By Christine Leonard
CALGARY — Challenging convention is nothing new to the dynamic Tokyo-based noise rock outfit Melt-Banana. Outsiders in a world united by a love of glossy J-pop, the experimental talents behind MxBx (as they are affectionately known by their fans), guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Ichirou Agata and vocalist Yasuko Onuki, were both attending Tokyo University in ‘93 when they began to formulate their inimitable brand of electronic chemistry.
“I wanted to learn drums when I was a kid, but my mother didn’t want me to because she thought it was not an appropriate instrument for a girl to play,” Yasuko Onuki recalls of her introduction to musicianship. “So, she recommended that I to learn marimba instead. That wound up being really good for me!”
“I studied piano, I started it when I was six years old and continued till I was 18,” Agata explains.
“At that point, learning from a teacher put me off. After I bought a synthesizer, I came to enjoy playing piano. Yako was throwing chairs into the audience when I first saw her performing with another band, Mizu, a fun band with her friends that played covers.”
He continues, “After that, I went to see her band many times and when the guitar player left, I joined.”
Steadfast survivors amidst a constantly shifting roster of band members, the dysphoric duo has left an indelible mark on the post-everything “no wave” landscape. Straddling the abyss of harmonic dissonance, MxBx skillfully overlays the dark gravitas of Japanese powerhouse metal groups like Boris and Acid Mothers Temple with a synthetic superstructure composed of sheer frenetic energy. This peppery contrast has made them a favourite opening band for fellow riff disturbers like The Melvins, Mr. Bungle and Tool.
“I think we are influenced a lot by the bands we share bills with,” says Yako. “When we first started, we often played with noise bands, noise rock bands, jazz or avant-garde bands. Then we started to play with punk, grind or hardcore bands. All those bands influenced us and we still get a lot of ideas from bands we play with.”
“Especially bands that we tour with because we get to see their shows night after night.” Agata confirms. “I think we are like everyone else. Anything can be an inspiration: playing video games, watching movies, TV news, comedy, reading books and comics, enjoying food, sightseeing… Wandering around in the big electric store in Tokyo,”
Despite proclaiming a “jump first look later” philosophy, co-innovators Yako and Agata’s aptitude obviously extends to their business dealings. In ‘97 the band founded A-ZAP record label and set about reissuing their extensive back-catalogue of LPs, EPs, live sessions and singles. It’s been an adventure for the band that has seen many a member come and go between their 1994 debut album Speak Squeak Creak and the 2013 release of their latest studio outing Fetch. Progressively cultivating their hybridized talents, MxBx is now on the verge of a pan-North American romp, in celebration of the A-ZAP re-release of their compilation album, Return of the Hedgehogs, which features 13 lucky Melt-Banana’s singles released between 2001 and 2009.
“I like ALL songs that we play live!” states an enthusiastic Agata.
“The songs from Fetch were difficult at first but we’ve gotten used to performing them. We also play songs from our new compilation album of non-album singles we’d recorded. Those songs are fun to play! I’m excited to see Torche every night and also Hot Nerds who are from San Diego; they are my new favourite band!”
UPDATE: See Melt-Banana with Torche on Monday, July 6th at the
Pawn Shop Union Hall in Edmonton, on Tuesday, July 7th at the Gateway Bar in Calgary or on Friday, July 10th at the Pyramid Cabaret in Winnipeg.