January is over so it is my insight into the latest ATP. To cover all the 40-ish bands I watched and photographed would bring me to the end of the summer, but 2011 is plenty of new music, so I made a selection (with your help) and, after GY!BE, Scoutt Niblett and Bardo Pond I close with the most extreme of the artists I attended: Keiji Haino.
I don’t have to write a lot about this.
As you wouldn’t want to attempt me writing about harvesting crops, you don’t want to hear me theorizing about a small Japanese man who recorded about 100 albums, with anyone in the avantgarde scene from John Zorn downward, without having ever listened to him before this night.
Not that I am completely new to such a scene but, clearly, having missed Keiji Haino in the last decades, I am not into that enough.
The reason why I am posting his photos is because I thought some of you may be in my position and, guaranteed, getting to see him live is going to change your relationship with noise, music, electronics, guitar, amplifiers, performance and conceptual art, age, limits, avant-garde, experimentation and few other things altogether.
My chemistry professor back at the University years taught me that when you are in front of an experiment that you can’t understand, best thing left to do is describing it not interpreting it.
So all I am going to do is to tell you what the hell of a show Keiji Haino was able to put on in the evening the main stage was filled up by people listening to the dull set of “Weird Al” Yankovic.
There are time I question psychoanalysis theories and I start believing the “I’m OK, You’re not OK” script can be worth. I couldn’t understand how those people could be Godspeed You! Black Emperor and all those bands they brought to Minehead and then enjoy in thousands enjoy listening and laughing out loud at a guy doing banal parodies of pop songs. The only thing he achieves is that you end up missing Michael Jackson and the real Britney Spears, which arguably, isn’t a great achievement, is it?
I haven’t tried to solve the mystery why in thousands were in the pavilion watching to such a comedian. I got my gear and went into the red stage to be blown away (literally) by this Japanese men and his guitar.
Keiji Haino is alone on stage, standing in the left, in the shadow.
He has long straight long grey hair (a whig?) that reflect shiny under a white spotlight.
Electric blue and green lights paint his silhouette.
He is short and slim, dark dressed, with boots and plays Gibson guitars.
He looks midway between a ghost and a men from another planet. At the beginning it is not easy for me to understand even if on stage there is a man or a woman, nor his age.
Keiji Haino bends over his guitar, uses several microphones, some electronic devices.
Totally absorbed by what he’s playing. What is that? A mixture of noise, feedback, electronic loops, some vocal intervention played at unbearable volume.
He looks totally in control of the chaos, which is the most appealing thing of his performance.
There is nothing more attractive that seeing something that at a first approach looks just simple chaos then focusing on the artist and understanding that what we call chaos makes to him perfect sense. A sense that he wants to convey to the audience.
So, key to understand, or let’s say… experience, this show is to watch him as a whole with the music. To get in front, get close, because it is the whole that makes sense. Don’t ignore his body language, the way Haino’s body follows what he is playing is as important as the sound erupted by the speakers.
The right side of the stage is occupied by 4 Marshall amplifiers in a line.
It is another statement, that is the band. Haino is the director, the amplifiers become living members, they are not a media to get you the sound they are active players.
Set to a ears bleeding volume, standing in front of them for 3 seconds is the maximum a living creature can bear. The wave is so violent it enters bodies not only through our cavities, it permeates the skin making this a physical, extreme performance.
Ah, Don’t be silly. There are no chances to listen to this gig without earplugs and not having to go to the GP the day after for permanent loss of hearing. Bring your earplugs if you go. Better if you buy a pair of good earplugs, they are cheap and they will change your way to listen to loud music.
Ignore those spongy yellow things, those are not made for music and ruin your concert experience. Invest 10£ and you’ll experience loud music as you never had before.
So, I said I have not much more to suggest you than go and see this men which in Japan is as legendary as some Samurai. I wouldn’t know what of the hundred albums to suggest, and I am not sure if it is worth listening to him at home. Better to have a look on the web checking where he’s performing next. There are a couple of dates in London 10 and 11 April 2011. He is part of the stunning line up of ATP “I’ll Be Your Mirror” one day festival in Japan on the 27th of February. I am sure there will be more around the globe to came across him and being transported with the tornado his guitars can produce.
There are some concerts where lighting is just an accessory, something put there to allow people seeing what’s on stage with no relationship to what happens.
There are some others where lights are part of the whole performance. With no need to get to Pink Floyd live history or into theatre, even a minimalist set such as Keiji Haino is thought in details, including the lights he wants.
Seeing his figure, I though that his grey hair shining out on the dark would give stunning silver gelatine prints if shot on 35mm film.
Unfortunately I went to the ATP with digital cameras, to avoid bankruptcy. Shooting a festival on film, nowadays, it would be affordable only if Rolling Stone funds you, but they don’t.
Looking at these pictures now, I could have post-edited in B&W. Instead I left them on colour because the blue/green electric lights, the grey hair the shadows, the bits of fluorescent beams is what Keiji wants for his show.
As a concert photographer there is always a competition between our ego (to represent a gig through our own style) and the respect to the performer (to represent a gig for what he wants the show to be).
The debate about photography and reality is century old, and even in this year of unprecedented image manipulation I think the truth stays in the middle.
To find the right balance between what we want to achieve and the way the artist wants to be represented isn’t as obvious as it looks. There is a tiny line between interpretation and respect.
Line that should be both ways, to be fair, but this is something to talk another time because many artist (including GY!BE themselves) see photographers as parasites.
The most control-freak artists don’t want anyone else or sometime their own photographer. Some wants to see the photos before giving permission to release. Some (most) don’t care but it is here, when it is up to us, that a reflection is important. To gain the trust we need to keep doing our job. Wouldn’t you be upset of being portrayed a way that doesn’t reflect yourself at all?
Concert photography doesn’t have a great deal of freedom, the only thing we can do, most of times, is to move along the pit looking for a different angle and trying to avoid mics, monitors and cables.
If a situation is set by the artist, to give an impression of his mood and his music, to preserve it become our challenge.
These cold, shiny blue/green lights complement perfectly Keiji Haino show, I left them as they were. I hope he appreciates.