Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Japanese Crust vs The World: an introduction...

Japan. If you love punk-rock and you are being nerdy about it, it is this enigmatic country of definitive perdition and parallelly of unrestrained, undeterred passion. Can you have one without the other? Maybe not, but I am not here to answer this kind of questions and will leave the meditation to someone who has been reading far too much Romantic poetry.

For a long time, Japanese punk was this objectively awesome thing that I hated to love and loved to dismiss. It was the realms of nerds and record collectors, dirty words that the internet age has somewhat rehabilitated. Although I was completely aware that Japanese bands were not responsible for the goofiness that their production appeared to induce abroad, I instinctively knew that if I started to delve into the enticing, seductive world of Japanese punk, I might not make it out in one piece and my sanity would be jeopardized. Did it keep me from getting heavily into SDS or Crust War Records? Obviously not, and I remember having a Class War sticker on my bass guitar that I had changed into "No war but the crust war" (I am still not sure if it is really lame or sheer genius), but still, I tried looking at the whole thing from a safe distance. The era of file-sharing definitely changed the game and allowed average punks, like yours truly, to get a basic grip on the characteristics of classic Japanese punk and hardcore without having to sell a kidney in the process but sadly, through the vicious equalizing quality of the internet, sometimes losing sight of context as well. Until rather recently, I was fairly happy about my relationship with Japanese punk. We kinda knew each other, enough to share a few intimate things with one another, but we both felt that things could get really out of hand if we started dating properly. And then life happened (and not just the band) and I figured that I needed a daring challenge, something intellectually stimulating, not only for the blog, but also in terms of sound and texture. And to make life unbearable for my indie-rock loving neighbours. So I decided to punk up and properly engage with what Japanese punks had been doing with that favourite punk genre of mine: crust.

This Japanese crust series will be made up of twelve records, because I really had a hard time choosing and because it reminded of me the twelve temples of the Gold Saints in Saint Seiya, my favourite anime (I'm not apologizing for that). Of course, since I am not planning to write about this topic forever, there will be classic crust bands missing and probably some that may not be seen as genuinely "crust" but are interesting to tackle through that prism.

Just like for last year's 90's crust series, I suppose it is relevant to think about the very notion of "crust music" that I will be working with throughout the series. Rather than a strict set of narrowly defined elements, I like to think of crust as a particular, but fluid, atmosphere. It is a tension, a mood, a worldview as represented and stylized in a particular record using aggressive, heavy, dirty, groovy sounds inherited from hardcore and metal. And although there is such a thing as "crust aesthetics", I like to think that they can be adapted and built upon cleverly in order to create or re-create. Basically, I stand for an encompassing conception of what is "crust" instead of the few boring templates that seem to be the norm today, i.e. uninspired Wolfbrigade-mimicry or badly played takes on Bolt Thrower.

Now, since we are all obsessed with pioneers, originators and anteriority, let's have a few words about the birth of crust in Japan. It is expectedly unclear. Pretty much like everywhere else, the very term "crust" was not really used before the early 90's, notably through the rise of the Osaka scene, so any use of it applied to a band prior to 1993 (roughly) must be read retroactively. After discussing the issue with an old-timer from the mid-late 80's Japanese punk scene, I realized that, given the irrelevance of the notion of "crust" in the late 80's, it appears to be much more interesting to think in terms of outside influence, in this case the UK. So rather than a local take on what can be characterized as "the Peaceville sound", the rise of crust in Japan can be understood as an intentional rebirth of "the UK sound" in that particular geographical and chronological context. By the late 80's, the Bristol noisy sound and aesthetics of Chaos UK and Disorder, that had heavily inspired and led bands like Confuse, Gai or Kuro to yet unknown levels of distorted punk insanity, had fallen out of fashion. Similarly, the roaring sound of Discharge (probably the undeniable UK sound) was not quite all the rage either and bands openly referring to them (let's keep in mind that referentiality has always played an important role in Japanese punk) were relatively few. It is always tricky and slippery to generalize, especially when dealing with such a prolific scene, and there were, of course, exceptions that can be seen as, if not as precursors, at least as signs of things to come.

In Shizuoka, a band like So What (usually forgotten in our beloved "underrated bands list") kept the spiky sound of Bristol alive and well between 1985 and 1990. In terms of Discharge-love, it would be criminal not to mention Crow (I mean, they even mentioned "Special thanks to: Discharge" on the backcover of the "Last Chaos" Lp from 1987), arguably the first Discharge-worshipping Japanese band and possibly the local band that was the most influential in the making of crust with their radical antiwar lyrics and the relentless intensity of their sound (a common trait in Japanese punk, it has to be said). In Tokyo, the really thrash-influenced Asbestos certainly took inspiration in the dischargy sound (though probably more in Discharge-loving band than in Discharge itself) and were not unlike a blend of Concrete Sox and GISM by the late 80's, while the amazing Acid were uniquely blending the traditional Japanese hardcore sound with the thick Discharge one, and both bands also relied on the 80's Dis-aesthetics of war, famine and spiky band logo. At that time, international hardcore was getting faster and faster, and even though the UK sound was probably not a major influence on local speed pioneers like SOB, Gauze or Mad Conflux around 1987 (in terms of purpose, they could be seen in the same light as US-inspired British bands like Heresy, Electro Hippies or indeed Napalm Death I suppose), the increased velocity reflected a desire for music extremity that does echo that of the early crust bands worldwide at that time and was illustrated in the connection between SOB and Napalm Death, the former even doing a Peel session when they toured the UK in 1989 and both sharing a split Ep the same year, or in Gauze's UK tour with Chaos UK that same year. The ties between the late 80's UK crust/hardcore scene and Japan are possibly more intricate than one could think, after all Dean Jones cites GISM as a great influence on ENT in terms of vocals (the radical, gruff vocals of a lot of 80's Japanese punk bands certainly made the country really hospitable to the crust genre), Doom covered Crow's "Give up all hope" and Rich Militia's Warfear was openly into Gai-worshipping . Initiated by Chaos UK's Japanese tour in 1985 (a band that, through its musical evolution and involvement, played a crucial role in the development of the British crust scene in the mid 80's), some of the bigger names of the Britcore scene (I abhor the term but I don't think I had ever used before in these pages, so here it is...) like Doom, Napalm Death, Extreme Noise Terror and Concrete Sox toured Japan in the early 90's.

Significantly, on one of ENT's 1990 tour dates, besides SOB and Lip Cream, the Ipswich punx also shared the stage with two bands that can be construed as the real instigators of the UK sound revival, and eventually as the genuine crust originators in the country: Crazy Fucked Up Daily Life and SDS. Since both bands will be discussed at length (again, since SDS have already made a couple of epic appearances on Terminal Sound Nuisance and deserve their own parking spot), I won't delve too much into the subject right now. Interestingly, the first release SDS was ever included on was a tape compilation entitled, rather unfortunately, "Suck my dick" in 1987, which was released on Tokyo-based Nouzui Records, a label run by a bloke from DONDON, and also had Discharge-loving bands like Absestos, Crow or Acid. But SDS took the UK influence much further than the aforementioned bands as they expertly and spectacularly intensified the bond between 82' Discharge and 86' Antisect in their music, which was completely unique for the time (NYC's Nausea were still a couple of year away from that sound). Formerly named Atrocity Exhibition after a Joy Division song (until 1989), CFDL (a Disorder song this time and probably more fitting) started as an all-out fast and noisy chaotic hardcore that borrowed equally from UK bands like Disorder UK, Napalm Death and especially Electro Hippies, than European hardcore acts like Negazione or Lärm or mid-80's Japanese noisepunk. CFDL were from Nagoya, while SDS lived in a nearby but much smaller town called Gifu.

United by the common goal of reviving the UK sound and renewing it in the process, the two bands (it was still Atrocity Exhibition then) appeared on the excellent, but albatross-named, compilation flexi "Must get to the power of the defence for..." alongside a third Nagoya band called Naüsea that played brilliant Napalm Death/Terrorizer crusty grindcore. The flexi was released in May, 1989 on Kyoto-based MCR Company, a label whose importance in Japanese punk's history cannot be overstated. From my point of view, "Must get to the power" is basically the first actual Japanese crust record, from the music, the mood, the production to the artwork and overall feel. One may object that Naüsea was more a grindcore band and Atrocity Exhibition more of a... huh... cider-fueled superfast chaotic spiky hardcore band, but I reason in terms of tension, intent and connections and not so much in terms of discrete elements that must be assembled in a very specific way in order to work (this works for the D-Beat genre, but not much else) and I just stand my case. Later on, after they truly established their sound, SDS and CFDL started working more together and, with that UK sound in mind went on to organize the Punk & Destroy gigs (the name refers to a Japan-only Discharge record compiling the first five Ep's released in 1984... obviously) in the early 90's, in a Nagoya venue called Huckfinn. These gigs would welcome such openly crust bands like Life, Abraham Cross or Battle of Disarm. The infamous Final Noise Attack gigs taking place in Osaka (usually at the Guild if I understand correctly) and put on in the mid-90's by a new generation of local crusty battalions would be inspired by the Punk & Destroy gigs. But that's definitely another story...

Ok then, let's ave it.


  1. FINALLY!!!!!!!

  2. Really pumped that you're doing this series; this stuff is some of my favorite music of all time. Can't wait!!
    And this post is timely, since just this past weekend, I finally tracked down Acid's Gray Earth, which had been on my want list for many years. "Rags Core Never Die," indeed.

  3. CF(U)DL...they make me so...elated?...that I could almost tear. Really. and then Defiance, Carnage, COSA... This chapter of your blog is going to be a lot of fun on so many levels. Most of all, looking forward to the reading. -ZM

    1. I am a real sucker for CFDL. Properly writing about them was one of the reasons why I wanted to do this series actually. To me they embody a genuine love for PUNK that has very few equivalent.

      Selecting the records for this has been extremely difficult... I was going for 8, then 10, then back to 8, and finally settled for 12 but I could have picked 20 and it would have still felt incomplete... Hopefully, it will be varied enough not to feel redundant. But it is definitely going to be fun to do, and really that's an ideal topic for that.

  4. NICE !!! One of my favorite Topic's.. Japan brought us some of the best Crust Punk in the world !!!

  5. Amazing!! this is such a Great Site!!