Bo Ningen’s latest record, Sudden Fictions, has transformative powers. Suspending reality, the body of work crafts a new historical timeline by drawing new connections between the influences, genres and performers pulled from the band’s universe of influences. “What if Marcel Duchamp and Miles Davis made something together?” guitarist Kohhei Matsuda asks below.
In a time where newness can often lack authenticity and conviction, the Japenese, UK-based noise band recently found themselves questioning their own place and values. “…it is a rock band questioning itself as to what it could be in this time of bedroom producers, alternative R&B, and modern hip-hop,” Matsuda says. “If this apparent history of music has its root somewhere, and that root leads to this present moment when rock bands are being pushed aside, we thought we could dig deep enough to the root, and rewrite the present. We wanted to find a new path to follow an alternative history as a rock band.” When the world is pushing you one way, erase it completely and manifest your own.
Shifting epochs in the process, this fertile new universe places the band’s diverse and potentially disparate influences at the core, where everything else revolves around and evolves from. Roaming this vivid, sensory soundscape, Bo Ningen become sonic explorers, shaping a new historical tapestry crafted in nomadic distortion, hypnotic rhythms and exquisite washes of sound.
Marking the release of their new record, here Bo Ningen exclusively share their latest track You Make A Mark Like A Calf Branding while guiding us through some of the references that shape the remarkable world of Sudden Fictions.
Kohhei Matsuda [guitarist] selects Fictions by Jorge Luis Borges:
“It would be easy to assume that Borges’ collection of short stories titled Fictions was a big inspiration for our new album Sudden Fictions, and that would be correct. Guess where sudden came from? I don’t know, maybe because we encounter ‘fictions’ every moment of our life, suddenly.
What I like about Borges is that he has a strong sense of history – that is to say ‘time’ – or uncertainty and fluidity of time. He often inserts forged texts from imaginary opuses into short stories. Borges creates different paths to alternative reality; something so close to ours that it becomes almost real.
Similar to what Borges did with his work, I wanted to incorporate forged history into composition, like drawing a line through history, say: Stockhausen–Miles Davis–Glenn Branca, or Bauhaus–Christian Marclay–Vaporwave, or even old blues songs to drone music through quantum physics. Through doing that I thought I could make this album kind of a gateway to a lot of other elements in history, some forgotten, some mistaken at the time. When you hear a song, you are hearing a stream of time behind it.”
“Borges creates different paths to alternative reality; something so close to ours that it becomes almost real.”
Yuki Tsujii [guitarist] selects Los Angeles:
“One of the key, and possibly most obscure, elements that shaped Sudden Fictions is that we recorded the record in LA. With the previous albums, we recorded all of them in England, and of course the process we took for this album with our producer Drew Brown in LA had a certain impact on the actual sound of the album, production-wise.
All the inaudible aspects such as the air, weather and atmosphere of the city, and their potential effect, were brought into the rooms of the studio, and even the way in which we spent our time outside the studio definitely made Sudden Fictions sound special and different to any of our previous records. You can easily imagine the lifestyle and its sound that you hear on the street have such opposing personalities between London and LA.
Sun and rain; dry and wet; jolly and grim; cars and feet; angels and smoke. I’m not saying one is any better than the other. It’s just a case of different qualities. Obviously we had already finished writing the album by the time we got to LA ready to record, so I know it didn’t influence the songwriting sessions directly, but this indescribable quality – something invisible and inaudible, this time particularly – played one of the most significant roles in colouring the album, in a way, and made it sound unique, and I believe, sonically speaking, more solid.”
“When you hear a song, you are hearing a stream of time behind it.”
Taigen Kawabe [bassist/vocals] selects the fantasy of dance music:
“This album is our answer to how we can redefine the meaning of ‘rock band’ in this time of bedroom producers, alternative R&B, and modern hip-hop. It also challenges us not to repeat what we and other rock bands have already done throughout history. Making this album was the process of facing our identity as a band.
Monna (drums) cites: “to escape from conventional rock drumming” as the main focus on his drumming for this record. The rhythmic approach and how we were influenced by other dance music is one of the keys to this. Bobby Gillespie brought a couple of dub tracks as a reference when we composed the song Minimal – the interesting timeless crossing point of Bo Ningen and Primal Scream, both UK bands influenced by dub.
I often say that UK bass music such as early dubstep and grime have changed my perception of ‘bass’ as a bass player. Its attitude, groove, and the way the body resonates with sub-bass – as well as the aesthetic of UK club music and culture – have influenced Bo Ningen’s rhythmic approach significantly.
Dance music that was born outside of the UK, such as Juke/footwork (Chicago), Baile Funk (Brazil), Gorge (Japan), and Trap (Atlanta) are all important influences, especially for this album. Even though we could listen to that music in clubs or in our bedrooms in the UK, there is always fantasy, extra imagination, and misunderstanding of the genre and its culture, and we believe it’s the beginning of a new invention.
Mixing the sense of rhythm both from experiences and imagination, then transforming that into the instrumentation of a rock band is like making a different world or timeline to musical history.
We live in a world where most people think mumbling, triplet flow, crazy speed hi-hat patterns and the sounds of 808 in trap music is “cool”, even though it almost sounds like the music in science fiction. We wish we made our own version of something in-between timelines; it’s up to you to decide whether it’s fiction or not.”
Monchan Monna [drummer] selects Hollow Structure 2.0
“It is said that the structure of Japanese society can be understood by deciphering Japanese myths. I think this has an effect on our music production and the new album subconsciously, as we were born in Japan. According to psychologist Hayao Kawai, there is a concept of “hollow structure” in the myths recorded in Kojiki (the oldest chronicle in Japan). There are three central gods (all siblings) in Japanese mythology, but one of them is largely ignored. In other words, it’s a “hollow” entity. The other two gods are portrayed as opposed to each other, such as being female and male, or being symbolic of the sun and the storm, but somehow there’s a buffering “hollow” god in between (there are several other similar examples in Japanese mythology).
Japanese mythology is not based on the logic of integration, but on the logic of equilibrium. The narrative is always changing with thesis and antithesis repeatedly in conflict and harmony. The cycle continues incessantly, without reaching an “agreement.” Western society has a logical structure of “linear development,” but on the other hand, Japanese society is characterized by a “circular structure,” in which thesis and antithesis elements circulate around the centre, while maintaining a central emptiness. Although this is not the central logical structure of modern Japanese society, the concepts of equilibrium and harmony still seem to be firmly rooted in Japanese society.
I would say that the hollow structure does not mean that there is “nothing” at the center, but that there is a “hollow” in order to circulate the mutual elements well. This concept seems to have existed unconsciously in our music production since we started the band. The process involves recording spontaneous improvisations and cutting out the best parts of them and developing them. When we four interfered with each other without making any particular decisions, some harmonies appeared gradually, and it became a piece of music. It’s like a circular object which has a hollow structure but it has ‘’something’’ at the center. We couldn’t make that kind of music if we followed a method where someone brings a song which has mostly been written already and we just arrange it.
We’ve been going even further with this album. We inherited and evolved our own production methods to create music and we worked with great producers. Our “object” has evolved into something completely new because of so many new ideas from them, like 3D straight linear shots from unexpected angles. It’s just like a polyhedron composed of countless three-dimensional objects, in which a lot of new materials are generated inside the object we have created. This album is an accumulation of things that were created, chiseled, and polished in the six years leading up to its release, and it is a harmonious combination of many elements.
It’s like a stone, too.”
Kohhei Matsuda [guitarist] selects still life art
“The concept of still life was a starting point for creating the artwork for the album. The photographer (Taira Kurihara) and myself had a long conversation about stones, which is a major constituent component of the planet; a common object that can be found all over the Earth.
Still life is mostly about still life painting from the past, depicting everyday life objects. Like documents of people’s lives at various times. History visualised.
We aimed to forge history together with this new album. Imagining all these events that could have happened, like musicians or artists who had never actually met influencing each other and working with one another. What if Marcel Duchamp and Miles Davis made something together? That includes people who we imagined having lived in the past; an alternative history.
In terms of the visual, I wanted to put this simple and old still life concept into contemporary context. By photographing common objects – stones, here – with extreme clarity, we tried to depict hyper-reality. A little bit like this time that we live in.”
Bo Ningen’s Sudden Fictions is out now.