About a year ago, Kyoto, Japan-based musician Hide Fujiwara went to New York City. He met up with his friend and former manager Ron Burman, whom he hadn't seen in 10 years. Fujiwara's English wasn't great, Burman recalled, but he gave ample proof that he still knew how to use the F-bomb.
"Every other word was that," Burman said, chuckling. "You just crack up because he has such a limited vocabulary, but he's very expressive with his limited vocabulary." The same could be said of Fujiwara's musicianship.
"When I started keyboard-playing, I was in high school," Fujiwara said. "I'm not good technically for playing keyboard as Rick Wakeman [of Yes] or Keith Emerson [of Emerson, Lake and Palmer]." But then he discovered Roxy Music and Brian Eno, who "never talked about [playing] keyboard, just using it for making noise. I loved that."
Fujiwara has approached music in that same unconventional spirit for more than 30 years. This past October, his noise-punk band Ultra Bidé released DNA vs DNA-C--its first album since 1998's Super Milk--on Alternative Tentacles Records. The band is touring the U.S. and Canada behind the album and will play Liquid on Monday, Feb. 3, with local horror-punk band Gorcias.
Born in 1961, Fujiwara was drawn to offbeat music at a young age. He remembered listening to Frank Zappa, Pink Floyd, composers Terry Riley and John Cage, and krautrock bands Neu! and Kraftwerk. His tastes put him at odds with the prevailing tenor of 1970s Japanese society, which he described as "very strict about those subcultures that [involved] drugs" or the "beatnik-style-thinking mind."
So when news about punk started trickling over to Japan, it immediately caught Fujiwara's interest. He learned of the new, controversial rock genre in high school, when he read an article in Heibon Punch Magazine (the Japanese equivalent of Playboy). He was already playing in bands, but after hearing groups like pioneering synthesizer duo Suicide, he moved away from prog-rock toward a choppier, more abrasive sound--in his words, "Not many technique but cool, simple style."
Prior to punk, Fujiwara said, he listened to "classic technician music only. Impossible to play that. ... [It was] all controlled by the major record companies. So when I heard about this kind of stuff, [I thought] 'Yeah, maybe I can make a record, too.'"
Fujiwara found like-minded people over time. The original 1978 lineup of Ultra Bidé included Jojo Hiroshige, who founded the seminal Japanese noise band Hijokaidan in 1979 and the independent label Alchemy Records in 1984 (it released the LP The Original Ultra Bidé that same year). After growing tired of rock's increasing trendiness in Japan--as he put it, "just cool people have the rock and roll"--Fujiwara moved to New York in 1985, hoping to delve deeper into the music that had inspired him. He tinkered with a few different Ultra Bidé lineups and worked odd jobs to get by. Eventually, he found crucial supporters like art-punk band Alice Donut, which passed Ultra Bidé's music along to Alternative Tentacles head Jello Biafra; and composer J.G. Thirlwell, aka Foetus, whose credits range from performing with Lydia Lunch and Nick Cave to writing commissions for Kronos Quartet and scoring the Cartoon Network show The Venture Bros.
Burman--who managed both Alice Donut and Ultra Bidé--fondly recalled being on tour with Foetus and Fujiwara in 1995.
"We were a caravan of misfits traveling across North America," he said. Shows in smaller towns got an especially strong response because "the scenes were so small that it was a treat to have [a band]--especially an international band--show up."
In spite of the good times, Fujiwara was ready to go back to Japan by 2001. He had turned 40, the cost of living in New York had gotten too high and he wanted to take care of his parents before they passed away. Moving back to Kyoto could benefit his music, too.
His parents' house "became a recording studio," he explained. "And I don't need to pay [rent]. Hey, why not?"
This reasoning reflects a certain carefree stance that Fujiwara takes with his music. Being a musician isn't a profession or a calling, he stressed frequently, but "a hobby."
"Sometimes, I cannot care about musicians [who] want to be, like, a charisma type," he said. Instead, he prefers to think of himself as "like a train collector [who] makes models, or those kind that take photos of something."
Fujiwara's "collection" includes not just recordings and gear but live performances.
"I love gigs because I love watching the opening band. ... I'm a big local band collector," Fujiwara said.
His appreciation of the new and fresh extends to current Ultra Bidé members Yasuke Kato and Maki Tamura.
"I cannot play my music by myself," Fujiwara said. "I only have two hands, two [feet]. I need somebody to help me to keep my music interesting."
The 15-year gap between albums stemmed from needing time to find the right mixture of "personalities, thinking mind or behavior."
With that mixture in place, Fujiwara looks forward to collecting more experiences. He said that he's eager to make up for 10 U.S. dates that had to be canceled due to some difficulties obtaining visas. He also mentioned that Ultra Bidé is working on booking a European tour with Canadian hardcore band SNFU. After that, he'd like to figure out a cheaper way of touring America.
One way or another, Fujiwara intends to keep making noise.
"I'm 52 years old," he said. "I can play maybe 10 years more or maybe, if lucky, 20 years more. It would be fun to [keep] collecting data."