In the beginning, there was a blurt. And it was weird. A scream followed, one that originated in Yoshimi P-We’s toes, pushed past her knees, up through her pelvis and stomach, filled her lungs till they were as tight as twin balloons that, when popped, let out a curdled wail so piercing, and that displaced so much energy in the universe, I swear it gave me — halfway around the world in Columbia, Missouri — a jolt. The lady-yelp was followed by its heathen male counterpart, generated by a man who goes by the name of Yamantaka Eye (or eYe, or EyE, or DJ Pica Pica Pica): guttural, cord-busting. It took the world’s breath away; all 6 billion of us exhaled simultaneously (we just never compared notes). The crash of a cymbal. The thud of a bass drum. Another blurt. Guitar skronk. A B-52s sample. A metal riff. A howl. Birthed in Osaka, Japan, in the late 1980s, Soul Discharge was the album’s name. Holy shit.
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Yamantaka Eye in primal-scream mode. He's their P.T. Barnum, their Flavor Flav, their Matthew Barney.
The Boredoms are born. Let us rejoice.
Since that fateful moment, the Boredoms have grown into an art-and-music collective whose prodigious, singular output includes a dozen odd albums, a nine-volume series of EPs called Super Roots; a four-volume set of remix CDs titled Rebore (featuring remixers Ken Ishii, UNKLE, DJ Krush and Eye); a career-defining double-CD set called Vision Creation Newsun, released in 1998, which contained two discs filled with long-form rhythmic discharge, percussive jams that extended beyond the 10-minute mark and, when performed live, past the 60-minute mark. I once saw them at Cabaret Metro in Chicago, and by the third “song,” the Tasmanian devil that is Eye was perched above the crowd, atop a speaker cabinet, spinning a drum case the size of a tractor tire over his head, screaming into the mike while three fucking drummers, a bassist and a guitarist locked into this interstellar rhythm that channeled Sun Ra, Funkadelic, Haitian voodoo shit and German proto-prog punks Can. He looked like Mighty Mouse getting ready to throw an elephant over a skyline.
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I actually believe that I visited another plane that night in Chicago. I really feel like those two hours meant something, caused my thinking on worship and release, on one’s ability, not by force of will but by the surrender of it, to actually transcend. Not that you’d really get it unless you’ve seen them before. Recordings don’t capture it. I’ve got some African field recordings that feel like this. You hear these wails of passion, and you can sense the dent in the universe, that time’s folding in on itself like the back cover of Mad magazine. 1947 meets the present. Except you’re not there. But the ecstasy in that recorded moan provides evidence that it’s possible. And because of the Boredoms, I know it is.
Two decades into their career, the Boredoms are making music as vital, as questioning, as singular, as therapeutic, as honest, as Dada, as real, as funny, as awesomely brilliant as ever, and their influence is far greater than their relative stateside obscurity. The Flaming Lips’ Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots is named for the Boredoms’ Yoshimi P-We (“Her name is Yoshimi/She’s a black belt in karate/working for the city/She has to discipline her body”). A whirlwind, she has another band called OOIOO, has released records with Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth, and another gorgeous, pastoral record with Miho Hatori of Cibo Matto. Yoshimi’s one of my heroes. And if you like the neon-green cut-and-paste cover of Beck’s Midnite Vultures, that’s the handiwork of Yamantaka, the band’s guiding light. He’s their conductor and their Flavor Flav, their P.T. Barnum and their Matthew Barney. He designs all of their art, imagines all of their concepts, and apparently possesses a conduit to the creative realm as wide and busy as the 5 freeway. Last year, on July 7, 2007 (07/07/07), in Brooklyn, he collected 77 drummers to perform a 77-minute composition he created for the occasion called 77 BoaDrum. One of the great regrets of my life is missing that performance, but YouTube clips show Brooklyn Bridge Park filled with drum kits, Eye standing above them and flailing about as the drummers lock into an otherworldly rhythm.
The Boredoms just released Super Roots 9 in America via the Thrill Jockey label (it came out in Japan last year); it’s a live recording of another big-production event: a 40-minute jam featuring a 20-person choir. It’s a natural progression. The Super Roots series began in 1993 with a jerky, dada debut featuring short, minute-long song bursts and one weird epic “suite” called “Chocolate *Ut.” They sounded like sound burps. As the Roots expanded, songs became longer, rhythm more important. Where once the Boredoms made schizo-punk, they had moved into OCD punk, the equivalent of a human in a corner rocking steadily back and forth, over and over. By the time of the stellar Super Roots 7 in 1998, they had merged human beats with programmed ones, and by the apex of the series thus far, 1999’s Super Roots 8, the Boredoms were sampling old punk tracks (the Mekons’ great “Where Were You?”) and funneling a simple three-chord guitar riff through their rhythm machines. Their best full-length, Super æ, from 1998, features 70 minutes of studied rhythm & howl. Hearing it in a big room with big speakers and big eardrums, you can almost grab onto the band’s pumping heart, an ever-beating thump that’s pure and pristine as a little baby’s; that’s filled with astral wonder, primal longing, and joy. In the beginning there was rhythm, indeed.
The Boredoms play the Music Box at the Henry Fonda Theater on Sunday, March 16.