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From Japan With Noize: An Evening With Melt Banana

by Anna Battista

It happens every two years or so. It's a bit just like a peculiar Sabbath. It is called Melt Banana.

Every now and then, Japanese noiseniks Melt Banana are pleased to gift us with a European tour that also touches Italy, where they are particularly appreciated and revered. Tonight we feel exasperated because it's only after an exhausting queue outside the venue, the Bacab in Pescara, that we get inside to witness that no, nothing has changed since the last time Melt Banana were here.

Yasuko, the singer, is still twisting and torturing every single track shouting in a highly piercing and raw voice; Agata, the guitar player, is still wearing his surgical mask that makes him look like an alien and he's as always intent in looking for the right pedal to press amongst the tons he's surrounded by; Rika, the unassuming bassist whose micro size would make you suspect that she couldn't be heard in all this mess, is still as angry as she was the last time, ravaging her bass with the rage of Medea. Underground heroes in their own genres, Melt Banana deliver us a mental set, mainly a selection from their latest album Teeny Shiny: Yasuko, who sings with the coldness of sushi and the rage of a tank, is as theatrical as ever, especially when, in the middle of a track, right after one of her horrific shouts, she stops, freezes, looks at the crowd with the eyes of a No Theatre face, and, after a minute or so, launches another fierce piercing shout.

Tracks, with barely recognisable vocals and lyrics, slaughtered and machine gunned by Yasuko, follow, but the best song of the night turns out to be the latest single, "Tintarella di Luna", a '60s cover of the Italian singer Mina. It's undoubtedly a surprise hearing Yasuko singing like Mina and the crowd getting into hysterics and pogoing like mad. Stormy, razor sharp and punky Melt Banana prove tonight that they're not an artsy fartsy kinda project, but a shattered fairytale of noise and hard hitting sounds, powerful guitar riffs and nose bleeding shouts. Outcome of the gig: many contusions, loss of hearing and an almost broken camera (mine). Was it worth it? You bet.

After the gig, I have a chat with Agata, who's apparently pondering the evening: "Tonight's gig was really good and the audience was more active than last time. Last night we played in Catania, in Sicily, in a small club, with 250 people or something like that. Usually during our gigs, most of the people go crazy and start pogoing, others just stay behind quietly trying to listen. The only problem we have is that when we finish a show in Italy, we aren't sure if the audience want to hear other tracks, since they just go quiet. On the contrary in England or in the United States they're more loud, they go just like 'Moooooore! Mooooooore!' I must admit that we are more appreciated in the States and in Europe, in England for example. We've been to the States last year and we got in touch with many American bands, and I hope they like us as much as we like them. In Japan, we don't have a big audience, in our home country our music never gets on the radio or TV, we're underground there."

Between one thing and another, Agata explains to me how the writing process works for them. "Basically it's Yasuko, the singer, who writes the songs. We don't really collaborate together when we write a song. If I write a song Yako adds vocals and says 'Change this, change that', she makes a lot of changes, this is her band after all. At present there's been only one main change in our band, the drummer. The drummer we are touring with is helping us, he's temporary just for this tour. We also have two temporary drummers in Japan, but both of them have a job there, so they couldn't come to Europe. We've been knowing this drummer for nine or ten years, so it was easier for us to ask him in."

Melt Banana recently released a split single: on one side there's them playing an Italian track, Mina's "Tintarella di Luna", on the other there's an Italian band, Dynamite Anna and the Bone Machine, playing a song in Japanese. I wonder, how did they get to play an Italian track in their sonic mad style? "When we played here last time, our roadie, his name is Giuseppe, said of Yasuko's voice that it sounded like Mina's and he told us about this 'Tintarella di Luna'. We were in two minds as we didn't know if we wanted to do a cover of 'Tintarella di Luna' or of another Mina song, but in the end Giuseppe pushed very hard on us to do 'Tintarella di Luna'! When we play this track the reaction in Italy is very good. In other countries, people don't know that song, but in Italy everyone knows that song, so they're kind of surprised!"

So, once we've realised the power of decision roadies can have on a band, we talk about what's next for them. "After we finish this tour, we'll go back to Japan. There we are going to record some tracks for the 7", and then I guess we start writing the new album. We are not going to work with any particular producer. We've got a program called Protos and we are now studying how to use it. At present we feel like we want to do everything by ourselves, like selecting microphones and so on. Besides there are some other split singles coming: one featuring a band from San Diego, Locust, who use keyboards and sound really fast. People compare them with us sometimes, they're good friends so we thought it was good time to release a 7" with them. It should be released in the States soon, but it might be delayed, as it often happens. And also we are going to release a split 7" with a ska band from Boston."

And finally a curiosity, Agata always wears a surgical mask while playing. I ask why: "The first time I started playing, before we were touring, I started bleeding from my nostrils and I had to use a small tissue, a Kleenex, and it was horrible as it hang out of my nostrils and I wanted to hide it. After that I started wearing this mask and felt very comfortable with it on!"

So, you see Melt Banana aren't aliens at all, they're just an avalanche of nose-bleeding noize. Oh, by the way, who would have thought that you could pogo on Mina, though.

Visit Melt Banana's web site.

Issue 8, January 2002 | next article

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