen describe themselves as substantially influenced by the German “krautrock” bands, especially Faust, with whom they’ve collaborated, and Can. “Words to the Blind” sounds very little like the trance-inducing surrealistic funk grooves featured on most Can albums. It sounds much more like early Faust, when Germans were pouring noise down the middle of the mix, laughing to each other with their mouths and through their instruments down the sides.
If someone wanted lyrics, they obliged with the likes of “Daddy/Take the banana/Tomorrow is Sunday!”
The two combined groups. They don’t bother with hooks, chord changes, harmonies, or lyrics, unless they feel like them, which isn’t often. A promotional video for the album shows them banging on things, smashing things, swaying melodramatically in front of their microphones, hovering over their stringed axes. They’re waiting for the right moment to pluck, ring, rip.
They affirm the right of the individual to express as he or she sees fit. Formlessness and noise aren’t as transgressive as they were decades ago, let alone in 1916 in Zurich, and everywhere else. But they carry their own messages still.
They tell us that “history” is a construct and that people wanting to learn about history could put down the textbooks awhile and look around. Anything happening before your senses, at real time, is history. Anyone can make a statement. Anyone can use the microphone, with or without an idea beforehand. Anybody can swarm up out of the present. That’s a little frightening. And it can lead to some very frightening results. But it refuses the idea of history as belonging to the winners or the ones with the loudest speakers. In a pinch, you don’t need a microphone to make real history. You make your statement in any way you can. (end)
Andrew Hamlin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.