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A Hipster Tragedy

Jefferson Jackson Steele
There They Are: Japanther Is Visible After All At The Depot.

By Michael Byrne | Posted 12/5/2007

"Japanther's on a level with Tragedy as one of the biggest underground bands in the world. They still do house shows but I wouldn't recommend attending one unless you're completely wasted and don't mind not seeing or hearing the band and possibly being trampled." We had to query an old friend, Jason Simms-sort of an expert on cult bands-for some Japanther education before last Sunday's show and that's what we got, along with some earnest fear about "street cred" and having his name in print talking about said band in less-than-fawning terms.

He couldn't have been more right, though. The Tragedy thing's misleading-Japanther doesn't have much to do with crust, and neither band's crowds would be caught dead in the same room-but, like Tragedy, Japanther is something you don't know or particularly care about unless you're a fan, and that fanbase grows virally: You have a friend that turned fan after being dragged to see it in Philadelphia (or wherever) by their girlfriend, and now you're getting dragged to the show . . . and Japanther spreads.

The exception is a night like the Depot's Are We Not Men?!, a biweekly gathering that's ostensibly a dance night, but over the past couple of months, the acts-usually a pleasant surprise: AWNM?! isn't big on promotion-have ranged from hip-hop (A.K. Slaughter) to electro mess (Yip Yip) to brainy hardcore (No Age). The night has a loyal following and you're likely to see many of the same faces. So Japanther had a captive, built-in audience for mass infection.

Understand, Japanther is not a "good" band in any classic sense-you wouldn't want to listen to this outside of a show: it's basically Ramones-y, lo-fi punk cut up with samples and junk Casio beats-but it's made up for in spectacle. Japanther's resume reads like a sub subterranean Matthew Barney. This is a band that's very good at getting people to do shit for it, like, say, getting a synchronized swimming team to perform with them, or getting a crew of puppeteers to work with it on a punk opera.

Or getting a crowd of twentysomething pretty-young-things to revert to their primitive acne-ridden 16-year-old punk selves with the crack of a drumstick. In the Depot's tiny, dark back room, Japanther set up amid a dance party, finally starting its show sometime just before 1 a.m., banging drums along to the DJ's beat for a couple of tracks before laying into its own set. And yeah, once things got moving, you couldn't see or hear the band. You just kinda knew they were making a racket there in the middle of the room and it was going somewhere fast. Japanther became a black hole, sucking people out of the corners into a pulsing, swaying, colliding mass gathered above it. Crowd surfing ensued, your writer took a blow to the face, and you can be sure someone got trampled and liked it.

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