If (or when) cyborg aliens ever crash land to earth, demanding to steal the pinnacle of human technology, I ‘m not going to show them NASA’s most advanced rocket or the creepy robot that can lie. I wouldn’t even show them the iPad. No, I would hand them the band BOOM BOOM SATELLITES, particularly fresh after their live on October 2 at Makuhari Event Hall in Chiba.
After witnessing one of the most intense, psychedelic electronic noisefests I’ve ever experienced, I think our future cyborg overlords will be quite pleased.
Electronic music is often written off as robotic and soulless, relying too heavily on computers to do most of the musical leg work. But that’s not the case for BBS, particularly live. There’s persistent electric warmth to BBS’ sound that translates into an ambient blanket, like the comforting glow of a sleeping motherboard. This is created through various synthesizers and to some extent Michiyuki Kawashima’s calm, semi-mumbling voice.
But that isn’t the most enticing aspect of a BBS live show. Underneath that protective layer lies a certain amount of caged chaos. For one split second, bassist Masayuki Nakano hit a single string, and the sound produced at that moment mimicked that of a fighter jet breaking the sound barrier. A few members of the audience clasped their hands over their ears, in pain but enjoying the jolt. There’s a cybernetic monster locked up deep inside their music and every innocent human being can hear it blasting at the walls of its synthesized prison. The audience is afraid to let it out, but oh-so-very curious as to what it will do when it gets its first taste of freedom.
The music alone could easily lull even the most sober listener into a trance, but BBS cleverly added striking lighting and visuals to this particular live. A translucent veil dropped in front of the band midway through the show during the song “STAY.” Images of an eternally magnifying world projected over their silhouettes like dreams within dreams within dreams. I wish I could tell you not a single face could look away from the stage, but I was so transfixed on what was happening before me, I can’t say for sure. All I know is that I didn’t blink for a good ten minutes.
BBS’ performance was all things the digital age lives for: electronic, curiously chaotic, and all around audio-visual stimulation. And with their upcoming U.S. tour, this is a small piece of music genius BBS will let us use to represent our generation.
For a band with music so complex, it was almost shocking to see Kawashima and Nakano as two seemingly level-headed, T-shirt wearing guys during our interview. (Not that I expected them to meet up with me in full-on space suits and laser beams.)
pSKY: How would you introduce BOOM BOOM SATELLITES?
Masayuki Nakano: That’s very difficult because our music has lots of elements and influences, so it’s a mix.
Michiyuki Kawashima: As you like it.
Masayuki: People say electronic rock.
pSKY: It’s different depending on who’s listening to it?
Masayuki: Yeah, I think so.
pSKY: You’re quite an international band, performing and releasing material overseas. You’re still native Japanese of course. What makes you successful overseas?
Masayuki: I don’t know what success is, but simply, we want people to listen to our music. Now we have been excited to come to the United States. In Japan there’s a lot of culture and diversity. We were influenced by so many different cultures from East and West. Maybe it makes our music original.
Michiyuki: We’re Japanese, so we want to transcend musically. We want to go out and overseas.
Masayuki: Yeah, not just as Japanese.
pSKY: You started professionally in Europe, which is kind of unusual. When you broke out in Japan, did you ever feel you had to change your style for a Japanese audience?
Masayuki: Basically, no. We have our own style. We don’t do MCs in Japan, so basically no change. Nothing.
pSKY: What about when you’re creating music? Do you consider your overseas audience? I ask this because European rock, American rock, and Japanese rock are all so different.
Masayuki: As I said, we are influenced by many elements and many cultures. We listen to music from those countries. American and European and Japanese. We listen to all rock music and are influenced by it. So it’s our original music.
pSKY: Kawashima, you write the lyrics. Do you think of the lyrics in English first or do you translate it from Japanese?
Michiyuki: English first because I hum a song, so it doesn’t include the words. Then I pick up the words and put it together like a puzzle. It’s difficult to explain. I’m really influenced by Western music, so from the beginning, I’m always singing with, for example, Deep Purple. I sing with that kind of song. And David Bowie. My humming starts to sound like English. I pick out the words and then I make a story.
pSKY: Do the words create an image or is it whatever comes out?
Michiyuki: Well, first comes the bass and the kick and sketch of the music. I think naturally, I pick up the words with a melody. If it sounds sad, I’ll pick out sad words or sounds. Or if the music goes crazy, I’ll shout out loud.
pSKY: Do you ever have trouble thinking of the right word in English?
Michiyuki: In the beginning, 10 years ago, yes. I first think in Japanese then translate into English. It was difficult to match the song because the melody didn’t match the lyrics. So I had to change my method of making lyrics.
pSKY: Do you ever dream in English?
Masayuki: Maybe a few times.
Michiyuki: Yeah. Now we’re touring, so sometimes I have a dream where the band is starting and they’re far from me. And the song they’re playing is new. So I have to try to sing and make lyrics.
Masayuki: Yeah, exactly. It’s an important thing for us. I love to listen to albums. I want to know about the artist, so when I make an album, story is important. Each one is 60 minutes, like one whole song.
pSKY: Does it originate from one 5-minute song and then you add to the story? Or does it all come to you at once?
Masayuki: We make each song at first. When we make 10 songs, we start to think, how can we fit the 10 tracks as one album?
Michiyuki: it’s like a journey.
pSKY: That is its own art form, but it’s kind of dying in the US and now Japan. People just want to download one song. How do you feel about that?
Masayuki: It’s very sad. But I want to try to keep it alive. We want to make good albums.
Michiyuki: We care about the whole story on one album. But if we release the album, it’s yours. So pick one song or whatever. We hope you’ll get the whole album.
pSKY: I see you have an iPhone, so what do you have on it? It seems the iPod generation just browses from one song to the next. Do you ever do that?
Masayuki: I listen to the ENTIRE album.
pSKY: You don’t have it on shuffle?
Masayuki: No, not on shuffle!
pSKY: You’ve included a lot of elements of hip-hop, rap, and even gospel music on your albums, but it seems your songs and attitude are really more rock. How do you compare composing the rock element to the additional hip-hop or rap? Do you compose them separately?
Masayuki: We have a private studio in Tokyo. There are many improvements in music making and of course, we have a really big computer to compose music. Basically, we start making beats and other ideas. So it’s not separate. It’s always together. It’s complicated, but yeah.
Michiyuki: It’s like we want to make a song with guitar, we make a song with a computer and synthesizer from the beginning. We have a digital sampler. It’s natural for us to make music using that stuff.
pSKY: Too many bands have a rock style then add hip-hop as an after-thought. But with your music, it doesn’t seem like that. All elements move together. As rock artists though, how do you feel about rock music being less popular this past decade compared to rap, pop, and R&B? Do you feel rock music is dead?
Masayuki: I don’t think so. However, I think American pop music now is quite boring. When I was young, a child, American pop music was more musically well-made. Now it’s awful. But still, rock music is alive. It’s smaller, but it’s still alive. I love rock music.
Michiyuki: I agree with him. After the rock bubble burst, many genres came up: alternative music, techno, grunge, heavy rock, emo. It divided into small genres. So it’s not dying.
pSKY: How do you feel about auto-tune, for example? A lot of American pop stars use auto-tune.
Masayuki: It’s kind of cultural. Sometimes it’s boring, but sometimes it can make new music. Some hip-hop stuff works.
pSKY: You usually have a pretty clean vocal without much distortion or filters. Is there a reason you want a pure vocal?
Michiyuki: It depends on the song direction. If the song needs a filter or even auto-tune, we’ll use it.
Masayuki: You said the auto-tune sound is popular. I think pure vocal is fresh for me now. I want to listen to real vocalists’ voices and words.
pSKY: Your US tour is called OVER AND OVER. “Over and over” means “repeating” right? Why did you decide to call it that?
Michiyuki: I love the sounds “over and over” and the attitude. Again and again. Never stopping. Keep going on. We’ve been on tour with Moby, and we moved to London, toured New York, then to Tokyo. We want to go to the States again. That’s why it’s called that.
pSKY: I guess a lot of people call you electronic dance rock. How has that type of music changed, especially with the programming?
Masayuki: When I started with this band, equipment was expensive for your students. And now, computers are very cheap and powerful, so anyone can make professional music. As an artist, we have to make great music with the computer. That’s what is different about the technology. About the actual music, we focus on the rock stuff now because we’re not interested in hip-hop anymore. U.S. hip-hop is… Well, we like Public Enemy. We were influenced by them.
Masayuki: Yeah, hardcore with a strong message.
pSKY: You even worked with Chuck D, right?
Masayuki: Yeah, that was a great experience.
pSKY: Do you have any plans to work with him in the future?
Masayuki: No, but we hope to work with him again.
pSKY: How about anyone else?
Masayuki: We don’t have any plans, but…
Michiyuki: If we get the chance and if someone’s willing. Who do you recommend?
pSKY: I recommend Kanye West. Kanye West seems to work with everyone. Or do you have any interest in working with rock artists?
Masayuki: I like Trent Reznor from Nine Inch Nails. I respect him. So if we get the chance to collaborate with him, that would be a dream come true.
pSKY: You could probably figure out a way to do that. What kind of song would you make?
Masayuki: Emotional. Hard. Electronic. Rock.
pSKY: What do you see as the future for electronic rock music?
Masayuki: Computers will make music automatically.
pSKY: That’s kind of odd. Then you guys wouldn’t have a job! Now just a fun question to wrap this up. If an alien came to earth and they had never heard music before, what song would you play for them?
Michiyuki: The theme from Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
pSKY: Do you have any messages for your fans?
Michiyuki: We are going to the States next month, so come and enjoy us. We guarantee to blow you away.