In their decade-plus career, Boston-based band Karate built a solid catalog of music and a respectable fan base with their experimental style of indie rock. Called everything from post-rock to jazzy, indie rock, Karate's sound was often based around loose, hushed and subtle, jamming jazz style arrangements filtered through cerebral and cathartic rock style. Comparisons to other underground bands like Codeine and Slint were often strewn upon then band from 1993 to 2005, when they disbanded, but Karate did form out their own small niche in indie rock. "I think our little niche is a hard-won territory. We're not the most instantly cool band, so saying you're a Karate fan is probably like bragging about being in the debate club in high school," Karate singer Geoff Farina told Splendid.
Attendees of the Berklee College of Music, the post-rock band Karate formed in Boston, Massachusetts in 1993. Singer and guitarist Geoff Farina paid his way through college (he also attended the University of Massachusetts) by playing bass in jazz bands. He met up with fellow student Gavin McCarthy who had played in various jazz combos and pop bands including The Swirlies. The two formed Karate in 1993 with bassist Eamonn Vitt and released their debut single in 1994. They signed a deal with indie label Southern and put out their first album, titled Karate in 1996. Just before its release, Vitt decided to move to guitar so Farina's roommate Jeff Goddard joined in on bass. Goddard, who studied jazz at Berklee and attended the New England Conservatory of music, had played in various punk bands including Moving Targets.
In Karate, the band was attempting to form its own sound of jazz-influenced guitar playing set to indie rock melodies. "Part of it is trying to have an identity musically," Farina told the Metro Times. "We've all had formal music training and a lot of experience in the rock world where there's a whole other language of playing; I don't think either language is sufficient. We want to use the language available to formally address the music to each other. But, on the other hand, we don't just want to work within those stringent boundaries. We don't want to be a rock or fusion group that pushes clichés. I discover elements that I want, and add them to my acumen, then disregard the rest."
As Farina told Punk Rock Academy, Karate never sat down to decide what they would sound like. "I don't think we ever even once talked about a concept of a sound in a serious way. It just worked out the way it worked out. I think we all like a lot of obscure music, and we don't necessarily like the same things. I know I don't want to be in a super punk rock band or a super slow Swervedriver band. I just know that I like what we play."
In 1997, Karate released their second album, In Place of Real Insight, while Farina also started a solo career with his debut record Usonian Dream Sequence. The following year, Karate put out the stunning album The Bed is In the Ocean, which NME described as, "… explorations into pensive, slow-burning jazzcore and stream of subconsiousness prose. And, as always, it's a beautiful trek." The band toured relentlessly for their new album for the next two years. In 2000, Farina put out his sophomore solo record, Reverse Eclipse, and Karate's Unsolved hit shelves.
While on tour for Unsolved, Karate began to pen songs for a new album that wouldn't be recorded until touring ceased. In 2002, the band released Some Boots. Karate's sound often relied on loose structures and drawn out guitar solos, and as Farina told Omaha Weekly, all those solos were improvised in the studio. "When we recorded, I did five guitar solos for each songs. It's a big part of what we do, but they're also structured-we know exactly where to start and stop," he said. Delusions of Adequacy noted the band's growth on Some Boots. "… Some Boots shows a band that's growing more confident with their style. The songs are longer, more jamming, while Farina's free-flowing guitar is given the range to spiral and flow."
Karate continued on a never-ending tour schedule after the release of Some Boots. To the band, playing live was just as important as releasing albums. According to Farina, it's also how many of the songs that will eventually be recorded get honed. "Something I like about being in this band something I think is different from a lot of bands is we're just totally focused on playing live and doing a lot of shows …" Farina told Punk Rock Academy. "I think you can never really know a song really well until you play it live a ton …"
When the band returned home to Boston after an exhaustive tour, they laid down tracks for a new album before taking a much-needed break from for about nine months in 2003. Not only were their band and personal relationships straining, it was taking a toll on their health. "I think we all just needed a break and I actually got pretty sick towards the end of it so I needed it health-wise," Farina admitted to Tweed Magazine.
In 2004 Southern released Pockets, which Farina claimed had some of Karate's shortest songs to date. With Vitt gone from guitar, Codeine guitarist Chris Brokaw joined the band on a few tracks and joined them for their 2004 tour. "I think the thing with Pockets is that we've never made a record where we've finished ideas. And that's what I feel like we did with this record," Farina told Tweed. The album received positive press including a top-notch review from CNN.com who called it the best songs of their career; "Pockets is a companion for the thinking man and woman. A beautiful blend of blues, jazz, and post-rock that is at times meandering and achingly beautiful, other times upbeat and, well, groovy."
Actually recorded before Pockets, but not released until 2005, Karate's final release was actually an EP of covers. Konkurrent Records special imprint In the Fishtank asked Karate to record an EP for their In the Fishtank project that put a band in a studio for two days and recorded the output. Karate chose to their post-rock spin on songs by artists like The Band, The Minutemen, and Billie Holiday. After playing their last gig on July 10, 2005 in Rome, and shortly after the record came out, in a post on Farina's official website, he announced that Karate had broken up. He stated, "I could no longer continue with the band for a number of personal reasons, the most important of which is that I have developed hearing problems from many years of dangerously loud stage sound." After seeing a specialist and attempting to continue to work with Karate, Farina decided he couldn't play with Karate anymore, but would continue to work on his own music and possibly start a new band.
Karate, Southern, 1996.
In Place of Real Insight, Southern, 1997.
The Bed Is In the Ocean, Southern, 1998.
Unsolved, Southern, 2000.
Some Boots, Southern, 2002.
Cancel/Sing, Southern, 2002.
Pockets, Southern, 2004.
In the Fishtank, Vol. 12, In the Fishtank/Konkurrent Records, 2005.
For the Record …
Members include Geoff Farina, vocals, guitar; Jeff Goddard, bass; Gavin McCarthy, drums; Eamonn Vitt, bass, guitar.
Group formed in Boston, MA, 1993; released debut album, Karate on Southern Records, 1996; followed with albums on Southern through 2005; released EP of covers, In the Fishtank, Vol. 12, for In the Fishtank/Konkurrent Records, 2005; disbanded, 2005.
Addresses: Record company—Southern Records, P.O. Box 577375, Chicago, IL 60657, website: http://www.southern.com.
Metro Times (Detroit, MI), October 2, 2002.
Omaha Weekly, October 9, 2002.
CNN.com, http://www.cnn.com (September 1, 2005).
Delusions of Adequacy, http://www.adequacy.net/review.php?reviewid=1997 (September 1, 2005).
Geoff Farina Official Website, http://www.geofffarina.com (September 1, 2005).
NME, http://www.nme.com/reviews/1737.htm (September 1, 2005).
Punk Rock Academy, http://www.punkrockacademy.com/stm/int/karate.html (September 1, 2005).
Splendid, http://www.splendidezine/com/features/karate (September 1, 2005).
Tweed Magazine, http://www.tweedmag.com/news.php?article=20041130161759 (September 1, 2005).
Karate is an ancient Oriental martial art, with millions of participants organized into clubs around the world. Karate, meaning "the empty hand," is a fighting system that was influenced by both the practices of the Zen Buddhist religion as well as a variety of older Chinese forms of combat that were present in the Okinawa Island culture in the period after AD 1500. After Japan captured Okinawa from China in 1895, karate was exported to Japan, where it evolved through a variety of distinct forms of practice, or schools. The Shokotan form of karate, as popularized by Gichin Funakoshi (1868–1957), became the best known and the most influential form of karate in the world.
The control by Japan of neighboring Korea from 1910 until the conclusion of the World War II in 1945 resulted in the introduction of karate into Korea, which had possessed a number of indigenous martial arts forms. The melding of Japanese karate with the Korean martial art of taekyon ultimately created the modern Olympic sport of taekwondo. Karate became a popular training and self defense technique in the United States and elsewhere in the Western world after 1945, through the exposure to the sport by American armed services personnel who had served in Japan or elsewhere in the Far East.
The World Karate Federation (WKF) is the international governing body for all forms of competitive karate. Since 1990, there has been a significant international lobby at the International Olympic Committee (IOC) seeking the inclusion of karate in the Summer Olympics, to join the presently included sports of judo and taekwondo. The supporters of the inclusion of karate have not been able to muster the 75% IOC support needed by IOC rule to establish a new Olympic sport.
Karate prowess is recognized by way of performance standards illustrated by the belt worn by the participant. The color of the belt, signifying the ability of the athlete, is a concept derived from judo.
Karate has been portrayed in western culture as a remarkably aggressive and violent discipline, particularly as it has been popularized by Hollywood filmmakers and the media. These variants of karate, sometimes referred to as full contact karate, place a significant emphasis upon the degree of injury inflicted upon the opponent as opposed to the technique employed in the delivery of the blows. Competitive karate is not as freewheeling and as individualistic as is portrayed in these settings. Karate, as envisaged by Funakoshi and his later disciplines, is a true self-defense art, meaning that the principles of karate are built upon a response by the practitioner to a first move or threat. Unlike judo, which is characterized by smooth, flowing movements that generate offensive opportunities in combat, karate is a highly structured system of arm strikes, thrusts, and kicks, all performed without the aid of protective equipment or weapons. Each offensive movement has a corresponding defensive response.
Funakoshi established five rules for the training and conduct of karate. Each of these rules is at the foundation of much of the karate training that is engaged in through the world by elite level athletes and recreational participants alike.
The first rule was: "Be deadly serious in training. Your opponent must always be present in your mind." The second rule provided that "train with both heart and soul without worrying about theory; karate cannot be learned without theory alone." The third rule provided that to be true to karate, the practicioner "must avoid deceit and dogmatism." The fourth rule specified that one must "see yourself as you truly are; each of us as good qualities and bad." The final Funakoshi rule stated that "the ultimate aim of karate lies not in victory or defeat, but in the perfection of the character of its participants." These five rules underscore the relationship between mind, body and spirit that exists at the heart of karate in all of its forms.
Karate competitions take place upon a flat mat, supervised by a referee who observes the contest from the mat, and referees stationed on the edge of the mat surface. The competitions are one of two types, kata and kumite.
Kata is a stylized form of competition, where the athletes perform one of over 90 series of karate moves. The athletes are judged for their ability to execute the movements. Kata practitioners develop their abilities by using visualization techniques, in mock anticipation of an attack.
Kumite is the sparring or combative form of karate The competition is divided into rounds, with points scored by each contestant at the discretion of the judges. As with judo, the form maintained by the fighter in attempting a particular maneuver is a component of the score awarded the fighter. Various types of physical contacts are prohibited and are subject to penalty, including blows delivered to the groin, or an attack initiated by the head, elbow, or knee of the fighter. Where a penalty score is assessed against a fighter, the penalty point is added to the total of the opponent.
ka·ra·te / kəˈrätē/ • n. an Asian system of unarmed combat using the hands and feet to deliver and block blows, widely practiced as a sport.