Way back in 2009, when we were still a little ankle-biter of a blog, we wrote a post about a French band called Magma that spawned (the band, not the post) an entire genre of hyper-bizarre prog-rock/space-jazz/freak-fusion called Zeuhl. “Next time you hear a bunch of French dudes chanting nonsense lyrics over music that sounds sort of like Pat Metheny on acid,” we wrote, with that casual air of snark that only comes from having no idea what the fuck you’re talking about, “you’re probably listening to a Zeuhl band.”
Well, it’s taken us four years, but we’ve finally a.) admitted that, to this very day, we often have no idea what the fuck we’re talking about and b.) gotten around to writing about another Zeuhl band. Except this bunch is neither French nor, entirely, dudes. They’re from Japan and they’re a coed ensemble by the name of Koenjihyakkei, which translates to something like “The Hundred Sights of Koenji.” Koenji is a neighborhood in Tokyo, but does it really have a hundred sights? Beats me. Like I said, we often have no idea what the fuck we’re talking about.
Here’s what little we do know: Koenjihyakkei (also sometimes transliterated as “Koenji Hyakkei”) was started in the early ’90s by a drummer named Tatsuya Yoshida, whose previous band, Ruins, did a pretty fair approximation of Magma’s original Zeuhl insanity rendered down to just a bass/drums duo. Having apparently exhausted that format, Yoshida expanded his list of collaborators with Koenjihyakkei, adding a rotating cast of musicians to an increasingly epic and noisy take on Magma-esque jazz-prog mayhem. The band’s most recent lineup, seen in the above photo, features a lady who just goes by AH on vocals, Keiko Komori on reeds, Kengo Sakamoto on bass and Taku Yabuki on keys.
We also know that, sadly, the band appears to have been pretty inactive since about 2010 or so. Yoshida has been more focused on various new incarnations of Ruins: Ruins Alone, which is just him with a drum kit and electronics, and Sax Ruins, which is him with (you’ll never guess) a sax player. He’s also got a guitar/bass/drums power trio called Korekyojinn and a growing online photo archive called Stones of the World. Not pictures of international Rolling Stones cover bands—though that would indeed be awesome—but just pictures of interesting rock formations, made by both humans and nature. Worth a look, especially if you’re into stony things. Did I just make a really lame pot joke? Why, yes, yes I did. Thanks for noticing.
Koenjihyakkei’s music is difficult to describe, even for us. Is it Magma by way of Naked City? Boredoms by way of Shibushirazu Orchestra? Japanese show tunes as performed by “something so far off Broadway it’s on the moon”? (We didn’t come up with that last one, but it kinda sounds like something we would’ve written in 2009.) Whatever it is, it’s more overtly jazz-based than Magma or Ruins, but still prone to going off on the sort of crazy tangents that wouldn’t sound out of place in a Mike Patton side project.
We’ll leave you with two videos that should give you a sense of Koenjihyakkei’s full range of musical lunacy. The first is taken from their 2010 DVD Live at Koenji High and really showcases them (especially vocalist AH) as a sort of a jazz quintet from Mars. The oddly jaunty gang vocals at 2:50 are my favorite part. Also the part where she growls like a demon over some serious ’70s-style prog-rock synth runs. I’m not telling you where to find that part; you’ll just have to listen to the whole goddamned thing yourself.
Next: We would be remiss if we didn’t include the track that MVR (Most Valuable Reader) Stuart Johnson sent our way to introduce us to the awesomeness that is Koenjihyakkei. Thanks, Stuart! For a band that owes much of its existence to a single other band (i.e. Magma), Koenjihyakkei are about as original as it gets.