When radishes are raining down on the audience like bullets, you quickly realise your usual points of reference might not serve you too well. The nightmarish, masked support band, Noiseferatu, shuffled on to the drone of their disorientating, distorted fuzz. ‘All hail the radish’ came their chant, as they feverishly chalked the incantation on the floor, parting the bemused crowd as they did so. An entirely fitting preliminary for a main act whose albums have titles like Does the Cosmic Shepherd Dream of Electric Tapirs? and The Psychedelic Fiction Sauce Book. When the vinyl is on the merch stand, priced at £6.66, under the watchful, silent guard of a cross-dressing, Japanese guitarist in stockings and pink wig, plus a guy who’s a dead-ringer for Gandalf, you get the distinct impression that this will be no ordinary gig. And you would not be wrong.
We’ve all seen the Japanese films and TV game shows. We know this fascinating, exotic archipelago’s reputation for going straight from one to 11 on the dial, with absolutely zero graduation. And the chap stood next to me was on the proverbial money when he said “These guys start where most bands end!” Sure enough, that’s precisely how the current Acid Mothers Temple iteration of five (it’s an ever-revolving cast) began their set. Without so much as a ‘hello’ or any hint of what was to come, they promptly launched head-first into the mind-melting, innard-shifting noise for which they are known and dearly loved. Plenty of those devotees were in the audience.
It’s not that you can’t enjoy a band where there’s no discernible shift between songs – this could have been a greatest hits medley for all I knew. You can always approach it like free jazz, trusting that it will all come full-circle and resolve in the end with the ‘Aha!’ moment you can’t help but crave (‘Aha!’ as in ‘revelatory’, not the Scandi 80s pop Adonises). But the initiates in the audience – clearly delighted to welcome this unconventional rabble to the incongruous idyll that is Lewes – knew precisely where the songs began and ended and came from in the Temple canon. They could even pick out the covers (Hawkwind and Gong) like a blind person reading Braille. It’s not often that you’re as impressed by the audience as you are the band, but this was one of those surprising instances!
And while the battering, yet strangely hypnotic, maelstrom seemed to swirl around Higashi Hiroshi (the aforementioned, arresting Gandalf) on account of him standing centre-stage on keys, it is in fact group founder Kawabata Makoto who is pulling the strings with this band. And quite literally, on the guitar he left dangling from the overhead electric cabling above the stage. But relative newcomer Satoshima Nani on drums stole the show and then some, under a possibly unintended, though entirely apt, solitary spotlight. Nothing could prepare you for Nani’s sheer force of energy and unrelenting stamina on that stool. I think he just crashed (pun unintended) into my top three drummers ever list. His is a talent to be seen as much as heard, with thrashing arms that became a cartoon-like blur. Think Animal from The Muppets on speed (as opposed to acid)! Similarly stand-out are S/T’s basslines. Drums and bass are the more recently-recruited youth in this band, which has its roots in the mid-90s and its substance in 60s psychedelia.
If indeed, as is often touted, we live in impatient times of attention deficit, unwilling and unequipped to maintain focus and all too keen to consume our music piecemeal, then Acid Mothers Temple and their half hour songs are the cure for this sickness.
Hats off to Tobi, of Dictionary Pudding, for bringing some of the best alternative bands to Sussex (The Fall, Richard Dawson, Captain Beefheart’s Magic Band – you get the picture). As our minds and horizons expand though, our hearing range surely contracts (ear plugs strongly advised).
Photos by Mat Thomas