Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Bewitching Beats of Toe

On a baking afternoon in July, chilling with a beer in a field in Niigata, I was roused from my slightly drunken reverie by a sweet sweet sound wafting on the breeze, all twangley guitars and rat-a-tat drumming. It was one of those all-too-rare love-at-first-hear experiences when I knew within a few beats that here was a band that I'd never grow tired of. The occasion was the Fuji Rock Festival and the band was Toe.

One of the great things about music festivals is stumbling across new music that you wouldn't usually get exposed to. In this case, I was particularly pleased that my new musical love was Japanese as I'd been waiting in vain for an artist from my adopted home with the potential to not just be "big in Japan" but around the world too. I feel that Toe have a better chance than most of their contemporaries of gaining overseas recognition, partly because they rarely sing in Japanese (actually, they rarely sing at all), but mostly because their music has a universal quality that transcends boundaries or nationalities. But don't just take my word for it - check out this highlight from their latest live DVD (the track kicks in properly on about 1 minute).

I don't generally like pigeon-holing bands in a particular genre anyway, but Toe defy classification more than most. On the surface, their make-up of two guitarists, a bassist and a drummer would suggest them to be a rock band. However, their instrumental-heavy sound is closer in style to jazz than rock. While all four members are blessed with undeniable musical talent, I'd have to say that the drummer, Takashi Kashikura, is the stand-out performer, and the one who the band revolves around. I'm no expert on drumming but I know a genius with drumsticks when I hear one. For him, drumming isn't just about keeping a beat, it's about creating a frenzied throng of beats for the listener to get lost in. Kashikura is actually a very busy man, as he plays in another, even better-known, Japanese band, The Hiatus, who are much more straight-out rock, and incidentally are pretty damn good themselves.

Although I have only recently discovered them, Toe have been around for 12 years already, in which time they've released two full-length albums and a number of EPs. Visiting their website (, I was thrilled to see they have just been touring in Europe through September. I really hope they can continue to spread their fan base even further outside of Japan, as their spine-tingling tunes certainly deserve to be heard by as many people as possible in my opinion. For those reading this in Japan, Toe will also be performing with their label-mates Tangled Hair, in mid October, in Yokohama and Tokyo. I certainly plan to be there, and to continue to support this magical band for many years to come.

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