Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Noize Not Music is a Fine Art: "Tokyo Crusties Conp" compilation Ep, 1994

Back with a bupp-u-dupp-u-du-bupp-u-dupp-u-du-bupp-u-dupp-u-du-bupp-u-dupp-u-du (or however you want to transcribe the holy D)!!! Yay, right? 

After some weeks spent in the rather captivating task of compiling anarchopunk music that allowed me to get away a little from the writing itself (truth be told, I ran out of inspiration, but then I am only human, you know), I decided to drag my lazy arse back to work. And of course, I chose the sunniest day of the year (so far) to get started so that it is summertime outside and my aforementioned bottom is sweating on a chair in front of a overheating computer. You really are a lucky bunch. But I'm not here to discuss the imperfections of human anatomy, this is not goregrind month on Terminal Sound Nuisance (thanks fuck), but rather I'd like to offer some carefully selected, organically grown, fair trade blends of noisy, fuzzy, crusty hardcore punk music from a scene we all just cannot help loving: Japan.

I'm aware that the idea is not original, especially since I already did an epic series about Japanese crust not so long ago, and to be honest there will be familiar faces, bands that have already been dissected in TSN's music laboratory but that I fancied inviting again, in a casual, chilled but also cosy, sophisticated atmosphere, just for the sheer fun of it. Five compilations with all-Japanese lineups released between 1994 and 1998 will make up this series entitled Noize Not Music is a Fine Art. I did not choose this title not because the bands all fall in the "noisepunk" or "crasher crust" categories but because the underlying theme, the driving idea behind it is the intentional aestheticization of noisy, chaotic, crusty punk music - prompted by bands like SDS and CFDL - that Japanese punk's unparalleled sense of details makes possible. That and because I think 90's Japanese crust is bloody ace which should be a good enough argument in itself.

The first compilation to be the hapless victim of my unchecked ravings is the Tokyo Crusties Ep. It was released in 1994 on the rather literal DIY Records, a label run by Ryuji from Battle of Disarm that was very prolific in the mid-90's. It was actually DIY Records' very first vinyl output although it had already released a compilation tape, Animal Rights Tape, the year before, with a pretty great lineup (Disrupt, CFDL, Resist or Fleas & Lice were on it to name but a few). I can claim with self-assurance that Tokyo Crusties is one of the best compilation Ep's that I own. Not only is it amazing on a musical level (but we'll come to that), but the very conception of the record works great with and highlights its content. There are four bands with two short songs each, eight songs in twelve minutes and that's pretty much ideal for both the genre and the format. Two songs is enough to grasp what the band is going for and four bands on an Ep is quite perfect. But Tokyo Crusties - or should I say Tokyo Crstsies? - is also one of my favourite Ep comps for its visuals. I mean, look at the cover... Crusty punx that could have been drawn by a sight-impaired 5-year old who was raised solely on fourth generation live tapes of Chaos UK and Disorder (but the crust artist for the cover was actually Soujirou from Abraham Cross). If that's not pure talent and genius... And I'm not even being funny. This cover may be the best visual example of the intentional aestheticization and systematization of chaotic punk I mentioned earlier and possibly one of the purest visual embodiments of noizy crust music. Just think about it. Of course the spelling mistake in "crusties" is the icing on the cake and I love the little "u" that was added hastily under the title. They did not think of correcting "conp" though... The backcover poetically depicting a vomiting punk was drawn by Hiroshi from Collapse Society who would go on to make some pretty amazing artworks for LIFE or Frigöra.

The '94 release of Tokyo Crusties on DIY Records pretty much implies one thing: Battle of Disarm will be on it. And, of course, they are and they even provide the two opening songs for the Ep. I have already written rather lengthily about BoD (and my favourite record of theirs, the split Lp with Brainstorm, here) so I am not going to repeat myself in too obvious a fashion. They were a political crust band with a strong focus on animal rights and a deep love for Hiatus, Macrofarge and Doom (but then, an endless passion for early Doom seemed to have been a national obsession in Japan since Macrofarge). I think the two songs included here ("Murderer is hero" about warrgh and "We shuldn't go long any more" about vivisection) were part of the first recording session in which then new drummer Papa (a rather odd nickname, I'll give you that) took part. Otherwise, it is pretty much classic BoD, groovy crusty punk with riffs that bring to mind Crude SS and Lobotomia and, for some reason, for their grooviness, even Hellhammer in places (but I could be getting deaf). I suppose BoD were never the most brutal or relentless or even the catchiest songwriters but their dedication to the global and local DIY punk scene at the time is certainly inspiring and there is no denying that there was such a thing as a "BoD sound" since they are quite easy to recognize, despite not really having a musical gimmick or a memorable special. The ways of the Punk are mysterious...

Next are two songs from crasher crust pioneers Collapse Society and, to be perfectly honest with ya (someone told me that TSN was lacking in street cred so here's some slangy stuff), and although all the other bands and tracks are top quality, they were still the reason why I took Tokyo Crstsies to the TSN treatment. I suppose that at that time, along with Gloom and Disclose, who just cannot be topped on that level, Collapse Society (aka CS from now on) epitomized the notion that "noize not music is a fine art", and precisely not just noise, that noize not music is actually a musical state of mind and a form of songwriting. Right?

I haven't been able to find much information about CS. They were apparently quite short-lived and only released a demo tape in 1993 and a brilliant self-titled Ep in 1994 on Overthrow Records. One thing is certain though, they were very referential, so much so that you could almost play a game of raw punk bingo just looking at their artworks and their cover selection. They used to cover Shitlickers' "War system" as well as "Battlefields" and "Domination or destruction" from The Iconoclast (yes, two covers from the peacepunx and judging from the amount of doves drawn on the inserts, the influence was also graphic), proudly wore studded jackets adorned with Dirge, Wretched and Mob 47, used typically anarchopunk leaves and flower designs and even took a four-leaf clover as the band's logo, which might have been - it's a wild guess but it makes sense given the band's sense of details - a nod toward Mower from Chaos UK who had Irish clovers on his jacket when he toured in Japan in 1985. But we're not just here to discuss fashion statements. CS played a remarkably noisy and fuzzy brand of fast and raw hardcore punk that summarized different 80's hardcore sounds into one condensed crustified assault on the senses. In the book Inferno Punx they are described as "Burst away 2000miles with totally broken engine till the end! ULTRA-SCANDI TOKYO CRUSTIES!!" and I suppose it is as good an introduction as any and although their raw distorted sound was intentional, I can see the parallel with a broken engine you'd still try to get going. If the Swedish influence is clearly strong (Mob 47, Discard or Crudity come to mind), I can also hear bands like Plasmid (or even the Heresy demo) in CS for the sheer noisiness and relentlessness. Another punk tradition into which the band tapped was clearly Italian hardcore. Wretched, EU's Arse or Underage are clear inspirations and I would even argue that the super rough and aggressive sound of the demos from Disarmo Totale and Infezione could also have been instrumental (and who knows, perhaps the super crude rough distorted hardcore sound of late 80's Medellin bands was as well).

But in the end, this is just a list of 80's raw hardcore bands and in terms of intensity, CS really raised the bar ten years later. The level of energy and the intensity in their two songs are incredible and the texture of the guitar sound is exactly (and I mean that) as it should be for the genre. Of course, it is super noizy and distorted - sometimes almost to the extent of intentional crappiness - and indeed it says on the insert that Atsushi plays "fuzz" (there is no mention of the word "guitar" which again points to the careful artistry of the band's production) but it completely serves the band's intent to play fast and energetic raw hardcore punk; the sound enhances the song, and not the other way around, which usually creates boring punk music with aimless distortion. A quietly (!) classic band that definitely had an impact on the way Japanese punks approach scandicore and 80's raw hardcore in general (yes, I'm looking at you Frigöra, Ferocious X and Isterismo).        

Next up are the colossal, titanic, Brobdingnagian (and now here is a literary reference in order to appeal to well-read punx) Abraham Cross, a band I still feel slightly uncomfortable wearing the shirt of because I have no idea why they picked that odd moniker in the first place (do you?). But they are still ace, or rather they are still FUCKING ace. The most potent instance of cavemen crust to ever come out of Japan despite the relatively large number of great candidates for the job. I have already written about them in the review of the Meaningful Consolidation 2xEp (here!) which saw AC share grooves with SDS, CDFL, Disclose, Defiance, Anti Authorize and Iconoclast, but I do not mind raving a second time about them. The band shared a member with Collapse Society as Yasushi played the bass for both acts and was active (I think) until the mid/late noughties although by that time they had become a harsh techno band or something (I really suck at defining electronic music so bear with me).

In an incredible moment of dazzling intellectual brilliance, I once made a parallel between Battle of Disarm and Abraham Cross arguing that the main discrepancy between them lied in their musical intent and their artistic intentionality. Although both bands pretty much built on the same ground material of early gruff crust like Doom and Macrofarge and on this very type of songwriting, they ended up sounding very different in terms of sound because AC went for a thick, blown out, distorted sound and a referential approach (basically what we often associate with Japanese crust) when BoD picked a more direct and less self-conscious path. I suppose you could say that AC shared a similar intent in terms of texture and sound as Collapse Society although their respective influences differed. Perhaps the massive inspiration from Sore Throat was key here, for although they were an original UK crust band, they were already very referential and self-reflexive, albeit for the purpose of taking the piss while being as noisy as possible.

Anyway, the two AC songs included on Tokyo Crusties were recorded in February, 1994 and stand as one of the band's most punishing offerings. They hit really hard. I love how the drums are really upfront thus highlighting their relentlessness. The sound is super groovy and heavy and any self-respecting linguist would confirm that the vocals are probably the closest thing to an accurate rendition of the original language of neanderthal men. Absolute early Doom/Sore Throat worship and sometimes I even feel like they outdoomed Doom. The songs here are "Same as war" and "Pointless tooth", the latter including this magical line of crust poetry  "Dogs eat meat but we are different. Rabbit don't eat it and us too." Crust not music is indeed a fine art. ACE.

The final band on the glorious Tokyo Crusties were the unfortunately-named Crocodileskink, a band I love dearly as you must have noticed in the review of their split Ep with No Security (here!). The two songs included on the compilation, "War game" and "Remember" (a great song about Japan's war crimes in Asia during WWII), were part of a recording session that also saw them immortalized the song "Discrimination" but I have not been able to find the exact date (late '93 or early '94 are sensible guesses). Since I only recently wrote about CrSk, I am not going to dwell too much upon them. By the mid-90's, they had started to play fast and intense Japanese crust, not unlike Macrofarge but with a very distinct Swedish hardcore influence. Actually, they never sounded as Scandinavian (or as furious really) as on this compilation Ep. They sound like Macrofarge trying to play like Crude SS trying to play like Discard. Don't they? Pummeling and over-the-top crusty and raw scandicore with Japanese-styled vocals. Really top-shelf stuff and I still find it hard to believe that CrSk are not discussed more often during coffee breaks at the office. After all, they may very well have been one of the very first (if not the first) Japanese bands with such an obsession for fast and raw Swedish hardcore that it incited them to work and build on that sound, creating in the process a crust-infused referential hybrid that would influence a lot of bands in its aftermath. Maybe I have lost me marbles here but the liner notes in the graphic Japanese crust bible Inferno Punx (edited by some well-known old-school Osaka crusties) say about CrSk that they were: "One of the pioneer of TOKYO CRUSTIES. CROCODILE SKINK must be the first band who played SCANDI-BEAT in OSAKA city. Weren't they?" Well, were they? A genuine important question that could be broadened nationally is being asked here. But anyway, if the band had to be remembered at all, I suppose that "IMMORTAL CRUST SPIRIT" would be quite relevant.

Though it is always difficult and tricky to assess retrospectively, I suppose that Tokyo Crusties may have been some kind of landmark for the blooming Tokyo crust scene, with a new generation of 90's bands coming to the front with a referential approach (largely inherited from the mighty SDS) carefully applied to new sectors of the punk spectrum (early gruff crust and scandicore here), one that is still very much alive today. 

Who said Fine Arts could not be fun?


  1. Thanks a lot. Much to learn from you, as always. In a music utopia, there would be an MCR comp ripping project. There are so many I haven't heard and don't own. And when I say MCR, I mean MCR + all the other great Japanese comps on various formats that came out in the 90s. There were too many from so many labels. This will be a fun project. -ZM

    1. I browsed through the MCR discography when preparing for this posts and I realized that, not only a lot of it was unknown to me, but that there were a lot of local hardcore comps. I completely agree that someone qualified should rip the whole thing one day. That would be insanely good.