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20 Years Of BATI-HOLIC

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Written by Iris Reinbacher

One day in spring 2004, fifteen (former) students of Kyoto’s Ritsumeikan University gathered in Tokyo for a wadaiko (Japanese drums) concert. It was only meant as a one-off performance, but the experience was so exhilarating that ten of them decided to continue making music. This marked the birth of BATI-HOLIC, a Kyoto-based taiko drum rock band that is celebrating their 20th anniversary in July (aka hatachi – which means they are just about ready to grow up.)

Going pro meant stepping up their game. Their roots lay in the student group Wadaiko Don (founded by current BATI-HOLIC member Shugo Kurosaka), and they had studied traditional festival music from all over Japan. But the festival atmosphere cannot be recreated in a concert hall, so they had to come up with a new approach to wadaiko. For the next ten years, BATI-HOLIC – which at the time included three dancers – performed their own style of taiko music at various events. However, even though they grew more proficient and popular as a live band, there was not enough difference to the countless other taiko groups in Japan. Additionally, over the years a number of players quit for various reasons, leaving only the current five members.

Around 2014, Hiroyuki Nakajima became the band leader, and he changed its direction. To the traditional wadaiko setup, electric shamisen (Nakajima prefers the term “three-stringed guitar”) and gottan (a wooden shamisen originating in Kagoshima) were added, as well as rocking vocals by Nakajima and Kurosaka. BATI-HOLIC’s style now turned towards rock and incorporated other Western influences as well. Yet, Nakajima insists that thanks to the traditional instruments they use, their music could only come from Japan, jokingly calling it “sushi rock”.

Their song themes also remain firmly rooted in Japanese traditions. For example, they revolve around food and drink (Washoku Shock, Green Tea Crazy), partying (Yoru no Teio, MATSURI), making friends (Shake Hands) or simply music itself (Katamari, Y.G.S.). Their first full album BATI-HOLIC II dropped in 2017 and its energizing tunes proved popular with fans in Japan and abroad. From the very beginning, BATI-HOLIC were invited to tour in Europe and Asia, their last tour being in China in 2019.

Then the pandemic hit. And everything changed.

Live houses shuttered, audiences dwindled, and bands found it hard to keep practicing without the thrill of the performance as a reward. BATI-HOLIC, however, saw it as a chance to connect with new fans as well as industry professionals. The live venues that chose to open in the later stages of the pandemic were more than happy to welcome them, and visitors who came to support their own favorites were introduced to their danceable sushi rock.

And it paid off: Before the pandemic, BATI-HOLIC played at most four solo concerts a year, which wasn’t really enough to foster artistic development. Now, with several 45-min. concerts every month (mainly in Kyoto, Osaka, and Nara), where they have to compete with other bands, their fan base is happy – and steadily growing. Their second album What a SUSHI was released in 2022.

So, what’s next? One of Nakajima’s goals is “to make wadaiko cool again” among younger people. And it seems to work: Young drummers have taken notice of BATI-HOLIC’s modern style, and three of them (one of them still a teenager) have been invited on stage as supporting members when needed. Also, since February, two new songs have been presented at their concerts, and in private after a few drinks, there might even be talk of a new album for next year (but you don’t have that from me…) Sadly, despite their unique and captivating sound, the big breakthrough hasn’t happened yet. But Nakajima isn’t fazed. “Just come to our shows,” he says, “it makes us happy.”

And the next opportunity to experience them live is on July 13, when BATI-HOLIC celebrate their 20th anniversary with an ULTRA KIMONO ROCK PARTY solo show at the TakuTaku in Kyoto. Do go with the theme and wear a yukata Summer kimono for that extra happy factor!


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