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© 2019 Black Editions Group

Early encounters with Makoto Kawabata and the first incarnations of the Acid Mothers Temple Soul Collective as remembered by their first Cosmic Narrator...

Johan Wellens is one of the world's foremost experts on esoteric and rare records. Originally from Belgium, Wellens has been based in Japan for many years. He is the founder of the Tiliqua label and rare records mail order. Tiliqua's releases have overlapped with the P.S.F. catalog including beautifully produced and presented albums by Kazuki Tomokawa, Ai Aso, Hasegawa Shizuo and Masayoshi Urabe. His archival Erotic Oriental Sunshine series almost single handedly sparked a global interest  in the salacious Iroke Kayokyoku genre of music. The Tiliqua mail order catalog has featured some of the world's rarest records. His extensive descriptions of the records are themselves treasure troves of information and a well spring of unbridled gonzo enthusiasm.

Here Wellens recollects his first encounters with Makoto Kawabata in the mid 1990's as the first glimmers of Acid Mothers Temple began to come together. Wellens is credited with "cosmic narration" and "freak power" on the Acid Mothers Temple's debut album, first released on CD by P.S.F. Records and now by Black Editions as a deluxe 2LP edition.

Looking back, I keep telling myself that the mid-1990s were not so dull. Being at university and having too much time on my hands, discovering music and going to gigs were some of the main distractions that kept me out of stale classrooms that harbored even duller lecturers. Still, the disdain that followed the disintegration of the punk and new wave movement, combined with the lethargic fall-out from the late 1980s inability to complete wholesale changes in the intent of the rock business and the rise of disposable MTV corporate rock and roll junk culture, left young turks like me hungry for something more thrilling to glue their ears to.

Having visited Japan a couple of times already and become close with PSF’s own Ikeezumi-san, left me with a jones for anything that oozed out of the still burgeoning Japanese underground scene of that day. So when in 1996 Mainliner, Toho Sara, Musica Transonic and Kawabata solo spinoffs hit European shores, I was more than eager to suck up the exhaust fumes of their trail-blazing sonics. This led to a long standing relationship with Kawabata Makoto, who became a frequent lodger when playing the Lowlands. 

Out-take from the cover photo session for the first Acid Mothers Temple album

Those initial shows with Nanjo drew some spectators but Kawabata was hungry to play more so we managed to book some solo gigs for him on his days off. And those solo outings were… heavy to say the least. Two in particular are forever engraved into my memory, being his solo sarangi and guitar performance of October 9th, 1996 and his brutal solo gig the following October 13th at a small live venue in Antwerp, Belgium. The latter one in particular was psychedelic improvisational rock & roll, with Kawabata’s playing extremely loud, fast and energetic. A cacophony of crashing juggernauts, the sound of adrenal fear. He was on fire, coming off like a Lockheed Starfighter, which brought the police to kick down the venue’s front door only minutes after he launched into the sonic stratosphere due to noise complaints from miles around. The last time the inhabitants of the village had experienced such a cavernous racket was during the allied aerial bombings during WWII. No shit. Till this day, it was the loudest brain-snapping gig I ever witnessed and this was just one guy with a single amp and a guitar before a modest audience of devotees. But even then, one could feel the earnest, non-denominational greatness seeping out of Kawabata’s pores and a certainty that there would be more to come, something that eventually mushroomed into his brainchild, the Acid Mothers Temple & The Melting Paraiso U.F.O. project.

The first time I became vaguely aware of the proto Acid Mothers Temple must have been the following year when living in Osaka. Kawabata still resided in Nagoya and we frequently met when he came down to Osaka and stayed over. On those occasions, drifting on clouds of smoke and booze, he would tape bits and pieces of “cosmic narration” as he liked to call it, of me just improvising some gibberish into a portable tape recorder that he always carried around. This had started back while he stayed at my digs in the Lowlands and tuned into a late night radio show I hosted back then. Kawabata recorded some script written down for one of those late night broadcasts – which eventually ended up being used on the first AMT recording. He would record almost everything, all his solo gigs from the previous year were taped and released during that initial tour in a limited run. These various recordings and sound snippets would become the ingredients for a phantasmagoric musical DIY blueprint that was slowly but steadily shape-shifting into something tangible. Building blocks for a new loosely knit group/collective/sound project he told me, an idea that had originated while he was touring Europe with Nanjo. In this embryonic phase, Acid Mothers Temple was still primarily a Kawabata solo project, an excursion into the sonic realms of “trip music” as he likes to call it, with the assistance of various friends, like-minded souls and musicians from his “soul collective”.

The first self-titled album on PSF Records by the assembled collective, provided the sonic blueprint for AMT. Evolved out of an obsessive analytical approach to and maniacal love of avant-garde and rock culture, Kawabata distilled all the elements that made rock & roll an outlaw expressive form and infused them with tape loops, pre-recorded sounds, elements of musique concrete, synth washes, a thuggish rhythm section and guitar mayhem. Without trying to approach his endeavor intellectually, he succeeded in conjuring forth an original sonic alloy, that embraced avant-garde and concrete elements, but cast into a rock format. Another vital ingredient on the first album was that supersonic solo gig of October 13th, 1996 that the police closed down. The violent guitar jam on the second track, “Speed Guru”, came almost entirely from that recording, which Kawabata had edited at home and spliced into the initial AMT disc. Further down the line, it would be recycled again on the first track of the “Absolutely Freak Out: Zap Your Mind!!” release. It illustrates his working aesthetic. Almost singlehandedly Kawabata would slowly piece together his first fully realized solo project, out of various recordings and with the help of friends that drifted in and out of his orbit. After that initial European tour, there was initially no intention of forming another band but he thought it would be interesting if there was something that sounded like old time Deep Purple crossbreeding with Stockhausen. In order to glue together this sonic vision, Kawabata set out cutting and splicing his various recordings, shaping it all into one solid body. Initially, the embryonic AMT consisted of Suhara Keizō (owner of the label, Gyuune Cassette) on bass, Cotton on vocals and Mainliner’s drummer Koizumi Hajime, performing as a session group that slowly engulfed a variety of other loosely assembled characters ranging up to 40, somewhat resembling the Gong family tree in structure and concept. And with this commune-like assembly the first album was recorded and put down to tape.

Cover for the original 1997 CD edition of the first Acid Mothers Temple full length as released by P.S.F. Japan (PSFD-93)

At first these recordings were offered to a Belgian label for release but they refused as the label was about to close its books. Back in Japan, the Osaka-based Japan Overseas was approached but they also politely declined. However by then, PSF had already released Musica Transonic’s first (1995) and second albums (1996) and Toho Sara’s debut (1995). Upon visiting the Modern Music shop in Tokyo, Ikeezumi asked Kawabata if he had no music of his own, prompting Kawabata to hand over the master tapes of his newly formed unit he happened to have on him, commenting that no label was interested in releasing it. Ikeezumi listened to it, loved it and decided immediately to release it, Kawabata’s first album, his first solo project album so to speak, aided by sundry friends and freaks. “It is not like some youthful memory for me but I thought of it like - Somewhere in a corner of the world, there is also something like this… - and I did not even have the intention of making a follow-up recording”. It was only meant to be a one-off recording and the domestic album’s sales were depressingly low to say the least. Still, listening to it now, it offers evidence aplenty of Kawabata’s earnestly unique vision and his cut-and-splice approach to live recordings - like the “Speed Guru” track – that are especially remarkable in light of the fact that he unleashed his purely aural contours to a small audience of undiluted minds, not knowing what to expect and familiar with Kawabata primarily as a sonic abstraction.     

Sessions in the wilderness, AMT during the time of their first album.

It is clear that Kawabata never intended for Acid Mothers Temple to be a group. Looking back upon the first album, Kawabata said in an interview for The Wire magazine: “Originally, I had no intention of making Acid Mothers Temple an ongoing group. I brought all the musicians together because I felt that I knew so many wonderful musicians who had no way of releasing an album and I wanted to give the world a chance to hear what they could do. I’d listened to all sorts of trippy psychedelic records but I was never fully satisfied with them. So I wanted to create really extreme trip music. It was also a great chance for me to try out all sorts of things in the studio and so our first self-entitled album is basically a solo record. I edited and overdubbed all the tapes of jam sessions that we’ve done and ended up with something that is like musique concrete. That was why I never even thought about the group playing live, but that record certainly felt like the first time I’d fully realized my childhood dream of creating music that fused hard rock and electronic music.”1

 

However, circumstances began to force his hand. The album gained some international attention and The Wire magazine selected it as one of the best albums of that year. Offers for overseas gigs began to drift in, so AMT as a band arose out of that foreign attention and the necessity to evolve into an operational unit of members who were capable of touring. To begin with, the band did not even have a setlist and riffed off just one or two songs only. Amongst those helping out on the recordings for the first AMT album were future core-members Higashi Hiroshi, Cotton (of Mady Gula Blue Heaven) 2, Koizumi Hajime and Suhara Keizo 3. For their debut appearance as a touring band, which took place on June 6th, 1999 at San Francisco’s Transmission Theatre, the line-up consisted of the initial quartet (Kawabata- Higashi-Koizumi-Cotton), augmented with Yasuda Hisashi on bass. Yasuda replaced Suhara, who was unable to tour due to health problems. The band would not have their debut concert on Japanese soil until after their return from that first US & European tour. They finally played Tokyo in August that year. Back home, Kawabata hooked with long-time friend Tsuyama Atsushi who expressed a longing to go on a European tour as well, resulting in Kawabata inviting him to join the loosely knit unit. With Tsuyama on board on bass, AMT started thinking about recording a second album they could take on the road again.

[1] David Keenan, “Freaks in Space”, The Wire Issue 210, August 2001, p. 32~39.

[2] Cotton left the band in January 2004.

[3] Suhara is a member of the band Rashinban (羅針盤) and the proprietor of the Gyuune Cassette record label. He was the original AMT bassist but after their second album “Pataphisical Freak Out MU!” he quietly disappeared from the group due to health problems.