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A Capella Japanese

Sunday, 31th August, 2003

Further to yesterday's bizarre covers from Richard Cheese and Lounge Against the Machine and Rockapella, I've been pointed in the direction of a bunch more strange stuff in similar vein.

Beatallica are a highly inventive group led by a remarkably accurate James Hetfield impersonator. They're not just any Metallica tribute band, because tribute bands are boring anyway. They're a band who play Beatles songs in the style of Metallica, seamlessly weaving lyrics from both together to make a new whole. The initial seven track EP is available for free download and the highlights must be 'The Thing That Should Not Let It Be' and '...And Justice for All My Loving'. And people wonder where the innovation has gone in today's music scene?

Well, much of it has gone to Japan, where culture has been a very strange creature indeed ever since it opened its borders to Perry's ships. Genres just don't die in Japan. In other countries they go in and out of style over time, but the Japanese just add them to an increasingly unrecognisable genre melting pot. They also have a habit of taking things to a much more extreme extreme than would ever be done anywhere else. The 5-6-7-8's must be the true inheritors of the mantle of The Shaggs; and it would be difficult to take drone further than Boris.

I've heard some very strange underground Japanese music in my time, ever since I first discovered early Japanese grindcore like Lipcream, Systematic Death and SOB, but I think I may now have heard the most insane. Where all a capella groups try to recreate music entirely with the human voice, they tend to work in a highly traditional manner. The Japanese one man a capella group known as Dokaka (Dokaka downloads available at IUMA) avoids tradition entirely. He tries to seriously imitate the original music that he is covering, up to and including guitar solos, and it's rare that he approaches actual words.

Moreover, he's gone a little further than Rockapella and their safe old time covers. The first untitled Dokaka album opens with Slayer's 'Angel of Death', and progresses through Metallica's 'Creeping Death' to King Crimson's '21st Century Schizoid Man', via Nirvana, Stevie Wonder and Gamma Ray among others. He is nothing if not ambitious. His allowances to tradition only extend to songs like 'Ramblin' Man', originally by The Allman Brothers Band, but it's still impossible to wonder just how a traditional a capella band would cover it. Truly bizarre.

Dokaka fits very nicely in the Outsider pigeonhole currently almost filled by Shooby Taylor, The Human Horn. This underground scat legend anticipated the karaoke movement by adroitly mimicking entire horn sections with his voice over the top of songs ranging from The Ink Spots to Mozart. He has been widely circulated on cassette amongst outsider admirers around the globe, but very little was known about the man himself until recently. Even Irwin Chusid, author of Songs in the Key of Z which featured a chapter on Shooby Taylor, could not tell us much at all. His chapter began with the line, "If you know William 'Shooby' Taylor personally, please tell him he's in this book."

That plea bore fruit in mid 2002, when Rick Goetz relentlessly tracked Shooby Taylor down to a hospital in New Jersey. Chusid's experiences with Shooby since then are documented in a fascinating online journal. An admirer has set up a site that includes interviews and downloads at the natural location of shooby.com. Unfortunately Shooby can no longer perform his art but I can still dream about how Shooby Taylor and Doka from Dokaka could create the most unique duets imaginable.

I've often wondered about true precursors to Shooby Taylor. Sure, there are plenty of examples of scat singing in musical history, including such household names as Ella Fitzgerald, but scat was never the focus of their music. It's all that Shooby does. Is there anyone else out there who did the same?

Listening to a few albums in the Ultra Lounge series in unofficial accompaniment to David Toop's fascinatingly diverse book, 'Exotica', I may have finally found one. I honestly can't tell if The Double Six of Paris are singing French on 'French Rat Race', their contribution to the Ultra Lounge compilation, 'A Bachelor in Paris' and also on the 'Leopard Skin Fuzzy Sampler' which is where I heard it. If it isn't rapid fire French, it's scat in a very similar style to Shooby.

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