What are some good japanese hardcore bands

Punk in Japan

An interview with Flex! Discography author Burkhard Järisch

For the "normal" music fan, Japan is still Terra Incognita in 2018. GISM and THE STAR CLUB come to mind spontaneously, and I guess you're as banausal as the American who thinks of RAMMSTEIN and DIE TOTEN HOSEN for punk from Germany. Since the mid-seventies, there has been a diverse and stylistically broad underground scene in Japan with countless releases. Burkhard Järisch, who has been one of the most active archivists in our scene with his website and his book-based discographies (mainly of American hardcore) since the nineties, now has “Flex! Discography Of Japanese Punk Hardcore Mod No Wave 1975-1986 “presented a thick paperback in which the important Japanese releases of those genres and years are presented in the form of a catalog.

Burkhard, why this book?

The occupation with Japanese punk was actually only intended as a private project for in between. After the last, two-volume US book, I finally had a bit of time and wanted to develop new music. The Japanese scene has always appealed to me, but I never got out about THE STALIN, GISM and LAUGHIN ’NOSE, even if I've been to Japan twenty times. The Japanese scene is pretty opaque and mysterious from the outside, so I first looked for a guide through the jungle. Strangely enough, there was still not a single correct discography in English, and even the few Japanese publications are very incomplete. So then I started to listen to things systematically myself, chronologically according to their appearance. Lo and behold: there was a lot of, incredibly exciting music! Of course also the well-known Japcore - fast, noisy and D-Beat influenced - but also very, very special music that would not be conceivable anywhere else in the world in this form. So at some point the fun project became very serious, haha. Because from a certain depth the research becomes very, very difficult - some releases are not documented at all, some only exist in collector's fantasies, some are considered fake, but still exist ... Fortunately, I had competent colleagues who helped me a lot have made their knowledge and music available.

As a music fan and collector, what is it about the Japanese scene that fascinates you?

About the music, that it's a very special, specifically Japanese variety of punk and hardcore that I didn't know before. As a collector: Collecting Japanese records is a lot of fun, I can't say it any other way. It starts with the, at least for us, strange formats: 8 "s, Flexis, 8" -Flexis! In addition, Japanese fans and dealers are mostly unusually friendly and reliable. Of course, there are idiots here too, but usually people are super fair and nice, and some real friendships have developed with some of them. In Osaka, a couple of people set up a full pre-release event for the new book when I was there this summer, including DJs and a live band. Totally crazy. Where one or two ranks should be deducted from the grading of Discogs sellers from other countries, those of Japanese dealers are often rated worse than the record really is. A dream! Japanese fans are evidently very careful with their treasures, and so you often get thirty or forty year old discs that look like they are fresh from the pressing plant. There are next to no test pressings or acetates ... Okay, of course there are, but they disappear forever in some internal archives of the press works. That makes the research for the book a lot easier and even as a collector you are really "finished" at some point. In any case, the field is much clearer than with US punk. Three to four single boxes, three to four LP boxes, that's it - you then have almost all the relevant parts that are in the book. Unfortunately, it's not a cheap passion, because prices have risen sharply in the last two years. But even here - compared to the blatant prices for some US parts - it is actually still possible. Up until now it was still possible to shoot less well-known things quite cheaply. I hope the book doesn't change that too much.

Your book limits the period to the years 1975 to 1986. What characterizes this early Japanese underground scene, how independently did it develop, what did it take over from the USA and UK?

It's an exciting story, because the roots of the Japanese scene are actually more in No Wave and Artpunk, Progressive Rock also played a certain role because some of the musicians originally came from this scene. One of the founding fathers of the scene was Yuzuru Agi with his Rock Magazine and the legendary Vanity label, which started around 1978. The focus in Rock Magazine was not so much on conventional punk, it was almost a bit too late for that in '78, but above all on the music styles mentioned. In addition, two central musicians of the early Japanese scene lived in New York City in 1977 and played in no-wave bands from the very beginning, TEENAGE JESUS ​​AND THE JERKS and the CONTORTIONS. They brought this music back to Japan and then with their band FRICTION had a great influence on the further development. It was not without reason that the “No New York” sampler was a cult record in Japan! In addition, there were of course technopop bands such as YMO and more experimental New Wave sounds, which also influenced the smaller bands in a roundabout way. In general, however, the early scene seems to have been very small. If I understood that correctly, an essential factor was also missing in other countries: the radio! As far as I know there was no John Peel or Rodney Bingenheimer in Japan, so the music was almost never played on the radio. Therefore most of it was played live, which of course severely limits the size of the scene. There were also only a few indie releases at the beginning: At the end of 1978 there was Gozira, the first punk indie label in Tokyo - and the number of 300 to 500 copies of the first releases in one of the world's largest cities suggests how small they are Scene was. And then Vanity in Kansai, but most of the records are more from the avant-garde and electronics corner. It didn't really get started with indie labels until 1980. Before that, two major labels made a half-hearted foray in 1979 with two samplers, "Tokyo Rockers" and "Tokyo New Wave", but then withdrew from the scene for a very long time. Even with the early punk things, i.e. the Gozira label, FRICTION and so on, no-wave and post-punk influences play a big role. Interestingly, you can clearly see these sounds in Japanese punk and hardcore bands until at least the mid-eighties, there is often such a bulky component. That was really an important foundation for the whole development. Interestingly enough, “real” punk didn't come from Tokyo, but mainly from Nagoya, where THE STAR CLUB had been playing very classic, garage-like punk rock since 1977. But even THE STAR CLUB had a phase between 1980 and 1982 when they recorded a lot of no-wave and post-punk elements. Unfortunately, the story behind this scene has not yet been documented, at least not in English. One mysterious thing is the involvement of the yakuza, the Japanese mafia, in the hardcore scene, which started sometime in the eighties. Some releases / labels were financed there, and there are some very dark stories. But I don't know more details, it's also very difficult to find out because the Japanese are very reluctant to talk about it or not at all.

Punk from the UK and the USA dominates the “market”, Japan still has “exotic status” to this day. Your explanation?

The stuff wasn't available at all for a long time. Only very enthusiastic collectors had their channels to Japan in the eighties and nineties, "normal" collectors hardly had a chance there. I made an attempt in 1983/84, but then gave up in exasperation. Today, of course, things are very different with the Internet, Discogs and YouTube, but it is still not easy to find the rarer records. It is probably a mixture of cultural and language barriers, availability, but maybe also accessibility of the music. “Sheena is a punk rocker” goes down a lot easier than the THE STALIN LP “Trash” with its bulky melodies and Japanese lyrics.

How did you get all the records and how do you get them? Despite the Internet, the language barrier remains, Western mail orders hardly ever sell “Japanese goods”.

I have the greatest respect for the western collectors who somehow managed to do this back in the eighties. Today it is much easier in any case, even if the prices are of course not comparable. YouTube is quite suitable for listening to it, many rare records can be found there, but often in very poor quality. But at least you get an impression. A few mp3 blogs specialize in Japan, but many aren't. Amazingly, eBay is a real desert when it comes to Japanese vinyl, there is next to nothing. At Discogs you can now find a lot, because there are also some Japanese dealers out there. Of course, a shopping tour through the shops in Japan is ideal ... an astonishing number of collectors are now doing that. If you combine that with a vacation, you can save a lot of money when buying records on site. But you don't get the real rarities in any shop, you have to know the right people to do that. So actually like everywhere else.

In general, the exchange between the scenes there and here seems to be quite small - or is that deceptive?

I think there has been a very lively exchange in some sub-scenes for a very long time, but certainly not as broadly as in the USA or England. Phew, the singer of the band AUNT SALLY from Osaka, already recorded an album in 1981 with musicians from CAN from Germany. The international exchange in the hardcore scene probably started in the mid / late eighties, the MCR label was very active there, and later also HG Fact; there were many contacts in crustcore and d-beat in the nineties. Certainly with industrial and avant-garde too. But only very few Japanese bands go on tour to this day, that's true. In the other direction there is a lot more transfer, quite a few US American and European bands touring Japan. The Japanese are up to date with pop culture and know a lot more about the West than we do about their scene.

Can you quantify the number of collectors for this kind of music in the West as in Japan?

Hmmm, I don't know! It's definitely a lot less than for US and UK punk, but I'm amazed at the great response the book on Japan had from day one. Obviously, quite a few collectors also have a few Japan discs in their closets, or at least are interested in them. There aren't that often pure Japan collectors in the West, but they are real experts - even the Japanese are amazed. I know several people who moved to Japan because of the music. Japanese collectors have long had a reputation for showing little interest in their country's punk music. Many have certainly focused on the US or UK, but that has changed massively in recent years. People just realize that they too had a very special, unique and very, very extensive indie story. At the beginning of my research there was a lot of astonishment and astonishment among the Japanese, who were surprised that a non-Japanese should deal so intensively with "their" music. There were also concerns about whether a gaijin, as foreigners are called in Japan, would actually be able to do it, but the feedback after the release has been extremely positive so far, and some important collectors have offered their cooperation. For me this is the real accolade.

Rumor has it that Japanese collectors are even more fanatical than everyone else.

There have always been very extreme collectors in Japan, although they are sometimes very withdrawn and mysterious. You don't brag about your collection, as Western collectors often do, but rather hide it. Some collectors don't want you to write about their particularly rare treasures or share photos of them. So the real extent of the collector's scene in Japan is actually pretty unclear to me ... But in a year I can look at the regional sales figures for the book and report on it. Some of the rumors may still come from the late eighties and early nineties, when the yen was still very strong and therefore advantageous for Japanese collectors - who of course stocked up on western rarities for relatively little money. But of course, sometimes you are amazed at the prices that are called up and paid in Japan! Not only for vinyl, by the way, but also for tapes, and - perhaps unique in the world - also for some CDs. Otherwise, however, the "overseas" collectors who make a lot of money for obscure Japanese releases are considered crazy in Japan.

Where do you get in without the appropriate language skills, if you are interested in Japanese punk, etc.?

The charts at the beginning of the book are a pretty good introduction. I also founded a Facebook group at fb.com/groups/FlexJapan/ and there are always classics posted or YouTube cips. When it comes to the early stuff, I think the first releases of INU, FRICTION, LIZARD and P-MODEL are very recommendable for beginners. When it comes to hardcore you should at least have heard COMES, CONFUSE, GAI, GAUZE, GISM, EXECUTE, KURO, LSD, SYSTEMATIC DEATH and ZOUO. Sampler classics are "Tokyo Rockers", "Tokyo New Wave", "Great Punk Hits", "Thrash Til Death" and "A Farewell To Arms". The 4CD box "Get The Punk" is a complete all-round look at the scene activities of the first ten years, but with very little hardcore. With that you already have a really decent starter kit together. Then of course there are also bootleg samplers, the three-part “Tunes For Fucker” series gives a very good overview of rare hardcore EPs, or “Order Of The Kite”, Volume 1 and 2. And “Nagasaki Nightrider” is one decent starting point if you have absolutely no idea about Japanese hardcore.

Has there been a similar “pop-cultural reappraisal” of this music history in Japan as in the UK, USA or Germany for a few years, with films, documentaries, books, rereleases?

That already exists, but I have the feeling that this development is only just beginning. So, of course, the book comes at exactly the right moment. There are photo books, I think “Tokyo Street Rockers”, for example, is great, and some film material, the legendary flick “Rockers” is also available on DVD. And a few weeks ago a new film with archival material was presented, but it is still far from the same scope as in the USA or England. I'm also afraid that in Japan not as much, and above all not as professionally, was documented as in the USA - most early live recordings are mono, good soundboard recordings are very rare - but maybe some things are still slumbering in archives. The bands of the first hour have not been forgotten, especially the early bands of the "Tokyo Rockers scene", ie FRICTION, LIZARD, P-MODEL, MIRRORS, are already revered in Japan, they are among the most important pioneers of all new rock - and the pop scene of the eighties. And THE STAR CLUB are still playing live ... Even if only the singer of the original line-up is left.

And the very last question: What happened to all of your US records, what does the Flex! US book do?

Even if my attention was focused on Japan for a while: The US flex! of course still exists! And it will probably remain my main project, if only in terms of scope and effort. When the Japan book is more or less through with orders and updates, then work on the US edition will start again. I've worked on it a lot since the two-volume edition was published in 2015, adding hundreds of corrections and enhancements, and writing several hundred new reviews. The construction site will remain with me and us. In terms of collecting, I have actually largely given up the US side, but that's not a new development. More than ten years ago I sold a large batch and after that most of the other things gradually went away. I was in a phase where I found the whole collecting work increasingly stressful, especially because you never see land with US punk ... The topic is endless, and it doesn't even work if you focus on one or a few bands focused - MISFITS, DEAD KENNEDYS or RAMONES are just as bottomless a topic with all the acetates, test pressings and special editions. It also seemed to me more and more insane to have such values ​​on the shelf. So away with the treasures; At the time, I had the feeling that the money was more usefully invested elsewhere.I've never regretted it either. Once you've started letting go, it's amazingly easy. When it came to Japan, the virus grabbed me again, but I now have a completely different philosophy: Only within a very limited framework and only the things that I really love. Then everything remains absolutely manageable, I don't feel like having wall units full of records! So every record package that arrives is a real joy!

Burkhard Järisch's Japan Top 10
INU "Meshi Kuuna" -LP, 1984
BARIGADE "Dust Hero" -7 "-Flexi, 1986
COWARD "Voice" -7 "-Flexi, 1986
NIKUDAN "Proletarian Sports" -8 ", 1984
PVLN "One" -LP, 1980
SKIN "Zun Zun" -LP, 1981
THE STAR CLUB "1977-1984" box set, 1984
TRANQUILIZER "s / t" -7 "-Flexi, 1985
V.A. "Great Punk Hits" LP, 1983
TOTSUZEN DANBALL "White Man" -7 ", 1980


  • Punk in Japan

    © by Ox-Fanzine - Issue # 141 December / January 2018 and Joachim Hiller

Ox-Fanzine # 155

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