This is a two part review.
One dates back to May 2010, when I saw Boris double set at the ATP curated by Pavement.
The other half is June 2011, when I saw Boris at the ULU in London.
It is a two part review because I basically saw two different bands, maybe three.
Boris performance at the ATP was the most physical music experience I ever attended.
Actually, both of them.
First one was a “standard” set. The second show they delighted the audience with a rendition of Feedbacker. Their 2003 seminal album. One theme, a unique piece of music that goes for about 45 minutes.
Boris music is literally physical, it’s a music you hear with your body.
Once the compulsory earplugs (unless you want to become deaf midway through) are into your ears, the sonic waves bursting out of the amplifiers pervade all your internal organs. They penetrate skin pores as no other musician I have seen can do.
It shifts from listening to feeling. Experience. A live Boris set becomes an art performance in the way that, as a listener, you’re not passive. Bodies resonate, your guts vibrate and are an active part of the act.
The band, the lights, the smokes, the sound and the audience all merge into a single piece that is slowly dismantled during the set by these four Japanese musicians.
At the end of the gig the sensation is not too different from coming out of Thai massage at the Wat Pho.
This was my first two encounters with Boris, this was Feedbacker, and this was utterly astonishing.
Whatever music you like, Boris shows are about experiencing something eventful.
Japan is a fascinating country, it has a strange feel imagined to a European. I need to go to Japan. Actually I’d live in Japan some time if I could, if anything to get them, to understand. To enter a culture that from the outside looks bizarre. As anything coming from far away probably more than the other things.
Japan is Zen philosophy and hara-kiri, tea ceremony and Hi-Technology, shōji (the traditional translucent room dividers) and capsule hotel, Geishas and fetish bondage.
Musically, seen from my prejudice, Japan is the land of Classical Music and Avant-gardes, Progressive rock and Grind-Core Jazz, plastic Hello Kitty pop and Keiji Haino.
How to read a country and its people from that? No idea. It looks like the land of extremes. Japan looks like the oddity that manages to harmonize someway. I would like to investigate that way.
When I read that Boris were about to publishing two albums at the same time I was nothing but curious to listen.
Number one, Attention Please, is a “pop” album sang by Wata, the girl usually drenching crowds with feedback.
Number two, Heavy Rocks, same title same cover and similar philosophy to their 2004 exploration of stoner rock.
At first listening I wasn’t particularly impressed by the Pop conversion. There are some unexpected dance-ish loops in the songs that give it a different pop-twist from the seducing, sexy turn I was expecting. Why I was expecting something, no idea, must be prejudice about Japan, again.
At this point I knew Boris are a hell of a live band. I learnt that they must be seen, at full steam, on a stage.
A good excuse to head to the Student Union of the University of London a.k.a ULU well in advance. There’s no press pit there and to take pictures I like to be close, very close.
Expectedly the show was a mixture of the latest two albums with few more tracks from the recent past. (Boris have made 17 studio albums in about the same number of years).
Heavy Rocks is the opening choice. And the heavy riff of opening song, Riot Sugar, would be a favourite for any Kyuss fan.
Midway through the gig, Wata took control and sang three of the Attention Please songs, including the title track. It wasn’t my preferred moment. Keyboards and a drum-machine beat take the place of guitar, noice and feedback. Wata sings somewhere between Asobi Seksu and Goldfrapp and just sounds out of place.
Things got much, much better when the third song finished and the feedback kicked back. Ears bleeding volume for Windows Shopping from the recent Heavy Rocks then even more epic guitar stuff for 1970 from the original 2004 Heavy Rocks album.
My Neighbour Satan follows. A great title regardless of it being or not a mention of My Neighbour Totoro, the wonderful Miyazaki movie.
The concert close with the two longer suites of Heavy Rocks. Missing Pieces and Aileron create a more atmospheric, post-rock half hour. They don’t have the sparks and the brilliancy of the best moment of their Japan fellows Mono, but ultimately they manage to summarize all what Boris are and excluded the pop bits which, sincerely, is what Boris are not.
Photographically I am a background freak.
I pay a lot of attention to the background and how it balances the composition of the photo.
It is an essential part of my photography. I noticed that my eyes often tend to concentrate on minimizing the effect of disturbing elements on the back more than looking at the subject. It is also one of the reasons why I limitate my clicks and don’t use burst options. I believe it produces, in my hands at least, worse photos. Too many shots put your mind somewhere else. They don’t leave enough time to think at the composition, at what’s on the background.
One of the reasons Boris is a favourite live bands to photograph is their use of smoke mixed with coloured lights.
Smoke makes the difference, a big difference.
Smoke is like having a white canvas. The lights are the brushes that paint their abstract, dreamy shapes.
Smoke also acts as an eraser. It gets in the way between the performer and the stage, deletes most of the cables, poles, plugs and interfering non informative things that make a rock stage a very messy place.
There are two different uses of smokes and colour lights and, as most of things in concert photography, is out of photographers control. It is related to what kind of light hits the subject.
The ideal situation is what happened ad the second Boris gig at ULU. Wata and the other member where still lit so that while the coloured canvas provided a neutral back, the subject was still discernible.
To control this situation isn’t very difficult, light is there, contrast is not excessive so cameras would generally perform OK.
The other option is trickier. It happens when the smoke on the back is lit but the band members are not. As you can see in the first set of pictures shot at the ATP.
Nice silhouettes are guaranteed but control of the situation is not as straightforward.
Be quick, better to go manual, important to know how to compensate the exposition without leaving the eye from the viewfinder. Know how the camera reacts to strong lights, some overexpose some underexpose.
Know how to switch from matrix to spot metering, then how spot metering works. Don’t point the highlight, spot is all about recognizing a mid tone somewhere. Learn how to read the histograms, far more useful than chimping at your LCD.
One of the main failure in a silhouette is if it is out of focus. A nice silhouette must be perfectly in focus. The black subject in the foreground must have sharp edges in at least a part of the image.
It is not difficult (for the camera) to focus in such condition as long as you know how the autofocus works.
It perceives difference in contrast so if you put the AF point at the margin between the black and the colourful back it’ll work well.
It goes without saying that if you want to try manual focus too it will not take many gigs to realize it is not difficult at all but often it is also quicker and more accurate than the camera AF. Give it a try.
Sharpness filter do quite a good job on sharpening strong contrast situation in post editing and can help someway, but getting it right at first place is the right way.