ROA at HYPER JAPAN Festival 2018, London

live report - 15.09.2018 01:01

Heavyweight shamisen rockers ROA knock ‘em out.

The tsugaru shamisen is a familiar sight at the HYPER JAPAN festival. In previous years virtuoso performers have graced the event’s stage, although it’s fair to say, the classical shamisen can be a difficult listen for unaccustomed western audiences. The likes of the Yoshida Brothers and WagakkiBand have brought the instrument into the modern era and raised awareness in the west, though still holding true to many of the instrument’s traditions. ROA, or Relic of Ancestors to give them their full name, have gone a step further, ditching traditional shamisen culture altogether and using the instrument to add a new dimension to western-style rock music. The latest addition to JPU Records’ roster, ROA are at HYPER JAPAN promoting their new album RODIAC and making their UK debut with a couple of shows here before playing their own headline gig at the Underworld.

The group’s two shamisen players Mani and Moroboshimann take their places on stage and the pre-recorded introduction begins to bellow out from the speakers. Rather than the usual HYPER JAPAN compere announcing them, ROA have made their own comedic boxing match-style intro. The parody MC reels off the ‘tale of the tape’ for the band that stands an impressive 12’4” tall, weighing in at 972 lbs. Boasting an undefeated 17 win record, here come the “reigning, defending heavyweight champions of the world, Relic of Ancestors!”

That’s the cue for the shamisen to kick off the instrumental he is rule, a tune that serves as the intro to their Ooparts album. It gives a taste of what ROA are all about – a fusion of western rock music and shamisen that has been let loose from its traditional style. Their music covers a spectrum from pop-punk to post-hardcore through to emo. SHU and Tono’s guitar work is complemented by the shamisen’s trademark twang, which gives everything a unique, and to western ears, unexpected texture.

The rest of the band emerges from backstage to join the shamisen duo. The HYPER JAPAN stage is a decent size, but it seems a cramped and busy place when all seven of them are lined up. Singer Masatomo announces, “We are ROA from Tokyo!” before yelling “Are you ready?” The crowd better be ready, because ROA are coming at them full blast with the opener JAIRO.M. The rapid plucking of the shamisen and drum intro gives way to an upbeat, melodic rocker and all hell breaks loose on stage. All of the band members are pinging off each other, the energy of the music translating into a storm of musicians flying in all directions. Their records are slick, polished and well-produced, but this is what ROA are live – all mad energy, bouncing off the walls.

Masatomo tells the crowd to get “jumping, jumping, jumping” for the next song Unarcist and the place starts bouncing. The vocalist prowls and bounds around the stage and though he doesn’t look the type with his cheeky grin, crisp white shirt and studious-looking glasses, he unleashes some proper death metal screaming.

They dial it back a touch for FRIEND-SHIP, its chugging verses breaking out into uplifting gang vocal-backed choruses. Drummer Akaba pounds out the rhythm, flanked by Mani and bassist Miyo-C belting out the backing vocals.

There’s time for a quick MC and Masatomo lets everyone know, “We are excited to play here at HYPER JAPAN,” before Mani gives everybody the lowdown on their merchandise, meet and greet and, more importantly, their headline gig at the Underworld. Shout outs from the crowd show that they’re already up to speed and know where to go for a full dose of ROA.

With business taken care of, they’re back into it with Kakionshi and the crowd picks up the beat, clapping along and joining in the with the “oh, oh, ohs” of the chorus. Surprisingly, the next song Hitsugenius, with its rapid and catchy shamisen break, is the only song they play from their new album, RODIAC. This first set of the weekend is mostly tracks from the previous album Ooparts, and they finish up with that record’s title track.

Moroboshimann started the set looking sharp and serious, dressed all in black with his long hair tied neatly back. As the show has gone on, the hair was let loose and his sober look is transformed, grinning like a loon as he whips up the crowd, head-banging and leaping about. The wild man jumps down into the photo pit and, dodging between the photographers, starts dishing out high fives to the crowd while Mani fills in the gaps left by his AWOL partner. The wandering shamisen player eventually returns to the stage as ROA build to their final crashing, thrashing crescendo.

The HYPER JAPAN host returns to organise a group photo, asking “Weren’t they amazing?”, which the crowd confirms, roaring “Yes!” Chalk up another victory for the heavyweight champions, ROA. We can’t wait for the rematch.

Set list
01. he is rule
02. JAIRO.M
03. Unarcist
04. FRIEND-SHIP
MC
05. Kakionshi
06. Hitsugenius
07. Ooparts
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