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Friday, Nov. 16, 2007
Kyoto's Ultra-man in bedroom revolution
By SIMON BARTZ
"Shotgun Blues" is the latest track off Hidenori Fujiwara's turbo-charged musical conveyor-belt of rock 'n' roll madness, and it's a blast of bluesy punk that sounds like Kings of Leon being chain-whipped by Iggy Pop in a dark alley.
"That song's from Ultra Jr., my new band. I recorded 23 bands this year in this room," says Hide, gesturing around him. "Bands from Kyoto, Sapporo, Fukuoka, everywhere, San Francisco too," he adds, fondling a few knobs on his customized 24-track Roland VS-2480 "desktop audio work station," which takes pride of place in his home studio in northwest Kyoto.
The 47-year-old Hide and his studio currently occupy the first two floors of his parents' house.
"My parents got older and I've come back to live with them." he says. "I don't pay rent, but when my parents die, I'll have to pay tax and everything to keep this place, so I have to make money from music."
As Hide deals in experimental ear-bleeding noisecore mixed with a bit of melodic punk rock, I ask if he supplies his folks with earplugs.
"The drum kit is padded. All the musicians play listening through headphones, not speakers. No worries," he says. And then he's tapping away on a cell phone, putting friends down on the advanced ticket list for another of his bands, Amazon Saliva, who will play at Kyoto live house Socrates tonight and show that they have the boundless bulldozing ferocity of Queens of the Stone Age, but with more of a pop edge.
The rest of Amazon Saliva are downstairs. Drummer Nani (who also plays in Nokemono and Bogulta) is about to head off to hook up with his new beau Pikachu of Osaka tribal-punkesses Afrirampo, and guitarist Tabata (Acid Mother's Temple, Zeni Geva) is staring at my beer. He politely asks for a sip and gulps down half the can in one go.
I'm here to chat to Hide, a legend in the Kyoto music scene and a man who doesn't just record tons of bands, but is also in six himself, as well as promoting innumerable events. A man who never stops.
When I first arrive today, he has steam rising from his head and is dripping with so much sweat that he literally leaves a wet patch on the wooden floor. "We just had an Amazon Saliva rehearsal. I'll take a shower and then you can ask me some questions," he says.
Do you have a new record out?
Yes, "We are Ultra Jr." It's my new band Ultra Jr., made up of JJ of Limited Express (has gone?) on guitar, and Reo, who used to be in Ni Hao, on drums, and me on bass. And now I am making an Amazon Saliva record and there'll be a new Ultra Bide CD soon too. Ultra Bide is my main band, my life project.
Almost every musician I meet in Kyoto seems to be in about half a dozen bands at the same time. A bit incestuous, isn't it?
Kyoto is a big city without a big music industry, with no big record labels, production companies, booking agencies. Most Kyoto musicians don't make money from music, so they're free to do what they want. So we play in more bands to enjoy the art of making music and the ideas we get from each other.
Everyone I meet in the Kyoto music scene seems to know about you.
I'm 47 and I started early, in 1975 making prog rock and experimental music, and in 1978 I was one of the first to play punk rock in Kyoto when I formed Ultra Bide. It was noisy art-punk, and nobody liked my stuff at the time, but I've continued playing real punk rock for 32 years — with hunger and anger. They haven't been able to escape from me! (Laughs.)
Which artists influenced you when you were young?
British art-rock bands, such as Pink Floyd, King Crimson and Roxy Music, and German rock — Faust, Kraftwerk and Can. And American rock, like Frank Zappa and Velvet Underground.
It has taken you decades to get respect for your work. Did you ever feel like packing it in and getting a "real" job?
Yes. I've stopped many times, the longest was for one year. If I couldn't make money from music I'd end up working in a restaurant or at a movie theater.
You told me before you lived in New York. What did you do there?
I was there from 1986 to 2001. It was great, and that's when I developed the artistic side of my brain. It's multicultural and I learned a lot about music and life in general. Then Ultra Bide started to get well-known in the New York underground scene. We played CBGB's a lot and bands like Foetus, Cop Shoot Cop, Alice Donut and Swans became fans and told the American indie record label Alternative Tentacles about us. That's how we got our record deal there in 1993.
Who are your top three Kyoto music legends?
First, Sister M. They're from about 1975 and sound like Velvet Underground; second, Datetenryu, who were Kyoto's first prog-rock band, sound a bit like King Crimson or Yes and I was the keyboardist in them so they had the best keyboardist in Kyoto! And lastly Sub, a synth player who's a bit space-prog rock, like Tangerine Dream. All of them were much older than me and I was the only outsider in high school, wearing cool outfits like the British rock 'n' rollers used to wear.
What are your favorite records by Kyoto artists?
That's difficult. Back in the 1970s there were few recording studios in Kyoto. It seemed that only Tokyo bands made records then.
So how has the Kyoto scene changed over the last 30 years?
In 1977, there were about three good bands and me! In 2007, there are great art-punk bands in Kyoto. My favorites? I help bands like Nokemono, Trico, Flid, Out at Bero with recording and gigs. Right now, Kyoto has more than 30 bands I love, so for my type of music it's great.
Why do you think so many great bands come from Kyoto, such as my personal favorite, '70s blues rockers Murahachibu?
There are no major music companies that sign us up and push us in directions we'd rather not go, no stupid producers telling us how we should sound. We play for fun, try new things and create artistic music. Art is a natural thing and entertainment kills it. As we have total freedom for creativity, we make great art!