Bo Ningen @ Heaven – A Reflection
BO NINGEN, HEAVEN NIGHTCLUB, LONDON 7TH MAY
For those not already in the know, Dalston based Japanese four-piece Bo Ningen are the brilliant sound of hell. They’re an androgynous, skinny as anything acid punk/speed metal/doom rock/psych/ prog/shoegaze/krautrockers who dress like some kind of 1969 druids who look like they live on lettuce and big guitar riffs alone. They’re the sound of a multi-car pile-up set to music; this is a good thing obviously, the sound…not the (imaginary) pile up.
This gig is the opening night of a UK tour is to promote their headfuck of a third album, the just released ‘III’. It’s the thrilling sound of a rush hour Shibuya, mid-night excursions to Pachinko parlours, this is music that takes you to the brink, they can replicate the shock of their live sound equally as effectively in the studio. The drums crash, the bass is rumbling, literally giving you the shakes, the guitars are louder and heavier than any of the acts you get played traditional metal festivals such as Download.
They’re due to support Black Sabbath this Summer in Hyde Park alongside other long in the tooth rockers such as Motorhead, Soundgarden and Faith No More. This on paper looks a risk, there’s no double denim, no badly dyed hair, no reformations with hatreds put aside for guaranteed cash. Their fusion of violent noise and pummelling rhythm will not only win over an infamously hard to please hard rock crowd, but if they play like they did tonight, they’ll blow the whole of Hyde Park away, they’re louder than hell, they’ll give something to the Hyde Park Association to really complain about.
Another interesting aspect of this show was not the band, but the experience of the unspoken politics of the photo pit.
I rarely get photo-passes, watching the photographers at the front, circling a band looks voyeuristic, pretty crass, but I was lucky enough to get hold of one for this gig. So I barged my way, self-importantly through the crowd (made up of industry people, some tourists wondering when they’re going to hear the cheesy handbag house fodder you usually get at this venue, and some people from Japan), waved my pass at the un-engaged Heaven security guard and separated myself from the rabble.
The first noticeable thing about the pit is how the photographers closed ranks, forming a line directly in the middle of the stage, where nobody who isn’t part of their gang may pass. They didn’t know who I was or why I was there, but they just knew I wasn’t one of them so got the cold shoulder. I’ve seen Bo Ningen live before and knew that the guitarist who stands stage left gives the best picture so was made up with this arrangement, the best guitar ‘ahhhh’ faces were going to be right in front of me, great!
I recently reviewed the album and have had it since February, so I’m pretty well acquainted; a big no-no in the photo-pit is to acknowledge the tracks, and an especially big no to dancing to them, well, not dance, more tapping foot in a slightly vigorous manner. The reaction to such tapping was as if I was doing something totally unacceptable, well, it wasn’t actual dancing, you can’t actually dance in the photo-pit, it’s too narrow and there are excitable (for the band, not me) girls behind me with my fat head in the way.
So there I am, edged into the corner with some guys with bigger zoom lenses than me and it quickly becomes apparent to the other guys that I’ve got the best spot. I’m no ‘photographer’ in the slightest but can tell where the best shots will come. For example, a band like krautgaze psychers TOY, you always have to head to the left of the stage where you’ll find guitarist Dominic O’Dair. Firstly, he looks brilliant on stage and it’s impossible to get a bad shot of the guy, secondly, he’s an amazing guitarist and thirdly, the guy’s a fucking don.
So there I am, snapping away as each of the photographers take turn to try and barge in between myself and the stage, thus pushing me out of the hot spot – not happening. It’s fascinating to see a gig through the eyes of a bunch of people who are there as a job, one guy even says “this gig would be better if they played something decent”, what the hell, this is the best way to experience a sensory assault, a band of guys, who look like girls, who sound heavier than Slayer, veering closer and may kick you in the face in the name of art, what is there not to love?
It gradually becomes a grind to be so stigmatised, each photographer getting up close and personal for a shot of the band, I move to pick up my bag, two of them stare at the bag, then me, obviously thinking ‘yeah, good’, so I stay for another three songs. This is an endurance test, the musical assault becomes more intense, the final song ‘Daikaisei Part 2 & 3’, it’s an incredible piece of work, fifteen minutes of AHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!! It’s like the My Bloody Valentine ‘Holocaust’ section with more white noise, and with verses and a chorus attached, this track ends with them swirling their guitars in the air. It’s at this point I decide it’s safer to up sticks and leave, much to the delight of the annoyed photographers, this delight is then transferred back to myself when the noise terror I’ve just moved away from heralds the end of the gig. Better luck next time, snappers!