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Friday, July 17, 2009

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Kicking out: Enter Shikari in live action at Studio Coast in Japan, January 2008. © TEPPEI

Enter the dance-rock dragons Shikari

Special to The Japan Times

"We were really worried before they came over 'cos England's so s--t," says Rob Rolfe, the drummer from British post-hardcore/metal/dance fusion band Enter Shikari of their anxieties before embarking on a 2008 tour with their friends, the Japanese punk-metal group Maximum the Hormone.

"The way you get treated in England," adds bassist Chris Batten, before Rolfe continues, "The venues, backstages, hotels. We were really worried they'd be like, 'This is terrible! We don't ever want to come back here!' "

They needn't have worried, though. Despite the inevitable jet lag and the U.K.'s unique approach to customer service, the tour went off well. Rolfe explains: "We were pretty certain they'd go down well with our audience, and they loved them. And they were really funny; they learned a few English phrases." "Fish and chips," interjects Batten, confusingly for a moment, before Rolfe clarifies, "They'd just yabber off in Japanese and no one could understand a word they were saying, and then they'd just go, 'Fish and chips!' and get the audience going."

Enter Shikari are now preparing for their fifth visit to Japan, to support their new album "Common Dreads" at the Summer Sonic music festival in Tokyo and Osaka, where they first encountered Maximum the Hormone.

"They interviewed us at Summer Sonic because they've got a TV program, and then we watched them and thought they were awesome," says Rolfe. Batten puts the attraction down plainly to "their crazy music," but Rolfe thinks there's a chemistry between the two bands that goes beyond music: "It's weird because we can't really speak Japanese and they can't really speak English," he says. "But we just get on so well. We communicate through 'rock' signs." "Definitely one of my favorite bands," nods Batten.

We move on to talk about how the band approached the new album, and Chris, until now seemingly the quiet one of the pair, is the first to offer his opinion: "Lyrically, with the first album, people could look at the lyrics, and they could mean one of many things to different people, whereas this album is a lot more in your face and less cryptic," he explains, suggesting that the members' growing maturity has given them more confidence and a clearer sense of what they want to express. Rolfe explains it more bluntly as being a case of, "We know what we want to say, and we've got the balls to actually put our point across."

The lyrics are generally written by vocalist Roughton Reynolds, with other members' ideas occasionally making their way into the songs through more convoluted means. "Sometimes, if I'm really drunk," says Rolfe, "I'll turn to him and go, 'Hey, you know what,' and start spewing all this big, really meaningful stuff and hopefully he'll be able to twist it all around and get lyrics out of it." But he admits that his drunken, philosophical ramblings are probably not the main cause of the band's new, more articulate lyrical direction.

"Roughton's girlfriend Holly is an activist and I think she's sort of put a lot into Roughton's mind and opened his eyes to a lot of things," Rolfe explains, pointing out that this more political outlook is no Yoko Ono-style unwanted interjection, but a view shared by the band. "What first sparked me about thinking about these kind of political things is the film 'Zeitgeist,' " he adds, "and seeing through the bulls--t we're fed a lot of the time."

Some of the reviews in the U.K. press have criticized Enter Shikari's politics on the new album as facile and juvenile, and it's obvious when talking to the members that they don't consider themselves experts. However, there is also a sense that what the band is doing is expressing their own experience of growing up through their music, and unpolished as the sentiment might sometimes be, the issues relating to the environment, unrestrained capitalism, and the whole post-Sept. 11 fear experience are widely felt all over the world.

Of the group's musical development, Batten is quick to praise the work of producer Andy Gray, who has previously worked with artists as diverse as U2, Tori Amos, Korn and Liz Fraser. "He's a dance producer, and he's really, really great," enthuses Batten, "He brought out the best in each song, so there's more of a dancey feel to the whole record and it's hopefully more mature." It's clear when listening to "Common Dreads" that the dance element of the band's music is more confidently and consistently handled this time around compared to on "Take to the Skies," where the rock aspects of the band's sound occasionally overwhelmed their more electronic side.

One thing that the band bemoans is that for a group who have spent so much of their careers on tour, they've never really had time to see any of the places they've been to. "I've seen the inside of a lot of venues. A lot of speakers," sighs Batten, while Rolfe thinks Enter Shikari has been a victim of their own popularity here in Japan. "We're told there aren't really enough big venues to do, like, a really long tour. The longest we did was three shows, which was Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya." He says, that in the end, what he will probably have to do if he wants to see Japan properly, particularly the rural side of the country, he'll have to come over on his own initiative.

The band's attempts to break the United States have met with different kinds of trouble. Rob has a mischievous twinkle in his eye when he says, "The thing is that I don't really like America. Whenever we go over there it's horrible. All these really long drives in between each show because it's so big." There was also the small matter of his arrest last year that saw his visa application being rejected. "I was never charged and don't have any convictions," he is quick to clarify. "But because it was quite recent I couldn't get a visa." This is, he complains, a uniquely American problem. "When I was coming to Japan this time," states Rolfe, "the form just said, 'Do you have any convictions?' and I could say, 'Ha! No!' but America's the only country in the world where they don't see that, they just go for the arrests."

Both Rolfe and Batten are anticipating no such problems for their next trip to Japan, and are looking forward to Summer Sonic. "I don't know who we're playing with this time, but every year they always have such good lineups," says Batten. "That's the thing about Japan," says Rolfe, "They don't do things by halves. Everything's high quality, high standards."

At ¥37,000 for a three-day ticket, the prices are also pretty high, so unrestrained capitalism clearly still has a lot to answer for.

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