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Friday, July 25, 2008

Death Set put Japan on the agenda


Special to The Japan Times

Nearly every teacher of English as a second language who has worked in Japan longer than a year has wondered at some point, "What the hell am I going to do when I go back home?"

News photo
Punchy music: The Death Set (Johnny Siera left) have one of their regular bonding sessions.

For Johnny Siera, guitarist and vocalist with The Death Set, the answer turned out to be a career in music.

Siera spent 2004 and 2005 working at an eikaiwa (English conversation school) and as a junior-high-school assistant teacher in Tokyo. Hailing from the Gold Coast in Queensland, Australia, Japan's most densely packed metropolis was the polar opposite of the retiree-dominated surfing town where he was raised and from where he had long looked beyond.

"Tokyo was appealing as I could work and travel and pretty much party like a maniac," Siera told The Japan Times during The Death Set's recent North American tour. "I lived in Kichijoji and spent many many hours sucking on Asahi and chu-hi (fruity alcopop) while admiring the crazy clothes and cute girls in Inokashira Park.

"I guess I left because I knew it would be easy to stay, but I wanted to get in the mix and create something special. So I left and studied music back in Australia."

Although he toyed with samplers in his apartment and played one show in Shibuya, he was "too busy partying" to really focus on making music while he was in Japan. Returning back to his hometown, he met guitarist Beau Velasco after seeing him perform with local thrashers Black Panda, and the two instantly became friends. The Death Set were born soon after.

The duo briefly toured along Australia's east coast before deciding to make Sydney their new home. They didn't stay long, gigging only a half-dozen times before packing up and moving to Brooklyn, New York and then to Baltimore, Maryland in search of the right musical landscape to foster their raucous, electro-infused punk.

"I think the U.S. — due to its population, geography and already existing DIY (do it yourself) network — definitely makes existing and succeeding as an underground band much easier," explains Siera.

The band caught the attention of highly respected electronic label Ninja Tune. Having been introduced to the band's music by alternative rappers Spank Rock, Ninja Tune approached The Death Set about releasing music through its rock imprint, Counter Records.

"The head guys in both the Montreal and London offices (of Ninja Tune) are old punks, and apparently were super psyched about seeing us and were even moshing about at our show, thrashing kids around," laughs Siera.

The Death Set's full-length debut, "Worldwide," was released in April this year. Written by Siera and Velasco in Australia and the U.S., the self-produced disc tears through 18 catchy, noisy anthems at the same blistering speed as earlier recordings, but offers more musical variety.

"We had more of an opportunity to expand on ideas than we did with our previous EPs, which were more straightforward spazz punk," says Siera. "I listen to a lot of electronica and hip-hop as well as punk and I think those influences are more prevalent on 'Worldwide.' Hopefully those kids with an ADD attention span listening to something like Wire and then Lil Wayne will feel where I am coming from."

The Death Set will play this weekend at the Fuji Rock Festival. Velasco has retired from touring, so guitarist Peter O'Connell and drummer Jahphet Landis will help Siera get the sleep-deprived, hungover audience all riled up Sunday morning on the Red Marquee stage.

Too broke to attend the festival when he was living in Tokyo, Siera is excited about The Death Set's appearance. But if it were up to him, he would rather perform at one of Fuji's more intimate, stageless live spaces.

"I always prefer playing on the floor," he says. "Kids spazzing around me makes the shows so much more awesome. Playing on big stages makes me feel like I have my dick in my hand. I'm getting more used to it, (but) having no barrier between crowd and audience is always the best. Sure, pedals get stepped on and cables might get ripped out easier, but that just makes it more crazy and fun. We've been cut and bruised and even thrown up on a few times before, but it is all good and rad."

"Worldwide" is out now. The Death Set play July 27 at Fuji Rock Festival, Naeba Ski Resort, Niigata Prefecture. Three-day tickets ¥39,800; one-day tickets ¥16,800. For more info, visit www.smash-uk.com/frf08.

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