Ten Days in Tokyo: Boiler Doom

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To compliment the club-ready fare showcased both at Jazzy Sport and Unice, we wanted the final instalment of our Tokyo mini-tour to explore harsher terrain. Japan has been the vanguard of musical progression for years – warping the outer fringes of punk and beat production here; blending previously incompatible genres like glitch, post-rock and neo-classical there – so we figured it made sense to utilise Dommune’s unique surroundings and do something different; to properly shoot for the moon. In snagging both Boris and Merzbow, we stretched our own limits much, much further than anticipated.

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Boris are one of the most celebrated underground bands around, absolute titans of charred, sludgy, drone-y hard rock. In existence for close to two decades, their catalogue of LPs is well worth exploration: from 2001’s Flood through 2006’s breakthrough opus Pink and right up to this month’s (fairly self-explanatory) Noise. Boris alone was prize enough, but a personal request from frequent collaborator Merzbow to join the broadcast caught us off guard. His reputation as a fearsome, singular force in the experimental and power electronics scene precedes him. Neither one scans as the usual type of artist we feature—which is precisely what we were after. Boiler Doom was in motion.

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Even during soundcheck, Dommune was rammed out. People were spilling over bar surface, jammed tight into nooks and crannies; Ukawa’s long-suffering film crew given effectively no room for manoeuvre. Dommune is cosy at the best of times, so having vintage Orange, Marshall and Sunn amps stacked ceiling-high and taking up a good 60% of available floor space only intensified the palpable bristle of anticipation. That wasn’t the only thing intensified, either: the sound was absolutely earth-shattering.

The density of mass was ridiculous yet fed through Ukawa’s hand-tweaked soundsystem, it had a remarkable clarity. The band shifted between oceans-glimmering tranquility and tectonic-shifting drone at will, pulling out diverse cuts from across the spectrum: Feedbacker, Rainbow and even obscure EP Golden Dance Classics all got a look-in. The arguable highlight came in the form of a curveball, as they drew for their cover of My Bloody Valentine’s “Sometimes”. It was a fitting pick, given that they were peaking at decibels to rival MBV’s infamous cacophony, blasting out at such all-encompassing intensity that the room began to feel almost womb-like.

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Any naïve assumptions that it wasn’t possible to get louder still were eviscerated within seconds of Merzbow stepping up. So much of Merzbow’s appeal in the flesh lies in his ability to push audiences to their limits of pain endurance, so the question of how it would translate with a digital barrier in the way was up in the air. On one hand, the physical nature of his power electronics could get lost in translation; on the other, we ran a genuine risk of sheer noise overloading the broadcast. Judging by the reaction online, it worked. “There’s only one volume setting for Merzbow” ran one chatroom comment – and so it proved.

Power tools colliding, runways melting, buildings collapsing: pick your descriptive poison, what he conjured up from a discarded frying pan lookalike was ferocious. The reaction was a pleasant surprise, as the assembled diehards (Dommune’s in-house barman included) were actually dancing, pulling rhythmic lines out of the rubble almost in defiance. Boris slipped back into the mix surprisingly naturally, with Takeshi’s steely thrash and booming incantations soaring above Merzbow’s squall. A 1-2 of “Vomitself” and “Sun Baked Snow Cave” provided the final sucker punch.

It was, plainly, a fucking amazing show – you can see all three sets for yourself HERE for proof. It ran out both a perfect ending to our inaugural Tokyo expedition and a launchpad for Boiler Doom as a conceptual series. Watch this space for further movement into unfamiliar ground & すぐにお会いしましょう!

– by Gabriel Szatan

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