Stranger than Fiction:
catching up with Bo Ningen on their latest album
Text Dan Cadwallader
Photos Jørn Tomter / tomter.net
Very few of the bands that get called art-rock actually deserve it. It gets bandied around by music writers when they hear a slightly odd time signature, or a reference to Picasso in the lyrics. Clapton based band Bo Ningen however have spent their career using music to explore ideas that are normally the province of conceptual artists.
Since forming in 2007 around a Hackney Road rehearsal space, Taigen, Monchan, Yuki and Kohhei (all originally from Japan) have been combining noise rock, psychedelia kosmische musik and post-punk to create a sound that defies easy categorisation. They’ve collaborated with bands like Savages (on the 17-minute single ‘Words To The Blind’) and Faust, as well as figures in the art world such as Tim Noble and Sue Webster.
The band’s 4th album, ‘Sudden Fictions’ was released today and sees the band exploring new territory both sonically and conceptually. I caught up with the band’s drummer, Monchan, to chat about lockdown, collaborating with Primal Scream’s Bobby Gillespie and how the band are using theoretically physics to redefine their sound.
Hi Monchan, how're you doing? How have you and the rest of the band been coping with the lockdown?
It's good so far and I'm enjoying my personal time. Currently, I (Drums) and Taigen (Vocal/Bass) are in London, Yuki (Guitar) is in Stockholm and Kohhei is in Amsterdam and we are in different places but having fun individually.
I read the new album was recorded in London, Tokyo and LA. After those far flung sessions it must have been a shock to be totally stuck in London
We mainly recorded the album at Vox Studios in LA, also overdub/mastering at East West Studios and Studio 101 but many pre-productions in London and Tokyo so we were pretty much everywhere before the strange days started. It was like in a fictional movie and I was kind of panicking in the beginning. Two of my Japanese friends decided to go back to Japan immediately in 3 days before the border closure and I was thinking of going back to Japan too.
Your latest album 'Sudden Fictions' is out today, tell us a little about how the band has evolved since III came in 2014?
We've tried a lot of new things which have been nourishing and have brought substantial change to us. Active introduction of English lyrics, which Taigen says is like introducing a new instrument. How to effectively introduce a synthesiser and drum sampler as BO NINGEN and studies of pedals for distinctive sound making. The list goes on. I think our interest in being a live band became more an interest in the recording and to express the experiences, visions and thoughts that we have developed over the past six years.
I know Taigen's lyrics on this album are exploring concepts such as the "World line", how have these ideas bled into your music?
The ''World line'' is the path which an object traces in four dimensional spacetime. It is an important concept in modern physics, which we see as central to the ambitious theme of sonically recontextualising ourselves within the ‘’history seen as open structure’’ concept explored on the album.
You've had some excellent collaborators on this album, including Bobby Gillespie (Primal Scream) and producer Drew Brown (Beck, Atoms For peace), what was it like letting them into the Bo Ningen creative process?
It was an irreplaceable experience to work with them, like making a new sculpture we’ve never seen. There was a base which we made, and they brought many materials which we stuck on it, chiselled and polished together as if we were sculpting it. Then it became ‘’an unknown object’’ which has a different shape, texture and colour called ‘Sudden Fictions’. They gave us so many new awarenesses and we really appreciated them.
Before 'Sudden Fictions’ dropped you guys released a series of archive recordings, live and early demos, called 'A Found History', was it fun to go digging through older material while you were in lockdown?
It was the best time in the beginning of lockdown and good to refresh our minds, sort of a therapy. We amazingly found a lot of rarities and decided to reveal them to track our history named ''A Found History'' on Bandcamp. It's a side story of sonic fragments from the very beginning to just before the new album.
You're a band with an incredible live reputation (I saw you myself at Glastonbury 2017), are you guys looking forward to getting back on the road when you can?
Yes, totally. Each of us is doing something new, learning different instruments, working out hard at home, making new songs etc. Can't wait to play gigs and share the energy with people who love music.
Am I right in thinking all four of your live in London? How do you feel the city has fed into the music you make?
Three of us live around Clapton except Kohhei, he moved to Amsterdam last year but there are so many similarities in between the cities, I guess. Environment, culture, even food really affect our music life so I can't really imagine if BO NINGEN formed in Japan. We might be a totally different band, playing different music also could have much shorter hair... Quite many people say our music style is unique. Probably one of the main reasons is us subconsciously combining our origin with the experiences which we had in the UK/Europe.
If you could sum up Bo Ningen vibe or mission in one sentence, what would it be? Our aim is to represent an alternative history.
Sudden Fictions is out 25th June 2020