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Friday, Jan. 26, 2007

The punks descend

Frenzal Rhomb and Strung Out headline Independence-D Festival at Studio Coast


Special to The Japan Times

How much impact do surroundings have on a group? According to guitarist Lindsay McDougall of the Australian band Frenzal Rhomb, plenty.

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Australian band Frenzal Rhomb (guitarist Lindsay McDougall second from left) bring their brand of witty punk to Tokyo next week.

"If we were from Japan, we'd be much more attractive," jokes McDougall via e-mail from Sydney. "If we were from America, we'd sing in American accents and wear our hats sideways. If we were from Iceland, we'd try to kiss Bjork."

Fortunately, coming from a scene that attracts little attention outside of its homeland, the Australian punks have had few stereotypes to live up to during their decade-and-a-half existence. Extremely outspoken, their politically driven, fast-paced anthems are full of humor that has made the quartet one of Australia's most successful indie acts.

Their seventh full-length, last year's "Forever Malcolm Young," sees the band continuing to unleash their blistering -- yet witty -- social commentary, taking on organized religion and punk icon Johnny Ramone before questioning some of the finer points of democracy, on the affectionately titled, "I'm a Backwards F**ken Useless Piece of Dogs**t . . . And I Vote."

Outside of Frenzal, McDougall and vocalist Jason Whalley get to vent their opinions on a daily basis while hosting the morning show on Australian radio station Triple J under the moniker Jay and the Doctor. The two have been doing the program since 2005.

"To put it simply, we do a bad radio show. We tell bad jokes, conduct bad interviews with bad talent, and play bad songs. Of course, I'm using the word 'bad' in the Michael Jackson 'Bad' sense."

Obviously well educated in the musical landscape of his country, when asked about groups worth checking out, McDougall answers, "There is a band called AC/DC. That's all you need to know." For those looking for something a little more contemporary, though, he recommends garage rockers Eddie Current Suppression Ring and hardcore group Mindsnare.

Jay and the Doctor will be taking a few mornings off to make an appearance at the Independence-D Festival in Tokyo, which will showcase a plethora of homegrown and foreign punk talent on Feb. 3. Frenzal have traveled to Japan several times since 1997. They played with Chiba-based female punk trio Softball on many of those occasions and were taken aback by their hosts' hospitality.

"They were awesome, and very understanding," says McDougall. "We were quite unused to touring with a band that was well-behaved, polite and hygienic, and who didn't flush our heads down the toilet. I don't think it will happen again."

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Strung Out have been playing SoCal punk since 1992.

Frenzal Rhomb will be joined at Independence-D by former American label mates Strung Out. Longtime friends, the two groups have gigged together on both sides of the globe.

"We did one of the most extensive Australian tours ever with Strung Out," McDougall says. "We went to some amazing places in the outback where even Steve Irwin wouldn't go. They are awesome, and particularly good-looking first thing in the morning."

"That was the craziest tour of my life," says Strung Out vocalist Jason Cruz over the phone from his home in California. "We spent six weeks together stopping in every city, mining town and surf shack that would let us play."

Together since 1992, Strung Out spent their formative years in the middle of a punk resurgence in Southern California. The genres' rise in popularity quickly spread to other countries, including Japan, where SoCal's trademark pop-punk sound has been adopted by many musicians.

"The strange thing about California is that most of the people that live here are not from here, so that brings a whole lot of flavor and variety to the music scene," says Cruz. "It makes this place very fertile ground for artists. I don't think we would be the same band if we grew up anywhere else."

Currently working on their eighth studio album, that Cruz says will be titled "Blackhawks over Los Angeles," the quintet are taking a break from the studio to play Independence-D. Cruz is hopeful that the passion of their Japanese fans will provide them with an extra burst of inspiration as they wrap up work on their summer release.

"It will be interesting to see how the local scene has changed since we've been there last" says Cruz. "In the States it seems every six months some new trend comes along and changes things a bit so you get numb after a while. I always loved the sincerity and spirit of kids in Japan, though."

Despite touring Japan three times, Strung Out haven't had the chance to pick up the language. Cruz, however, has developed what he thinks is a foolproof way of getting his energetic message across: "I'm just going to jump around like a monkey and hope everyone gets the point."

Sharing much in common with Strung Out, it's no surprise that Frenzal Rhomb face similar difficulties. A crafty bunch, like their peers they've come up with their own way to cope.

"The first thing we do when touring any non-English speaking country is learn two very important phrases," says McDougall. "They are, 'Sorry' and 'Where is the beer?' After that, things seem to work themselves out."

Frenzal Rhomb and Strung Out play at the Independence-D Festival on Feb. 3, which starts at noon at Shinkiba Studio Coast, Tokyo; Tickets 3,990 yen in advance. For more information, visit www.independence-d.com Frenzal Rhomb also play Feb. 2, 6:30 p.m. at Nakano Moon Step, Tokyo ([03] 3380-7739) and Feb. 5, 6:30 p.m. at Shibuya Eggman, Tokyo ([03] 3496-1785). Both shows 2,500 yen in advance. Strung Out play Feb. 4, 6 p.m. at Shibuya Duo Music Exchange, Tokyo and Feb. 5, 7 p.m. at Shangri-La, Osaka. Both shows 5,000 yen in advance. For more information, call (03) 5466-0777 or visit www.creativeman.co.jp


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