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The bands were dead, but Kukangendai breathes life into everything. Be it inimitable. #HF21

Someone cried the other day that bands were dead. That in a world of digital convenience, loop apps and samples, there was no place left for boys and girls with a guitar, a rickety drum kit and possibly a piano. Last night, while real men were watching football, I sat in Amsterdam's BIM house watching a band. It made me overjoyed.

Kukangendai, a guest at the Holland Festival on the recommendation of master Ryuichi Sakomoto, is weird. Three boys, because boys they remain, play rhythmic trapeze on a simple guitar with a single effects pedal, a bass and a drum kit borrowed from the BIM House. Though playing is perhaps a bit of a stretch. For just under an hour, these guys work their asses off completely on a rhythmic composition where a single pattern may be identifiable as a 'song', but which is mostly about bizarre concentration.

64th count

Does that bass player have a tic? Is his right foot trembling because of a pinched nerve? No. Turns out. He stands doing 64th counts in the punishing four-quarter beat given by the drummer, with again different accents from the guitarist opposite him. These are living metronome shops, tighter than drum machines, doing in full analogue what others have to spend years programming computers to do.

Everything is measured down to tenths of seconds, the concentration is contagious, and within a minute you are headbanging along or lapsing into lyrical hypnosis. Because hypnotic it is, what Kukangendai does.

Delayed orgasm

I sat with a broad, blissful smile watching and listening to this threesome that picks up where Kraftwerk, Yellow Magic Orchestra, King Crimson and Radiohead - to name just a few bits of comparison material - left off. This hour-long concert was an exercise in delayed orgasm. Indeed, that release didn't even come. At least, in the final minutes of the intense concert there was a brief moment of wildness, but it was so firmly framed that it couldn't possibly be the real climax.

You hold your heart for what happens when these guys really go wild. That's the beauty of this music, which would provide a huge floor for any DJ who is fed up with his 140bpm sets: the total control, the total surrender. Very Japanese, although I have to base that entirely on the image I have of Japan through media, computer games, samurai films and the software of the Nissan Leaf (made by robots, for robots).


How different it was earlier during the festival, when Georgian-Dutch composer and keyboardist Chordz performed a programme inspired by the work of Japanese associate artist Ryuichi Sakomoto. Here, not the tightness and restrained control that is also peculiar to the work of the composer of Merrry Christmas Mr Lawrence or The Revenant, who once started out as an Atari flyer with the aforementioned Yellow Magic Orchestra.

Kordz does exactly what makes the Western view of the East so romantic: every climax comes at the expected moment, the sounds are neatly oriental and if we have to, we throw in a nice beat as well. Good quality, mind you, but compared to Kukangendai's genius mastery, it almost becomes André Rieu. Nothing wrong with that, but I personally see more in the garage vulgarity of that bizarre Japanese threesome. I still can't get that blissful grin off my face.

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Wijbrand Schaap

Cultural journalist since 1996. Worked as theatre critic, columnist and reporter for Algemeen Dagblad, Utrechts Nieuwsblad, Rotterdams Dagblad, Parool and regional newspapers through Associated Press Services. Interviews for TheaterMaker, Theatererkrant Magazine, Ons Erfdeel, Boekman. Podcast maker, likes to experiment with new media. Culture Press is called the brainchild I gave birth to in 2009. Life partner of Suzanne Brink roommate of Edje, Fonzie and Rufus. Search and find me on Mastodon.View Author posts

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