Frog got your throat?
Japan's eX-Girl bring their imaginary land and imaginative music to Atlanta
Little girls across the globe long have been captivated by the seemingly harmless Sanrio world of stationary and school supplies emblazoned with Hello Kitty the kitten, Keroppi the frog and Pochacco the pup, just to name a few. Now imagine an alternate world where those same Sanrio-loving little girls grow up forsaking Hello Kitty for dressing up as sex kittens and penning songs to the sound of Frank Zappa, Nina Hagen, Devo and the Talking Heads.
Find it hard to believe such a place exists? Do day-glo images of petite Asian girls in lame and latex tearing into buzzsaw guitars overwhelm the imagination? Well, thanks to the minds of a select three, such a strange place exists, though it may not be for the weak of will or faint of heart. It's the land of Kero Kero, the imaginary home of eX-Girl — a trio of Asian pop art-rockers who are far from grown up, but farther still from being little ladies.
"[Kero Kero is] basically an elongated triangular pyramid," explains bassist Kirilo, stand-up drummer Fuzuki and guitarist Chihiro via mysteriously couriered e-mail. "We three live at the respective corners forming the smallest triangle and The Frog King's throne is at the pointiest apex. Its interlocking dodecahedral orbit is a result of being located in a constellation of 12 stars. The biggest one is black and is central to the constellation. It's a little like Earth but the flat places are bigger and flatter and the pointy places are bigger and pointier."
Actually, it's a lot more like Japan, which may be easier to pinpoint on a map but is no less strange at times. The fantastical world of eX-Girl is not without precedent in the Land of the Rising Sun — the idea of playing out parts in full costume dates back as far as Kabuki Theater. But more contemporary examples can be drawn, because eX-Girl — who not only write their own baffling mix of nearly atonal three-part harmony, rhythmic dissonance and Casio cacophony, but design their own cartoonish attire — traffic in Japan's second best export next to electronics: The Concept.
Whether it's the sugary pop of Shonen Knife, the raw garage rock of Thee Michelle Gun Elephant and Guitar Wolf or the more militaristically themed techno-thrash of the Mad Capsule Markets, the Japanese seem to migrate with fanatical force to the music they admire. They take on extremely detailed and informed personas that still come across wide-eyed and innocent, as if it's only natural they would wear neon beehives or leather jackets and pompadours.
Conceptualize the most extreme media-obsessed and stylistically saturated world possible and it's easy to imagine that's what incubated the eX-Girls. American advertisers and eMpTyV constantly inundate teens with images of what they need to get and what they think they want, which basically boils down to being part of the status quo. But while those teens are falling in to the Gap, Japanese teens, as obsessed with fashion as with fashionable music, fill in the gaps by combining influences from around the world. Japanese bands nurse from a global satellite feed. So while Americans may be more prone to erecting cultural barriers and begin defining others as either one thing or another, Japanese bands are another thing altogether.
The American melting pot contains more of a stew than a broth, with distinct subcultures concentrated on keeping themselves separate from the mix. For the most part, these subcultures are mostly concerned with staying homogenous or evolving together to preserve their cultural identity. Instead of falling prey to such an "us or them" mentality, many Japanese bands — maybe because they share the same stable cultural base — seem to stem from an us and them approach. What results is in an unpredictable, uneven mix of global influences and a belief in "strange" as an asset, not a liability. And eX-Girl are no exception, mixing in heaps of cabaret and "folk costumes" with their clatter. However, they don't fall prey to fashion designers' indulgences by letting the presentation overwhelm the purpose; to present music as colorful and chaotic as their visuals.
The eX-Girls are touring on Back to the Mono Kero!, their fourth album. It's their first on Ipecac, the label of Faith No More/Mr. Bungle singer Mike Patton, no stranger to schizophrenic rock. But even Patton hasn't taken the stage with frog-influenced headgear and high heels to perform a high-concept hootenanny where punk avant-garde meets Andrew Lloyd-Webber. Having been known to mix covers like '80s staple "Pop Muzik" and James Brown's "Sex Machine" with raw rawk, distorted disco and caustic chants, eX-Girl conceptualize music as searing spectacle. That's Earth music, that is.
"We didn't bring music from our planet per se," the Girls reveal. "The music of Kero Kero is very broadband and involves sound both above and below human hearing. If we played it here, no one would be able to even hear half of it. Also, some Kero Kero pieces last for months, sometimes even years, which would make that hard to fit on even a suitcase full of CDs. Others use relativistic effects to become so short that they actually end before they begin. Again, this makes it very difficult to put them on a CD because they tend to suck themselves off into the 11th dimension when you put the shrink-wrap on.
"We just brought ourselves and began making Earth music," the Girls continue. "Everything we know about that stuff is on the four albums we have made to date. If you want to know what we know then just listen to them. It's all there."
So with all this work put into costumes and melding Earth rhythm with otherworldly spirit on CD, what exactly does eX-Girl want an Atlanta audience (already weaned on space rockers Man Or Astro-Man?) to get out of the group's primal performance art?
"The same thing we get out of doing it: We want them to have a great time."
Hmmm, not such a convoluted concept after all.
The eX-Girl trio play The Earl Mon., Sept. 10. $10. 10:30 p.m. 404-522-3950.