Monday 17 October 2016

Japanese Crust vs The World (part 3): Acid "Gray Earth" Lp, 1991

I have had second thoughts about including this record in a series dedicated to Japanese crust. I can almost hear the gasps of horror, the muffled cries of shock, see the bewilderment, the outrage, the genuine sense of justified disagreement on livid faces that even a poorly lit room cannot conceal. "OMG! BUT ACID WERE NOT CRUST! THEY WERE A HARDCORE BAND, MAN! ARE YOU OFF YOUR TITS?". And I get it, really I do, and I guess you are right. Had I been wiser, I probably would have put a "trigger warning: this post is just wrong" sign at the beginning. But then, there are worse things in life, like running out of coffee in the morning or realizing that Disorder are dreadful live nowadays. Right?

Acid was a band from Tokyo, apparently active from the late 80's to the early 90's, judging from the recording dates going from 1987 to 1991. They were part of the same punk scene that gave birth to bands like DONDON, Asbestos or indeed Macrofarge, whose obsession with Doom we tackled earlier in the series and whose drummer would later on form Liberate with Acid's singer Kuro ("So they must have been mates," says Captain Obvious). As I mentioned in the introduction, I have never claimed to be some kind of expert in Japanese punk, and especially not in the mirific hardcore scene that is so revered. While preparing for this odyssey into waters still unchartered on Terminal Sound Nuisance, I listened to all kinds of Japanese punk music in order to connect the dots and try to find my way in a maze that, for all its alluringness, still felt like quite foreign. Like when you find yourself at a punk gig in a town you have never been to, but that you have heard of quite a lot, and you end up at that afterparty where you don't really know anyone and things are familiar but you aren't comfortable enough to really engage with the whole thing. A friend of mine with indisputable Japanese hardcore credentials mentioned Acid's "Gray Earth" Lp as having a solid crust edge despite the band's obvious roots in hardcore. Until then, I only knew "Shock troop", Acid's first album from 1989, that - and you can vilify me for this confession - I honestly was not that much of a sucker for, but then I had only listened to it distractedly maybe twice and I had real troubles getting over the fact that the band had had the nerve to call their album almost the same as Cock Sparrer's first Lp (a work I have been known to sing along to rather loudly on numerous occasions when pissed...). But I just punked up and gave "Gray Earth" a shot. And thank fuck I did, because not only is this album an absolute scorcher, but it is also a fascinating case in point of a specific punk phenomenon called "the crustification of hardcore".    

I am pretty clueless what was up exactly with Tokyo punks in the late 80's, but something was definitely brewing. Applying the correlation between the rise of crust in Japan and the revival of the UK sound there to Acid is absorbing and complex, so it might be interesting to take a look at the band's discography while keeping this particular perspective in mind. Acid's first material appearance (according to Discogs, but for all I know there could have been earlier demos) was on the infamous, and awkwardly named, "Suck my dick" tape compilation released on Souzui Records (a label run by a DONDON bloke) in 1987, which incidentally was also the first SDS and Asbestos' release. It included two Acid songs which, in spite of a very rough sound (probably recorded live I reckon), illustrated rather aptly what the band was going for at the time: basically a high-energy union between Chaos UK and Japanese hardcore. The rather excellent 1988 demo confirmed that tendency but thanks to a better sound (still very raw but incredibly intense, it does not get much better than this sound-wise in terms of raw hardcore... just brilliant) brought additional dishes to the table, only this time you could actually read all the ingredients.

Of course, Acid was most definitely rooted in Japanese hardcore and a fair number of epic riffs and chorus arrangements screamed in that direction. However, most songs also nodded vigorously and interestingly toward Mower-era Chaos UK. After all, the Bristol punx had toured Japan in 1985 (which must have been quite an experience given the influence they have had on the Japanese scene in the 80's), and the studio side of the "Just mere slaves" 12'' (released on Selfish Records for the tour) must have been a huge influence on Acid. It was no longer the Riot City-era Chaos UK, by that time the band was faster, harder and more hardcore-oriented (I would almost argue proto-crust even, especially given the connections they had with the early UK crust bands). The priority was no longer given to the sloppy and the distorted (though it was still there of course) but to the intensity and aggression, a shift started with the "Short sharp shock" Lp from 1984. So Acid was a Bristol-influenced Japanese hardcore band focusing on post-84 Chaos UK and also the early Norwegian era of Disorder (the "noisecore" tag on the "Shock troop" insert acting as a fun reminder), as opposed to their glorious and noisy forefathers who had been traumatized by the pre-84 Bristol sound (for obvious chronological reasons). But Bristol was certainly not the sole point of reference in Acid's career up until the first Lp and other illustrious guests were invited: Crow of course, for the monomaniacal relentlessness and the aesthetics, Gauze, for the intensity of the delivery, but also early Antisect, as there are more than just a few riffs borrowed from them, possibly from the 1982 live tapes at that point in Acid's history. And, more importantly perhaps, I just cannot help hearing a heavy SoCal peacepunk vibe. It is in the vocals and some of the more dischargy moments, so much at times, that, had I not known that Acid were from Tokyo, I would have bet a tenner that some "Shock troop" songs were taken from an unreleased Apocalypse or Holocaust punky session. And that last element is actually crucial in my reading of Acid and especially of their later period (granted, I pretty much lived on Final Conflict and Crucifix in my late teens, so maybe I am just hearing things, or maybe the way we are educated to love punk music preconditions our later perception of it...).

Something happened to Acid in 1989. If "Shock troop" sounded like a logical progression from the 88' demo (the former being perhaps a little too polished and lacking in raw aggression for it to work completely for me), the five songs that Acid contributed to the "Get back the discharged arrow" compilation Lp, although released the same year as the first album, revealed a slight, but significant shift in terms of intent and sound. With a heavier, more metallic production and an emphasis on the drums, harsher vocals (even some gruff backing vocals) and a couple of obvious UK crust riffs, the songs hinted at the future Lp. The Chaos UK and Japanese hardcore tones were certainly not gone (the song "Free speech" was here to remind you of the God-like status of Bristol) but the presence of a very metallic number, "Democratic society?", can be seen as pointing in the direction of "Gray Earth". Perhaps no Acid song demonstrates this evolution as well as "Suck blood", a rather classic song that is present in every Acid recordings, from "Suck my dick" to "Gray Earth", and that emphasizes the changes in textures and mood that the band undertook throughout the years. Same song, different intent. A prime example of what is meant with the concept of "crust as tension and vibe".

"Gray Earth", despite having a couple of songs in common with earlier Acid works, is a different beast and the instrumental number introducing the Lp was there to make it very clear. It is a heavy, ominous, crustier than a squatter's socks, epic antisectish metal intro that just burst into an all-out fast crusty hardcore attack with gratuitous screams. The songs remain mostly fast and relentless but have a harsher edge (with the exception of the song "Free speech", again, being yet another reference to the band's roots in noisepunk), the riffs are heavier, thicker, darker and more insistent (not unlike Antisect's in fact), the vocals reminiscent of snotty metallic punk acts like Final Conflict and especially Apocalypse with some extra gruff crust vocals provided by the guitar player (who sounds a lot like Hiatus' first singer) and the bass is just thunderous, groovy and filthy. There is an undeniable protocrust vibe on "Gray Earth", like Crow teaming up with Final Conflict in Ipswich in 1986 or something, it is certainly not as all-over UK crust as Macrofarge since the backbone is still very much of the hardcore punk variety but the intent is undeniably here. Should I call it "Rags core", like the band proudly and noisily inferred? Yeah? Rags core it is then.

This Lp is almost mysterious when you think about it. Recorded in 1991, at a time when the early crust wave was actually folding, the songwriting reminds me of what preceded that wave by just a few yars. But then, there is the sound which turns what could almost be construed as a "five years too late" work into an incredibly modern album that must have been so influential for all the 90's Japanese crust bands. The production on "Gray Earth" is fantastic, very clear, almost unsettlingly so given the genre. You can hear that the band was at the top of its game and they knew exactly what they wanted in terms of textures, which was not the case of most of the bands having a go at that genre. I am reminded of SDS' bleak force at times but with the distinctive dark insistent power of Antisect as well (especially in the upfront sound of the drums) and the relentless flowing energy of ENT on the split with Filthkick and the deceptively chaotic mania of mid-80's Chaos UK, and yet it is also undeniably Japanese for all the intensity and the conviction. What an incredible album... The legacy of "Gray Earth" (and of Acid as a whole) escaped me for a long time but listening to this repeatedly showed that later crust bands like Gloom, Antiauthorize or Iconoclast borrowed more than a few songwriting and sound ideas from them (Gloom actually paid tribute to Acid by re-using the "Rags core" tag and turning it into "Rags speed noisecore", because, you know, Japanese punks just love to make up new cheesy subgenre names and so do I).

The cover of "Gray Earth" is pretty stark and definitely not as punky as their earlier works', if I did not know better, I would have thought they were a depressive cold-wave band from Switzerland or something. I really love the peace logo completed with two doves, as much referring to UK anarcho aesthetics than to antiwar Japanese hardcore punk. Really proper, especially with rather good, angry lyrics about Japan's warcrimes, greed, nuclear experiment or social conformity. Like "Shock troop" and "Get back the discharged arrow", "Gray Earth" was released on Selfish Record, a prominent Japanese hardcore label with a cult status due to its responsibility in putting out classics records from The Execute, Lip Cream, Death Side or SOB (among others) that, if you ever think of buying them all, would require you to contract a twenty-year loan.

Was Acid a Japanese hardcore band? Absolutely. Was "Gray Earth" a Japanese hardcore record? Maybe, but in a nasty crusty mood.

Wednesday 12 October 2016

Japanese Crust vs The World (part 2): Crazy Fucked Up Daily Life "Atrocity exhibition" 12'' Ep, 2002 (1990)

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.


Thursday 6 October 2016

Japanese Crust vs The World (part 1): Macrofarge / Euthanasia "Reality Crisis" split flexi 7'', 1989

In this day and age when the medium matters as much - if not more so - as the content, it appears rather difficult to see a flexi for what it once was. The habits related to listening and indeed consuming music have changed drastically and have literalised the medium. A record is now just that, a record. As if the object needed to become irrelevant for it to actually find its real essence back as an object. Bluntly put, people who buy records don't necessarily love music, they often just love records that they will not listen to, as the music will usually be enjoyed in mp3's through computers or other devices. Ironically, the more the object becomes unnecessary and useless the more it becomes collectable and fetishized, no longer a means to an end (the music), but the end itself. In that light, a flexi from the 80's, maybe even more than a tape, is a strong reminder of what used to be the medium's role before: a vessel.

I don't really like flexis. They freak me out. I have heard so many scare stories about flexis getting unlistenable, proverbially "beyond fucked", with time that I usually think long and hard before buying one. According to old-timers, the original idea and the major advantage of a flexi was that it was very cheap to do and that, despite its fragility, its very low weight implied lower shipping costs as well, which made it easier to send around, especially abroad. From this perspective, the flexi can be seen as the ultimate DIY punk record in accordance with the idea of the legendary "Network of friends". But still, I have largely remained unconvinced, probably because the relevance of the flexi went extinct well before my time (if memory serves, only Active Minds flexis were still readily available when I started looming ominously around distro tables) and the ones that were still coming out were usually "tribute flexis" that referred to a flexi golden age without caring much for the original usefulness of the particular medium. And almost always, they were Japanese punk-styled records, so that, to this day, whenever I hear "flexi", I just know it is going to be the Battle of the Nerds if I want to get a copy. And if the flexi is a 6" or a 8'', blood will be shed and death threats uttered. And if it is a one-sided 8'' flexi... then God help us all.

Flexis are indissociable from the 80's Japanese punk scene. The amount of flexis released in that decade is truly breath-taking, probably for reasons of reducing costs and of convenience I mentioned above that made sense given the geographical position of the country, or even perhaps because of domestic shipping costs as well. The staggering number of Japanese flexis is reflected in MCR Company's discography. Even just a quick look reveals that, out of the first 30 releases of the label, 14 were flexis (and a good portion of them were single-sided... we really had it coming). Unsurprisingly, the compilation I mentioned in the introduction to this series, "Must Get to the Power of the Defence For...", to me the first genuine Japanese crust record, was a flexi. And today's record, released six months afterwards, in December, 1989, was also a flexi: the split between Macrofarge and Euthanasia. It proved to be MCR's 24th record, right between a compilation VHS (!) that included bands from the Nagoya-area (of course, the three bands from "Must Get to the Power", namely SDS, Atrocity Exhibition and Naüsea, are on it) and the first Fuck Geez Lp.

I would be lying if I said I knew a lot about Macrofarge. In fact, they are a little bit of a mystery to me and the internet doesn't seem to be that well acquainted with this Tokyo band either... Yes, you are perfectly right in assuming we are going to have a wild guess session here. Macrofarge were a late 80's/early 90's band, probably active between 1988 and 1991. Apart from this split with Euthanasia, the band appeared on two MCR compilation Lp's, 1990's "革命 Best Run Fast" (with Asbestos, DONDON and Juntess among others) and 1991's brilliant "I will take no orders from anyone!!" (with SDS, DONDON, Mess and Assfort, who were actually the first Japanese hardcore band I ever heard when I was about 18... you can imagine how baffled I was). Before these, Macrofarge appeared on a Souzui Records tape, compiled by Yoshikawa - from DONDON - in 1989, entitled "Kiss my ass". Yes, it was the follow-up to "Suck my dick" and included most of the aforementioned usual suspects from Tokyo. The first Macrofarge recording however might be a 1988 demo tape called "Stop your nonsense", about which I found close to no information so I'd rather be cautious here (especially since the song titles don't fit with any of the subsequent ones). Finally, the band self-released three live tapes in 1991, that I have sadly never heard.

On the face of these bits of intelligence, Macrofarge should be seen as just one of so many Japanese hardcore bands active in Tokyo at the time, a mere side note in the grand book of Japanese punk-rock. But there is this thing that makes them crucially relevant in the frame of this series: they were the first "Peaceville sound" band in Japan. While it doesn't really show much on the "Stop your nonsense" 1988 demo (although the groovy bass lines gave away what was to come), which was still by and large strongly rooted in Japanese hardcore, Macrofarge's following recordings are obvious and spectacular early examples of Doom-worship. Keeping in mind that the three songs from the split were recorded in July, 1989, it was a very early instance of Doom-type scandicrust that predated even Hiatus. The three tracks are perfect takes on "Bury the debt", with over-the-top gruff vocals, classic Discharge-by-way-of-Sweden heavy crusty guitar riff, a roaring bass sound and a simple, but highly effective, drumming that is perhaps an ideal blueprint for the genre. Doom's is undeniably a popular, beloved sound in the Japanese crust scene and, as bands like Abraham Cross, Warcry or Scene Death Terror (to give a current example) can attest, I am prone to think that Japanese crusties probably got Doom differently than the rest, more essentially perhaps. I don't know how Macrofarge are regarded today over there, but from an outsider's perspective, they clearly pioneered the gruff sound of Doom and Sore Throat (of course, both bands' Japanese legacies are closely tied and the opening riff of "Reality crisis" could have been lifted from "Unhindered by talent") that would be so influential in Osaka a few years later, whereas SDS were significantly working on Antisect's proto-crust sound. Fascinating band. Obviously, Macrofarge still had a Japanese hardcore background that shone through at times in some of the chorus and in the overall frantic energy (more so on the "I will no orders from anyone!!" songs), but for the time, they were amazingly close to what they wanted to achieve. The production on these three songs is fantastic as well, heavy and punishing yet highlighting the relentless simplicity and aggression of the songwriting. They were recorded at Our House Studio in Tokyo, where classic records from Bastard and Death Side were also captured, so you know it is bound to be really good sound-wise.

Visually, Macrofarge also borrowed from the classic antiwar imagery that permeated 80's anarcho bands and the cover referred to the Tiananmen massacres that took place just one month before the recording. The singers grunts in English but the lyrics are only translated in Japanese on the cover so I am only guessing (thanks to the cheesy little drawings) that the topics covered are war, the media and nuclear weapons. Direct references (apart from the riffs) don't abound but are still solid. "The dream come true" hints at Doom's "A dream to come true" while the mention of "The dark side of society..." may be a nod toward Hellbastard's "Dark side". And there has been at least one band that openly referred and paid tribute to Macrofarge ten years after: Reality Crisis (though I have only just made the connection really...). Following the split of the band, I know that the drummer Chara joined force with Kuro from Acid and Kawaguchi from Sicilian Blood to form Liberate, but that's about it. And Discogs tells me that Chara also did some backing vocals on a Juntess Ep, so that may indicate that Macrofarge were somehow close to bands like Juntess, Acid or indeed DONDON (with the Souzui Rec connection). Wild guesses, I told you. The only thing I have absolutely not even started to figure out about the band is the rather intriguing name... Macrofarge? I really am clueless...

On the flip side are Euthanasia, a Finnish hardcore band from the mid/late 80's that I am not familiar with. I must say they are quite enjoyable, very much on the punkier side of the Finnish hardcore spectrum, like Bastards meet Asta Kask or something (the second song form the split has that kind of singalong quality to it). The real gem on their side is the first song however, "Martat Pois Bingoista", a genuine vintage ripper reminiscent of the best bands of the suomipunk genre. The production is fitting as well, very angry and energetic with that chaotic bass sound, and like with most Finnish bands, there is always a rough-yet-catchy tune that you can hum. Euthanasia did an Ep before the flexi, "Ölöriefot Putkosessa Kemoryölöt Kabinessa" in 1987, and also a tape the following year, "Ämpäri Päässä Pyöränkumia Pumppaa". A double-cd discography of the band was released in 2009 as well.    


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.