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Big in Japanther 

by Luke Baumgarten & r & You were big into hardcore, right? It's fine. I was. I think most people were, at one time or another. Embrace it.


You leading-edge hardcore kids got in as the '80s dawned, when you heard, from a friend of your older brother's friend, about that youth movement - straight edge, wasn't it? - and the awesome DC scene that spawned it. That became, for a time, the center of your ideological universe - which was a mere 2,500 miles east of your physical universe. Put more expressively: You gave up trying to score wine coolers and built a little shrine to either Ian MacKaye (a picture of his bald head with a pro-abstinence chapbook he'd written) or to Henry Rollins (a similar picture of his long, greasy, pitch-black hair alongside a ball of that hair -- with possibly a little hunk of scalp -- that you yanked out of his skull during that fight he started in concert that one time). Those who had both shrines were particularly hardcore. And confused.


Many of us, though, got hardcore from a much softer place, much later in history (and at a time when drinking and drugs were permissible in core scenes). The mid-'90s brought the resurgence of punk and hardcore via the sexy, revamped medium of the skate video. That's cool, too. You can't help what you like or when you grew up, especially if you were a snowboard groupie from a northeastern Washington cow town (like me). I still stand by this: Madball was core as hell. So was AFI, for a while.


So it will be, when the story of the 20th century is finished and locked away, that nothing has united two decades' worth of disaffected upper-middle-class leftist suburbanite kids like hardcore.


All that's gone now, though, and to quote the straightest-edge tome of all, the Bible, "now that I am become a man, I have put away childish things." Now that we're older, that is, having kissed girls and kicked our zits to the curb, we haven't much time for hardcore. We who have become pop aesthetes, turdy intellectuals. A little Fugazi now and again, but, you know, purely for archival purposes. To make sure the vinyl hasn't warped. You still like it, though, right? I know you do. It's OK. I do, too.


So, if you're avoiding hardcore for the sake of your hipster pretenses, afraid a picture of Henry Rollins might get a filterless American Spirit put out on your forehead, rejoice at the coming of Japanther! They're hardcore, oh yes. So hardcore they don't even have a guitar player. No, not even Fugazi, at their least decadent (most anti-decadent?) ever braved the guitarless hinterlands, knowing even they would need the most furtive of melodies at some point. Japanther, though: They're totally guitar free. Bask in their glow.


Sure, there's some upper-register bass work that might be mistaken for guitar initially, but this dark churn is almost totally frothless. It's part of a program that drummer Ian Vanek calls "[our] beat-based hypnotic wall." "Hypnotic" is exactly right. But there are far more layers to Japanther's art than this dense, gorgeous topcoat.


If I may use the obvious metaphor, Japanther have tagged their straight-ahead wall of fuzzy bass and battering percussion with the snotty, literate, uncompromised street art of a generation that has grown up as familiar with Run DMC as with Bad Brains. Samples, kid. And found sounds. Japanther samples everyone: unnamable power-pop acts, utterly forgotten grunge-sounding groups, and one very conspicuous inclusion - Jurassic 5. That's hip-hop they've included while still entirely avoiding rapcore: learn from them. They further fill the yawping roil with forgotten sounds. At the beginning of "Energy," from their full-length Dump the Body in Rikki Lake, they paint a compassionate portrait of a cannibal in his own words, ("I was branching out. That's when the cannibalism started.") then overlay the whole thing with economical synths, spare and blessed bits of reluctant melody peaking out of the opaque broth of Japanther's core like a queer, jubilant & eacute;lan vital.


But, again, as with all things that have DC's iconic din as their propulsive force, Japanther's prime motive is to blow roofs off of buildings. Coffeehouse roofs, I hear, are especially primed for such things, having been lulled into slackened vigilance by wave after wave of singer/songwriters, set after set of acoustic strumming. If nothing else, then, come see Japanther's whatever-core hurt people's ears in a highly confined space. The performance world calls that breaking the fourth wall.





Japanther at Rock Coffee on Wednesday, Nov. 23, at 7 pm. Tickets: TBA at the door. Call 838-1864.
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