It would be hard to encapsulate the personalities of each member in Anamanaguchi, a New York-based chiptune punk band and arguably the most famous band to ever use hacked Nintendo consoles as makeshift synthesizers.
Lead songwriter Peter Berkman, for example, is complex, and not in a bad way. He’s excitable and incredibly knowledgeable when he talks about cult Japanese video games, the way a wine connoisseur would talk about Californian pinot noir. He’s somber and reflective when the topic of Japan’s recent disasters comes up, but his mood can turn on a dime when Four Loko or smoking pot on 4/20 weaves its way into the interview.
That kind of capriciousness serves the band well though, considering their penchant for making songs that are energetic but not cloying, emotional but not overwrought, and incredibly complex despite the fact that Anamanaguchi’s software can be extremely limiting. Making refreshing post-punk music with their limited set-up, Berkman asserts, is something that’s finally starting to come more naturally.
The Texan spoke with Berkman more in-depth about these subjects and much more in anticipation of Anamanaguchi’s show with Peelander-Z at the Parish on Thursday.
The Daily Texan: The last I heard about Anamanaguchi, you and the band were performing a free show in Union Square in support of Four Loko. Can you tell me a little more about that and what exactly the band was trying to accomplish?
Peter Berkman: [laughs] Yeah man. As we all know, Four Loko was an embattled beverage with caffeine, 12 percent alcohol, and it’s only two bucks for a lot of it. Once people started to campaign against it, we launched a counter-campaign against that. So basically, we did a free show with our friend Ryder Ripps from dump.fm. There were a bunch of people with homemade signs, and pretty much as soon as we started playing there were people — people who we did not invite to the rally — that started showing their butts off and getting crazy. Pretty rad.
DT: Sounds like the quintessential Four Loko party. What was your favorite flavor?
PB: Watermelon. Blue Raspberry. Lemonade. Though a lot of them taste like blood really.
DT: I swear it tastes better if you pour it into a glass. Anyway, I want to get a little serious for a minute. I’m very much aware of how much Japanese pop culture plays a role in your music and how much you guys love the country, and I wanted to see if you had anything to say about the earthquake and tsunami that devastated the country last month.
PB: Yeah, I mean that tsunami affected us pretty hard, honestly. Ary’s girlfriend was in Japan and we all have friends in Japan. We’re on tour with Peelander-Z right now, and they’re from Japan as well. We definitely are a band that’s very much influenced by Japanese pop culture and music and art. I grew up with it in my life, you know? Whether it was video games or music or films or art. I think it’s amazing that America is finally catching up to their style.
DT: I was reading about how the band’s name came to be and I didn’t know if this was a joke or not, but apparently you and James worked at Armani, Ary worked at Prada and Luke worked at a Gucci store in Soho. People called you the Armani-Prada-Gucci boys and that eventually got shortened to Anamanaguchi. Is that right?
PB: Yes. Absolutely.
DT: I never took you guys for fashionistas. I’ve seen you play before, and Anamanaguchi is a pretty straight-laced shirt-and-jeans kind of band, no?
PB: Yeah, dude, we keep it secret. In the daytime we wear our fancy clothes. And at night, we rock it out. [laughs] OK, not really.
DT: What’s the word on the next album? I heard there might be some J-Pop and French electro influences on this one?
PB: As soon as we get back from tour we’re going to be locked into a room until the album comes out. Yeah there will probably be those influences there, but these songs also have their roots based in the older Anamanaguchi.
DT: What’s changed, you think?
PB: I feel the songwriting has definitely matured, more so than it used to be. And I’m more apprehensive of structure. There may be some vocal collaboration, too. [laughs]
DT: Why are you laughing? Wait, it’s 4/20 today, isn’t it? Are you guys “celebrating?”
PB: Yes, we are all celebrating in each of our individual ways.
DT: I feel like Anamanaguchi is able to make complex and intricate music in a way that’s sort of exciting given that the software and setup limits you in what you’re able to do, is that accurate?
PB: Yeah, totally.
DT: And now that a lot of super-produced electronic music is getting popular, dubstep and house music for example, how do you think Anamanaguchi fits into the electronic music sphere?
PB: I feel like we all love like Skrillex and dubstep and house music just as much as everything else really, but as far as how chiptune fits into that world, it’s like taking all those electronic elements and putting them through a distortion pedal and getting the rawest and most primitive form of them. Square waves and white noise are as simple as you can get, and coming from a sound chip from a synthesizer, it’s like punk guitar in the ’70s, when rock music was a big thing, and like, ‘That’s cool, but I can express myself better in the most simple way possible.’ It can be grating to some, though.
DT: Well-put, man. So you just scored the video game for “Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World” and got a lot of praise for it. I know you guys are pretty big gamers, so I have to ask: what are your top three favorite video games of all time?
PB: I think No. 1 would probably be “Shadow of the Colossus.” That game blew my mind, are you familiar with it? It’s a Japanese game and it’s an extremely minimal sort of deconstruction of games in general. You fight 16 bosses in the game and that sounds really standard, but there really is nothing else in the game. No menus or items or nothing. As you go through the bosses, you start to question why you’re defeating them. It’s beautiful. [No. 2] would be Katamari Damacy. It’s perfect in its aesthetic appeal, in its look and feel. It’s super childish and super beautiful and the music accompanies it perfectly. You play as like a prince of space, this little cute dude, who has to roll up objects that stick together. You start off rolling objects up the size of like pencil erasers and over time the balls grow up to the size of cities. You just roll up stuff. It’s awesome. And lastly ... damn. I’m trying to think. A game I’ve been playing a lot lately is called Blocky. It’s a horrible, terrible game for Xbox Arcade. It’s fucking atrocious in every way possible.
DT: What have you been reading lately?
PB: Oh, man. I just finished a manga by Osamu Tezuka called “Ayako.” It’s about this family living in Japan, post-World War II and how they adapt to living in Japan after the war.
DT: How would you describe your perfect sandwich?
PB: Lots of bacon, lots of hot sauce and good, fresh bread.
DT: Favorite pair of shoes?
PB: Normally I’d be inclined to say my Adidas just because I love them, but we just got these new shoes by Zuriick and they are classy as fuck! They are beautifully made shoes by a bunch of bros in Salt Lake City, and they give you a cigarette case and gummy bears along with each pair. Whaaaaaat! [laughs]
DT: Last question: What would you do on your perfect day off?
PB: That’s a great question. Ideally, I wake up at 9 a.m. after a full night’s sleep and then I’m going to my arcade cabinets in my house. I’ll play “Marvel vs. Capcom” with my brothers — and win every time. [laughs] I’d go out to get some breakfast, bacon and pancakes at a diner. And then go to IFC in New York City to catch a good matinee of a movie I’ve never heard of. Then chill for a bit, and go to a show and rage.
WHAT: Anamanaguchi w/ Peelander-Z
WHERE: The Parish
WHEN: Thursday, 8 p.m.
Tickets: $10 advance, $12 at door