Boom Boom Satellites Push Eject
It’s August 31st, 1999, just hours before my 20th birthday and I’m in St. Andrews Hall in Detroit, waiting for Moby to take the stage. Play, his soon-to-be-defining album, had just been released earlier that year, and buzz was starting to build around him.
But before Moby would perform a set that would end up blowing my mind, another group would appear on stage, some weird Japanese act called Boom Boom Satellites, delivering a blistering set of uninterrupted insanity composed of electronic beats, frenetic drumming and a pair of hyper-intense frontmen who obviously knew how to shred on guitar.
My friends and I were all impressed by the group, so we picked up their CD on the way out of the show. That album, their 1999 debut Out Loud, was fantastic, albeit with its focus on dub and more experimental aspects of electronic music, we all agreed that it really didn’t match the tone of their hyper-manic live show. In the years after that show I would occasionally try to dig up more information on the group but I could never find much. I assumed they petered out and called it quits.
Flash forward 14 years and I’m in Japan on vacation. I go to a Tower Records and upon arriving on the J-pop floor, discover an entire display dedicated to Boom Boom Satellites’ then-new release, Embrace. Memories of that amazing live show 14 years prior come flashing back and I buy the album.
I listen it to that night and am blown away. This album, with its equal reliance of crunching guitar riffs and lightning fast beats, this was that live show that kicked my ass all those years ago. I go back to Tower Records the following day and proceed to buy their entire album discography, as well as every single I can get my hands on.
In the days that follow they became my soundtrack to my vacation. I wander the streets of Akihabara while rocking out to “Dress Like An Angel.” The rolling beats of “Fogbound” echo through my ears as explore the back streets of Ikebukuro. I discover the endless joys of Shibuya while my pulse pounds to “Shut Up And Explode.”
I leave Japan but my heart stays there. One year passes and I return to the country. This time not as a tourist but as a resident, restarting my life as an English teacher in Tokyo. Not soon after my arrival do I discover that Boom Boom Satellites are on tour. Unable to decipher the ticketing system in the country, I work through a ticketing service, paying an exorbitant service fee in the process, for the chance to see the group for the second time.
I make it to the show and am delighted to discover that time and age haven’t slowed the band down a bit. From the first second to the last beat, they are on fire, blowing through an intense set of songs at an inhuman pace. They’re not playing to the audience, they’re playing at them, seemingly determined to destroy us all with sheer musical firepower.
There’s a meet and greet after the gig, and I brought the sleeve to my vinyl copy of their second album, Umbra, for them to sign. When it’s my turn to meet them, they seem pretty impressed by A: me being an American fan, B: me having their second album on vinyl ,C: me having seen them back in 1999 and D: me being about two meters tall (that last one happens a lot in Japan). They sign my album. I’m stoked.
Today, I am crestfallen.
Today I learned that Boom Boom Satellites will be no more. Their upcoming EP, Lay Your Hands On Me, will be their final release due to the health conditions surrounding vocalist Michiyuki Kawashima, who has long suffered from brain tumors.
I am devastated, but not because the group will be no more. That’s sad, no doubt, but what really rips my heart apart is that Kawashima is no longer able to contribute his gift of music to the world. To think that a musical genius like Kawashima is now a prisoner in his own body, unable to play guitar or perform, is absolutely gut-wrenching. I hope that he can somehow find peace with his current situation. I know that if something like that happened to me, I would find it unbearable. I also hope that his condition doesn’t deteriorate further, and that he’s able to enjoy a long life knowing that he made the world a better place for so many music fans out there.
But I’m also heartbroken that so many people out there remain ignorant of Boom Boom Satellites’ amazing power and glory. I was fortunate enough to see the group live three times, the two previous shows I mentioned and then a third time at the Summer Sonic music festival in 2014.
Each time they annihilated my brain with their raw power, which they projected at a near non-stop pace. I’ve been to hundreds of concerts and festivals, I’ve lost count of the number of bands I’ve seen live. Boom Boom Satellites’ live shows were among the best. I can only think of a handful of acts that can are in the same ballpark, maybe Pearl Jam, the White Stripes, Joy Formidable and Foxy Shazam. As someone who lives and breathes live music, trust me, they were a cut above.
And even removed from their live shows, the band stands on its own thanks to their amazing discography. While some of their albums are less accessible than others, there isn’t a weak spot among their 10 records. Their early albums are remarkable experiments that combine electronic music genres and hard-rock guitars in exciting and original ways, while their later releases serve as some of the most high-energy electronic rock music ever created. Their last proper LP, 2015’s Shine Like A Billion Suns, was more contemplative and sedate than many of their other late-era releases, but it still was a fantastic record, and its introspective feeling combined with its soaring-yet-underscored melodies create an even stronger emotional response with me now that I understand what was no doubt going through Kawashima’s mind while he was recording the album.
Boom Boom Satellites are gone, and to many they can’t even be forgotten as they’ve never heard of them in the first place. But if you don’t know the band, or only know of them for their work on some anime soundtracks, I urge you to seek out their albums. On most digital music storefronts you can pick up three of them; their bizarre and experimental debut Out Loud, and their more guitar-driven later albums Exposed and Embrace. The greatest hits set Over and Over is also available digitally in the states, if you’re seeking a good primer. And if those wet your appetite, then suck it up and pay import prices for On. Their 2006 release is a motherfucking punch in the goddamn face that will rock your world and blow your mind.
Boom Boom Satellites. Goddamn.