I first saw Melt Banana 10 years ago at Benway Records in Venice. It was more like a pilgrimage. In those pre-MapQuest days, it took five IE high schoolers about six hours to find the place with a Thomas Guide. A friend had described them as “just another hardcore band,” but since I had nothing to do that day, I went along for the ride.
When we finally got there, we combed our way through a few wiggling Venice hippie-types and waited for just-another-hardcore-band. Four surgical-mask-clad Japanese musicians emerged, took over the tiny record-shop stage, and shy singer Yasuko Onuki squeaked out “We are Melt Banana from Tokyo, Japan!” Then an epic, hurricane-level din was unleashed that caused everyone within earshot to simultaneously understand the meaning and implications of complete chaos. The intensity was unparalleled.
From their loose-and-loud driving bass sound and squealing, shrieking guitar (backed by a huge arsenal of effects) to their heavy-handed drum blasts and shrill, spitfire vocals, the band was the exact opposite of stereotypical Japanese subtlety. And they were polite, offering a sugary-sweet “Thank you!” after each song.
As a hardcore band, they seemed to completely flout the conventions of the genre, choosing cartoonish aural antics over the way-too-serious doom-and-gloom approach—which naturally made them quite possibly the best hardcore band ever. That position was cemented in my head a day or two later at another L.A. gig, when Onuki was stabbed in the arm with a fork—who brings a fork to a hardcore show? Yet she finished the set, seemingly unaffected by her gaping wound.
Since then, the band has amassed eight full-length albums and 23 EPs. The singles are usually split with other bands and have included notable groups like the Locust and obscure international acts like Killout Trash. At their inception, the band focused primarily on lo-fi hardcore and noise, doing stints at the Tokyo Improvisation Festival (recordings of which can be heard on the release Cactuses Come In Flocks), but they’ve progressed a long way from their deafening, simplistic beginnings.
Now Melt Banana’s noises have intense drum-and-bass breakbeats, with more eardrum-exploding guitar parts tossed into the aural blender. They’ve also added a theremin to the mix, which gives them spooky, electronic undertones. They also give more credence to harmonies and melodies—unheard of for an experimental act like this. But maybe that’s a natural growth for a band that exists in a realm just beyond the frontier of hardcore, a space that gets them lumped in with the genre as it simultaneously reinforces how far ahead of the pack they really are.
Melt Banana with Free Moral Agents and Dogs of Ire at the Glass House, 200 W. 2nd St., Pomona, (909) 865-3802; www.theglasshouse.us. Sat., 7 p.m. $7. All ages.