by Joe Jamnitzky
Okay, I’m going waaaaaaaay out on a limb with this week’s choice, but I feel the need to.
Lately I’ve felt a little like I’ve been playing it safe with this column. Choosing artists that people may already know, or albums that they may have heard. This week, I felt the need to change it up just a little bit. While Red Bacteria Vacuum are actually known here in the States, it’s nowhere near at the level as the artists featured in my other articles.
When we think of music from Japan, it tends to fall into a certain stereotype; DDR-style techno, overly happy/cutesy upbeat pop, or epic sounding tracks from video game soundtracks. Over the past three years or so, I have discovered a multitude of bands that totally shattered those ideas. Apparently Japan has no shortage of indie/alternative bands, some of which are actually known in the underground scene here, and many of which also happen to be all-girl bands, of which this is one.
Red Bacteria Vacuum (RBV for short) started out as a straight-up punk band. That’s really the only way to describe them. The songs were loud and fast, lyrics screamed. As the band progressed they started incorporating other musical elements, such as pop and new wave, along with actual clear production, but without ever losing sight of where they started. They managed to get some notice here by playing SXSW numerous times, taking part in Benten Label’s “Japan Night”, which was a tour that promoted Japanese indie bands throughout the States. In what probably was one of the more surreal pairings in recent times, RBV toured as the opening band for A Perfect Circle in 2011, where general consensus was that they managed to win over the crowds by the end of their sets, thanks to their high energy performances and amusing personalities (they frequently had signs up that stated things like, “Buy our CD, we keep your change”).
In 2013, following the release of Hey Peeps!, it was announced that bass player Kassan was pregnant and would be taking a leave of absence. In the meantime, the remaining members have formed the band jungles (it’s lower case on purpose), and have recently also toured the States.
No more was their early punk sound more apparent than on their EP, Roller Coaster, with the title track becoming probably their best known song here. This is not really for the faint of heart, or for people looking for something mainstream sounding or produced. Instead, what we have are six songs of over-driven sound, all with the levels in the red, trying to basically blow your head off. Seriously, even in the (slightly) slower moments, the entire thing is washed in extreme distortion, giving it an old, dirty, gritty sound. That sound is key, though; had these songs been produced cleanly, it just wouldn’t have the same forceful impact (a point proven by the 2012 re-recording of the title track). Some of the lyrics are in English; however, since they’re all pretty much screamed, it’s a moot point trying to understand them. If anything, even that works in it’s favor, because it adds to the overall effect of things. Both “Roller Coaster” and “No-Ten Fuck” basically beat you over the head without letting up; closing track “Standing Here…” is the only moment where things really kind of open up a bit, keeping the distorted sound and screams while showing that they are capable of writing songs with a pop sensibility, something which would come much more to the fore on their first full length, Dolly Dolly Make An Epoch.
While the idea of an all-girl Japanese punk band may sound like a gimmick, this EP proves that RBV were nowhere near being one. This was never a case of, “Oh look, we’re girls trying to play punk music”; rather it was, “We play loud punk music that will kick your ass, and we just happen to be female too”. In the process, they managed to produce one of the most compelling, loudest, and straightforward punk EPs to have been released in recent memory. If you thought Japanese music fell into one of the categories I mentioned earlier, watch the video (itself very low-quality on purpose) and prepare to have your mind changed.
Just don’t do it with headphones turned all the way up.