Punk, Pizza, and Pepto, A Look Back at the innovators of the Kansai No Wave scene
In 1997 I was invited for a road trip down to Bloomington to see this punk band from Kyoto, Japan. They were touring for their Alternative Tentacles release of God Is God, Puke Is Puke and were booked to play Second Story. For us, Ultra Bide came out of nowhere and just as easily they disappeared back into obscurity. However, with two common denominators—Alternative Tentacles and punk—that was all it took. I was in for the ride!
We packed up the car and made our way south. When we got into Bloomington, we decided to hit up Rockitts Pizza. As long as I have been visiting the college town, this pizza joint has been a staple. The history of this place outweighs its aesthetics. Adorned with promo photos, autographed drum heads, and one of the more righteous Sonic Youth posters you can imagine, their walls are a who’s who of local and national punk and rock history. Plus their pizza and breadsticks are like crack, at least until this one rare and unfortunate night.
We all pitched in for a pie. One guy noticed blue cheese crumbles on the menu and wanted to try that. I was cool with whatever except anything meat related. So we tried the new menu item and devoured that pizza despite the pungency of the blue cheese.
We left Rockitts and walked about ten minutes down to Second Story. The upstairs rock room was the place to hang out and see amazing underground indie, punk, and genre-specific bands, especially in the mid-to-late 1990s. On the way there, something did not feel right. I was getting that gurgle feeling churning inside. I chalked it up to gas. A couple steps into the room and there was that feeling again but this time increasing with intensity. I tried to ignore it and grabbed a beer. More people started showing up. The room was getting crowded. Reality began to spin, and I knew there was only one destination for me—the bathroom.
At Second Story, there was one individual-use bathroom. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed someone walking out and leaving the door wide open. No time for an NFL playbook, I make a dash for it and lock the door. I sat there cursing at the creators of blue cheese. I hear the opening band begin to play. It sounded like a sloppy, drunk fury of three-chord madness amongst a symphony of bad gas being expelled. I was sweating bullets. And then, the anxiety hit.
Someone wanted in. At this point, I had no concept of how long I had occupied the bathroom. Time was incredibly painful to measure. I was dying. The knocks became more frequent. And then the yelling. Hogging up a bar bathroom is the cardinal sin amongst all bar sins.
By this time one person became multiple people. I imagined an angry mob of punks with full bladders ready to tie a rope on the door handle and force it open. There was no masking what I had done. I had to finish, open the door, and face the music. There was a line. People were pissed.
Ultra Bide jumped on stage and launched into “Get High.” I was still in a hallucinatory parallax. Their guitars revved up like an engine contorting to a psychedelic swirl while further transitioning into something that sounded like an air raid siren. What was happening was that we were getting a dose of Japanese punk that fueled the Kansai No Wave in the 1980s and spawned the likes of Aunt Sally, INU, and SS, among others. The audience was mesmerized. I was barely standing. The amount of noise, especially on “Dude” was invasive, perverted, and everything you wanted to experience. Either Satoru was swaying around while punctuating his lyrics or, maybe it was me. The abstraction that Ultra Bide formulated to bastardize psych rock in the way the 1990s alternative scene glorified it was art. And to have that face first was a goddamn luxury.
When they came out with Super Milk a year later, the production ramped up a few notches, but it did not detract or accentuate into a better album. Ultra Bide was a band present at the forefront, quirky in their own interpretation, and absolute in their motive to pair up with the New York noise scene. The title track to Super Milk blends dizzying Frank Zappa-esque time signatures that only ramped up the chaos. This album was about Ultra Bide immersed within the New York scene. “Sleeping On Bowery St.” could easily nest within a Sonic Youth playlist. The forcefulness of the song points to something similar to what Lydia Lunch incorporates into her music. The dissonance of “In The Middle” is even more influenced by Sonic Youth’s ideology.
Maybe Ultra Bide knew that their band was not progressing on the level they should. God Is God. . . is a brilliant punk statement on its own. Throwing in a song like “Capitalism” on Super Milk does not seem to match up by adding in political philosophy. It does not make sense at this point. Ultra Bide’s lyricism works best in an abstract reality, captivating the bare bones essence of culture at its rawest. Their New York experience only made them want to sound more “New York City” and not the Japanese punk expressionism they helped create.
Ultra Bide-Get High
Fifteen years go by with silence from this band. I thought they were just a blip of late 1990s punk history at this point. By 2013, the band regrouped to release DNA Vs. DNA-c. The album is still raucous but in a different context as God Is God. The production enhancements and filters actually help this time around. Sound gets distorted. A high hat is abused, a bass guitar shreds one of the most amazing riffs, and the title track to this album proves that this is the album that should have been made after God Is God. . ., not Super Milk. “Anarchy in Your Eyes” is a masterpiece of Japanese punk that continues abruptly with “She’s So Difficult.” These are ear-ringing, in-your-face brawls of art rage that will give you new perspectives. This is Ultra Bide at their finest.
Ultra Bide-DNA Vs. DNA-c
I survived that concert. I was even coherent enough to snag a seven inch of “Get High.” I’m not sure what happened after that experience from the samurais of punk rock. Everything after was a blur. But one thing is certain, I will never forget my experience directly and indirectly with Ultra Bide. I still return to Rockitts to dine on some of the best pizza Bloomington has to offer, just without the blue cheese.