ASIAN FILM - Article
11:00 - 3rd January 2016, by David West

The Shape Of Rock To Come

With eight albums, theme songs in hit anime, and a growing global profile, Asian Kung-Fu Generation have hit the nail on the head calling their new record Wonder Future. NEO’s David West talks to the Yokohama rockers about recording in the Foo Fighters’ studio, breaking out of Japan, and getting drunk with Liam Gallagher.

You may not realise you know Asian Kung-Fu Generation, but if you’re an anime fan you’ve heard their music. Their tracks have appeared in Naruto, Fullmetal Alchemist, Bleach and the brilliant Tekkon Kinkreet. The quartet started life as a student band in Yokohama in 1996, during the heyday of the alternative rock boom. Now, poised on the eve of their 20th anniversary, Asian Kung-Fu Generation are one of Japan’s leading rock acts, having opened for Oasis, Third Eye Blind and Weezer. For their eighth album, Wonder Future, the band – vocalist / guitarist Masafumi Gotoh, guitarist Kensuke Kita, bassist Takahiro Yamada, and drummer Kiyoshi Ichiji – headed to the Foo Fighters’ Studio 606, in Northridge, California. “Of course we were influenced by Dave Grohl’s film Sound City,” says Gotoh-san, “but the biggest reason was that we wanted to record our album using the legendary Neve console which was used on a great number of masterpieces. By using that, we thought our music would be also fat and powerful.”

With just 20 days in California, the band worked out the bulk of the music before they arrived so as the main songwriter Gotoh-san had to be prepared. “I find inspiration from different things,” he says. “It could be a film, a novel, and a non-fiction book. I often go to museums, and I also watch plays and Japanese traditional performing arts. I don’t know how those things connect to my songs, but I think I am producing my original song lyrics by outputting those things once I absorb them into my body.”

The band has worked hard in the last few years to build their reputation beyond Japan with tours in Europe and America. “I’m very happy about it because performing overseas had been one of my dreams since I started music,” says Gotoh-san.

“I kind of doubted that we really had fans overseas until I went to Europe two years ago,” says Kita-san. “But that experience made me want to make more good music.”

Playing internationally allows the band to show people that Japanese music is as varied and diverse as anything the west has to offer. “People often talk about Japanese pop music and culture as flashy / kawaii culture, so I was a little bit worried whether ordinary people like us could really be accepted by the audience,” says Yamada-san. “But after playing shows in Europe, I’m now confident that the audience overseas really listens to our music. They sing along in Japanese and also sing the guitar phrases. I was so impressed that we are accepted by the fans with our music.”

“I think they knew us through Naruto or Fullmetal Alchemist,” says Ijichi, “but there were no fans cosplayed as those anime characters. They rather came to listen to our music and that’s why we want to make music for the world.”

Life on the road can be a gruelling cycle of travel, sound-check, gig, repeat. But for AKFG, being happy on tour starts with your stomach. “I always buy Japanese intestinal remedy at the airport because it works very well,” says Gotoh-san. “The food we eat changes overseas and it’s difficult. Last time I went to Germany was terrible because every meal was meat and I used to be a vegan.”

Yamada-san takes fish oils for jet leg, Kita-san brings nicotine patches for when he can’t smoke, while Ijichi swears by dry natto beans. “It helps my intestines to stay healthy even when I eat foreign food,” he says. Rock ‘n’ rollers, eh?

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