Japanther is not a band, it’s an art project that happens to play shows and make records. That may not be expressly obvious when they perform in the living room of a punk house or at a West Ashley dive bar, shows that will certainly be different from the ones they played at the Whitney Museum in New York City, surrounded by gargantuan dancing puppet-creatures as children made zines in the next room. But a few clues still betray their deeper intentions: the AAA card as a guitar pick, the telephone receivers as microphones. On their latest tour, the two new amplifiers designed by Ian Vanek (drums) and Matt Reilly (bass) to look like the Twin Towers, which Vanek says are seven-foot monoliths imposing on any room they are erected in.
“Some of our performance pieces are much more involved and require a great deal of planning,” Vanek explains — gigs like the one they did on the Williamsburg Bridge or another one with synchronized swimmers. “With one-night engagements, we try to transform the space via energy.”
This writer knows from experience that that energy is never lacking. I’ve seen Japanther five times, including two shows on one night within a few hours of each other. The bouncing their music inspires in your brain when you listen to their records from the last decade, like Beets, Lime, and Rice (2011) and Tut Tut Now Shake Ya Butt (2008) and Wolfenswan (2005), bubbles its way through the live crowd as Vanek ravishes his drum kit and Reilly gives off walls of fast-paced fuzz about selfish kids and fucking the cops and potential lovers, each averaging two-to-three minutes long, mixed up with samples chosen for their danceability and their comedy. It’s quick noisy punk at its finest.
And over the past 10 years when Japanther hasn’t been touring, their physical output has consisted of paintings, prints, sculpture, performance art, and textiles. “Anything to keep our filthy hands busy and out of the devil’s grasp,” Vanek says.
The pair met at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn; Vanek is a Taurus and Reilly is a Capricorn, which Vanek promises is a great combination. “Most bands are supremely boring. People talking about how they’re blowing up and all the companies they are working with,” he says. “Matt and I started working with print making and design as a vehicle to make an interesting resistance to typical goings on in the city of New York. This has certainly left us lonely at times, but also keeps us interested.”
It can be hard to equate seeing a band with such a DIY aesthetic thanks to their mentions in Vanity Fair and the New Yorker, but the band is open to the publicity. “We are far from traditional punks, and attempting to define our fan base is unfair to potential fans of our future work,” Vanek says. “Attention from various media is always welcome, be it good or bad.” The Village Voice has even said that seeing a Japanther live is a necessary requirement for true N.Y.C. citizenship. West Ashley is far from Brooklyn, but Japanther’s show will leave the audience buzzed and sweaty nonetheless.