It feels somehow right that during the 2017 Summer Solstice, a night of transcontinental psychedelia awaits the somewhat overheated throng. Japanese Kosmische Music ensemble Kikagaku Moyo are joined by North Wales-by-way-of-Manchester Irma Vep, between them offering two very separate and distinct styles that sit under the ‘psych’ umbrella, nestled within the Blue Velvet-style blue spotlights and thick red curtains of The Deaf Institute – a true (third) eye-opening experience.
Irma Vep, passport name Edwin Stevens and The Upside Downs, can be described with one word – fluid. Playing songs from their album No Handshake Blues, their style is a combination of off-kilter indie pop, not unlike fellow countrymen Super Furry Animals, and freeform instrumental jamming. Two guitars, heavily phased, melted into one another, alternately meditative and squalling, building up in intensity from time to time, washing through the songs. Edwin’s vocals buried very deep into the mix rather than rising above in traditional pop sing style, an instrument just like any other, not the focal point.
Audience connection did not seem to be a particularly high priority with Irma Vep, the band facing each other rather than outwards, letting the music speak for itself and forge its own connection. The room was addressed as “a sea of cold, dead eyes”, which Edwin remarked to be perfect for their sound. Either way, Irma Vep was incredibly well-recieved within their adopted hometown, with a mixture of more conventional verse-chorus structures and loose jams, ratcheting up in intensity until crashing back onto themselves, leaving nothing but the blare of feedback.
It is very easy to pigeonhole an artist or band as something of a novelty due to unusual instruments or overall style, but a Japanese group playing Krautrock-inspired jams with an sitar is really something quite special. Kikagaku Moyo (Japanese for ‘Geometric Patterns’) are a primarily improvisational band. Their new EP ‘Stone Garden’, as well as last year’s ‘House In The Tall Grass’ were the result of days-long jam sessions, and this is very apparent live. Different melodies and hypnotic rhythms fade in and out as ‘songs’ (in the loosest possible sense of the word), sprawling yet tight thanks to the precise Motorik beats, underpinning the gorgeous sitar- Ananda Shankar jamming with Can.
Considering that Kikagaku Moyo honed their craft as a free, open collective, the band are perfectly attuned with each other, moving seamlessly through a sonic landscape that is very easy to get completely lost within, as the twin-guitar-and-sitar combo spirals ever upwards and outwards, anchored only by the relentless, powerful drumming and bass. Similarly to Irma Vep, vocals were only occasionally used and existed as texture, floating and shimmering above the waves of sound. Ethereal and otherworldy, matched perfectly by the sitar, at a total contrast to the more conventional 60s and 70s garage rock guitar freakouts, reminiscent of their psych-rock forebearers. Yet, it works. This combination of styles, banded under the term ‘pysch’, is about freedoms, being able to let loose from traditional forms and constructs and create something truly different, something that Kikagaku Moyo are able to achieve masterfully. The Japanese psychedelia/progressive scene had been going from strength to strength lately- it wouldn’t be a bad idea to start right here.
Words by Liam Moody. Kikagaku Moyo and Irma Vep performed at The Deaf Institute on Wednesday 21st June, 2017.