Tonight, Anamanaguchi plays The Roxy with Peelander-Z and, tomorrow, the 8-bit punk band behind the music for Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game will head down to Meltdown Comics, where they will appear inside the Nerdist Theater.
Right before the band left for South by Southwest, where they were beginning a tour with fellow New York band Peelander-Z, we spoke with Anamanaguchi's Peter Berkman by phone.
If Berkman were to list his influences in order, he told LA Weekly, it would go like this, “Tim and Eric and that absurd comedy, Japanese music and video games.”
Surprising? Maybe, maybe not. Let's break down the influences.
Tim and Eric
“Confusion and surprise is the best resource that we have in an era of Wikipedia where you feel like you know everything,” said Berkman in our phone chat.
If you've ever seen an episode of Tim and Eric, Awesome Show, Great Job! (or seen them on stage, or caught them at San Diego Comic-Con) then you know that “confusion and surprise” are part of the humor. Are you watching infomercials or a TV show? What's with The Blues Brothers and Terminix?
When we interviewed Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim last year, Wareheim mentioned that a “ridiculous idea” is important to comedy. It works with music too. Anamanaguchi proves that.
“We like that absurdity,” said Berkman of the band's approach to music.
It isn't that the members of Anamanaguchi are the first musicians to play with 8-bit sounds, but they do it well. That 1985 NES they use produces some highly energetic tracks. Also like Awesome Show, Great Job! they've appropriated seemingly low-budget aesthetics into their work.
“We like to push the limitations of how crappy these things are for that purpose,” said Berkman, mentioning the “philosophical side working through limitations.”
Much of Anamanaguchi's music is rooted in punk rock, but for Berkman, the influence of Shibuya-kei style pop from Japan, particularly artists like Cornelius and Yasutaka Nakata (Perfume, Capsule) is particularly important.
“Jazzy complicated weird shit like that is my favorite,” he said.
Like Cornelius, Nakata and other artists frequently associated with Shibuya-kei, Anamanaguchi has a retro-futuristic edge. But, where the previously mentioned artists modernized elements of the look and sound of the 1960s, Anamanaguchi is doing the same for the 1980s.
The influence of J-pop, as well as “French electro,” should be more evident on the band's forthcoming album, according to Berkman.
“This next album is all over the place,” he explained. “The last two songs I wrote, one I was kind of envisioning hoverboarding through space. The other one is all five of the Spice Girls going to prom night.”
Anamanaguchi live at video game convention PAX. Video via Flup0x.
“I grew up video games as much as I grew up playing in bands and I used a Nintendo sound chip as a portal to that fantasy world,” said Berkman.
Still, Berkman concedes that he and his bandmates aren't necessarily huge gamers (some more than others).
Ultimately, Berkman's interest in Japanese pop culture is at the root of his interest in video games.
“I say that just the fact that video games come from Japan that probably has more of an impact.”
For Anamanaguchi, it's what video games represent that makes the NES such an important tool for the band.
“What we're interested in taking something that was so familiar to so many people and has such a rich aesthetic vocabulary and take it completely out of its context.”
Berkman, who said he was about “two or three” when he started playing Legend of Zelda, does like his video games. At the time of the interview, he was thinking about getting the latest Pokemon game.
“When I love a game, I will play it forever,” said Berkman. “They mostly come from Japan.”