Here’s a look back at a memorable Beastie Boys encounter from the NME archive. Johnny Dee met the band in Japan during their world conquering ‘Ill Communication’ tour
It’s 3am in Sapporo capital of Japan’s norther island Hokkaido. The Beastie Boys are in an amusement arcade they have rechristened “High-Tech Shit Land” for the night. Adam Yauch, sporting an “old Latin guy” look that matches his beatnik goatee, and Mike D, in a Ping golfing jacket and way baggy jeans, sit behind the wheels of two plastic cars, pitted against each other with brows knitted, tongues bitten, the reflection of race tracks flickering in their eyes as they lean into the banked curves of the Virtual Driving Bastard Grand Prix circuit.
Adam Horovitz (Ad-Rock), the original nasal rapper and owner of the longest sideburns in Asia, wanders into view, happy that, after 16 attempts, he has secured the possession of a portable zip-up dog food bowl from a machine entitled Happy Doggy! All parties are profoundly serious. Here they are in a playland of kiddyfun, the last night of their Japanese tour, on Horovitz’s birthday. And they are still maintaining a higher degree of cool than most humans could attain were they stirring a Martini to a soundtrack of Miles Davis in the coolest bloody bar on the planet.
The Beasties are sober and drug-free, having recently missed the chance to “smoke some cheese” back at Hotel Du Nord: an establishment staffed entirely by the women from Robert Palmer’s ‘Addicted To Love’ video and decorated from shower curtain to front door exclusively in the colour pink. Mike D is checked in here as Mr Fuzzy Zoeller while Yauch and Ad-Rock go under the glorious noms de plumes of Mr Inspector Clouseau and Mr Shaft Man.
It is hard to fully differentiate the Beastie Boys’ mood swings. Outside of music, their major talent appears to be a constant maintenance of cool and an ability to talk complete nonsense, at great length and with great sincerity. But tonight they seem slightly different, worried even. They have bad news to break, news that you now know – the abandonment of their UK tour.
“We have come to a point where we are functioning normally,” says Mike earnestly. “But the people around us, on which the show depends, are falling apart. Bobo, our percussionist, has these fucked tendons in his right arm and Mark, our keyboardist, has just become a father. It’s too late to replace them now, so…”
Back at their temporary pink home, the despair is soon lifted as Mike D begins to plan his wardrobe for the Beasties’ rescheduled dates in March. “When we come to Europe I’m gonna roll polar fleece,” he announces. “I’m going to have the entire polar flee suit with the gloves and the little booties and I’m not going to take it off the entire time. I’m gonna be like a polar fleece bunny rabbit.”
Yauch is concerned and enters the fray in Jamaican patois: “Whaddaya gonna do when ya go on stage and wet up ya shoes?”
Well, maybe, they’re not too worried about cancelling those dates after all…
Rewind four nights to Tokyo. Japan is freaky, and Tokyo the freakiest city of all, but we know that already. All that Clive James stuff about being able to buy used schoolgirl knickers from vending machines; the wall-to-wall neon like Bladerunner come to life; people wearing face masks being squashed into tube trains; how they drink a soft drink called Sweat; that sneezing in public is akin to calling your wife’s mother a whore who sucks Satan’s cock…
But really it’s the little things that freak you out. Like the food. In an attempt to make visitors feels at home, one restaurant had translated its menu into English, the contents reading like a list of delicacies only an Endurance contestant could possibly stomach: Grated Foamy Yam; A Piece Of Cooked Devil’s Tongue Jelly; Noodles In A Bowl Of Ice Cold Water.
Then there’s the leafleters. Plain, boring leaflets are out. In Tokyo, advertising leaflets come enclosed inside tissue handipaks – “Street Kleenex” as Mike D calls them – and are invariably handed to you by people in giant panda costumes with permanent two-foot grins. And the uniforms – they’re big on uniforms and finding menial tasks for people to do while wearing them. A row of about 80 bikes is guarded by four men in fetching lilac, one every five yards; drivers are forewarned of roadwork by a man in a uniform waving a huge checkered flag directly before it.
If they can’t find anyone to perform this task, it gives them an opportunity to employ a cute, mechanical cartoon cat waving a huge checkered flag instead. And the cat will be in a uniform.
The first place tourists go in Tokyo is Shibuya, the main drag, where all the department stores selling “high-tech shit” are, where giant Sony TV screens as big as houses play out pop videos to an inattentive swarm of Japanese consumers. And it’s here where, by coincidence, we first accidentally run into the Beasties.
It’s a city of 11 million people but Mike D, Yauch and Ad-Rock appear completely unfazed by our chance meeting. Then again, they seem completely unfazed by everything, as neon traffic jam plastic madness surrounds them at every turn they seem at home here as they are on, say, the golf course. Japan and the Beasties are completely complementary – in the same way that Japan has absorbed the culture of the world and mutated it into a unique modern capitalist civilisation, the Beasties likewise are the amalgamation of a vast record collection that journeys from jazz to hardcore and all points between.
Right now they’re outside a record shop, Mike D surveying the tracklisting of Timi Yuro’s ‘Greatest Hits’, while Ad-Rock proudly carries a bootleg view that contains every single worldwide Beastie Boys TV appearance. They love buying bootleg CDs of themselves but this takes the Oreo cookie. For the following three days ‘Mr Shaft Man’ chips observations like “People looked shit in the ’80s, d’ya ever notice that?” into general conversation.
And then off they mooch, Yauch with pork pie hat at a dapper angle carrying a beatbox on his shoulder, shuffling along to a permanent soundtrack of cheesy jazz, the other two skulking behind like Top Cat and Benny The Ball behind Yauch’s Spook. It’s not that they seem suspicious, the over-riding feeling is that theirs is a tight circle, a gang that excludes outsiders. They talk in riddles and greet each other every day with new hand signals.
“That’s your new thing, isn’t it?” says their English press agent when Mike D greets him by touching his forehead then pointing. “Thanks,” D replies. “That’s my old thing…” And here they are now, mooching around like the coolest dudes in the entire world. And they are. ‘Ill Communication’ is the American album of the year and no other group and no other record right now is more in step with the modern world – cross, cultural, pan-musical, in tune with Mo’Wax, with the skate crowd, with the rock crowd, the Puma trainers crowd…
From The Beastie Boys’ Guide To Modern Living
1Don’t be afraid to take a fashion risk…
The Beasties are big on fashion risks – remember the VW insignias – particularly Mike D. The pivotal fashion risk moment came when they first moved to LA and stayed in a huge freaky mansion. One bedroom was in the basement, the view from another was into the swimming pool below the waterline, and it had a huge gold G on the front door so they called it “The G Spot”. More portentously in the history of Beastie Boy fashion risks, the owner, a Mrs Grasshov, had left behind entire wardrobes full of typically loud ’70s clothes.
“Boy, she was pissed when she found out,” Mike remembers. “She goes, ‘Have your girlfriends been wearing my clothes?”
“We weren’t going for the drag look,” Yauch assures us in his soft Jack Nicholson drawl, every word slow and deliberate. “We were going more for the pimp look. The was before Lenny Hendrix.”
“People’d be running away from us,” says Mike. “We were not good to be seen with. You see, the whole history of B-Boy fashion in New York comes from some kid who co-opts something that comes from something totally different. Like the kid who puts on his grandmother’s fur hat and wears it on the subway. But because he carries it off, the next week everyone goes out and buys one.”
Such deviance, though, is not without its dangers.
Mike: “London cabs always dis me. I purposefully give them a good tip because I’m trying to straighten up the image where they don’t want to pick up some shady looking bummy kid like myself. I’m trying to teach them that if you pick up the bummy looking kid you still get tipped, man. But they still jerk me around.”
Yauch: “What you want to do, Mike, is start wearing those four quarters or whatever the f- they call those pants.”
Mike: “Yeah, that’s the stuff for me. You remember the last time we were in England and I went into that shop, The Scotch House in Heathrow, and I said, ‘Excuse me, do you have any plus fours?’ They looked at me like I was nuts. I’d have bought them if I’d seen them, man. That would be a fly fashion risk.”
Yauch: “Here’s another tip: any place where there’s a lot of old people you’re bound to find a lot of good clothes ‘cos old people know what’s up. Strictly ‘old man’, that’s my look.”
Mike: “Thinking about the cold weather in England…Don’t be afraid to rock the David Niven look.”
Yauch and Horovitz are impressed.
“Ooooh,” they both purr.
“David Niven back in the Pink Panther days,” says Yauch.
Horovitz: “He rocked the Ascot smoking jacket.”
Mike: “He had Ascot in full effect.”
Yauch: “I tell ya, the person you’ve really got to check out is Walter Matthau…”
The following night, in Tokyo ‘burb of Kawasaki, Mike D sports a baseball cap onstage that has a clock on it and the slogan ‘Time For Golf’. This from a man who co-runs hot skate label X-Large. But like the granny’s fur hat wearing B-Boy, it doesn’t matter, he pulls off the American tourist look to full effect.
And the show is incredible…once you get used to the audience not clapping, that is. During the songs they go body surfing loopy but by the end of each track they stand in reverential silence. The show, like ‘Ill Communication’ switches styles from old (a blistering ‘Egg Raid) to new, mellow and laid-back (‘Sabrosa’) to hardcore mayhem (‘Tough Guy’), Mike playing drums on the newer stuff and Horovitz practising his Japanese after every song (he has learnt the phrase for “I’m an ugly American tourist” and uses it at every opportunity).
They perform with slack, sliding ease and with the whole entourage in perfect synch. It’s flawless – exhilarating, cool, the best they’ve ever sounded.
On Sunday we plan an excursion that Clive James would be proud of – to Yoyogi Park, where Tokyo teenagers go to act out fantasies of a more rebellious youth by wearing second-hand American fashions and acting like they’ve just stepping out of Grease. But first, a shopping trip. Mike and Adam have bought so many records they need to buy new suitcases to get them back home in.
“Japan is brilliant for vinyl,” says Mike. “There’s all this rare stuff that I’ve been looking two years for, and you walk into a store and you find it straight away. But it costs 200 bucks, so there’s this thing where you think, ‘Do you buy it?’ ‘cos if you do, ever time you play it you’re just gonna be thinking of the 200 bucks.”
So what happens?
“You buy it every time.”
The suitcase expedition proves unsuccessful and the pair return with “whack bags”. But it does give us an opportunity to witness the Beastie Boys Japanese fan experience at first hand. Small groups of kids recognise Mike D – his tight, bleached crop standing out like a spanner in a cake shop. They keep an awed distance then seize their moment and approach with giggles and marker pens. They seem incredibly reverent.
“Yeah, I think part of it is cultural reverence,” agrees Mike as a pair of fans scuttle off into the shopping mall. “And part of it’s to do with the language barrier. The most amazing thing is, kids will see you walking around and then you’ll see them take off and they’ll either go and buy a disposable camera or a CD and a magic marker, or all three, and then they’ll come running back, take a picture and then they’re on their way. Everywhere else it’s like: ‘Ph man, I’ve been into you all my life, what are you guys doing now? Can I come with you?'”
Even so, as we approach the park, Mike D suggests that the threesome employ a “strict no-autograph policy”. In the end it’s unnecessary, no-one bothers them anew – the kids here are obsessive fans of the 20 or so groups that perform here every Sunday on makeshift stages, all of whom come complete with their own gaggle of teens who all dress identically and perform identical dance routines. Every few yards there’s another band with another daft name, replicating a completely different corner of American rock to the one before.
There’s the F-in’ Chicken F-ers (rockabilly), Panhead (grunge), Presto (glam), Erk-Wizard (metal), Connie Island Jellyfish (’60s pop) and then there is Joke’ed (Un)Kiss, a rather complicatedly named Kiss covers band who sport complete Gene Simmons regalia.
Horovitz is impressed: “Kiss rock, man,” he says craning his neck to get a better look at the chubby, face-painted Flying V guitarist.
On the outer edges of the park, a gang of rockabillies with unfeasibly large quiffs are chicken dancing around a stereo playing Eddie Cochran’s ‘Summertime Blues’. At a distance they look comical, but get closer and we notice they’re all wearing T-shirts with swastikas and badly translated English slogans. One says, ‘White Powder’, another has ‘SS Enterprises – Long Beach’.
“I wonder if those guys know what the f- they’re wearing,” says Mike D, thinking aloud, staring in astonishment.
They probably don’t. Nearly every youth in Japan is kitted out in T-shirts strewn with English words and phrases that make absolutely no sense whatsoever. Earlier we’d seen a girl wearing a coat with the label “Crap Forest” on the back, her boyfriend carrying a sports bag with a drawing of a surfer and the proud inscription: “Now Is The Time For Water And Swimming The Cool Breeze Rides Make Way For The Man”.
Sure they aren’t for real? This, after all, is the most cordial, courteous nation on earth. While shopping, we bought a copy of Japanese Slang Uncensored and about the rudest thing we could find was a phrase for wanking which translated as “polishing your mushroom”.
2Don’t react so much…
“Yeah,” says Mike. “Don’t react so much and don’t hold on to your initial reaction. Things change. I used to have a real resistance to it and hold on to things, but let things happen and go with it and you will actually go through it and it’s a lot less stressful.”
The Beasties are still freaking at the Nazibillies when we arrive at the venue for tonight’s gig in central Tokyo. Normal service is resumed when a gaggle of fans excitedly bustle around their mini bus at the entrance. Spying a window open, one girl snatches her moment and passes a cap from trendy New York fashion label DKNY to Mike D. It’s a present, but the DKNY label is a little too high on Mike D’s list of fashion risks and he doesn’t quite know what to do.
“Do I sign it and give it back?” he asks no-one in particular.
“No, no, she wants you to keep it,” assure the Beasties’ Japanese tour manager.
“Jeez, this stuff’s a lot of money here, it probably cost her a fortune. Oh, ah, eeh…” Mike D is wracked with confusion, fashion risk scales one to ten racing through his head. “Oh, ah.”
He puts the hat on. The fan smiles and then slips an envelope through the window. Once we’re in the venue Mike opens it.
“Oh, you got her number,” larks Horovitz.
The envelope contains three photos with the fan’s address on the back, each picturing her in various articles of nightwear. She doesn’t look as if she’s affecting any kind of sexual pose, she’s just grinning, happy, wearing a nightie and holding up copies of Beastie Boys albums.
“Freaky, f-in’, deaky,” is Adam ‘Ad-Hock’ Horovitz’s conclusion on the matter.
“Hey, you guys,” Mike tells his friends. “Did you know I could do the fart thing with both my armpits and knees?”
No, they didn’t.
“PLEASE, PLEASE, please, please.”
Tokyo is not a good place if you’re a celebrity trying to leave a building without being noticed. There are traffic jams 24 hours a day, so if you get spotted there is absolutely no escape. Adam Horovitz ducks down in his seat but it’s no good, he’s been sighted in the back of the minibus. Separated from Yauch and Mike D he is left alone to fend off the fans’ attentions.
“Shall I show them my butt tattoo?” he asks.
There’s the smallest gap in the roof window but the fans still manage to use it to smuggle in yet more presents: a handily lighter that magically transforms into a pen, some Mickey Mouse stickers, a packet of ‘Milky’ chocolate sweets… it’s Adam’s lucky day. Away from the other two, he begins to open up, drop his cool.
Horovitz particularly has been shying away from being interviewed, while adding, “You don’t want to talk to us all together, we’ll just talk crap all night.” But now he’s on his own it’s like he’s acknowledging NME contingent for the first time.
He’s keen to talk about the British indie scene (“Hey, what’s up with my man Suede?”) and particularly Nancy Boy, than band fronted by Donovan Leitch, his wife lone Skye’s brother.
“I hear you guys don’t like them in England,” he says.
“Well some people don’t,” suggests photographer Cummins. “It’s just bad Roxy Music.”
“They don’t just play bad Roxy Music, they play bad Gary Numan and David Bowie, too. That’s shit’s shot, man. They’re a cool band, I tell ya.”
What about Oasis?
“Oasis? Yeah, I met that guy from Oasis, he was in some hotel in LA. And he comes over to me and goes, ‘Hey, man, you’re that f-in’ Beastie Boys guy aren’t ya? Yeah the f-in’ Beastie Boys. We should be f-in’ mates, man, we’re both f-in’ rock stars, man’. He had all this white foam coming out the sides of his mouth. Yeuch.”
5If you’ve got a home, it’s kinda cool to call it a club…
“I can roll with that,” agrees Yauch.
Japanese Airlines (JAL) gained worldwide repute this year when it became the Official Disney Airline, painted a couple of its 747s with Disney characters and requested that all its flight attendants wear mouse ears to match the company image. The stewardess refused and instead now wear fetching, sky-blue kiddy aprons plastered with Goofy, Pluto, Mickey and friends.
“Oooh, I like that,” says Yauch as a stewardess walks by.
It’s only an hour-long trip from the capital to Sapporo, no time for an inflight movie but talk turns to films anyway. On the way to Japan from the US Mike D suffered an embarrassment attack when he rented A Clockwork Orange for his personal in-seat VCR and only realised once he got to the scenes of extreme violence that he was sitting next to an old lady.
“It was like, ah, oh…” says Mike D, who has a knack of not really saying anything, not even completing sentences but still managing to be funny. “It was like, ah, hey, lady.”
“Hey, lady,” Horovitz echoes in his Bugs Bunny rapping style.
“I watched Young Frankenstein,” says Yauch, finger academically on chin.
“That’s a good movie.”
Meanwhile, Mike has remembered something. “I was on the plane back from the MTV Bullshit Awards, and I was flying from New York to LA. They’d put me right up front and David Letterman was up there…”
“Hey, Mike, do you remember when we worked together?” says Adam Horovitz in his finest Letterman impression.
“Well, ah, he kind of dissed me at first. Ah, and ah, but he was watching Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. And he was laughing hysterically. Like, HA-HA-HA. I swear. I was like, ‘Hey, Dave, chill out on that Pet Detective tape, man.'”
The Sapporo show turns out to be the worst we see. The venue is a trance discotheque in a shopping mall, full of columns and mirror balls, and only half full – an easy achievement in Japan, where gig tickets cost upwards of £40. It’s Ad-Rock’s birthday, so he gets to choose the set – mainly old hardcore stuff from their early days – and they good around, stage-diving and missing verses. It’s all oddly muted and nowhere near as ‘with it’ as they were in Tokyo.
“I’d like to be like James Brown every night and be into it 100 million per cent,” says Mike D after the show, having presented Horovitz with a portable karaoke machine as a birthday present.
:it used to depress me and stuff. Before tours, I’d be a real shithead, I wouldn’t want to talk to people, I wouldn’t want to eat anything, this sucks, that sucks.
“But you kind of get over it, and I got over myself being an idiot, because you realise playing music isn’t just an upwards incline, you don’t get better and better every night on tour, there’s peaks and valleys by nature, that’s just the random nature of it. But then that’s just the random nature of doing anything, once you realise that you can cope with being in a band, you keep it real.”
IN 1994, the year that will be remembered for Kurt Cobain’s suicide, the Beastie Boys kept our faith alive, our belief, that pop music is a daft, stupid thing to do and own. They reminded us that music can be fun, that you can make the mad, all-over-the place record you want to make and still everyone under the age of 30 want to start a band and be just like them – three mates mooching around Japan. A weird, freaky, wonderful country. Just like the Beastie Boys.