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Thursday, Sep. 22, 2011
Mop Of Head praises recent past on debut
Special to The Japan Times
OSAKA — Mop Of Head founder Takashi "George" Wakamatsu had a pretty standard musical upbringing. He studied piano from the age of 3, and says he listened mostly to classical music and old jazz. Then he heard a track that changed his life ...British dance duo The KLF's "F-ck The Millennium."
"I really felt that tune had a freedom from any specific style," George says. "It was a really free composition."
From that moment on, George says he began listening to music that would go on to influence Mop Of Head, an instrumental quartet out of Tokyo that aims to blur the line between rock and dance sounds. Their recently released full-length debut "Retronix" taps into a wide variety of genres, flirting with industrial stomp, electro and postrock. This blending helped land Mop Of Head a spot opening for similarly minded German outfit Digitalism on the Nagoya and Osaka legs of its Japanese tour.
The band began to form when George was still at junior high school, when he recruited Mop Of Head's original drummer [he preferred not to be named]. He then found guitarist Takuma Kikuchi during high school and rounded out the group in university with the inclusion of bassist Hitomi Kuramochi. The group's first drummer left, and Mop Of Head found Kenji Sakuraoka to replace him.
"I didn't choose people based on their skill," George says. "I found people who just liked similar music to me."
That selection strategy makes sense after listening to "Retronix." The album, which gets its name from combining the words "retro" and "electronics," doesn't try to hide its influences. Instead, it embraces them almost to the point of wholesale lifting. The album's weaker moments might sound too similar to artists of the past, but the best tracks make those borrowed ideas sound like Mop Of Head came up with the sounds itself.
"It's showing respect for our own musical histories," George says. "I think we should pay more respect to older music rather than chasing after the next big thing. We make new music and develop new ideas based on studying and listening to the past."
Consequently, each track on "Retronix" pays homage to a different style of music. The opening two-punch of "One" and "S.A" barrel forward courtesy of some revved-up guitars, a nod to the slightly dancier era of 1990s alternative rock. Elsewhere, tracks such as "Delyte" and "Superhuman" lean more toward an electronic sound typified by France's Ed Banger Records in the late 2000s (particularly Justice). Mop Of Head even steps off the dance floor for the seven-minute "Love Pop Dance Music," a deceivingly titled number owing more to the slower build-and-release style of postrock.
Traces of Mop Of Head's favorite acts — highlighted by '90s U.K. dance acts The KLF, The Chemical Brothers and Andrew Weatherall — can easily be picked out throughout the album, but George says certain songs on "Retronix" are hyper-specific homages.
" 'Hocus Homage' is a kind of jokey tribute to Blur's 'Girls & Boys,' " George says. "We wanted to make a disco track and, oddly enough, 'Girls & Boys' was the first thing we thought of when we thought about disco. Of course, we like that tune very much."
They also made sure to include one tribute to The KLF, a track called "Istanbul." Halfway through that song, a sample of American rock band MC5's famous declaration to "Kick out the jams mother- f-cker" is belted out during a pause in the action. The KLF used the same line in their track "What Time Is Love."
Besides samples and homages, Mop Of Head also subscribes to older notions concerning performing and recording. The band doesn't use looping technology live or in the studio, preferring to play all the parts. "Recently, many musicians, especially dance music artists, use laptop computers at home, in the studio and at their gigs, too," George says. "I like seeing music played live, I really like seeing humans play. That's our same attitude in the studio."
Mop Of Head got a chance to demonstrate its philosophy at this year's Fuji Rock Festival. The band played the Thursday night opening party, an experience George says was "great, with a very good audience." Following the Digitalism shows, George says the group is currently planning a nationwide tour to promote "Retronix."
"In the future, we also want to release music and play shows overseas," George says. "Especially in the U.K., because British music influenced us so much."
Mop Of Head has an ultimate goal, however, to become its own movement. "We hope we can become a scene of our own," he says. "Full circle. One day, we'll become the source of inspiration."
Mop Of Head plays Daikanyama Unit in Tokyo on Oct. 2 (5 p.m.; ¥2,500). The band opens for Digitalism at Big Cat in Osaka on Oct. 5 (7 p.m.; ¥6,000); and Club Quattro in Nagoya on Oct. 6 (7 p.m.; ¥6,000). For more information, visit mopofhead.com.