Master Musicians of Bukkake are the logical successors to the Sun City Girls' pantheistic, panglobal, sonic headfuckery. They're carrying their fellow Emerald City eccentrics' torch (of the mystics) into the great post-Bush unknown—while wearing mad costumes.
If you've been paying attention to local weird music this decade, you've probably caught at least one of MMOB's shambolic live spectacles or heard their 2005 debut album on SCG member Alan Bishop's Abduction Records, The Visible Sign of the Invisible Order, which garnered positive reviews in high places, including UK avant-garde bible the Wire.
Back in their first incarnation with guitarist John Schuller, MMOB had a rep for erratic, debauched behavior and a scattershot, improvisational approach to creativity, using their minds and bodies as chemistry experiments while filtering ritualistic Asian and African musics through an "anything goes as long as it's mind-warping" mindset. Gamelan, Tibetan monk chants, Moroccan trance rock, and other exotic strains of psychedelia all became Bukkake-fied, with alternately sublime and grotesque results.
After Schuller left the group a few years ago, MMOB went on brief hiatus and "reprioritized our concept," according to Randall Dunn, keyboardist and producer extraordinaire at his own Aleph Studios. With the addition of Diminished Men drummer Dave Abramson and Ghidra guitarist Bill Horist (also an outstanding solo artist), MMOB now operate as a septet, with more serious intent.
"There was a certain tongue-in-cheek-ness [MMOB] had early on," Horist observes during an interview at Zeitgeist Coffee. "It's gone from irreverence to a polyreverence."
"It's definitely got more spirit now," guitarist Milky adds. "Instead of tongue-in-cheek, it's more like a heavy-metal new age... We'll play stuff for yoga moms, and then people who like a face-melting, we'll give that to them. We'll have intense moments where it's very much a group instrument; it's more focused in that we try to stick with a good theme, and everything's elaborating off that."
Whereas MMOB once welcomed damn near anyone within their freak-centric fold into Aleph to make noise, now they only keep an open invitation to Bishop (their "spiritual father") while allowing the core seven (including multi-instrumentalists Don McGreevy, James Davis, and Brad Mowen, the main vocalist) to wield their sonic sorcery within tighter—but no less mind-expanding—parameters.
Horist likens MMOB to "an archaeological sanctuary. We're all very active in other things and have our identities in other [projects]; then we traipse around the world in different sonic spaces and bring these little artifacts to this collective, where we become a little more anonymous. It becomes a more ritualized, archaeological kind of a trip."
That process can be heard on the new MMOB album, Totem One, the first part of a trilogy to be released throughout 2009 on Belgium's Conspiracy Records. Reflecting a slightly lighter tone than the debut, Totem One reiterates MMOB's mastery of gamelan, Master Musicians of Jajouka–like Moroccan roll, monastic Tibetan "om's," and majestic-sunrise psych rock à la Popol Vuh. On album peak "People of the Drifting Houses," MMOB forge the ultimate show-climaxer. It's lurching yet serpentine, buoyed by Bishop and Mowen's extraordinarily moving, muezzin-like emissions; it could be a great, long-lost outtake from Sun City Girls' Torch of the Mystics.
Listening to Totem One, it's clear that MMOB have expunged past jokiness and plunged deeper into myriad ethnic musics' sacred aspects—while also rocking harder, as on "Schism Prism/Adamantios." "There's always a ritualistic aspect to anything we do," Dunn states. "When we go into something with that energy, it can be refreshing to a listener and hopefully comes through in the recording. It encapsulates the live shows, that energy."
"Sometimes I'll listen to these ideas and think, 'How can this be compelling for 20 minutes?'" Horist says. "But I think we all have this faith that it will be compelling. That's how great religious musics of the world are made—that faith component that seems so touch and go in Western music."
However, such high-minded rhetoric contrasts with the group's name. Does "Bukkake" (heinous Japanese niche porn) sometimes backfire on them?
"The name is giving the finger to the music industry—the whole structure of putting youth before talent," Milky claims. "I'm all for sexy music, but why would you want to be accepted into that world?"
With his usual reasonableness, Horist concludes, "The music industry is a short- circuiting electrical machine, and why not just soak it?"