Otoboke Beaver - The Tin Music and Arts Centre, Coventry
Coventry's personable Tin Music and Arts Centre, on the fringes of the city’s canal system referencing its industrial history is a fitting setting for Otoboke Beaver: personable, on the fringes with an industrial edge that references punk rock history while looking forward with a new wave feminist message. The four-piece from Japan’s Kansai region, their nation’s urban midlands, eschew convention by singing in Kyoto slang, pleasing big fan and fellow city resident Emi Morimoto. The band share labels and stages with Morimoto’s former band Shonen Knife but better national comparisons are Melt Banana and Bo Ningen, together with their favourites Afrirampo, Western influences The Breeders, and the riot grrrl movement.
As the band defy easy comparisons, its members defy homogeneity with disperate personas and costumes, a knowledgeable friend describes: “Asian bubble-gum style pop meets Boden tea dresses with a 1960s touch.” These costumes feature bassist Hiro-chan's striking floral patterns, and vocalist Accorinrin's shocking-pink dress under a sure fire rock and roll white cardigan. Stage left, guitarist Yoyoyoshie – playwright John Osborne’s “full of beer for breakfast and feeling a bit buzzed” – screams not for the last time, “OK, we are Otoboke Beaver from Kyoto! Otoboke Beaver!”, the starting pistol for Accorinrin’s relentless rapid fire bullet train vocals: their signature sound. Picasso could have drawn the venue’s jagged topology, leaving drummer Pop isolated in an alcove at the back, but if she’s not seen she’s heard, adding to their signature banter, “Please buy our CDs!”
The music gives the impression of being made without aiming to please and no intention to hide, but a wide smile tries to break out: like the situations it documents, there’s no simple dichotomy of fury and fun. Even for those fluent in Kyoto slang, concession’s not made to easy comprehension, elements out of focus at the boundaries not allowing retreat from the issues at hand. It’s impossible to ignore the edge in either Accorinrin’s voice or the band’s message.
Rapid tempo exhausts an excitable audience but songs nearer to two than three minutes is a series of short sprints not a marathon, plenty of chances to gather their breath! At the back, a sketch-artist captures the rehearsed mania and non-rehearsed enthusiasm of Yoyoyoshie's face in her role as the night's sergeant major to Accorinrin's liaison officer. At the front, several older men capture more direct representations via high resolution cameras and continual video recordings. The photographers push, eager for others' better views (forcing the sketch-artist to move, and affecting a person in some physical discomfort), and video recording has concerns beyond image control. The label manager confirms the band don't like this surprise from their British shows. Unlike Accorinrin's white cardigan, this is not rock and roll and should stop.
Credit: Sammy Borras
Songs from recent EP ‘Bakuro Book’ (a ‘tell all’ or ‘revealing’ book instructive of their wider theme) conclude matters: the title song a notable combination of melody and spirit; ‘What Do You Mean You Have to Talk to Me at This Late Date'’s distempered stop and start bassline disorientates; and ‘Akimanhenka’’s shouting chorus provokes the band to invade the arena if its almost 200-capacity allowed. The band shares a Tasmanian Devil cartoon character sense of frenzy, eyes menace gleefully as they spin and dart at such an accelerating pace people don't know on earth they're going to stop. But stop they must, the night ends abruptly with the audience looking down below their feet, scrambling to the cliff’s edge permitted only by the laws of cartoon physics.
Greedy imaginations wish an “I was there” moment to dine out on like The Sex Pistols at Manchester Lesser Free Trade Hall in 1976. While tonight’s cultural impact is yet unknown, the audience witnessed more proficient musicians than the Sex Pistols and more complicated social commentary delivered with a well meaning glare – not an angry poke – in the eye. The tour is supported by The Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation charity promoting Japanese-British relations. Otobake Beaver have helped promote relations tonight, and all people have to do to guarantee their return is “buy their CDs.” An enthusiastically accepted bargain.
Otoboke Beaver’s debut European album Okoshiyasu!! is available from all good record shops including from the Damnably label, as is their recent EP Bakuro Book discussed in this review. You can read more about the band on their label’s website.
Please catch more of Sammy Borras’s fantastic artwork at That Music Zine.