Julian Cope’s Album of the Month

High Rise - Live

High Rise

AOTM #4, September 2000ce
Released 1994 on PSF
"Cybernetic wah abuse and non-stop intensity are their trademarks; complete tonal domination their goal."

- High Rise sleevenote manifesto.

Brainiacked in Tokyo, summer '91, I staggered Godlike and beautiful off the main drag into a blazing hot park full of rows of Japanese rock bands, all set up in a long line down each side of the main thoroughfare. Sooty shorts, a 'Free Your Mind & Your Ass Will Follow' t-shirt and bare feet - I was still almost a foot taller than those around me and weeded-out from the fine fruits of Rooster and Rizla's international drug-smuggling. The sound that greeted me was an a-rhythmic sonic guitar collage in which each band competed with many others, each just two feet apart, performing for a microscopic audience-on-the-hoof who were all, like me, mesmerised by this not-of-this-world-music. Imagine walking one Sat'day afternoon down Busy High Street UK to discover that every Gap Next Benneton shop front had been replaced with its very own rock band, each one complete with their own stage act, roadies and PA system. For this was the scene that greeted me that afternoon, and this is the sound of Tokyo's mighty High Rise live on stage.

Like watching Manchester's The Worst at Eric's in early 1977, where two band members regularly finished songs before the slowcoach on bass, listening to the musically-superb but shamanically-tendencied High Rise is like watching a magnificent road-movie starring the uninsured and the uninsurable. All three members of High Rise have twelve points on their driving licenses and do they give a fuck? Hell No, and these over-achievers have loads of albums and super-mysterious related releases, too. But the way into the High Rise trip just has to be via this live'n'glorious, live'n'uproarious live album.

But what of the songs? And what are their roots? Well, I'll tell you this - they obviously adore Blue Cheer and they love Black Sabbath, but they play faster than both of those Spanish galleons could ever muster. Yeah, High Rise have their down-in-their-boots side but they never stay down long enough to mean it. Instead, High Rise take classic 60s and 70s riffs and do them in, and do them good. One American fanzine (and I can't remember which) brilliantly described the High Rise method as "Spray-painting Obscenities across an Ancient Text." Right ON! From a British point-of-view they have that Junction 8 sound down to a T. You know that part of the West Midlands conurbation where the M5 meets the M6, and the A34 and the A4041 cartwheel over both motorways to create Spaghetti Junction? Well, that junction of roads is the High Rise guitar sound as created by Munehiro Narita's Motor Cycle Guitar (sic sic sic!!!). But searching underneath that overlaying of roads at Junction 8, you'll discover sacred hills such as Barr Beacon, and now-hidden sacred places such as Perry Barr and Great Barr1, linked by Beacon Way and the sacred river Tame.

And this splendid sacred underbelly is like the High Rise rhythm section. For underneath the spray-paint, the ancient texts that the bass and drums play are famous and time-honoured riffola. Yuro Ujiie plays drums on this live album and a mighty job he does, too. But High Rise have had every type of drummer from free jazz to proto-punk and still it all hangs together; because their riffs ride that monochromatic rainbow arcing across the ages from the Sonics and the Troggs, via the Stooges and the Five, and up through punk rock and grunge to the present day.

High Rise Live kicks off with the ancient text-driven riffage of 'Sadame' from their earlier Disallow LP, here smeared with extra-spray painted obscenities for added queaze-o-rama. The vocals are way low in the proceeding, but that's the way their leader Asahito Nanjo loves 'em. Dick Peterson he ain't, but neither does he choose to be. Instead, Nanjo uses his voice to state that 'This-is-a-song' and without those vocals we'd be listening to free rock. So it's a quiet verse and then off on another suicide excursion where no-one dies but classicism takes another one up the ass.

Ultimate High Rise has to be their ultra-rip known as 'Ikon'. First recorded on their Disallow LP, the song takes the amazing riff from the original Electric Prunes' final single 'You've Never Had It Better' and makes it better and better. Indeed, it makes me wanna take 'Ikon' and strip it down further and call it 'Nanjo' and keep the publishing for myself!

'Mira' comes on as frenzied as High Rise's sister group Musica Transonic, and freeforms its muse into your brain with jackhammers, while the God Thor tips up the High Rise stage and tries to physically eject them from the studio. Munehiro Narita falls on his psychedelic ass but he ain't never going to loosen his grip on that Bar-E chord no matter how far up the neck his hands are pushed, until Nanjo finally shakes Thor off and they launch into a joyous rebel yell, like Dust playing the Isley Brothers through the Troggs' equipment, circa 'Feels like a woman'. Right ON!

'Outside Gentiles' is a comparative pop song by High Rise standards, which means it ain't at all, but it's got clear vocals and a perceivable chord sequence. Of course, Munehiro Narita takes this as an insult and uses his solo as a high industrial platform from which to dump skip-loads of thick fluorescent wa-wa paint down on to that ancient text, which stands up to this rigorous treatment because High Rise's muse is entirely built on rock.

The closest we get to the unadulterated Blue Cheer trip comes in the slow stumble of 'Door', Yuro Ujiie's solo drum intro propelling the band into a kind of uber 'Out of Focus' dirge. Is Nanjo singing 'Call Me Animal'? I do hope so! It's my dream that High Rise will one day do a straight cover version of 'Cutting Grass' by the Caretakers of Deception and credit it to themselves, re-naming it 'Free Love' or some such iconic Western name.

'Mainliner' follows, though it's not the same song as 'Mainliner Sonic' that the other High Rise sister group, Mainliner, plays on their Mainliner Sonic LP. No, this 'Mainliner' is the live (and much faster) version of the Funhouse-like song which you'll find on their album Dispersion. Confused? I think we're meant to be! But rock'n'roll is mystery and High Rise's scene is surely that. When Dorian and I code our conversation in front of our kids, we speak in Pig Latin and the girls don't even know that it's patois. Teenagers cloak their language to exclude adults, and I find myself making up words that sound like slang to give my songs more bite and enigma. The High Rise scene has vats of this stuff lying unprocessed in their Tokyo and Nagoya basements.

This live album terminates with the ultra-cyclical 'Pop Sicle', with its looping undulating bass and splatter drums, whilst Munehiro Narita plays some kind of guitar equivalent to the 19th century Gatlin gun, you know that antique version of the machine gun which sprayed its bullets so widely that you became a victim of friendly fire unless you were standing behind it! But the High Rise scene is always like that, and there are so many sister bands lurking in the shadows that you've gotta start somewhere, and the live album is it. If you dig this record, try out Disallow for its greater use of space, but all of the Rise canon is a stone gasser, and their offshoot bands are part of a many-tentacled sonic octopus designed to make shamans of us all. For those about to Rise, I salute you!

  1. These are named after the same hill divinities who gave their name to Wiltshire's Bronze age Barbury Castle, the stone circles of the Peak District's Barbrook Moor and the various law places known as Temple Bar throughout Britain. Bar was known as 'god, the mighty' according to Gerald Massey's Book of Beginnings and 'the all-powerful' in the ancient Akkadian language. The link between the sacred hill and the speaking of the oral law thereon is still seen today. For lawyers, the bar is still 'anything referred to as an authority or tribunal: the bar of decency', according to the Collins English Dictionary, whilst the barr in Breton means the 'summit, top', or even 'Pre-Celtic 'height'; according to Adrian Room's Placenames of the World.