Noise, Drums & Thirty Years Of Waiting [2019-06-25]On May 25, 2019, in Moscow, at the Station City Hall venue, a significant event took place - the performance of the legendary Japanese noise artist Masami Akita with his project Merzbow. The concert was organized by the Russian company Delta Mekong Concerts. Masami is perhaps the most famous figure on the world noise scene. Playing from the late 1970s to the present day, he normally records several albums a year. The Moscow Concert is the second and final show in a small Russian tour, which was held jointly with Hungarian drummer Balazs Pandi, who is very known in wider experimental music. The day before, he played in St. Petersburg. This event was significant because Masami Akita had only played in Russian once before. It was back in 1988 in Khabarovsk, at the festival of jazz, improvisational, electro-acoustic and experimental music. And now, after almost 30 years, the Japanese genius of noise has returned to please his Russian fans. The concert was to consist of two parts. The first part was to be a solo set of Merzbow, the second one was a duo performance with Balazs Pandi.
I did not hurry to the concert, because I knew that, according to tradition, the beginning of the performance would be delayed by about an hour. This is a usual practice. Approaching the club, which is located in one of the former production premises, I noticed a large number of people. The audience was diverse. Starting from the guys wearing old Iron Maiden and Motorhead T-shirts, ending with the Goths and quite ordinary people. While waiting, I noticed that Masami Akita and Balazs Pandi, accompanied by a couple of people, entered through the service entrance. This didn’t really generate any excitement. Apparently, those who noticed them did not understand at first who it was.
Having waited for a long time, and having passed through the front door, which thronged security guards, I found myself inside the Station City Hall. In a narrow corridor that was rather crowded. I squeezed into the room in which there was a bar and a merchandise counter. Sadly this didn’t look very impressive. On the counter, there were only 2 or 3 Merzbow CD's, about the same number of LP's, one tape, a white Merzbow T-shirt of dubious quality and several souvenirs.
As I later learned, a large number of things were bought during a performance in St. Petersburg. But, as my friend Uncle Misha (the founder of HNW project Shumoizolyatsiya), who was present at the first show, told me - in St. Petersburg there were many different things for sale, but the demand was great, and the quantity was very limited. This is very strange since it seemed to me that the organizers should have taken the matter more seriously. At this disappointment did not end here, but more on that later. Having decided not to buy anything before the break between performances, I went directly to the concert hall.
The hall was not very big. And it was already full of people. I looked back and saw that about the same number of people were still at the door of the hall, and still more visitors were outside. At that moment I began to doubt that this hall could accommodate so many people. Already it was starting to get stuffy. On the high stage, there was a rather large table with various equipment. To the left of the table was a drum set. I thought the stage set-up looked pretty much what I’d expected.
The beginning of the concert was delayed by only 40 minutes. One of the founders of Japanoise and harsh noise in general, Masami Akita, stepped on the stage. People start to shout, whistle and applause. Modestly bowing, he began his solo set. The beginning was quite calm, but then it turned into a wall of sound. Whistling, crashing, clanging, buzzing and so on. Quite difficult to put into words the noise chaos. All this was supported by a very energetic light show. But still, something was wrong. The sound did not contain the power, pressure, and chaos that is inherent in the studio work of Merzbow. Despite the sound work of the sound engineers, the solo set seemed to be a bit blurry and monotonous.
Masami Akita intensively used his famous noise instrument, twisted the knobs, approached the monitors, but the changes in the overall sound were not very significant. However, the audience was pleased. Particularly pleased were those who slightly warmed themselves with alcoholic drinks before the concert. Perhaps my perception was hindered by a heat that was in the hall. Looking around, I realized that there were at least five hundred people here who were standing fairly close to each other. For myself, I noted another misstep by the organizers - selling such a large number of tickets (and for considerable money) - be more respectful to the fans. Perhaps the organizers should have thought of a larger place. The overall volume of the sound seemed to me not very loud, but when Masami Akita finished his solo set, and the sound subsided, it seemed to me that I was deaf. The sensations were such as if I hear the surrounding sounds while under water. Perhaps this is how people feel after the explosion.
The break between the sets began. I went to the room where the merchandise counter was located. Unfortunately, the counter was almost empty. Merzbow LP's and CD's were sold out. There are 3 records of Balazs Pandi and tape - a collaborative album of Merzbow and Balazs Pandi, recorded specially for sale at Russian concerts and limited to 50 copies. Despite the rather high price, I bought this tape. This is a regular C20 cassette with a white body and plain white cardboard J-card. To be honest, such a high price proved to be unjustified, despite the good recording quality. But maybe someday it will become a rarity. At least I really hope so.
The break continued and I went outside to smoke. The smoking area turned out to be a territory of about 20 square meters, fenced in with a grid and resembling an aviary for chickens ... There were many smoking people here, they were very close to each other. I understand perfectly that there is a struggle with smoking all over the world, and smoking is, indeed, not a very pleasant habit. Most likely, such a small smoking area was made so that smokers would feel the maximum discomfort during this process.
I returned to the hall. After some time, Masami Akita returned to the stage along with Balazs Pandi. Masami got up at the table with his equipment, and Pandi sat down at the drum set. The joint set began. It is worth noting the excellent technique of the drummer. He played very easily, perhaps improvising. During his work several unpleasant moments happened - the stand with the Crash cymbal somewhat lost its stability. Pandi stopped to play, tried to fix the stand several times, but, in my opinion, he did not do it very well. Masami Akita's noise part was about the same as in the solo performance - everything was smooth, loud, aggressive, but without revelations and surprises.
Frankly, I liked the joint set more than the solo one. The presence of the drummer, despite the technical problems, added to the overall sound the dynamics and energy. In the hall, it became very hot and stuffy. Even Masami Akita, modestly turned away, was wiping his face with a towel .... The last sounds were heard, the musicians bowed and left the stage. Many viewers chanted in chorus - "Merzbow, Merzbow, Merzbow", but the musicians chose to remain behind the scenes. The concert is over.
I thought for a long time before I started writing this review. First of all, I didn’t want to offend the organizers of this concert, because, in the end, they did it - Merzbow in Russia! Many thanks to you for this! But the organization of the Moscow concert itself was not at a very high level. I will try to list all the unpleasant moments - the almost complete lack of merchandise and high prices, a serious discrepancy between the size of the hall and a large number of visitors, poor ventilation of the concert hall, technical problems with the equipment of the drummer. Secondly - Masami Akita is a great and legendary artist, beloved by all noise fans. But this evening there was a feeling that he was tired. For another artist, with regard to his performance, I would use the word "indistinct". But in relation to Merzbow, I replace this word with - "Smooth". Perhaps it was due to fatigue from yesterday’s concert and traveling between cities. Perhaps the heat and stuffiness in the hall also did their job. But, I didn’t get the show or experience I was expecting. Coming out of the hall, I shared my impressions with a friend (the author of the photos for this review). He was in some confusion after the concert too. So, my impression was backed up.
I bought a ticket for this concert about six months before the date of the event. There were no problems with online purchasing. The organizers treated me with great respect. The ticket and all necessary documentation were delivered on time. Most likely, all the failures that I mentioned earlier were a coincidence, but this spoiled the impression of the concert. However, I was happy to see Masami Akita and his performance. Now, this is history. Hope to see him in Russia again. 30 years later.
Photo credits:Viktor NovakSergey Pakhomov