Originally published in The Reykjavik Grapevine, November 2015, amended here.
I thought it would be a good idea to have Icelandic bands (or members) take visiting bands out for a meal or something Icelandic, and whatever came out came out of it would be a bonus. Without an agenda it would surely be good or nothing.
Alison MacNeil (kimono) also cited them so we joined forces.
Keep in mind that Airwaves is not just a music festival. It’s an endurance sport. And everyone is ‘competing’ across different events. Alison wins across the mean of events as far as I know. She went to bed long after I had, having played a fucking great show, danced more, and consumed far, far more than I ever could. Despite this her perky message came across at 11:30 am “Hey! Wasabi!? It’s at Sea baron right? What time?”
I came from the pool and dropped my friends Emma and Byron off for a coffee at Stofan and drove to get Jófríður. We arrived at the Sea Baron on time, as did Bo Ningen. They are Japanese after all, and it would be very rude to show up late.
Wikipedia describes Bo Ningen as a “four-piece acid punk band, consisting of Taigen Kawabe (bass/ vocals), Yuki Tsujii (guitar), Kohhei Matsuda (guitar) and Monchan Monna (drums). They come from Gumma, Tajimi, Nishinomiya, and Tokyo.”
They arrived with their tour manager Rachel, and Taigen’s partner.
This was Taigen last night:
We ordered mostly lobster soup, some fish kebabs, a vegetarian pate, and got seated at a table upstairs. I never even knew that existed! The world is full of marvels if you get up in the morning. It was not as picturesque as downstairs, but much more comfortable for lunch for eleven. Well, ten. Alison didn’t eat. She turned up late and got one of their free coffees. Nothing else. A piece of bread. I have been there. Haven’t you? She was silent but observant at the table. Qualities I have yet to master together but admire. The only thing she said to me the entire time was "I've never heard a Fender Cyclone sound like a cyclone." That is Alison as I've come to know her. Silent yet succinct and memorable.
As we settled in, it wasn’t difficult to get past that ‘this is an interview’ vibe, because it wasn’t really. It was lunch. And it turned out we had a lot in common. If I had done the most basic research on them before this meeting, I would have ruined the genuine surprise.
The first thing we established sitting down was that Bo Ningen all live in London. Hackney to be more specific. A five-minute walk from my recently vacated flat. I lived there for eight years and we share a love of Palm II, the green grocers off the high street. It carries Einstök beer among many others. I asked Bo Ningen if they knew Tonkotsu or Off Broadway. A ramen noodle restaurant and a cocktail bar which Emma and Byron own respectively. Of course they did. They have eaten at Tonk more than once. Funny, because after seeing their show last night Emma was like “I must get them over for a show at Tonk!” assuming that they lived in Japan.
We talked about touring and living in and out of different places at a quickened pace. Though they live in London, they haven’t lived much in London lately, as they’ve been on the road. It turns out that Bo Ningen have a tour manager in common with Jófríður. Jófríður also worked with her when Pascal Pinon went to Japan. Sometimes you have to travel far to find good people who have been around the corner all along.
We talked about photographs and how self conscious they can make us feel, especially when we photographers ask musicians to do the same thing over and over again without having done the most basic research on what has been done before. Erm. So. You guys have great hair. I bet that’s been done to death? Yes. We won’t go there. We didn’t. I forgot the cameras for lunch, I actually covered them with my scarf, more for my benefit than theirs. Something happens to me when I see a camera. Like a Magpie with shiny things.
We talked about the similarities and differences in Japan, the USA, UK, Iceland, and the Nordics. In Japan it is very hard for a woman to work a job and then have a baby and then go back to that job. The support system isn’t in place like it is here in Iceland and culturally it is “very old fashioned,” as Yuki put it.
I think that’s a great phrase for it. Because it suggests it needs changing without discounting or disrespecting it. They were surprised to learn about Iceland’s generous maternity and paternity leave, and Jófríður was surprised to hear about the USA’s two weeks unpaid gesture of a paternity leave.
They all related the feeling of safety they experience here in Iceland to that of Japan, which is also a society where people mostly follow the rules and are polite. Rules? The good rules. Like don’t be a dick and steal people’s stuff or violate theirperson. You know? Polite? Okay Icelanders don’t say sorry when they bump into you, but I’d give up the million sorries I hear a day in London if I could go clubbing and hang my coat up without fear of it being taken.
They all agreed that though Japan feels safe, Iceland feels safer. Taigen use to take the train to school alone when he was six or seven, which is not at all uncommon for children in Japan. He would go alone but meet up with his friends and stuff, like in Harry Potter.
It’s not like Iceland is some kind of utopia. I know terrible shit happens here. As we walked along Laugavegur at 3am last night, Emma remarked on how extremely wasted everyone was. She was impressed at the level of commitment. I asked her if she had seen a fist fight in person before. She answered, “Mate I’m from Donnie” (Doncaster). It’s surprising how undramatic the blows are though. Not like in the movies. The momentum resembles a fist into a side of beef, which is actually how they make (foley) the sound into movies for fist fight scenes.
London is definitely not like Iceland or Japan, nor is New York City for that matter. The why behind this is multifaceted and complex and we turned to our soup in silence. I am always grateful for the ease I feel here when I shoot like a flaming NASA space capsule out of NYC or London. I can relax. I can go to a club and put down my bag or hang up my coat and mostly, nothing bad happens. I hope this doesn’t change as more foreigners visit. It’s important that Iceland maintain those boundaries of culture if they can.
At this point I’m not surprised Alison had to go. It’s not like she doesn’t love talking about this stuff. She just very badly needed to go back to bed, as do I which I will after I finish this day. Bo Ningen were delightful. And on stage they are that and so much more. Beautiful, horrific, fearsome, intense, all consuming. They connect and destroy and rebuild and slow down and do it over. Their show was like a ride that I want to go on again.
And their company is something I look forward to if we manage to connect in London. But they should definitely come back to Iceland. I mean they didn’t even get to swim in a pool or have ice cream! Crime! They completely devoured the gorgeous food at Sea Baron though and we all enjoyed it immensely.
I think Jófríður went off down the road with them after to the flea market. We went to Valdís for ice cream.
And now, I will go home. Which is here for the next six months or so.
Lunch was provided by Sægreifinn. We really love Sægreifinn. Thank you, Sægreifinn.