As a theme, love is often shunned by da punx. And sometimes, it is fair enough. No one wants to be compared to a dreadful high-school emo band singing about being miserably single at 16. It does not exactly fit with the "rebels of the state" pose and we just love acting all tough and unaffected by affairs of the heart ("cuz, you know, like, there are more important issues to discuss, like, you know, wars and stuff, yeah?"), which does not keep anyone from listening to The Buzzcocks or The Undertones in secret (or to Joy Division and The Smiths if the culprit feels that playing non-punk bands somehow makes it alright). And this is pretty odd if you ask me, especially since most people's (including, gasp, da punx') daily lives, judging from all the usual drama, strike me as being more akin to Bonnie Tyler's tirades than to Conflict's rants. If love as subject can't be said to be one of punk's strongpoints, I would argue that the feeling is necessary in order to write good punk-rock. Love punk if you want to do it right. Take Disclose for instance. Kawakami's exclusive love for Discharge was of fanatical, unconditional, unshakable proportions, a source of limitless inspiration if one cares to listen past the strictness of the beat. There was more love involved in Disclose than in most love songs ever written. They were a romantic band, for real.
Whenever I listen to CFDL, love is the first thing I notice about them. These boys just LOVED punk music. Passion for punk permeates their songs, even (or especially?) the very sloppy ones. CFDL had this unequivocal, youthful enthusiasm for things punk that almost tended toward the existential. The band's tunes, DIY ethics and aesthetics are here to remind you, in much the same way a raving young lover is here to remind you of the new subject of his or her affection, that they love punk, noisily and staunchly. But whereas the aforementioned friend's infatuation can quickly come as rather monotonous, CFDL's always sounds fun. Punk and CFDL are a genuinely happy couple and you can hear that their relationship is a source of constantly renewed energy and the feeling is contagious. They really found each other these two and having CFDL in your life is not unlike stuffing yourself with ice-cream while rewatching that one good Hugh Grant movie when you feel low. Love punk and it will love you back.
But let's leave the cheesiness and the tired allegory for a moment. Love has never been enough artistically speaking, otherwise any happy lover would be able to write good poetry and we all know this has never been the case (and thanks fuck poetry editors often have higher quality standards than punk labels). Like love, punk-rock requires a mutual, even if tumultuous, understanding if you want things to work. And CFDL really got the essence of the punk spirit, its exultant exuberance, its bare-bones energy, its obnoxious and yet empathic anger. And of course its relevance as a culture echoing itself in a process of rejuvenation. Some would argue that there were more powerful, more intense, more radical bands than CFDL in Japan at the time, and they may be right. But was there a band more genuinely, goofily and unpretentiously in love with punk than them? I don't think so.
The band originally started as Atrocity Exhibition (yep, that is from the Joy Division song although one would definitely struggle to find common musical ground between the two bands) around 1989. They didn't record much under that name, only two songs, "You" and "Arsehole!", that appeared on the game-changer "Must get to the power of the defense for" flexi in 1989 along with SDS and Naüsea (one of the first Japanese grindcore bands, from Nagoya as well, who formed in 1987 and shared the same drummer as AE, Hisahiro, and whose singer, Takaho would late form the legendary Unholy Grave). The two AE tracks are sloppy as fuck, and I do mean that. Recorded without a bass and with just Takeshi on vocals, they stand as joyful, fast and rough hardcore songs. The AE live demo is probably more interesting (albeit definitely as rough and testing for the faint-hearted) if one craves to understand what CFDL would get at one year after. Entitled "Never mind the atrocity exhibition here is crazy fucked up daily life", it featured the dual vocal attacks CFDL was famous for at the beginning of their journey and is a clear (well... figuratively speaking) indication of the band's direction. This handmade DIY tape is ripe with references to the late 80's UK crust scene, especially Extreme Noise Terror (there are covers of "Deceived" and "Bullshit propaganda"), but also Antisect, Napalm Death and Electro Hippies (a couple of spottable riffs here and there), Disorder (with the song "I love DISORDER") and Sore Throat (like them, AE covered Shitlickers' "Warsystem"). It is precisely in this 87/89 "fast and crusty" Peaceville interstice that the band would nest when they changed their name to CFDL (another Disorder reference as it is a line from the song "Daily life") and lay a spectacular egg with the "Atrocity exhibition" Ep (they did seem to have second thoughts about leaving the AE moniker methinks).
Quite obviously, Disorder-influenced Japanese bands were nothing new by 1990. However, as we have seen, but for So What, the Bristol trend, though by no means completely extinguished (and it never will over there judging from the number of bands still flying the chaotic cider flag), was not at its best. But CFDL incorporated this element very differently from their noize forefathers. The music is both extremely direct and accessible and yet stems from an incredibly dense and even complex background, a literal maze of influences interacting with each other. It would be tempting to say that CFDL's "Atrocity exhibition" was just a brilliant take on ENT (especially the first Peel session) moulded with Japanese clay and spiced with UK hardcore, but it would not cover half of the record's essence. Just like bands like Atavistic or Electro Hippies was the result of a collusion of many international hardcore influences, CFDL's music feels like a synthesis of almost all the brands of fast and raw 80's hardcore punk written by a Japanese student majoring in the UK sound (the dissertation topic could be "The Disorder sound and its ramifications in the post-"Holocaust in your head" era"). If you care to listen, you can hear so many things going on in "Atrocity exhibition". From Mob 47-type riffs, a Shitlicker cover, G-Anx's upbeat tempo, Negazione's fury, Chaos UK-drumming (the opening beat of "Make my day" is the as "Victimized"'s), MELI's crude anger, Dirge's Bristolian dual vocal approach, Siege's "take no prisoner" stance, Gauze and SOB's frantic hardcore whirlwind, Kuolema, Lärm and Rapt's "noise not music" ethos and I could go on and on. And that is why it really is so good. While "Atrocity exhibition" makes sense as a post-ENT dual vocals crusty hardcore band (like Amen, Disrupt or Embittered), it is also a friendly, loving, passionate reminder of what makes international hardcore punk (or just PUNK in fact) so crucial and fun.
The sound on this 1990 Ep is insanely good. It is raw but it has a thickness and an energy that are impressive. The guitar 's texture is hard to define, you can almost feel it but it still sounds like it's flowing, like a current of energy through the sewer or something. It is not completely blown out either, it sounds more like Ake Mob 47 is playing on Gauze's guitar amp. The bass is definitely more reminiscent of the Chaos UK school but I am also reminded of NYC Nausea for some reason. It is omnipresent on the songs, with a round, groovy sound that gives the whole that mandatory crust edge. The drummer relies heavily on the crash cymbal and is in total "all out bollocks raw hardcore mode". He plays fast and tight, despite the rather thin production on the drums, and yet completely frantically, relentlessly, a bit like the 80's Swedes really but with more craft. CFDL were the first band (to my immodest knowledge anyway) to use the time-approved, specifically British, dual vocal attack in Japan and I particularly love its arrangement that brings to mind ENT at their most ferocious. Rabid and insanity-driven high-pitched barks answer to more traditional raucous and slightly gruff shouts not unlike very early Doom. On the whole, the songs are rather simple but they work perfectly, nothing sounds out of place or distasteful, and the untiring raw energy is truly incredible.
This version of "Atrocity exhibition" is actually a reissue from 2002. The original release was done by Yappy Core (CFDL's own label) and Standard of Rebellion in 1990, but this 2002 repress includes three extra songs from the same recording session, as well as liner notes from Takeshi and a history of the band written by Jhonio Crust War (yes, it is in Japanese). It was released on Scruffy Records and Answer Records (a Nagoya label that also put out records from Disclaim, Reality Crisis or Demolition). The cover is gloriously typical of the early crust days with an illustration of the proverbial "crusty and a dog" (a nod to Sox's "Sewerside"?). The real visual nugget is the very cheesy punk as fuck, crust as hell drawing of CFDL playing live on the insert. This good-humoured, snotty cartoon sums up what the band is about more relevantly than 1000 words (which kinda makes this post rather useless... oh well). Following "Atrocity exhibition", CFDL went on to be rather prolific, significantly not as crusty but still as energetic and wild. The 1991 demo and the "Thrashpunk '91" from 1996 are highly recommended. But man, what an unsung masterpiece "Atrocity exhibition" is... And how influential, of course.
It really was all about love.