School’s Back In Session

School’s back in session, but this semester we’ll be getting a lesson in serious rock– courtesy of Jrock’s best-kept secret, full-throttle super-group abingdon boys school.

Although they could be called a ‘kid-band’, as they only started in 2005, there is nothing kiddie about this hardcore Jrock group. abingdon boys school, fondly contracted to a.b.s by fans and the band alike, was founded by programmer and keyboardist Kishi Toshiyuki and vocalist Nishikawa Takanori– perhaps better known for his pop-prince solo act, T.M. Revolution. They recruited guitarists SUNAO and Shibasaki Hiroshi, both of whom have worked closely with Nishikawa on his “Revolutionary” activities throughout the past decade.

However, let me say this: for anyone who came to a.b.s expecting more of T.M. Revolution’s futuristic sub-Gundam electro-pop, two words: Not. Happening. Seeing as three of the members have indeed (and do still) work together in the Mobile-Suit pop world, I think (yeah, I read the blogs too) a lot of people were surprised that this amazingly (absolutely no offense intended) fruity, and possibly the shortest pop-star in Japan, could front a project so dramatically opposite his solo work, as abingdon boys school.

Well you can put it in red marker and add a star-shaped sticker too, for the versatility of Nishikawa’s unbelievable vocal style. Whether he’s draped in supple snow-white  leather suits, or nerding out in thick-rimmed glasses and a private-school uniform, Nishikawa’s high, heady, terrifically strong wail is unlike any other. Honestly, I have to say that Nishikawa’s vocals are some of the most impressive, innovative, and mind-blowingly awesome in the pop/rock world.

Aside from the singular vocal talents of Nishikawa, the rest of the a.b.s lineup may be names you haven’t heard– but we can quite quickly decapitate that disturbance and move on, because the sooner you hear them, the sooner you’ll be thanking yourself.

Part of the problem may be that these are not blooming heartthrobs. Nor are they young, with the most-junior member scraping a mature 39. I mean– Nishikawa has this kind of aura of studliness, but let’s face it, it’s an aura. If you look at the aesthetic of today, and it’s being represented by Visual Kei hot-topics such as the GazettE and Alice Nine… and all those guys, they’re like puking good-looks. (BUCK-TICK’s early lineup was concerned about their vocalist being tall enough…they apparently never considered hiring Nishikawa, who maxes out at 5′3″.) Well, I’ll tell you, a.b.s may not look like much, but these guys know where and how to pack a helluva punch. These guys are deadly.

a.b.s is comprised of the aforementioned 4 members: Nishikawa (vo.), Kishi (keyboards, programming), SUNAO (guitar), Shibasaki (guitar). The other two necessary organs that make a band breathe and pump blood properly, drums and bass, are supplied by session musicians. And by session-musicians, I mean that these two musicians have a pact with holy deities so advanced and beyond us, that they can’t really officially join bands. Although these two backing members are mysterious strangers to most of a.b.s‘ non-Japanese fan-base, let me try and shed a little light.

Bassist IKUO, who can slap and pop so hardcore you practically want to die, is an extremely in-demand figure in Jrock. In summer ’09 he tore a hole of throbbing thick-stringed bass madness on GACKT’s Koakuma Heaven. And that’s just one name– wherever fame has been mixed with Jrock, IKUO has probably been at some point or another. Any guess as to where GACKT picked this guy up? Possibly on a certain [b]ass-kicking (forgive the inexcusable joke) album that rocked the custom-shredded socks of the Jrock kingdom in 2007…

However, the drummer, who incites the greatest rage of curiosity within, is carefully hidden, his face turned at every sneaky shot during TV performances and lives. You see a sharp cheek and some wild long hair, and that’s about it. His name is Hasegawa Kozy, and he has surpassed being “the drummer” and become “the drums”. Hasegawa Kozy has worked with pretty much every influential Japanese pop and rock band ever– and guess who has him now?

The mastermind behind the project, as it were, is really Kishi Toshiyuki, programmer and keyboardist, who splits most of the compositional duties with guitarist Shibasaki. ‘Programmer’ ‘keyboards’ yes– turn tables.

NO, just don’t even say it. Turn-tables in a rock band? Gundam-suited pop princes in a rock band? Yeah, I know. No, no, no, I’m not trying to rope you into some kind of weird sub-trance group…This is rock– no, this has transcended rock. Turn-tables. And rock. These oh-so-questionable turn-tables spin a.b.s into a whole new arena than the other rockers out there– turn-tables allow for incredible mixing both on stage and in the studio. Kishi adds layers of intense effects and remixing to the already heavy hard-rock style double guitars. You can hear the mixing, but Kishi’s taste is impeccable, and by the end of the first song, it’s all you’ll be talking about.

Not only that, but this is pioneer work as far as Jrock is concerned. Few to no bands up until this point have been interested in mixing turn-tables and rap elements with rock. However, since a.b.s has seen a spike in popularity in the past two or three years, many notable Visual Kei and rock bands have been inspired by them. This includes D’espairsRay who, in 2009 released FINAL CALL, which was produced by Kishi; and girugamesh, whose latest album, NOW is all rap and turn-tabled-out.

On top of the unique music, their image is incredible. However, it’s sort of like, what’s with the getup? What’s in a name? The name abingdon boys school comes from the name of the school in Abingdon-On-Thames, England. The story goes that Nishikawa, after some research, chose the initials a.b.s, partly because he likes sports cars and the initials corresponded to automatic-breaking-system, and partly because when spoken with a Japanese accent, the pronunciation (ee bii essu) is very similar to that of the word “Ebisu”, which is the name of the town where the band was founded.

Abingdon School

However, after some further research, they discovered the school, which is renowned for being the birthplace of famous British rock band Radiohead.  Since the four members [of a.b.s] would all be in the same year at school, they agreed that it would be a fun image to all be school boys together once again. Therefore the image is in keeping with this ideal– the members dress in private-school uniforms (with an a.b.s badge, of course), and one would be hard-pressed to find any one of them devoid of some good old tartan.

As mentioned earlier, the band is only 5 years old. Started in 2005, a.b.s runs alongside T.M.Revolution’s solo projects, to which Nishikawa, Shibasaki, SUNAO, and occassionally even IKUO devote time both in composition and touring aspects. So in all that time, what were the boys up to? Good question, really. It wasn’t until 2009 really that a.b.s took on a full-time project quality from the members. From ’05-’08 they had only released one full-length album and 4 singles, however, ’09 saw the release of 4 more singles, their participation in the major V-Rock Festival in Tokyo, and an intl. debut with their hit European tour. January ’10 saw the release of their new album, Abingdon Road, in March a DVD of music clips and documentary footage from the Europe tour, and a nationwide Japan tour.

As well as having done the OP song for the ultra-popular anime series D Gray Man, many of a.b.s’ singles have been used in shows and anime. This has been credited to a personal love of anime and video games by Nishikawa. Nishikawa claims that he’ll never make a song for a series he doesn’t like, but if he likes it, then the game is on. But it doesn’t stop at anime. a.b.s has been invited to work on several memorial albums– Nishikawa belted out stay away for fictional punk rockers THE BLACK STONES on the Love for Nana ~Only 1 Tribute~ album; their cover of Luna Sea’s Sweetest Coma Again was a hit on Luna Sea~ Memorial Album, and their cover of Buck-Tick’s DRESS absolutely stole the BT cover album: Parade~ Respective Tracks of Buck-Tick.

Check out the original:

a.b.s‘ discography may be relatively small, but it is growing as the band is expanding and growing themselves. Each song is a powerful tornado of musical experience that is, quite frankly, unlike anything else in the music scene today. Their utterly unique sound and image set them apart from the mainstream influx of 20-something cutie-boys, and their devotion to amazing music elevate them among the ranks of long-standing classic favorites. Do yourself a favor and pick up their hot-off-the-press album Abingdon Road, released January 27th ’10.

Class dismissed.

Official Website

Official Fan-club (A.B.S.F.C) [Japan only]

Further reading

For a full list of related links, click


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SUNAO~ the Demon of a.b.s.

Guitar with warmth

Rush of passionate desire

Knife with a keen edge

Give it the gun

About sums up SUNAO, killer guitarist and composer from Tokyo. Born Sakurai Sunao, on April 28th, 1969, his blood type is B.

You may not recognize his name, or his face, immediately. But let me explain where you may have seen, or rather, heard him before. SUNAO is a session guitarist and support artists for many major Jpop and Jrock groups, working both in tour-support and recordings.

SUNAO has been officially active since 1998, when he did live support for Bluem of Youth, as well as beginning his career as one of T.M‘s revolutionary members with the TMR LIVE REVOLUTION ’98-JOKER TYPE 2- as well as other full-throttle TM projects. In 1999 he worked with a band called S-RAVE, which disbanded in 2003.

For at least ten years SUNAO has worked alongside Shibasaki Hiroshi and Nishikawa Takanori in Nishikawa’s outrageously illustrious pop-prince solo act, T.M. Revolution. Along with some compositional participation, SUNAO has also toured extensively with T.M. Revolution, and played on recordings.

In 2000-’01 SUNAO did live-support and arrangements for DOGGY BAG (Y2K), TMR LIVE REVOLUTION ’00 -SUMMER CRUSH 2000-, and a host of other TMR events.

SUNAO has also worked with artists such as Kinki Kids (recording), Sora Izumikawa (live support), Jade Kwan, Yuki Uchida, IKUO, Ami Suzuki, TRFJAM Project, and others.

In 2005, together with comrades Shibasaki Hiroshi, Nishikawa Takanori, and keyboardist/programmer Kishi Toshiyuki,  SUNAO set out on perhaps his most well-recognized venture, that of assuming his role as one of two phenomenal guitarists for destructive super-group abingdon boys school. Alongside fellow guitarist Shibasaki, the two of them worked as two guitars creating one feeling and melody, and as a result, some of the greatest Jrock on earth has been constructed.

Aside from being a complete powerhouse machine on guitar, SUNAO has an unbelievable stage-presence. In the a.b.s striped blazer, eyes darkly shadowed with makeup, head-banging and shredding beneath glimmering, poisonous-green lights in a crowded venue, SUNAO is like some kind of wild demon. Both elegant and refined, and yet completely unhinged at the same time, his wild, fierce energy is a great complement to not just abingdon boys school’s lineup, but to every group and artist honored by his collaboration.

Through middle-school and high-school SUNAO was involved in sports (volleyball and baseball, respectively).  Although you probably can’t imagine it now, he was actually made baseball captain in high-school. His charisma and leadership qualities were recognized when teachers recommended him as student-body president (a big deal in Japanese schools).

Aside from music, SUNAO has also done several radio slots on ゴチャ・まぜっ! a program through MBS Radio. Apparently he was quite the humorist, and told a lot of jokes and funny stories. Among these, he related that he worked for a year as a pizza home-delivery boy, and during this time, he had many encounters with ecchi (dirty)-manga like situations, such as women in their underwear, and so on. And yet he is now the guitarist for some of the greatest rock acts in Japan. See, there is still hope for the rest of us.

Because he is tall and has long hair, with an aura similar to GLAY’s Takuro, many of Takuro’s fans have mistaken the two of them. Which leads me to demand to know how there could be that many opportunities to make that mistake?! Is SUNAO just wandering around down-town Tokyo?! I suppose the chances aren’t that bad. After all, AnCafe‘s Miku did state that the chances of meeting him in Harajuku are actually quite high– there’s a spaghetti place he really likes there. So never lose hope, never give up, and head-bang to SUNAO’s mind-blowing riffs until you get a nosebleed.

++Associated Acts++

abingdon boys school (Jp.-sound)

T.M. Revolution (Jp., Eng. – sound)

++Sources++

SUNAO Official Website (JP)

abingdon boys school official MySpace

It Started on January 12th 2008….

And nobody TOLD ME???

That’s right, boys and girls… That’d be me– Gacktpause, oh one who lives under the rock. That aside, what’s important right now is that I found out sooner or later.

That’s right– it started on January 12th, 2008: Quintillion Quiz.

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myco

myco

Quintillion Quiz being the hard-rock project of Masanori Mine on gt.(worked briefly with Girl U Need alongside ChaChamaru of Gacktjob), myco on vo.(formerly of Changin’ My Life), and Ju-Ken (of Gacktjob fame) on the holy bass. What stands out in this lineup, is that Ju-Ken, the great session-musician and, in his own words, ‘the bassist who wanders endlessly’ has actually agreed to settle down enough to be considered an official band-member.

So how is it? It’s freakin’ incredible is how it is! I mean, come on! How can you honestly go wrong with that lineup? (yeah but who cares who’s in it, what’s the sound like?) The music is really strong and refreshing, with a sleek production quality. Most importantly, really– myco’s vocals are actually new and different sounding. She foregos the typical candy-pop sound for bold, powerful lady vocals that complement perfectly the ready-set-go hard-rock music.

You can hear samples of Killer Rouge and Midnight Express QQQ on their website. Look forward to the release of their singles (according to the website, the singles are under status of ‘now printing’.) And yup– they’ve already performed live. Pictures can be seen in their gallery.

Quintillion Quiz official website (Japanese)


When the video starts, myco says “We are QQ, be kind to us, okay?” and at the end of the video she says, “next is the album!”

QUINTILLION_QUIZ

abingdon boys school’s album leaves you ‘HOWLING’ for more

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After a brief drought, during which we were abingdon boys school deprived, the sensitive band graces us this spring and summer with a selection of promising new singles. Feb 25th saw the release of STRENGTH, a high-powered, glittery silver hard-rock new-comer. May 20th delivered JAP, heavy pop/rock with brand-new overtones for our classicist band, and 8/26 will bring Kimi no Uta.

However, what comes would never come without what already is already being there. So let us take a step back to a 2007 release that set a whole new mood for Jrock. To be honest, I don’t remember 2007 so well– hey, while we’re at the confessional, I don’t remember last week that well…But if there is one thing that stands out clearly in my mind, it’s the advent of glory: the incredible ABS’ first full-length album, abingdon boys school.

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abingdon boys school is heavier than most of the Jrock we’ve been listening to lately. (Excluding those evil VK bands that are just basically jousting vocally for supreme darkest band). But that being said, the heavy duo guitar riffs, drum track, up-front bass lines and tricky real-time remixing are smoothed out perfectly by a level of creditable temperance, taste, and lyrical melody. Even through the heaviest songs (HOWLING, Innocent Sorrow) there’s a balladic beauty to Nishikawa’s high but powerful vocals, and as in the best of Jrock, an unshakable loyalty to damn good melody.  These guys are obviously not trying to nuke the water– they’re just trying to create waves, and waves they are creating.

The sound of the album is extremely even– no insane genre bobbing that Jrockers need to get used to–and fast– and tend to learn to love. This creates a very particular texture to the aural satisfaction of the album; it’s like listening to a story told through from beginning to end; a novel, rather than a collection of shorts or poetry. Each song, or chapter, has its own unique texture, but the underlying qualities tie it to the songs that precede and follow, so there is a congruency, a connectedness. Listening to the album feels like getting swept into a whirlpool, where you spin around and around, whipped along in a cacophony of extreme awesomeness, and then at the end you are set back down on the ground.

The album is peppered with English lyrics, from the all-English pieces  (As One, LOST REASON, stay away,) to pieces with English lines or words (HOWLING). Yeah, you remember my rant on English lyrics. Surprisingly, ABS recruited lyric-advisers to work with them on the English lyrics, so they make sense– grammatically, anyway. Nishikawa doesn’t slur through them, either, but belts them out with a passionate pride, and they hit their mark with surprising (or not, as the case may be) satisfaction.

abingdon+boys+school+abs28908abingdon boys school opens with AS ONE. A melodic, low-key opening that sets us up for a not-so-steady, yet euphoric, ascent to heavy. An all-English album opening may sound sketchy, but trust me and trust them and all will be well– AS ONE is the perfect garden-gate into the vintage English castle where one could easily imagine tiny prince Nishikawa ruling over no one and driving old-fashioned and expensive cars down dusty dirt roads.

AS ONE pushes us easily into HOWLING-INCH UP-, and things really get going here. Nishikawa shows his many-colors brilliantly, getting a little metal-head (Nishikawa style, of course) in with lusty howls that soar along on metal-style heavy shredding. From AS ONE the band immediately begins stirring up the whirlpool, which they preserve majestically throughout the entire album, sealing you in with Nishikawa’s vocals (although you’re really locked in the world created by the incredible musical backing). That tremulous voice is the Virgil to our Dante, and Kishi and Shibasaki have written an Inferno all of their own for us drifting mortals to wander in.


Although I have heard Howling as being the “heavy” song for the album, that’s sort of a great leap to malformed conclusions, IMPO. ABS likes to use a blend of ballad-style melody with ultra-heavy guitars and drums. The beauty of the vocals is supported by the tinkling notes of a piano and the heavy thrum of the bass, which creates an exciting experience of aural confusion. It’s hard to tell if you’re listening to a ballad, or “the” heavy track. This collage of styles is showcased brilliantly in the third track on the album, Via Dolorosa, which begins with some wicked hardcore guitar riffs and then plays neatly into a melodic, lilting instrumental break, and downright pretty break with vocals on top of light piano backing. The track swings right back into the huge, thick backing of the full ensemble to close, but the pure, exquisite vocals keep up, playing perfectly with the heavy accompaniment and yet defying it at the same time.

SUNAOShibasakiFor people who had collected ABS’ previously released singles, you may feel a little jipped, as (then) 3 of 4 singles are repeated on abingdon boys school. The exceptions are BLADE CHORD and FrE@k $HoW. Yup, you guessed it– the 4th track on the album is ABS’ ‘crowning glory’, their ‘making song’, INNOCENT SORROW. This song won them a brilliant debut due to its use in the anime D Gray Man (which I hear is hugely popular, although I personally am not of that ilk). Undoubtedly an amazing song, somehow in the extensive garden of other songs, it feels strangely overrated, and it’d be laughable to say it was their best.


On the other hand, the album finds its footing in the highlight of songs such as DOWN TO YOU, アテナ、Nephilim, and DESIRE.

A few prizes that weren’t expected were two songs released on other more difficult to acquire albums, one being a track ABS wrote for use under the BLACKSTONES name for the Love for Nana ~ Only 1 Tribute~ album which is now out of print, and you’d be lucky to find it in a used CD shop in Japan. The song is a truly cool, bass-heavy rock’n’roll piece that screams BLACKSTONES, its guitar and drums melody rolling with a curious rhythmic quality that flows along like water into the great tsunamis of the tres Nana Osaki-esque lean-and-mean choruses.

Another side-project inclusion, and really one of the albums’ true moments of glory– Hoshino Higurashi  and Sakurai Atsushi de BUCK-TICK‘s ドレス [DRESS,] covered masterfully to such perfection that it actually might rival the original masterpiece, were they not so drastically different. What BT did with deadly class, ABS elevates to supreme hard-core. DRESS is one of the highlights of the album, an intricate dance of vocal melody (which sticks true to the original), extreme turn-table-remixing and keyboards, and a guitar solo to kill.

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Ok: the controversial song on the album. The one song everyone hates, which is surprisingly still one of ABS’ best songs: LOST REASON. So, what’s wrong with it. Well, here’s the thing, ABS took the original LOST REASON and, y’know…sort of, well, changed it. Yeah, they changed it. They decided it would be fun to kind of, I dunno, remix it. Don’t flee in horror– really it’s not as bad as it sounds. Why does everyone hate this new version? Because it features MICRO from Home Made 家族 [HOME MADE KAZOKU]– yes, he’s a… rapper. Well, when I first learned this, I know I was fleeing in horror. I have this tentative truce with Japanese hip-hop– like, if it doesn’t mess with me, I don’t mess with it. Therefore it can be sort of mortifying when it encroaches on one of your favorite bands. Well, it encroached, it’s very present on this song, and let me say this– it’s kinda cool. Crazy, but cool. LOST REASON, yup, the album-version, is one of my favorite songs on the album. Granted this is purely a matter of personal opinion, let’s try and look at it this way– granted the instrumental-break-filling rap is somewhat bizarre and incongruous, the inclusion of MICRO’s lines during Nishikawa’s vocals is somehow cool. You have to admit– these guys can get away with some pretty crazy stuff. Obviously the people who spend so much time bashing this song are taking it all too seriously– varied taste much anyone?



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At 12 songs, the album is just long enough that you’re left feeling fulfilled, but also just a few tracks short enough that you can easily have the time and energy to go back and listen to several tracks over again before needing a glass of water or, although I can’t understand why, a venture out into the world– but if that’s the case, I can promise you’ll be taking abingdon boys school with you.

Official website [Japanese, sound, load-time]

abingdon boys school / abingdon boys school

Ju-Ken The Bass

The Bassist Who Wanders Endlessly

…Possibly one of the coolest people in the Jrock world, and one of the most in-demand bassists in Japan: Ju-Ken.

His nickname “Ju-Kyu en” (19 yen) may be cute, but it has nothing to do with Ju-Ken’s worth as a bass-player. Although a prolific session-musician, the man, self-named as The Bassist Who Wanders Endlessly, best known for his collaboration with GACKT in Gacktjob, has worked with the majority of big-names in Jrock.

Ju-Ken 'The Bass'

Ju-Ken 'The Bass'

Along with Gacktjob, a few acts he has been associated with are: Anna Tsuchiya, Nakashima Mika, Vamps (with Hyde of L’arc-en-Ciel), Day After Tomorrow, Hotei Tomoyasu, Sayaka, Inoran (of Luna Sea), m.o.v.e, and Fake? (also with Inoran).

After the departure of former-bassist Ren, Ju-Ken began his Gacktjob career in 2003, with the album Crescent, and has been Gackt’s primary bassist since, appearing on most recordings and touring live with Gacktjob.

[Gackt’s DruGparty live performance in 2007]

In-between Gackt projects, Ju-ken gets around… a lot. He performs with Anna Tsuchiya on her Inspi’Nana projects, and toured with her in 2007 for the Blood of Roses live. He wandered for a while with Hotei Tomoyasu for the Hotei and The Wanderers Funky Punky Tour 2007-2008, and performed live with VAMPS in 2008. Through 2009, Ju-Ken seemed to take a bit of a break from his Gacktjob work, but was able to appear for part of GACKT’s Requiem et Reminiscence II Visual Tour(12/08-7/09).

In 2007, Gackt joined up briefly with Yoshiki of X Japan, SUGIZO of Luna Sea (now solo), and Miyavi, to form the “superband” S.K.I.N which debuted at the Long Beach convention in L.A.. Yoshiki wanted to bring the ‘greatest names in Jrock’ together to form this mastermind group that would wreck the universe with its power. Turns out things got a little rough at the end, and it was practically not until the concert that they announced the bassist: Ju-Ken, of course. Nothing much has been said of the super-band since, and to some degree, we heave a sigh of relief. There’s a reason all those artists had to go solo after all…

On January 12th, 2008, Ju-Ken co-founded the hard-rock band Quintillion Quiz along with Changin’ My Life‘s lady-vocals myco, and guitarist Masanori Mine. Although no album has been released, “QQ” has held several lives, and released the limited-pressing of their first single, Midnight Express QQQ/ Killer Rouge, which was distributed in a small batch.

Ju-Ken has an incredibly unique sense of style, both on and off stage. His trademark wild dance moves, head-banging, and dramatic twirling of his upright-basses are always instantly recognizable, and so unselfconscious-ly bad-ass it’s always a refreshing sight to see. The guy has crazy attitude– and yet, behind that intimidating exterior there’s always the killer bassist who loves what he does and is always having fun.

Ju-ken plays on 5-string Sugi and Fender basses, switching between electric and upright as needed. He collects boots, rides Harleys, surfs, and mentions Fall Out Boy as one of his favorite bands. He was born in Funabashi, Chiba-prefecture, Japan (near Tokyo) on June 27th, 1971. His blood type is B.

Ju-Ken The Bass

Ju-Ken The Blog

Quintillion Quiz Official

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