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


Advertisements

Pop Quiz: abingdon boys school 2009

With all of the hustle and bustle of the past few months, it’s been ridiculous to even think of compiling information about many of the bands working hard at their craft. There have been so many events, news, and releases through the summer and fall that it almost seemed like it would never slow down. However, now that the new year is upon is, it would appear that now would be a good time to do a retrospective on the activity of one of the most incredible bands of the past 5 years, who really blossomed last year with a deluge of incredible activity: abingdon boys school.

The interim between their formation in ’05/official debut release in ’06 and last year saw pretty spotty activity from the super-group. Which is to be expected, really, considering three of the members work hard at Nishikawa’s T.M.Revolution project, as well as all of the other gigs and support work bassist IKUO, Shibasaki Hiroshi, and SUNAO are always up to. In 5 years, we only saw one full-length album, one Japan tour, one DVD release, and 4 singles.

However, things really took off for the boys last year, and devoted fans were kept hard at their rockin’ studies until very recently. I suppose this is our “winter-break”?

They started the year off on 2/25 with the hit single STRENGTH, the piano-strong, heavy melodic rock piece (b-side  Freedom) which was featured as the OP to Soul Eater.

They continued going strong (heh. Get it?) on into the summer, with May 20th’s JAP (b-side Valkyrie), an incredible swerve in a new direction for the band. The rhythmic, rolling melody and fun, energetic lyrics are infectious and overwhelming at once, and the single was fun and fresh.  Although it set a new standard for B-A-ness at large, it felt less serious than STRENGTH. JAP was used for the anime Devil Kings (Sengoku Basara).

A slightly modified version of the b-side Valkyrie, dubbed “Valkyrie -Lioleia Mix-“, was also featured in Monster Hunter 5th Anniversary, a tribute album to the Monster Hunter video game.

JAP was followed by Kimi no Uta [Your Song] on August 26th, which was released as the OP for brand-spanking-new anime series Tokyo Magnitude 8.0. Kimi no Uta also branched out for the band, playing with acoustic-guitar sounds and jazz-style solos. The b-side was an English version of JAP titled Stealth.

Although STRENGTH‘s PV was pretty classic a.b.s fare, the PVs started getting a lot glitzier and artsier, beginning with the pumped up JAP and getting really elegant and polished with Kimi no Uta. They also started experimenting with their image a little bit, veering away from their standard British school-boy ensembles and donning something a little more futuristic and chic.

Their final single for the year, which was released as, literally, a single song, From Dusk Till Dawn was a great addition to their heavy repertoire. From Dusk Till Dawn marks their first official ballad– definitely their slowest, gentlest piece. Although I tend to put on HOWLING to help me get to sleep, someone with subtler sensibilities will definitely appreciate something a.b.s to listen to in a soothing manner.

All singles made the top 5 in the OriCon weekly charts, except Kimi No Uta, which placed at #8. Still pretty good, if you ask me.

In the autumn, veteran Visual Kei band D’espairsRay released a new single, FINAL CALL (9/9/09), which was produced by Kishi Toshiyuki– a.b.s‘ keyboardist, programmer, and backing genius at large. A mutual honor for both parties, I’m sure.

In October a.b.s participated in the universe-shaking first-ever V-Rock Fest 09 at the Makuhari Messe in Chiba (near Tokyo). V-Rock Fest was 2 solid days of non-stop Jrock and VK, and ran from the 24th-25th. a.b.s performed on the first day, along with artists such as Alice Nine, Aoi, D’espairsRay, D, Moi Dix Mois, Marilyn Manson, and others.

October 30th sent us back to school for a proper education with the release of the singles and b-sides compilation album Teaching Materials. The album was released only in Europe, and was the opener for a full Europe Tour in November. The tour opened on Nov. 3rd with a performance in Moscow, Russia, and included stops in Finland, France, the U.K., Germany, and Sweden.

The boys traveled through Europe by bus, both in an effort to reconnect to fundamental rocker-dom, and also as a way to bond further as a band. Being a side-project to some pretty major stuff, it’s not that surprising that the members might feel a certain level of incongruity in concerns to the a.b.s item. In an interview, Kishi remarked that traveling by bus to all of these foreign cities, and doing shows all over Europe, they actually were able to feel like a true band, and all of the members enjoyed that connection.

They will release a DVD of documentary and making-of, behind-the-scenes and concert footage, as well as making-ofs for their new PVs and album. The DVD, abingdon boys school Europe Tour 2009 & Music Clips / abingdon boys school will be released 3/17/10.

On January 27th, ’10, their (very) long-awaited second full-length album, Abingdon Road hit shelves and post-offices. The album was released in two versions, a regular edition with DVD and a limited edition with a photo-book. Abingdon Road features 7 all-new songs and 7 previously released songs, including older works such as Sweetest Coma Again (Luna Sea cover) and BLADE CHORD (’07).

The boys are currently preparing for a nation-wide Japan tour 2010. They set out on February 5th, and will wrap it up on March 19th, with a total of 12 dates.

I would say they’ve had a pretty busy year– and not only did they put out a ton of material, it’s all setting a new standard of quality awesomeness, not only for themselves, but for Jrock at large. Keep supporting these guys, and let’s all become such good non-national fans that they continue to expand their tour routes…and debut in the USA!  I’ll be waiting for them.

++More Information++

a.b.s official website

a.b.s official myspace

a.b.s artist profile

Europe Tour ’09 Live Coverage

Japan Tour 2010 Info


**++Buy abingdon boys school DVDs and CDs++**