Tag Archives: Psychedelic

Strange Sounds from Southeast Asia: An Introduction to the Region’s Experimental Labels

khana-bierbood-1244

Khana Bierbood

For decades, the 11 countries that comprise Southeast Asia played second fiddle to their bigger neighbors when it came to underground experimental music. China, Japan, and South Korea, for example, always had better infrastructure to support alternative tastes, which led to the emergence of more organized subcultures. But that deeply ingrained dynamic has finally begun to change in recent years as Southeast Asia’s young population and expanding middle class become emboldened with rising spending power and disruptive ideas.

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Hidden Gems: Mid-Air Thief, “Crumbling”

hidden gemsIn our series Hidden Gems, writers share their favorite Bandcamp discoveries.

Kaleidoscopic South Korean rock-electronic hybrids rarely inspire online cult followings, but Mid-Air Thief’s Crumbling spent the latter half of 2018 converting listeners. Their latest album began popping up frequently on user-guided aggregation sites and niche message boards, joined by praise for a project that received little media attention in their home country, let alone outside of it. This left-field celebration is well earned. Crumbling bridges psych-smudged folk with contemporary electronic music; Mid-Air Thief pivots between multiple sonic ideas over the course of single songs, and tucked away in these dizzying numbers are among the most dazzling musical moments in recent memory.  Continue reading

A Brief Survey of Experimental Psych in Japan

Koenji Hyakkei

Koenji Hyakkei

Back in the 1960s and ‘70s, Japan was home to a host of experimental psych bands. And while Les Rallizes Dénudés, Flower Travellin’ Band, Far East Family Band, and Taj Mahal Travellers didn’t sound the same, they all shared a love for lengthy improvisation and owed a debt to the avant-garde. They weren’t afraid to get weird, they were sometimes political, and they sometimes rode their motorcycles around naked (at least, that’s the way Flower Travellin’ Band is portrayed on the cover of their 1970 release, Anywhere).

But the real fun started in the ’80s, when the freaks discovered punk. Bands like High Rise and Fushitsusha played louder and faster than their predecessors. They made more noise and oozed attitude. But unlike traditional punk, they also continued to improvise and jam. Those trends continued into the ‘90s—and continues into the present—with the emergence of bands like Boredoms, Ruins, Acid Mothers Temple, and their assorted side projects, splinter groups, and others.

But whether the country has an actual experimental psychedelic scene is up for debate. “Is there even a scene in Japan?” Acid Mothers Temple guitarist Makoto Kawabata told Pitchfork in 2002. “Are there actually musicians who see themselves as part of a scene? Of course the members of our group are Japanese, but the idea of a specifically ‘Japanese’ rock is pointless. Rock can only ever be rock, no matter where it exists in the world. So, rather than being the Japanese AMT, we’d like to be seen as the People’s AMT.”

Those sentiments notwithstanding, many of the current musicians are interconnected enough to suggest the existence of a scene, however loose. Some, like drummer Tatsuya Yoshida (Ruins), bassist Asahito Nanjo (High Rise), and guitarists Mitsuru Tabata—and even Makoto—have performed, at some point, with just about everyone else in this list. The artists making experimental psych in Japan are propelled by one another’s energy. They influence one another and, inevitably, inspire one another as well.

What follows is a deep dive into Bandcamp’s storehouse of Japanese experimental psych. It is adventurous, exploratory, and weird in the best possible way, whether you’re listening in your car fully clothed or on your motorcycle in the nude.

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Album of the Day: Melody’s Echo Chamber, “Bon Voyage”

On “Cross My Heart,” the opening track of Melody’s Echo Chamber’s new album, Bon Voyage, the French singer Melody Prochet—in her signature enchanting soprano—makes a promise to herself: “This is a promise to my heart / I can’t keep falling from so high. These words, sung repeatedly throughout a song that seamlessly moves from psychedelic dream pop, through stoner rock to jazz instrumentation and hip-hop breaks, could encapsulate the tumultuous journey that Prochet went through during the making of this album, a follow-up to her 2012 critically acclaimed self-titled debut. Bon Voyage was announced in 2016, yet failed to materialize due to a serious accident that left Prochet bedridden for months. Before that, there was another album, one that took her two years to complete, but that she ultimately decided to scrap after a painful falling out with a close collaborator. Like the sort of hero’s journey Prochet has gone through, “Cross My Heart” is wide-ranging, tentative at times and harsh in others, and beautiful. It’s also full of moments of surprising whimsy that can turn on a dime, ultimately ending in the combative haze of distorted guitar riffs. Continue reading

Necio Records Spotlights South American Heavy Psychedelia

Necio Records

The founder of Peru’s Necio Records, Arturo Quispe Velarde, had an inauspicious start in music. His father promised him a drum kit for his 15th birthday if he could keep his grades up—but he couldn’t. Luckily, his sister was a better student, and less interested in music; their parents bought her a guitar, and since she didn’t use it much, Velarde started to teach himself to play. “At age 17 I had a tribute band to Metallica,” he recalls—soon, he was listening to every heavy band he could, from noise and experimental bands, to psych rock.

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BCUC’s Afro-Psych Vision Forges New Connections

BCUC

Photo by Jeanne Abrahams

Inside a 300-year-old fort-turned-amphitheatre in the French town of Sète, BCUC Band—a seven-piece Afro-psychedelic collective from Soweto, South Africa—are surrounded by the placid, sunset-dappled Mediterranean Sea. They’re in the middle of a performance so joyous, it feels like it could go on indefinitely. Lead singer Jovi is wearing skinny jeans, a T-shirt and a whistle around his neck, and he sprints regular laps around the stage between vocal runs. They’ve played for 30 minutes in the searing July heat, and the atmosphere is breathless, fevered and communal. Finally, Jovi shushes the crowd, as the volume on stage fades temporarily. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he announces, wryly, ‘that was our first song.”

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Following the Hippie Trail: How Psychedelia Crept Onto the Dancefloor

Kasra V

Album cover by Kasra V

For many Western tourists, the 1960s pilgrimage known as The Hippie Trail—which stretched through Turkey, via Syria, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Nepal and ended in southern India—offered an unfiltered form of psychedelia with its religions and sights and smells that couldn’t be found easily in the squats of London or an LSD-fueled pilgrimage through America’s highways. Some went in search of spiritual wisdom and new ways of thinking, or sought solace in the Himalayas while the world’s eyes were on Vietnam. Others wanted to simply emulate their idols, influenced by The Beatles’ adoption of Shamanism or Jimi Hendrix’s journeys to Nepal. And while the influence of the trail can be heard the music of those icons—think “Within You Without You”—its spiritual and carnal roots remain today in the many incarnations of dance music, traditional or 21st Century, that continue to vibrate through its streets long after the hippies stopped walking them.
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Acetone: The Alt-Rock Underdog Get Their Day

Acetone

“I’m always surprised that people keep discovering Acetone, and that they’re into the music,” says Mark Lightcap. “We sold so few records back in the day, so it’s really amazing to me how enduring the appeal has been. We’ve done a really good job of never being popular. I think we’ll be perpetually undiscovered.”

In the 1990s, Acetone were better known for flooding CD bargain bins than they were for a note of their music. It wasn’t for lack of trying, though. The now-defunct Los Angeles band did just about everything they could; they were simply a hard nut to crack. Their languid, psychedelic country rock wasn’t exactly devoid of melody, but it flowed out at a snail’s pace. And even though they released five records that demonstrated an unparalleled, enchanted kind of chemistry, Acetone would spend their nine years relegated to cult band status.

And so the band—Lightcap (guitar), Richie Lee (bass, vocals), and Steve Hadley (drums)—were written off as another one of that decade’s countless major label flops. Signed in the post-Nirvana alternative rock sweepstakes by Virgin subsidiary Vernon Yard (Low, the Verve, the Auteurs), Acetone couldn’t seem to generate any music press, airplay, or record sales. “We didn’t fit in with any sounds that were on the radio,” Lightcap explains. “The production just didn’t sound like pop records. [Vernon Yard boss] Keith Wood would always complain that our records didn’t gel.”

Of course, seeing their tourmates like the Verve, Oasis, Mazzy Star, Spiritualized, and Garbage all experience substantial commercial and critical success didn’t help either. “We kinda relished our role as the underdog on the one hand, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say there was some envy there,” adds Lightcap.

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