Overhang Party: Searchin' for the Layline

The Music Series > Asakusa Jinta > Boris > Shibusashirazu > Mad3 > Keiji Haino > Ghost > Overhang Party

The Captain's hard-nosed style of reporting is seen by many as a bit brash. Where many might turn their heads at a particular topic, it is the Captain who will be just beginning to focus his stare. "The tough story is my story," he'll often say.

This week is no exception as he takes a peek at life in Japan's underground music scene. So get those headphones on. The Captain will no doubt crank this one up to eleven.

Slumped over his upright guitar case, Rinji Fukuoka pulls on a cigarette amid nighttime commuters streaming through JR Meguro Station. The tall, long-haired singer and guitar player of Overhang Party, one of the most prominent bands in Japan's underground rock scene, is flanked on both sides by his bandmates.

A station attendant approaches the group and scolds: "Excuse me, excuse me, smoking is prohibited inside the station."

At that, Fukuoka shrugs his shoulders and thrusts the offending element - ash-end first - toward the attendant, who, after reluctantly accepting, grimaces and storms off.

This incident is not all that surprising. This four-piece's sound, like Fukuoka's regard for authority, is usually intense and dissonant.

"High tension music results in a high voltage reaction," explains the 35-year old Fukuoka.
Getting any kind of reaction, musically or otherwise, in an outwardly conformist society like Japan (and its exceptionally bland music industry), isn't easy, and generally not encouraged from the start. But for Overhang Party, making an impact upon the listener with their sound, even if some might think of it as "noise," is exactly the point.

Otherside of is their most recent double CD live release and a perfect example. The opener, "Kizashi," roars with a steady howl as guitars mix with background drum and bass in an ongoing progression that builds to searing aircraft turbine-sounding heights. This sets the stage for an album that mixes ambient elements and layers of feedback improvisation to make for album that is not for the faint of heart.

Early releases weren't quite as complicated. Their self-titled debut rocks straight from the start. Guitars wail and drums pound amid Rinji's straight-ahead deadpan delivery of lyrics with references nature and spirituality.

For Rinji - and the rest of the band - any changes in sound over time are just happenstance. "When you are listening [to our later work] it is kind of different for the listeners, but for us it is the same."

Indeed, for Overhang Party, making music is primarily about making a feeling, as their reiterating motto, "Searchin' for my layline," ambiguously describes.

"If you think of a dowser," Rinji explains, "he is searching for water that you can't see. A layline is not actually water, but maybe something unusual. It is not necessarily something important - it is just that you need it."

Though a play on words from the lyrics of "Sister Ray," the Velvet Underground's epic feedback-filled monstrosity about murder, sex, and dope in a scene of urban insanity, Fukuoka maintains that the junkie character's attempts to shoot a load of heroin is not directly related. But the overally Velvet Underground influence is obvious.

Rinji's live duo release with Jutoku Kaneko, Searchin' for My Layline, features a screeching viola and random guitar noodling that could likely only be appreciated by devoted fans of the experiments of Lou Reed and John Cale.

Influences are one thing, but being pegged as Japan's version of the Velvet Underground - or even a member of its infamous "noise" scene - is not Overhang Party's intention.

"We don't want to be lumped in the underground," cautions Rinji of the scene which has seen bands like the Ruins and Keji Haino gaining international respect for their unique, rapid-fire drumming and sledgehammer-like guitar work, respectively. "We are not scared of staying in the same place, but we always need a change. I want to make a truly alternative style."

Their last studio recording - Overhang 4 - is a statement along these lines; it shows the band at its most original and complicated. Pianos and violins, most of which are stripped away during performances, are brought to the forefront to make an album filled with depth and complexity.

Certainly, the American psychedelic scene, the pioneers of Japanese free-style jazz, like Kaoru Abe, and the drone-filled experimentations of the Taj Mahal Travelers of 30 years ago, have been highly influential. But making music is just part of a bigger picture.

"I don't think about whether I am an artist or a musician," says drummer Iwao Yamazaki, who along with Rinji comprise the only remaining founding members still in the group. "I get influences from all things, not this person or this thing."

The band formed in the early '90s. Like today, it was a time when it was difficult for rock music to make an impact on a wide scale with the music scene being dominated by generic "million hits" pop artists. Of course, rock scenes exist inside various pockets of the thousands of small clubs that stretch from Hokkaido to Kyushu, but Rinji reckons that Japan's rock scene is too caught up in a steady stream of predictable complacency: "It is too easy to hear rock music in Tokyo."

Overhang Party began by being featured on two compilation releases by the legendary label P.S.F. Since then, Rinji has been releasing Overhang Party material - with a number of different band lineups - on his own Pataphysique label, established to ease the reliance of someone else getting the band's material in the hands of the fans. Initial presses of each release number around three hundred with second presses matching that or slightly exceeding.

Though still a relative unknown in Japan, their initial albums allowed for an American tour of the Northeast and Midwest in 1999, a chance for American fans to hear the band shine - when studio overdubbing is out and improvisation is in. This tour included performing in front of up to 200 people and live radio appearances.

Rinji says: "What is good about the U.S. is that there is more open space - it is huge. Tokyo is the worst place to have any kind of freedom. In the U.S., you just get in a car and go."

The experience was also an eye-opener to the variety of possibilities the U.S. holds. Iwao likens the pimp-like attire and angry guard dog of their Cleveland contact person to something "out of a Tarantino movie." Of this same gentleman, Rinji politely declined his offer of a plump, "rainbow-colored" pill - an opportunity he would have typically taken, he says, had there not been one more date left on the schedule for the next evening.

A new album is (hopefully) in the works down the line, but a new approach for the band is not.

"We don't want to worry about our technique. It is more about expressing a feeling," Rinji says. "Because we are not getting better as musicians, we are just doing what we want to do."

Note: Ai Matsui contributed to this report from the Tokyo Bureau. Catch Overhang Party live at the Silver Elephant in Kichijoji on June 4th.

The Music Series > Asakusa Jinta > Boris > Shibusashirazu > Mad3 > Keiji Haino > Ghost > Overhang Party

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