There’s terror running through the streets of old Tokyo tonight as I meet up with the Madame Cats in the dingy backroom of their rehearsal studio on the very edge of Kabukicho. No one has ever claimed that this city is anything other than reassuringly “safe,” but the Madame Cats intend to singlehandedly turn that idea on its head. Together for some three years now, they aim to bring “the sound of Shinjuku” to your ears.
With influences drawn from a multitude of sources, the foursome isn’t above borrowing the sounds of scratchy old vinyl rock ‘n’ roll, dark delta blues and even a spot of the old freak beat.
“We all have a fairly similar taste in music: rock, blues, especially the Stones and ’60s garage acts like The Sonics,” says lead screecher Madame Fusako.
Keen not to tie themselves down to one particular genre, the band members cite movies, art and other non-musical sources as equally important factors in shaping their overall style.
“I don’t think our sound is beyond definition, I think it’s the sound of Shinjuku!” exclaims Madame Fu. “I mean, in Tokyo there are so many bands, but most try too hard, you know? Very few remain true to themselves. They do what they think they need to do to be popular. We’re not interested in gaining fame if it comes at the cost of changing ourselves, our music or compromising in any way.”
“The most important thing for us is to share our vision and play our music to as many people as possible,” pipes up drum smasher Little. “Too many Japanese garage bands totally miss the point—they’re only interested in aping their idols. They look the same, sound the same, play the same instruments... it’s so boring. We want to affect people. We want to scare people and get them dancing wild.”
The Madame Cats’ “sound of Shinjuku” is their own unique take on the gritty city within a city. It expresses a genuine love for Sanchome and Kabukicho, with all the neon, cafes, dive bars, and human flotsam that brings a particular edge to the district. Sometimes the music harbors a distinctly threatening vibe or creates a feeling of unease, like a walk down the wrong, dark back-alley on your own at midnight. This is the spirit that the foursome try to invoke in their live performances.
And invoke it they do, four women clad in black playing the most unholy, dark, primal and pounding rock ’n’ roll. A vision of flailing limbs and instruments being given the what-for. Madame Fusako leans forward into the crowd to scream into some wide-eyed and petrified young thing’s face before collapsing backwards, all with a deft shake of her maracas.
“The places we play and the bands we play with share a similar mentality,” notes bass slinger Natch. “The community in which we exist is pretty tight-knit; we’re all friends of friends. We get a lot of support from our contemporaries, especially the Vivian Boys, the Fadeaways and Theee Bat. Honda from the Vivian Boys kind of took us under his wing and even chaperoned us when we played in London recently.”
Sadly, the world of rock ’n’ roll is still predictably male dominated, if only in terms of numbers.
“I know: that’s why, being a band of four girls, we’re seen as sex symbols,” says guitar strangler Rie with a giggle. “Originally, Natch wanted us to get some hot guy drummer, but when we saw Little play, we knew that the lineup was perfect then—she’s too cute!”
Little frowns; best to move on.
The Madame Cats have already self-released their eponymous EP, available on both CD and 7” vinyl (naturally). “Our last record is still selling pretty well here and abroad, but we’d like to release some new stuff again quite soon,” says Little. “We’re working on new songs now. They’re darker and a little heavier, but they’re still going to make you want to move your feet.”
“I want to play to more people too,” chimes in Rie. “Every time we play, we see the regulars, the superfans and the groupies! I want to play to more non-Japanese.”
“We always get a lot of people from Canada, Europe and so on, but I want more and more people to hear us,” Fusako explains. “If you want to learn about the real, current Japanese underground music scene, then you should come and see the Madame Cats.”
“Yeah, handsome boys please come to our gigs!” says Natch, laughing manically. “In fact, we want cherry boys! We’ll teach you everything!”
And probably leave you screaming for mercy when they’re done.
Madame Cats will perform at Green Apple, July 11 and Statto, July 20. Available at Disk Union stores.
This story originally appeared in Metropolis magazine (www.metropolis.co.jp).© Japan Today