Not to get technical: Toe's unique sound will wow HK fans

Don't let the complexity fool you - Toe's startling sound rocks, writes Richard Lord

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 18 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 17 April, 2013, 5:17pm

HERE'S THE THING about Toe: their music sounds like the output of scarily talented technical virtuosos (rhythmically and harmonically complex, constantly evolving), so it might seem objectively admirable but lacking in emotion.

Instead what the Japanese band produces is a mysteriously touching, approachably melodic sonic collage. Despite its complexity, it's not off-putting or aurally challenging. Mainly, it's disorientatingly beautiful.

Yet in the lead-up to the band's third Hong Kong appearance, guitarist Yamazaki Hirokazu tries to deflect praise. "I don't think our music is technically complex - we are such bad players," he jokes. Those lucky enough to have secured a ticket to tonight's sold-out show at Kitec will find out how modest he is being.

Like much music that is hard to categorise, the band seem to inspire a meta-debate among fans. They most often get lumped into the post-rock and math rock genres. It's post-rock in the sense that rock instrumentation is used - this time to create something more experimental. It's math rock as it features endless subtle fluctuations, unusual time signatures and unexpected direction changes; they probably borrow much of their sensibility from jazz.

Sometimes their music has the delicate, winsome beauty of someone like Nick Drake, and yet it pulls off the trick of being urgent and propulsive at the same time. You can even dance to it, provided you don't mind being caught out every few seconds by a rhythm shift.

"I don't care about genres," says Hirokazu. "If you think our music is post-rock, that's OK. If you think [it's] heavy metal, that's OK also. But my musical roots are hardcore punk and emo."

The four-piece band formed in 2000 and its members emerged from a variety of groups with broadly punk leanings.

You can't accuse them of being prolific. Their first single appeared in 2002, followed by the album The Book About My Idle Plot on a Vague Anxiety in 2005. A second album, For Long Tomorrow, followed in 2009. Apart from a handful of singles and EPs, that's it.

This is partly because they don't like to rush things, and partly because they still have day jobs ("I don't think our music can make enough money for us and our families to live," says Hirokazu).

And it's also partly because they run their own record label, Machupicchu Industrias, which means they must also nurture a small stable of similarly inclined groups.

"We didn't think we'd release other bands, but Mouse on the Keys, Enemies and Tangled Hair are too good - people must know them," the guitarist says.

Toe's early recordings are based on reinventing the guitar-bass-drums set-up, but recent compositions have seen them move towards a greater range, including piano and vibraphone.

"I do not want to be bound by the instruments that I can play," he says. "I want the sound that the song needs - I'm always looking for that."

Toe are also famous for the intensity of their live shows: the band members frequently play in the centre of the venue, with the audience surrounding them - which they intend to do in Hong Kong.

Like 1990s emo/hardcore bands in America that played at venues with no stage, Hirokazu says, "I like it that way: there is no border between the band and the audience."


Toe, April 18, 8.30pm, Music Zone, Kitec, 1 Trademart Drive, Kowloon Bay. Sold out. Inquiries: 2591 0499