Published on March 2nd, 2015 | by The Beige Baron0
A Love Letter to the Japanese Underground
Like anywhere else in the world, the Japanese media does an outstanding job of ignoring the musical talent under its nose in favor of the manufactured “talent” served up by the two main media/news/advertising companies that dominate almost every aspect of the mainstream cultural landscape.
In much the same way as Murdoch does in the U.S., or China’s state agencies do in China, or the Taliban do in the areas unfortunate enough to find themselves under their jurisdiction, dinner’s up, and you’ll just love what’s on the menu.
Let’s get that one out of the way. You like that band or song or show a lot because it’s allowed and been green-lighted and sanitized till it’s no longer dangerous. If you like your entertainment cattle-dipped, tune into any major television network or radio station. It’s not dangerous any more. It’s not telling people to pick up sticks, it’s telling them to … I don’t know … crunk? Swank? Be momentarily outraged? Bill Hicks was a fucking prophet.
Public media companies with close associations with government shake hands and the sweat and grime and shit that drips from the squeeze are the dazzling stars that my kids love and I love and we all dance around the maypole to, vomiting blood and carving upside-down crosses into our foreheads while drone bombs rain fire on all who threaten to upset the paradigm. Nigeria produces the best music *cough* brutal massacres and Mali even better entire townships slaughtered but what? Kanye stormed the Grammies? Train the Nukes on Syria! This one’s Out of Control!
It’s all a sick game and we all know we are being played by forces so big and pervasive that if we think about shit too deeply, we might discover that everything we know is built on lies, and there is not much we can do about it save revolution, and even then we get a new bunch of new Rick-from-the-Young-Ones assholes but probably worse. And with what we now know about Government spying in every land on every person, and their lame-assed attempts at retrospective legislation to cover their spying crimes, revolution is becoming an ever diminishing prospect.
But there’s something: music makes people do crazy shit.
It’s often the driving force behind social change. It can capture an elusive feeling of discontent or anger or impotence and shape it into a weapon. It can spur people to think through the fog and slap them in the face to wake them up. As much as the government (or the framework of companies and bureaucrats and the military etc. etc.) holds the chloroform over our collective noses and we all loll back babbling inconsequential shit about politics and a meaningless spectacle of “entertainment” and other mindless controversies, things boil and bubble away under the surface.
They bubble, and sometimes, sometimes, boil over, driving social change, helping to overthrow governments, changing opinions. Music has the power to change. Theater, film, and mime too. (That last one was a trick). Like anywhere in the world, Japan has an underground, one that erupted against political elites and repression in the late 1960s. And that moment of dissent inspired a tradition that was passed from hand to hand and band to band, but protectively, jealously. There is hierarchy here too.
Music is an essential, unstoppable force. Whether it’s “underground” because it’s challenging or not easily digested, or because it’s angry and confrontational, or discomforting, or just malformed and not well executed — it is the water at the roots of everything that is important to freedom.
So wherever you live, go see a band live. If they are good and move you, buy a record. Just go see live music. Stop thinking that Japanese bands are cooler than yours. They’re not. If they are it’s because they had something to say. So go think about what you want to say. I will too.
I am aware that Julian Cope wrote all that needs to be said about Japanese underground rock. Yes his book is absolutely essential, funny, interesting, and cool, and costs only a few buck on your local amazon. But a lot of the shit he recommends is unlistenable and it cuts off pretty much after 1990, when shit got interesting.
This is what I like, from eras old till now. I’m not an expert. But every one of the below bands has moved me near to tears from both the brilliance of their art and the neglect their own country showed them.
That’s what happens when you’re dangerous.
I’ll start with what I love the most.
Mizutani, I hope nobody ever finds you. Enjoy every day in sunshine, and know you’re loved.
Datetenryu — Abuku no Aji . Vocals kill me. Guitar is insane. The organ. Just listen. Till the end. Holy FUCK. What a song.
Hiro Yanagida was central to all that was going on beneath the surface in the 70s. He played organ with Shinki and everyone else good at the time. This tracks is just heaven. Organ’s breath fills the sails, and those hi-hats, that vocal… pure heaven. Heaven. The bass. A masterclass in groove.
Someone who I think is taking Hiro Yanagida to the next level, Tokyo band Sundays & Cybele II. Fucking MAGIC. Of course basically without label, promotion, listenership. Who gives a shit right. If you get it, you’re in the club. How much cooler does that get?
I guess for some people with deep, lasting, untreated depression, deciding to commit suicide is a carefully prepared thing. For me the moments where the urge nearly overwhelmed me were moments of mania and helplessness, a black panic. Ironically, songs like this kept me calm and reminded me of what I had to lose. This band WHITE HEAVEN are among my most favorite of all time. Michio Kurihara. You will remember his name by the end of this list. Thank you, brother.
Recording at home in the 1980s, when people cared probably a bit more than they did now considering he had to go the effort of buying or renting microphones and an 8-track machine. Do I sound like your mom yet? Michio Kadotani. In reality though I find his best songs and put them on a digital playlist. I don’t sit down and listen to a slab of vinyl of this dude. It’s too much for me to handle. But at the same time, I would pay upwards of $200 to get this on vinyl. Just for the cover. Also, way ahead of his time. Way.
A psych-folk band that rip out the throat of Sabbath at about 8:15. Just, yep, smash up my mandolin. Ahhhhhhhh! AAAAAHHH!
It’s sick. It’s heavy. The drums hit so hard. The lyrics are killer.
An inspiring man that started creating and publishing music from the age of 15. Actually brave, in real life.
One day… when I time travel back to 1972… I want to also play a bass guitar note through a series of heavy synthesisers … The most glorious bass note that ever was. SLEEP? OM? Check this note out.
Boredoms did weird but then they did beautiful.
I was lulling you into a false sense of security. GASENETA. The Japanese did punk almost better than the British.
Okay Hanadensha. Who cares what the name means, just listen, it’s like Super Mario just dropped acid.
Read the Cope book. An amazing, inspiring story. There is a large chapter devoted to this band, Speed, Glue, and Shinki. My favorite cut from their album “EVE”.
Acid Mothers. Their catalogue is massive and bewildering, but there will be something in there that changes you. Why? Because it’s from the heart, from the depths of the nebula. They are space aliens here to warn us that we’re all going to die. On trampolines, in the nude.
Former Ghost guitar player, MICHIO KURIHARA, is a fucking supernatural wizard though.
BORIS. An epic, epic record, “FLOOD”.
Keiji Haino. A genius. Has healthy ego though. I suppose I would too if I could play like him.
Lastly, Shizuka. She was a pretty average guitarist, but what she lacked in technical skills she matched with emotion.
Christ, it feels like she is ripping herself and the world to shreds when she sings.
Her Husband Maki Miura — formerly of Haino’s Fushitshusha — provides a solo that pretty much expresses all that can’t be said in words.
She was fucking hardcore. And will remain so, until times ends.