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The best kept secret in music



Protection found

By Bill Picture
Of The Examiner Staff

    Attention, dance-floor citizens! Protection have landed. They come in peace. And they want to funk you!

    These Bay Area musicians, who co-headline tonight's Ascension party at Club 1015 (see The Mix, page C7), have just returned from a musical adventure in Japan where they conquered the Tokyo underground, scored a record deal and fine-tuned their ever-evolving sound.

    The band's debut album, "City ov Night" (released last summer on Japan's Daiki Discus label), is an almost indescribable fusion of funk, techno, dub and what vocalist Rene Perez calls "chilled breakbeats."

    Bassist Daniel Merlot says the album's overall sound, which traverses many genres, reveals the group's expansive state of mind at the time it was recorded. Until just about a year ago,P's sound really varied from one song to the next because the five-piece band was experimenting with the many flavors each member brought to table.

    "We tried to stay versatile," says drummer Sunev. "We tried to give people a taste of all the different directions we could possibly go in because we didn't want to box ourselves in."

    "But traveling these last two years has really brought us closer together, musically and as a band," says keyboardist Meikee.

    Merlot interrupts, "We just needed to get out of San Francisco, I think. I mean, we had all done great things here but there were so many distractions -- families, friends and whatnot."

    Meikee continues. "Then we got to Japan and all we had was each other, and it made it easier for us to focus."

    Merlot says they've since figured out where they want to go musically and that their next album will reflect that growth. The band members describe the last two years as mostly a blur.

    Land of the rising fun

    Protection was still a baby, as bands go, when it first arrived in Japan, and none of its members had experience performing in front of large audiences. Their first show there, however, was a massive open-air music festival where they took the stage in front of a few thousand people.

    Japanese audiences were in for quite a shock: five San Francisco counterculture pin-ups with a sound unlike anything they'd ever heard before. But by midway through the set, Sunev says, the crowd was going nuts. So nuts, in fact, that the band was flooded with bookings and spent most of the next year playing similar festivals before deciding to scale things back and explore Tokyo's thriving underground scene.

    While P's album is definitely worth checking out, it's the band's live act that will help it secure a foothold in the fickle U.S. market. These guys put on one hell of a show, and no one in the audience is immune to their infectious hip-swiveling space funk.

    Perez paces the stage and eyes the audience while Sunev beats the drums like a chief summoning his tribe to war. Merlot uses his bass to relay messages straight to your hips (messages that say, "Move, dammit!") while Meikee pounds the keys of his synthesizer like a space-age Liberace. Raj smoothes it all out with a calming blast of celestial sitar.

    The band's off-the-hook live shows allowed it to penetrate the tough shell of Tokyo's club scene and made it a fixture on the Japanese electronic music circuit.

    Hustlers by nature, the musicians schmoozed their way into a record deal and, not content to rely on their label to market them, got to work producing their own video for the single "Thrillseeker," which went into regular rotation on MTV Japan. The next thing they knew, they were hosting a top-10 video show on the channel. Japan, it seemed, was theirs.

    While in Japan, the members of Protection were influenced by the country's banging techno scene and experimented with harder, faster beats and more instrumentals. But now that they're back in the States, Merlot says, the band plans to return to its roots: "Funk is really natural for us. We started off really funky and we want to get back to that."

    How big, how fast?

    So what's next for Protection? The band has already signed a second record deal with a larger Japanese label. The musicians will return to Japan in a month or so to finish their second album, which will be available sometime this Summer but only as an import here in the U.S. So now that the guys feel more comfortable as a group, they're looking to sign with an American label and to try to create a buzz in the U.S. the way they did in Japan. They've already received a half dozen offers from some smaller American labels. In fact, they licensed a few tracks to Starfire Records, an indie label based here in The City. Beyond that, they're just keeping an eye on the offers that come in and holding off on any major decisions until they're done recording.

    "We're ready as a band but we want to be really careful," says Sunev. "We're not in a hurry."

    Making even a small dent in the American market may prove to be the band's biggest challenge but the guys say they're up for it. Electronic music fans here in the U.S. still aren't quite sure what to make of a live electronica band like Protection and major labels haven't really figured out how to market the sound. But don't expect these guys to sit on some label's roster collecting dust. Protection are on a mission.

    I ask the guys if they're at all afraid that signing with a major label might result in the loss of their underground credibility. "You mean will we sell out?" asks Meikee. "We're not sellouts. It's not in our nature. We'd be willing to sign with a big label if we knew they understood what we're about and if it all felt right. But as far as the whole 'pop' thing, we just want to make music for everyone. If that makes us pop artists, fine. As long as we're true to ourselves." - The Examiner


1) Are We Elovetric
"Joujouka Remix on Mad Skippers (Japan) Feedback Recordings"
2) This Is Not America
"Sunburn Records"
3) Rockstars on Feedback Recordings Tokyo, Sony distribution... DJ TSUYOSHI


Feeling a bit camera shy


Formed in 2004 while touring Tokyo/L.A./S.F. by former Chilldren Ov Paradise members Rene Perez, Meikee Martin, Sunev, & up & coming producer Raja of Twilight Sleep. Former MTV JAPAN VJ's Meikee, Rene & Sunev. Protection, a unique trio based in SF with roots stretching to Japan includes cutting edge sound with inspiring fashion savy to produce visual LIVE music in the vein of The Faint, LCD Sound System, Primal Scream & Bowie. Collaborations include works with DJ Tsuyoshi from Japan, Puma, Sony & acclaimed animation movie Cowboy Beebop. Live performances involved with Janes Addiction, Peaches, MTV Japan/Europe, BBC London & The LoveMakers. Consisting of electronic and traditional rock instruments to mesh sensuality with raw dance power.