By Dave Pehling
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Fan of Japanese psychedelia on both sides of the Pacific rejoiced a few years ago when the formation of the Black Editions imprint was announced. Starting in 2016, the new label was created with the focus of reissuing some of the greatest records of Tokyo’s storied P.S.F. Records catalog. Founded by record store owner Hideo Ikeezumi in the early 1980s, the label took its name from the title of its first release, Psychedelic Speed Freaks by corrosive, fuzz-drenched power trio High Rise.
P.S.F. Records would introduce the globe to some of the most uncompromising, mind-shattering sounds of the Japanese psychedelic underground by the likes of Keiji Haino, Ghost (the Tokyo-based psych group that predated the current Satanic pop-metal hitmakers by over 20 years), Acid Mothers Temple, Fushitisusha, White Heaven and many others over the next two decades. While Ikeezumi passed away in 2017, Black Editions has ably upheld his legacy by not only reissuing a number of P.S.F. gems, but by also releasing a number of new recordings by current artists.
The Los Angeles-based label has also had a hand in presenting live performances in LA and the Bay Area, sponsoring appearances by notorious Japanese noise experimentalist Merzbow and the psych/avant-garde jazz summit between multi-instrumentalist Haino and noted German saxophonist Peter Brotzmann last summer. This week, Black Editions offers up four nights of psychotropic sounds with the California Flashback Festival happening in LA and at San Francisco’s Rickshaw Stop.
The bill on the opening night will feature a headlining set by veteran Japanese experimental rock outfit Acid Mothers Temple & the Melting Paraiso U.F.O. Guitarist Makoto Kawabata’s career dates back to his early days on the fringes of the Osaka music scene during the late ’70s when he first tried to bring together the heavy rock of Deep Purple with the electronic sounds of German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen. In the mid-1990s, he would form Acid Mothers Temple as a musical collective exploring cosmic sounds drawing from progressive rock, the propulsive krautrock of Can and Neu and avant-garde classical giants like Stockhausen, Terry Riley and Iannis Xenakis.
Initially, the group recorded their collective improvisation before Kawabata edited and overdubbed those tapes for a final result similar to the working process of Can or electric-era Miles Davis. The band self-released a pair of cassettes before teaming with P.S.F. to issue the band’s eponymous proper debut in 1997. AMT gradually built a cult following with their powerful live shows, touring the globe extensively. Along with underground outfits like Ghost, High Rise, Boredoms and Kawabata’s noisy power trio side project Mainliner, Acid Mothers Temple became part of a vanguard of the Japanese neo-psychedelic rock movement.
With longtime synthesizer player Higashi Hiroshi (a member since 1998) at his side, Kawabata and company have made a name for themselves with a prolific output of live and studio recordings over the decades. Acid Mothers Temple has also managed a number of notable collaborations with their heroes, recording and performing onstage with members of UK prog greats Gong and iconic krautrock drummer and Guru Guru founder Mani Neumeier.
The current line-up of AMT — Kawabata and Hiroshi along with newer members Satoshima Nani on drums, Mitsuko Tabata on guitar and Tsuyama Atsushi (aka Wolf) on bass — will unleash their unique style of epic cosmic music at the Rickshaw Stop Thursday. A special California Flashback version of the band’s debut album (being made available on vinyl for the first time on April 12) with be on sale at the show. The rest of the opening night’s line-up is equally impressive.
Toronto-based psych/prog outfit Yamanataka // Sonic Titan delivers a dazzling mix of progressive noise and pop matched to Noh theater inspired costumes and face painting that comes across like an otherworldly space opera. Conceived by creative principles Ruby Kato Attwood and Alaska B when they were studying art at Montreal’s Concordia University, the musical performance art collective is joining AMT on the band’s entire current North American tour, playing songs from its most recent album, DIRT. Seattle’s long-running psychedelic post-punk quartet Kinski and New Haven, CT-based Trouble in Mind act Mountain Movers fill out the bill.
On Friday, the California Flashback Festival spotlights celebrated all-star San Francisco psych quartet Heron Oblivion. Comets on Fire veterans Ethan Miller (playing bass instead of his usual six-string instrument) and Noel Von Harmonson (guitar) first teamed with Assemble Head In Sunburst Sound mainstay Charlie Saufley (guitar) and noted psych-folk solo artist and member of Philadelphia band Espers Meg Baird (drums and vocals) during informal jam sessions that started in 2013. After members contributed to Mansion Songs (an album by Miller’s other ongoing psych project Howlin Rain), the band would develop organically, conjuring a sound that wraps Baird’s crystalline singing voice with ethereal guitars that gradually blossom into a feedback-laden squall equally indebted to Crazy Horse-era Neil Young and Japanese neo-psych giants like High Rise and AMT.
After stirring a substantial local buzz thanks to a string of galvanizing club shows around the Bay Area, the band eponymous debut was issued on Sub Pop last spring. Quickly garnering rave reviews from such high-profile outlets as the New York Times, Pitchfork and NPR that celebrated the outfit’s gift for bringing together wispy psychedelic folk and corrosive guitar meltdowns, the record was earmarked by many critics for their year-end “best of” lists in 2016.
The band earned equally ecstatic praise from journalists and fans with a string of festival performances that included smaller fringe music celebrations (Portland, OR’s Sabertooth Music Festival and Marfa Myths in Marfa, Texas) and larger fests (San Francisco’s own Outside Lands). The quartet also performed on short tours and one-off shows with such luminaries as indie-rock guitar hero J. Mascis’ band Dinosaur Jr. and legendary krautrock group Faust. Heron Oblivion released a limited edition record of one the band’s local live performances at the Chapel late in 2017 and has been working on new material for its forthcoming sophomore album on Sub Pop. The band also did some extensive remixing and post-production tinkering on a live recording by fellow sonic travelers Wooden Shijps recorded last year at Slim’s set for release on Miller’s Silver Current imprint next month.
Also playing Friday will be the latest power trio led by High Rise founder and guitar giant Munehiro Narita, Psychedelic Speed Freaks. As the architect to the blown-out, fuzz-driven sound of High Rise, Narita has exerted a huge influence on modern psychedelic rock, inspiring everyone from the disciples playing the California Flashback Festival and others like Monoshock and Earthless.
Narita’s current trio features members of the LA psych-noise group Over-Gain Optimal Death and will be playing songs from the trio’s forthcoming Black Editions debut that, like the reissue of AMT’s debut, will have a special California Flashback available at the festival. Boston psych rockers Major Stars (led by longtime guitarist Wayne Rogers) and Headroom, a side project for Mountain Movers guitarist Kryssi Battalene, round out the line-up on Friday. For more information and tickets, visit the Rickshaw Stop website.
California Flashback Festival
Thursday-Friday, March 28-29, 8 p.m. $15-$20 ($25 two-night passes sold out)
The Rickshaw Stop