Super Japan – Japanese Festival Of Arts

Edgy jaunt of the universe

Mouse On The Keys' drummer Akira Kawasaki (above) squatted on his stool to unleash more octane for their high-powered show.
Mouse On The Keys' drummer Akira Kawasaki (above) squatted on his stool to unleash more octane for their high-powered show.PHOTO: ESPLANADE - THEATRES ON THE BAY

Indie trio Mouse On The Keys led an aural assault that left concertgoers asking for more



Esplanade Recital Studio/Last Friday

On Aug 28, 2012, the American space agency Nasa's Curiosity rover on Mars broadcast the song Reach For The Stars, by rapper and songwriter of The Black Eyed Peas.

It was the first time music was transmitted from the Red Planet to Earth and that has since led more people to wonder: How might it sound like to hurtle through the universe?

The Tokyo-based indie trio Mouse On The Keys, working with the video artist Rokapenis, proffered an entirely believable answer in their return to the Esplanade for its Super Japan - Japanese Festival of Arts, after their sell-out debut here in 2013.

Keyboardists Atsushi Kiyota and Daisuke Niitome and percussionist Akira Kawasaki launched the night with electronic pips, dissonant buzzes, otherworldly wibble- wobbles and what sounded like ice picks attacking a cliff face.

The dynamic black-and-white images on the screen behind them morphed from dense scaffolding to an ever-spinning cluster of big and small black triangles.

The spinning shapes then merged to form an origami aeroplane and an unintelligible voice came over a squawk box.

This built to Mouse's signature sound of joyful jags of melody amid relentless pile-driving rhythms.

This gave their opening number shades of Loud Minority, the 1996 hit from their compatriots United Future Organization (UFO). While Mouse are like a melding of UFO and Britain's The Chemical Brothers, they are far fresher, edgier and wittier than the latter.

The trio were also unremittingly faithful to their roots, as their pentatonic jaunts from their second to their fourth numbers showed, with the third number a fitting soundtrack for a race through Tokyo's seamy Shinjuku.

Every so often, they would wind down suddenly into a hush of throbbing yearning, yielding poignant cadences of great delicacy. Then they were off and running again, blasting listeners with their thunderous prowess and ferocious industry, amid flashes of light and strobes to evoke lightning and showers of stars.

Kawasaki was a tsunami of adrenaline. He hurled himself at his drum kit throughout the eight-song set and, on their lone encore, squatted on his stool so that he could whack the cymbals even harder.

This most-ironically named trio are masters of shaping climaxes. They did so this evening by unleashing solid walls of sound that did not so much as build as grind down into the bowels of the Earth before exploding in exuberance.

Listeners who focused on the video backdrop of dynamic shards, ever-swelling circles and striped cubes that shattered into atoms while Mouse played had the sensation of whizzing through a white tunnel as grit flew at them.

It was a 70-minute aural assault that had everyone yelling for more.

Two rows of schoolchildren beside and behind this listener were fidgety at the start, but by Mouse's third number, they were whooping and applauding Kawasaki and company as furiously as their most ardent fans.

Obviously elated, the masterful trio and their impressive guests, trumpeter Daisuke Sasaki and saxophonist Jun Nemoto, ended the evening in a scorching blow-out of honky-tonk funk.

The next time Mouse are in the house, please let them grace the concert hall. More people should experience what reaching for the stars might be like.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 23, 2016, with the headline 'Edgy jaunt of the universe'. Print Edition | Subscribe