Bo Ningen - The Cluny, Newcastle
I’m not usually one to talk about band aesthetics. In fact, I find it somewhat irritating when writers focus too intently on a band’s floppy hair or leather jackets, making some sort of insinuation about their cultural status, or placing them on the hipster scale, and taking all focus away from the music, and into an abyss of music industry assumptions and stereotypes.
With Bo Ningen, it’s hard not to. Before their set at The Cluny2 in Newcastle, four androgynous Japanese guys with chest length hair, skinny bodies swathed in long cotton dresses and psychedelic shirts, sweep onto the stage to set up, tending to their equipment with a focused delicacy you can't help but be mesmerised by. Their instruments are battered: guitars are bent out of shape and carefully duct-taped back together, and the skin of Mon-chan’s bass drum is tattered and torn.
The Japanese Londoners are well-known for their jaw-dropping live sets, and it doesn’t take more than a quick YouTube search to find footage of them at Offset festival, hurling themselves around the stage and hanging upside down, legs wrapped around a tent pole. On this occasion, it's no different. Bo Ningen embody something that simply cannot be captured on recordings, bringing an uncontrollable visceral energy to the tiny venue that feels spontaneous and unstructured. Songs flow seamlessly into one another, built up around fluctuating tempo changes that make it difficult to tell where one stops and another begins. Lead vocalist and bassist, Taigen, pauses once to string together a quick shriek of ‘Hello and thank you for coming down’, before pressing his hands together, bowing to the crowd, and thrusting his head back, guitar held high. His face contorts into bizarre and wonderful shapes as he swings from side to side, plucking at his bass languorously and making eye contact with particularly vigorous crowd members, a glint of amusement flashing in his eyes, before the very faintest of grins appears and fades, almost as soon as you notice it.
The climax of the show begins with the thudding opening of ‘Karoshitai Kimochi’ that leans into its swinging guitar riff that has the two guys on the front row, whose writhing had been something of a mechanical process before, take on a whole new level of movement, their thrashing bodies contorting into jagged, asymmetrical shapes. Behind them, middle-aged men in Throbbing Gristle t-shirts thrash their heads violently amongst groups of teens whispering in each other’s ears, giggling as they bounce into each other with faux mosh-pit aggression.
The set ends with an endless wave of noise that rises and falls, reaching the outer walls of the venue and reverbing back into the epicenter like some sort of never-ending apocalyptic pinball machine. Together, they let the sound fall almost silent before whipping it up into a crescendo again, and then suddenly it is over and they’re throwing down their instruments and guitarist Kohhei is high-fiving the crowd. Maybe it’s the fact I may now be deaf, but there’s an instant sense of losing something, a combination of a vacancy in the space between my ear drum and my cochlea, with what feels like a sudden lapse in serotonin production, that renders me numb for the entire bus journey home.
Krautrock, goth-rock, Yoko Ono on acid, jazzed-up punk, East London psych-rock, hallucinogenic metal, whatever it is, whatever you want to call it, only one word seems appropriate: excellent.