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June 2nd, 2004 Dave Clifford | Music Stories
 

Sonic LSD

Japanese hippie cults! Drug-addled acid rock! Bad vibes and bum trips! Acid Mothers Temple turns on, rocks out.

     
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Acid Mothers Temple
In 1997, Acid Mothers Temple entered the world with The Acid Mothers Temple & the Melting Paraiso U.F.O.--an album filled with trippy, noisy and droning flashbacks to '60s dropout culture run rampant. Since then, the group has been a source of endless psych releases. But not only does the Osaka, Japan, quintet deliver its sonic lysergic with religious fervor, the communal-dwelling group truly lives its alien psychedelic aesthetic.

"Sometime around 5 am, my wife and I awoke to the sound of someone vacuuming--in the back yard," recalls Peter O'Neill, a tour promoter in Belfast, Ireland, describing the night AMT spent at his quiet suburban home. O'Neill heard dishes rattle loudly in the kitchen, and he spotted a semi-nude figure creeping through the garden at sunrise. "A low, steady rumble started, and soon we clearly heard chanting in the back yard, like throat singing," O'Neill says, marveling at the band's odd lifestyle.

Dubbed by its American fans as a "psych-damaged hippie cult," the incredibly prolific collective of players organized by guitarist/ vocalist Makoto Kawabata has developed a mythology as playfully freaky as its songs.

"It's not a problem," writes Kawabata via email. "This image is partly true for us." When asked about the Belfast incident, Kawabata simply replies, "We get up early, even if drunk the night before," and then makes odd reference to a "ringing sound" emitted by the moon and the bassist's chronic morning farts.

Certainly, there seems no other way for a band to slither as seamlessly between improvised and structured passages live and on record than to be thinking as one mind. The live band dares the audience to trip out with them as the members whip themselves into a trance. On stage, each member appears lost in his or her own world, chain-smoking and guzzling beer while hunched over instruments. Somehow, supple melodies spill into erupting noise freak-outs without any sense that the players are aware of one another, much less an organized song structure. It coalesces in gushing crescendos and impeccable musicianship, made all the more exciting by the quintet's reckless abandon.

The group's vast palette of sounds merges traditional Occitan folk, electro-hum Krautrock, jammy acid rock and the psych-noise of Japanese contemporaries Ghost and Fushitsusha. However, Kawabata is reluctant to be considered part of the Japanese psych scene. "Our music is for people who want it, that's all," he declares. "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.'"

As the sole founder of the group, Kawabata has the right to call it whatever he wants. He started the "soul collective" in 1996 when he brought together a bunch of communal friends to dub contributions onto his solo recording. That recording later became AMT's debut album. His motivation was simple: "I had listened to all sorts of trippy psychedelic records, but I was never fully satisfied with them," the guitarist writes. "So I wanted to create very extreme trip music." The project wasn't intended for the long term, but the international response to AMT's recordings and Kawabata's sense of urgency to create held sway. "When I no longer hear any sounds from my cosmos, I will stop," he says.

Judging by the band's ever-growing catalog of albums, soundtracks, live recordings, rock operas, collaborations and side projects, the cosmos has a lot to say. AMT's latest North American release on the Alien8 label, Mantra of Love, is a two-song, 45-minute excursion into droning melodies and Hendrix-meets-Kraftwerk guitar-Moog-sitar interplay. The first song is an explosive rendition of a traditional Occitan folk tune in keeping with the group's penchant for unusual cover songs. In 2001, AMT released its own interpretation of minimalist composer Terry Riley's influential 1964 piece, "In C," transposed with reverent humor to a heavier-sounding "In E." Makoto explains, "I felt the original songs wanted to be more Rock!"

Being a band so often identified with "drug music," what substances does Acid Mothers Temple recommend to its listeners? "Nothing!" says Makoto. "We don't need any drugs' power to play our music. Our music is the drug."


Live, Acid Mothers Temple centers on "speed guru" Makoto Kawabata, vocalist/noisemaker Cotton Casino, drummer Koizumi Hajime, bassist/ "cosmic joker" Tsuyama Atsushi and keyboardist/ "dancin' king" Higashi Hiroshi.

In the past eight years, Acid Mothers Temple has released roughly 20 albums and EPs.

All of the band's projects are documented on its website, www.acidmothers.com .

 
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