A couple of weekends ago I had the pleasure of seeing a live performance by Kao=S, a band that performs rocking music with instruments ranging from guitar and rainstick to shakuhachi and tsugaru shamisen. That night I learned that they were performing at SXSW this month, which was exciting given Garrett’s recent post about スカパラ being one of the few bands from Asia performing at Coachella this year.
Kao=S’s music is driven by the sheer force of its members, each of whom contributes an element that can both stand on its own and make the end product more than the sum of its parts. The guitar and male vocals make the music accessible to more than just rock lovers, while the female vocals and sword dance ground it in the realm of drama and fantasy (in the best meaning of those terms). The shakuhachi gives an exhilarating rush to the band’s sound with its unmistakable texture, and the tsugaru and vocal harmonies blow the music out of the water of typical expectations for rock fusion.
Kao=S is the kind of band that you want to see, not just hear as audio. Their work is not just the music, but the entire performance—which just isn’t the same when stripped of its visual and physical dimensions. This can also mean that the performance has moments when it takes on a life of its own and leaves the audience behind; there’s some effort that has to be made on the part of the audience to actively follow the myriad things happening in some of their pieces—the dance, the instruments, the vocals and lyrics, the world that the band is trying to create. But if you’re willing to put in that effort, a Kao=S performance can be quite the thrill.
It’s exciting to see people taking instruments traditionally limited to Japanese music and giving them life beyond those confines. Things we consider “Japanese traditions” can thrive in just about any environment, and Kao=S’s work is a testament to that potential. (It’s certainly more exciting than James Horner’s score for Legends of the Fall (1994), which incorporated the shakuhachi—although that actually was pretty cool.)
So, if you happen to find yourself in Austin in the next couple of weeks, you might check out some of the band’s non-SXSW shows—your efforts will probably be well-rewarded.
[Image courtesy of Kao=S's Facebook profile...thank you!]