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Ruin Juice: The Japanese drum 'n' bass duo plays loud, fast and intense--but is it music?

Total Destruction

A Japanese duo named the Ruins makes music that lives up to its name

By Gina Arnold

IF YOU EVER visit Tokyo--as I did last month--you will immediately notice that it is suffused with a strange sense of American rock culture. Music videos blare off the sides of skyscrapers, looming over the streets like the ladies' faces in Blade Runner. Children run around in T-shirts that say "Rocker Girl" and "Yellow Submarine"; girls dressed up like gothic nurses with blood spattered on their white aprons haunt the streets of Harajukyu, while rockabilly boys play covers of Blues Brothers songs in Yoyogi Park on a Sunday. And if you venture into Roppongi, you won't walk two feet before coming across a giant electric guitar, the song "Warpigs" blaring out of a salaryman bar, or at the very least, a clothing shop named after Madonna or Suzie Q.

The Ruins--that is, the drum 'n' bass duo of Yoshida Tatsuya and Hisashi Sasaki--are not denizens of this Japan, however. They don't hang around the Harajukyu juke joints or write music that mimics American idioms or seek to gain fame and fortune on Asian MTV. They are not, to put it mildly, even remotely CUTE. Instead, the Ruins are the type of Japanese act that is interested in totally experimental noise-jazz-prog-rock caterwauling which is sometimes hard to call "music." And being Japanese, they do it more intensely than even their French, American and bohemian counterparts. Not surprisingly, they record for John Zorn's Tazdek label, which ought to give you a hint of just how progressive they are. There are some cross-cultural aspects to this work--Tuva throat singing, for instance, and dollops of fractured classical music and Gregorian chants--but in general, the Ruins merely play rhythm without the blues: stop-start staccato tempos and time changes and lots and lots of screaming.

Some people call this kind of music math-rock; some call it prog-rock and some, myself included, call it "unlistenable." Indeed, they make a band like the Boredoms or Atari Teenage Riot sound positively chirpy. They're supposed to be an awesome live act, able to stop and start their crazed tempos on the proverbial dime, but let's be frank: even on their most accessible music (that would be "Symphonica," which includes a keyboardist and two female vocalists), they're weirder than the weirdest track on a Captain Beefheart LP, the spaciest Molecules space jam or the most out-there moments of Magma.

Some people might consider that a good thing, but I wouldn't be one of them. Hell, my favorite aspects of Japanese culture are the animated kitten cartoons that decorate the JR subway cars and the 9-by-9 video screens that flash across Shibuya at night, not the dark, hard skwak of utterly atonal and often improvised music that's sung in a made-up language and, let's face it, has got to be a lot more fun to play than to listen to.


The Ruins play 8pm, Friday (March 30) at the Rio Theatre, 1205 Soquel Ave. Tickets $10.

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From the March 28-April 4, 2001, 1999 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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