Japandroids

I had been excited to see Japandroids live for few months.
Since I stumbled upon their album online, since I finally snatched a CD copy at Rough Trade East, even before I read Pitchfork reviewer (and many more) going nut for them.

Japandroids‘ pure garage sound is so catchy that falling in love with it was a matter of few seconds.

I can’t remember which was the last emerging band I have been looking forward to seeing as much.
So much that I arrive at the Camden Barfly on a Friday night early. So early that the door of the concert room were still closed.

Imagine where my excitement did go when I discovered that this Japandroids‘ last date of their minitour, and first London appearance, was part of the “club night”. It translates in “the two Vancouver guys will not walk the stage before midnight!”. Wonderful, four hours to go, what to do?

While I was texting to join some friends to the other side of London for a Thai dinner, the promoter of the first night offered me access to his 3 bands. I thought it could be interesting, it was not, so I’ll save you from these.

Before the proper club night still much time. A sort of Libanese dinner kindly offered by Camden Town never ending food suppliers, a couple of beers and some i-Phone mediated social networking helped.
I head to the room early also to avoid being caught in the advice saying that the gig is overcrowded and not everyone will gain access to the Japandroids concert. That was not an option!

Another band opens from them, another one I’ll skip because the moment is arriving. The moment for Brian King, the guitarist and David Prowse, the drummer, to come on stage setting up their instruments.

I am curious to have a look at jacks, amplis, microphones. I also, in vain, look for a setlist that does not appear.

In recent times there has been an over inflation of guitar/drums duos. It may be due to the White Stripes trend or the economic recession, I don’t know. Fact is that out of the 100-ish bands I reviewed in this pages, Japandroids are the 7th guitar/drum ensemble.
From The raw blues of the Black Keys to the punkish Blood Red Shoes from the noise of No Age to the dance-pop of the Ting Tings from the New York City low key electronic rock of The Kills to the melodic garage of the Crocodiles. It’s tough times for bass players.

Among the many promising new bands exploring the limits of noise there is one that stands out. Japandroids.
No question.
Post Nothing, their debut album, is simply outstanding.
It is one of those albums that pushes the bar up. It’s like setting a new high jump world record. The stick is moved up and anyone left, to stay in the competition, has to match a new height.
As Bon Iverdid the same to the alt.folk world, Japandroids freshness have reshaped the concept of noise-garage-rock in the 21st century.

Originally out only on Vinyl from an obscure Canadian label, Unfamiliar, someone at Polyvinyl has been quicker than anyone else to sign the band and press Post Nothing also on CD giving it the proper worldwide distribution it deserves. Well done!

From the artwork to the title you have the feeling there must be something special in there. When you play it you discover it indeed is. The album is a bomb. It hits you straight in the ears. It is immediate. It’s not overcomplicated or arranged. Either you like it or you don’t (you dont’t?!). There is no need to listen to it 20 times to understand it but if you get to listen to it twenty times it becomes part of you.

Live the bomb detonates. Its outbreak creates a heat-wave, an earthquake that surmount any single soul that is now packing the Barfly.
Exploiting my early arrival, I conquered my spot right on the front. I am literally two inches from the drum cymbals. Behind me it’s getting wild, a wonderful, peaceful eruption of rock’n’roll excitement.

The two guys on stage at the same time are surprised by their impact and motivated to rock the hell out of their instruments, which makes the feeling even bigger. As excited as their fans, the guitar is under attack, the drums assaulted for an hour of pure sonic bliss.

The outburst take the form of the most stripped down garage rock you can imagine. The most essential, tenacious, visceral, resistant I have met.
There is the energy of the Black Keys without the blues, the power of No Age without California’s excess (which is good). They are from Vancouver, not far from Seattle. It helps.

Japandroids music sticks to your dresses as a dirty oil spill from a motorcycle engine. You know it won’t clean anymore. Your clothes are hit and stained forever, your soul may well be too.

There is nothing special in Japandroids music. It is special.
There is nothing new. There are bands who play similarly today (No Age, Wavves) there were a plethora of bands playing this stuff in the 90s.

The alternative rock formula is as secret as the Coca Cola recipe.
Everyone tries to reproduce it, very few find the touch that makes the difference, that makes you taste so good.

To define the meaning of “difference” between songs all played with an heavy distorted guitar and rumbling drums is challenging. It is not about describing a technique, a musical approach. It’s not music critique. It is as describing an emotion, it’s psychology.
That is why, anyone who has been at the right (and the wrong) concert knows that very well, don’t need reviews. When you are there everything is sparkling clear.

The sound of Brian King‘s guitar is one of the key elements of the sonic attack. He lets off all his post-adolescent energy into the music.
It sounds at the same time clean and dirt. Distorted, oversaturated and beautifully melodic.
This gives songs an harmonious core and a visceral side. It is not the usual My Bloody Valentine formula of pop songs submerged by feedback, it is inverted, layers of fuzz and noise producing harmonious pop songs.

I came across at least at one of the mysteries of this sound. I read somewhere that the guitar signal is split into two different amps. One is left clean, unperturbed. The other is dirt, distorted, saturated.
The feeling is a bigger sound, as it was played by two guitarists. The simplicity of a brilliant intuition.

David Prowse on drums is like a typhoon that no one will ever dare to face, to divert from the collision path he has with his mate.
There is no need. Brian knows exactly where David is going and David controls Brian‘s derail with his drumsticks.
The mutual understanding between those two is simply wonderful. It can exist only between two guys that have been playing together (in a duo) for over three years.
They would find themselves blindfolded, in the dark, playing from two different continents or 2 different youtube channels. Go figure what happens when they are next to each other.

They are young, they are friend, they are achieving the dream of all the young friends putting on a ban have. Travel the world playing their music.

The desire emerges from most of their lyrics, likely wrote in some Vancouver flat, with in mind exactly what’s happening tonight.

The realization of a dream. They are in London, the world capital of rock music, in front of a crowd who is going crazy for their songs.

No wonder why singing:

“It’s raining In Vancouver
but I don’t give a fuck
because I’m far from home tonight”

[Sovereignty]

Has got the feeling of superpower that only who made it can have, and is now enjoying it.

The lyrics are as essential as the music. There is no need of literary tricks to say that all you want is in the end go, go, and go.

“The boys are leaving town,
will we find our way back home?
I don’t know”

[Boys are Leaving Town]

When the wish is discovering the world out there, with all its wonders

“Must get to France,
so we can French kiss
some French girls”

[Wet Hair]

It is the old Latin ‘Carpe Diem’ philosophy, to get it before it’s too late.
The fear of growing up you have when you are 20.

“We used to dream,
now we worry about dying,
I don’t want to worry about dying,
I just want to worry about those sunshine girls”

[Young Hearts Sparks Fire]

Which is their landmark song, the examplification of what Japandroids are.
Two Vancouver guys, with such a special sensitivity for the essence of rock music.

There was not a setlist on stage, the songs are lengthy on the album and become even lengthier live tonight. They insist on the same riff, on the same loop extending it until the hypnotic feeling hits you and you are lost into it.
As in Crazy/Forever the song I can’t get out of my mind since they played it. It’s like soundtracking a mantra, repeated endlessly. As a prayer to make the desire within it happen.

“We’ll stick together forever,
Stay sick together,
Be crazy forever”

[Crazy/Forever]

All we want, on the other side of the stage, is that this is going to happen, that Japandroids will stick together forever.
The rest will come out naturally. I came out with a T-Shirt saying: “No God, Only Japandroids”. Brilliant!

Check them out here [website] [myspace]

Photo tip

This was raucous. Fun but it is not easy when, instead of just a T-shirt you are in the middle of a riot with a big bag, two cameras, several lenses and even too many clothes because you are Italian and out there the autumn is starting to be quite chilly.

There is obviously no pit at the Camden Barfly. Better get there early, well before the gig starts to take the right spot. It would become difficult once packed.
Ignore another beer or chatting to a friend, if you are serious about concert photography, you have to get to the front in advance and stay there, standing, sweating for long times.

Japandroids guitarist and drummer are one facing the other. Experience suggest the best spot is slightly on the right, basically in the middle between them, very close to the drums. Shooting drummers from very close is a rare pleasure.

In a no-pit bouncy situation you are not free to move without risking to lose your place or even your stuff, so it is important that you stick to the right place. That place is in the front, even ahead of diehard fans. There is no second or third row option.

For two reasons.
One is obvious, having no one between your lens and the band is a guarantee of better photos.
The other is practical, the front row is the calmer in a mad situation. Whatever happens in the back is filtered, mitigated once arrives to you. Ideal when you have your gear to protect (and to use).

One problem of this show, photography wise, was the big difference in lighting between Brian being in the spot and David in the shadow. A difference that is difficult to compensate when you are trying to frame both in the same shot.

Last, don’t forget your ultrawide angle, all these photos have been shot either with an 18mm or a 35mm lens. The feeling of being part of the scene comes from wide shots. Any longer lens and you lose it.

~ by Valerio on November 13, 2009.

One Response to “Japandroids”

  1. Great post on Japandroids! Nice blog, great photos – the pictures sort of bring to mind the video site La Blogotheque (google it, brilliant stuff), though you two publish in two different mediums, the tone seems eerily simliar. Definitely my favourite band this year amongst the muck of Animal Collective knock offs. Not a great fan of the Collective either. Seems like 09 was a bad year for music :(

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