Kao=S Mixes Traditional & Modern Japan To Make Music & Visual Art

Mar 26, 2013

Tokyo-based Kao=S (pronounced 'kaus' - like house) mixes modern acoustic rock guitar riffs with the tsugaru syamisen - a traditional Japanese string  instrument - accompanied by the shakuhachi (Japanese bamboo flute) and Japanese sword performance.

The band is made up of Kaori (vocal/sword performance), Shuji (guitar/vocal), Jack (tsugaru syamisen and Daisuke (shakuhachi).

"Me and Jack played together in a different [group] and I met Shuji [when] I went to Shuji's live show and I talked to him [and said], 'Let's play together,'" Kaori said.

This special manga was written by Shuji and features each of the band members (Kaori and her sword grace the cover).

Their improvised arrangements reflect the respect that Japanese culture has toward its past, yet adds an element of rock music that gives the sound a youthful edge.

Kao=S' music sounds familiar to people who are used to western-style chord progressions, but maintains a foreign sense of mystery.

"When Shuji plays guitar - very free - I feel his sound and I dance. So he watches my moving and it's an inspiration," Kaori said of how the group feeds off one another.

While they perform, it is sometimes hard say which element is guiding the song forward - the music or the dance.

All four members are professional artists and musicians, playing regularly in Tokyo and also individually in side projects outside of the group. Video game enthusiasts might recognize Kaori's sword play and kung fu.

"I am a motion actor for movie and video games like the Final Fantasy series and Starship Troopers," she said.

Jack plays the syamisen, and while performing looks more like Jimmy Hendrix than a more traditional image of a lone musician playing in a state of zen.

The powerful thump of the plectrum striking the strings and bodyof the tsugaru syamisen generates a sound that causes your heart to race and your ears to dance.

The interplay of the syamisen and shakuhachi give the group a distinct sound that makes them stand out while performing on the street, and gives passers by a moment to pause, entranced by Kaori's movement.

This is the group's second time in the United States, they came to Austin for last year's SXSW.