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Rock 'n' Rave with Boom Boom Satellites

Much like the little girl in the Ortega taco shells commercial, it appears that Boom Boom Satellites ask the question “¿Por que no los dos?” (Why not both?), when it comes to rock versus dance electronica.  This Japanese duo was perhaps not the first band to combine these musical styles, but they are certainly one of the most talented.  Boom Boom Satellites (“BBS” for short) has a unique sound that sometimes combines -- and sometimes alternates -- between manic dance energy, dark industrial grooves, and sweeping cinematic passages, with the occasional jazzy muzak tangent thrown in just to keep you guessing. 

Kawashima Michiyuki 川島 道行 and Nakano Masayuki 中野 雅之 (family names first in the Japanese tradition) met while they were both attending university, fortuitously thrown together by fate when their assigned student numbers placed them in many of the same classes.  Although both had been experimenting with music since middle school, they started playing together for fun and then officially formed a band in 1990, performing at first in small Tokyo clubs.  However, their major debut in front of a large audience actually took place a few years later in Europe, since they were first signed by Belgian label R&S Records.  Both men have stated that they were fans of and heavily influenced by Western music, and from the beginning had the goal of reaching an international fan base.  So they’ve always written their lyrics in English and were excited to launch their career in Europe, where they received critical acclaim in the UK press.  It wasn’t long before Sony Music Entertainment Japan took notice and signed BBS to their label, with whom they still remain.  Their first big international break came when they got the opportunity to tour the U.S. with electronica virtuoso Moby in 1999.  They’ve recently renewed their efforts to bring their music to America with a 2010 multi-city tour, as well as releasing two albums in the U.S. last year, To The Loveless and Over and Over (a best-of compilation).


Kawashima is the vocalist and guitarist for BBS, writing all of the lyrics, and Nakano is the DJ/producer and bassist, composing the melodies and arrangements.  They’ve always been accompanied by a live drummer as well, who was Hirai Naoki 平井 直樹 until 2009, and Fukuda Yoko 福田 洋子 from then on.  It’s quite amazing to watch the band perform live, with Nakano mixing music on the fly while simultaneously playing bass, and Kawashima maintaining a stoic expression as he belts out passionate lyrics over his screaming guitar.  Fukuda energetically pounds out her unusual drum lines with ferocious precision in the background.  It almost defies belief that only three people can make so much joyful and harmonious noise.  Their usual practice is to record two different mixes of every song, one for the studio album and one that they only perform in concert, which is synchronized with lighting, lasers and other visual effects that are also mixed live.  As good as their stage act is, BBS’s music also lends itself on a different level to fully focused listening through earphones, where the many subtly intricate nuances that set their songs apart can best be appreciated.  From yet another perspective, their more upbeat tracks blasted over rave club dance floors have been described as especially epic under the influence of controlled substances.   However, BBS’s fast-paced yet melodious sound is addictive all by itself, and may arguably possess its own mind altering properties.

Since the band’s early releases, their style has gone through a highly varied evolution, beginning with more experimental jazz-flavored ambient compositions, through a blues and gospel-tinged pop phase, and most recently expanding along industrial and rock lines.  Here again, they appear to have asked, “why not”?  Yet somehow, this messy-sounding mix all works together beautifully. Their compositions have a multilayered depth and complexity not commonly heard in modern club or pop music; it’s more akin to the songwriting genius of critically acclaimed progressive rock bands like Tool or Rush.  Kawashima eschews the emotional, vibrato-laden style of many male singers from Asia in favor of clean, somewhat nasal tones that ideally complement Nakano’s tight, techy melodies. While both their lyrics and musical themes can be a bit somber and dark, somehow BBS’s overall effect is energizing and, well -- just flat-out cool.  It’s gratifying to see that a band who adheres to their unique and often experimental artistic vision as much as BBS has done can be wildly successful, with shows in Asia selling out to crowds of thousands. 

Though still not well known by name in the Western mainstream music scene, many people here have probably heard Boom Boom Satellites without realizing it.  Their broadest reach came when their songs appeared in the major movie soundtracks The Dark Knight and Saw 3D.  Anime and video game fans would recognize BBS from their contributions to the soundtracks for Vexille, Appleseed, and X’amd: Lost Memories.  The duo’s music has also been featured in Japanese commercials for Dodge and the Sony Bravia TV.  In addition, they are highly sought-after producers and have created several remixes for other bands, including Garbage and Fact.

So, if you want to temporarily turn your living room into a Tokyo dance club, yet crave a more cerebral experience than that typically delivered by J-pop artists, there’s no better choice than Boom Boom Satellites.  With their habit-forming foundation of electronic rock underlying an almost supernatural alchemy of widely divergent musical influences, you never know what they might create next.  Judging by their history of success abroad and their emerging fame in the U.S., we may all ask, why not indeed?



Boom Boom Satellites - 1997 (demo EP)

Joyride - 1997 (EP)

7 Ignitions/Auto Re-Birth - 1998 (EP)

Out Loud - 1998

Umbra - 2001

Photon - 2002

Full of Elevating Pleasures - 2005

On - 2006

Exposed - 2007

To the Loveless - May 2010

19972007 - January 2010 (compilation, Japan release)

Over and Over - September 2010 (compilation, U.S. release)

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