Shizuka R.I.P.

•February 15, 2010 • 5 Comments

It took me a little while to get to this, after hearing the news, but it saddens me to write that Shizuka Miura passed away at the end of January. Her music will live on, of course, but it’s still such an unexpected shock… Especially because it was a suicide. Apparently it may have been due to medication, but at this point we’ll simply never know.

I first met Shizuka and her then-husband Maki Miura in the 90s, when their first Shizuka CD, Heavenly Persona, was released by PSF Records, followed shortly thereafter by the Live album from Persona Non Grata here in the U.S. I organized a couple of shows here in San Francisco for the band shortly after that, and quickly discovered how lovely both of them were. The other members of their band varied, but the two of them were the voice behind the band: Shizuka’s delicate, almost timorous vocals and softly-strummed guitar mixed perfectly with Maki’s intense playing, which would explode into some of the greatest psychedelic shredding this side of Fushitsusha, with whom he played in the past. I should also note that despite Shizuka’s somewhat timid stage presence, she was actually a very strong person: this wasn’t Maki’s band, it was truly hers, even though it wouldn’t have been what it was, of course, without his remarkable playing.

The band never became nearly as well-known as they deserved over here. Partly it was that they found touring to be very trying, and suffered health issues that kept them at home at a time when other bands were touring constantly. Partly it was also that they never had the money to go on tour extensively. For whatever reason, I’m always surprised when people who are now fans of Acid Mothers Temple, LSD-March, and Suishou no Fune have never even heard of Shizuka. Thankfully, you can still buy Heavenly Person from PSF: go here. And here’s my nudge-nudge that someone should really look at reissuing that album or another, with wider U.S. and European distribution.

Not too many people know that Shizuka was also recognized in Japan for her doll work. She studied under master dollmaker Katan Amano, and made some stunning, haunting dolls. Years ago when my wife was researching modern Japanese dolls (partially for an article I published in Ongaku Otaku magazine), Shizuka and Maki very kindly invited us to their apartment, where we visited them and got to see a number of Shizuka’s dolls, which were seated all around the small living room. They were beautiful creations. I have a number of photographs and cards of the dolls, including some small handmade framed pictures from Shizuka, which I’ll try to scan here shortly for another post.

Rather than just posting an mp3 here, I think it’s better to provide a link to one of the few videos I can find online of Shizuka live. Enjoy.

Advertisement

Bobos “Yumeko”

•December 28, 2009 • 4 Comments

Last time I was over in Japan playing Numinous Eye shows, this crazy fun two-piece called Bobos opened for us in Kyoto, and I thought they were pretty cool: two women, both singing and playing bass, with a sampler behind them, and one also played accordion! And they did a cover of “Iron Man”! What’s not to like? They didn’t have any recordings with them, though I recorded their set.

Later on during the tour, we played an insane all-night show out in Tokyo’s Koiwa suburb, and there was a record store downstairs from the venue. So I spent some time looking through all of their CDRs, and what do you know, I stumbled on one from Bobos! 250 yen, had to have that of course. It’s an EP, 16 minutes long with seven tracks (though only 6 are listed on the tray card), released in 2006. As near as I can tell they haven’t released anything more recently, though who knows.

The first track, though it’s the title song, is just a short accordion intro that doesn’t prepare you for the fast drum-machine and bass of “Nana” — they switch between baby-like singing and grindcore growling, while the sampler throws down a breakneck toy-snare beat and they lay heavy bass over it all. Weird stuff, and very fun.

I was happy to find that their cover of “Iron Man” was on the CDR, with alternating little girl verses and growling choruses, accordion, and a blippy synth sequence playing out the oh-so-well-known riff. On “Gya!” they toss out a minute-long blast of hypercore, and “Hebi” (snake) takes thing slowly, with a skeletal beat and accordion drone.

Fun stuff, and I’d be interested to know whether the band are still playing or not — their web site as listed in the CDR is no longer active, unfortunately. I’ll have to ask some friends over there and see if there’s any news. For now, enjoy a couple of samples.

Listen to “Iron_Man” by Bobos.
Listen to “Nana” by Bobos.

害-TUNES Records V.A vol.1

•December 28, 2009 • 2 Comments

This is a strange one, an indie label sampler that I picked up at Koenji’s Emban store. The title, “害虫曼荼羅”, seems to translate to “Bad Insect Mandala”, I think… Anyway, it’s from a label called 害-TUNES Records, which from the contents of the CDR seems to specialize in a sort of low-fi electronic hip-hop thing — a bit like if Osaka’s scum-rock scene were more urban-influenced. The vocals all have a rapping sort of flow to them, even when they’re just talking or shouting over cheap beats and noise.

The songs are dominated by two artists primarily (I say artists because who knows if each is a band or just one guy), 土支田MELLTZ (Doshita MELLTZ) and hipnohopss. Both follow the same template, which is to construct some trashy rhythm out of a drum machine or a synth, and then layer noise, synth bloops, and/or vocal shouts over it. hipnohopss tends more to the noise side: “NERVOUS” is just sheets of static over a low-end rumble as voices moan and shout. 土支田MELLTZ gets more beat-centric, though sometimes the beat is just a chugging synth rhythm.

Other artists include 芯グループ (aka “core group” I guess), with a couple of long tracks of chanting/spoken vocals over electronic grinding or bleeping; and audio貞子, who tosses in two trashy collage pieces.

If you’re curious about low-fi noisy work with a definite hip-hop influence, this could be worth checking out. See the label’s MySpace page for more info.

Listen to “憐れ土支田メルツ” by 土支田MELLTZ.

Various “Step on a Land Mine and Say Goodbye” tape

•December 27, 2009 • 2 Comments

Something a little different here… In going through lots of old tapes, I came across this cassette compilation from 1994 (or 1993, depending on where you look). It was released by the fairly obscure BLUE-ist label, associated with the band of the same name, and then reissued by Vanilla Records a couple of years later. The title, translated to “Step on a Land Mine and Say Goodbye”, is “Jirai o Fundara Sayonara”. It’s a very cool compilation, with some recognizable names in several genres, which is one of the interesting things about it. There’s abstract jazziness from Tairikuotoko vs Sanmyakuonna (featuring Tatsuya Yoshida from the Ruins and Katsui Yuji from Rovo, among others); noise from Diesel Guitars and Yellow Cab, and some pretty out-there weirdness from a number of others.

Because this is from 15 years again and is so obscure, I can’t imagine anyone minding it if I posting the full cassette here. I’ve included scans of the cover and the interior, since the liner notes include the names of the members of the various bands. Obviously, if anyone does for some reason object to it being here, let me know and I’ll take it down immediately of course. Otherwise, everyone enjoy, and consider it a holiday/new year’s present from the blog!

NOTE: WordPress won’t let me upload a zip file, so this file is called “blue-ist005.pdf” — after you download it, rename the file to “.zip” instead.

Download “Jirai o Fundara Sayonara”

Kansai No Wave History — 1981

•December 27, 2009 • 2 Comments

Going through some stacks of papers in my office, I stumbled on two pages of typed manuscript that someone gave me years ago for possible inclusion in Ongaku Otaku magazine. It’s the beginnings of a history of the Kansai “no wave” scene, written by Hijokaidan/Alchemy Records head Jojo. I no longer remember who gave it to me or who translated it (probably David Hopkins?), but I thought it well worth typing up and posting here. It was “to be continued” but this is all I have. Another, similar writeup by Jojo along with T. Mikawa, is available on the noise.as site, a highly recommended read. Some later history of the Kansai scene by Jojo also appeared in Public Bath’s Show-Kai zine back in the 90s. Anyway, here you go.

Kansai No Wave History — 1981
by Jojo Hiroshige

The beginning of 1981 saw the start of a series of concerts at Studio Ahiru called “Answer 8!” put on at a pace of about once every four months. The project was run by Hayashi of Unbalance Records and the shows featured several Kansai bands and one guesting band from Tokyo, a lineup that was unusual at the time. The very first one featured Zelda from Tokyo, and from Kansai, Hijo Kaidan, Auschwitz, Upmaker, Hillgate (which later became Honey & Costume), and Jelly.

Unbalance Records was the only real independent label in Kansai, and gradually reviews and news about it began to appear in music magazines. Hayashi also began to distribute records put out by Doll magazine on their City Rocker label.

Kansai experienced an explosive increase in the number of bands, some of which are still active today. Laughin’ Nose and Continental Kids, who later became quite well-known, started around this time, and other hardcore bands of the time included Nashi and Memai. Other unique bands, ranging from the vaguely progressive Cupie Box and Erotics, to Bide & Vibrators showed up. From Kyoto, Noizunzuri’s first incarnation and EP-4 brought a high level of confusion and chaos, making us both laugh and shake with fear.

Inu had already signed to a major label, and rarely played out live. Stalin started upsetting club owners with their particular brand of wildness. Stalin played a show at Taku Taku in Kyoto, performing with Neomatisse, Auschwitz, Hoburakin, and Hijo Kaidan. The matching of Hijo Kaidan’s performance, which included on-stage urination, vomiting, and the throwing of raw fish, with Stalin’s, which featured total nudity and blood-letting, was quite inspiring to both. In the audience were Hiryu and Kamikaze who later formed influential HC band Masturbation. Because Michiro of Stalin hurt himself rather badly at this show, their show the next day in Osaka at Mantohihi was performed under the name Lenin, and featured roadie Saji (later the singer for Sodom) on vocals. Hijo Kaidan joined them again, performing under the name Shuno Kaidan (this is a pun — Hijo Kaidan means “emergency stairs”, with Kaidan meaning stairs; Shuno Kaidan means “summit meeting”, with Kaidan in this case a different word meaning conference — ed). The day after this show, Hijo Kaidan returned to Taku Taku to pay for the damage they had done to mike stands, etc, and the place still smelled like raw garbage. Particularly strong was the smell of garlic. When the No Comments, that night’s featured band, showed up for sound check, one of them said, “Oh great! You’re making curry for us!” I giggled in the shadows.

It doesn’t exist anymore, but down in Osaka’s Tennoji, there was an outdoor concert space, and around the holidays in early May a rock event, “The Spread of Fireflies”, was planned. Participating Kansai bands were Nashi, Auschwitz, System, Cupie Box, Upmaker, Headache, and Zigzag. From Tokyo, Jagatara came down. When I think about it now, it was a really weird lineup with a wide variety of styles, from hardcore to new wave to tribal funk. As the first outdoor rock event there, we’d been told that there had to be a limit on the volume. I’d like to say that everybody had a great performance, but actually, the Kansai bands were, um, not very impressive.

In September, Hijo Kaidan were invited to play in Tokyo at Keio University’s school arts festival. They were already known somewhat in Tokyo as having an “intense staging” on the order of The Stalin. The show was in a large classroom, something like a big lecture hall. Playing with us were Stalin, Taco, Fushitsusha and Banko. We had been told in advance that anything we wanted to do would be okay — no conditions. As part of the performance, a fire extinguisher was actually broken and the room was completely filled with fire-smothering gas and white powder — completely filled. The audience all fled from the room, and the PA room people got angry and cut off the sound, ending the show midway. There were some words between the PA operators and the management so the show could continue. Stalin came on and started to play, but suddenly, the frustrated and angry members of Hijo Kaidan rushed the stage, took over the microphones, and with bats and chairs smashed every window in the hall. There was glass everywhere. The PA people were so scared the entire event was cancelled then and there. The bands who were to appear in the second night’s show, Taco and Fushitsusha, were pretty upset, of course. Haino Keiji of Fushitsusha said to us, “You call this self-expression?! I’d just like to see you try and keep doing this shit!” I remember him being really livid. Anyway, we all stayed after and properly helped clean the place up, and you know, Hijo Kaidan has now continued for many years after that.

At that performance, in the audience was Yokoyama Sakevi, who came up to us and said he was getting ready to start a band. Sure enough, GISM soon appeared on the scene.

At the end of August, there was a weeklong event called “Flight 7 Days” at Shinjuku Loft in Tokyo, featuring bands from many independent labels. One day was to be Unbalance Day. For most of the Kansai bands, being able to play in Tokyo was almost like a dream back then. In charge was label owner Hayashi, of the band Auschwitz. (At this time he was also playing extremely noisy guitar as one of the front persons in Hijo Kaidan.) NG, a strange heavy band playing something somewhere between noise and electropop, and in their first-ever Tokyo appearance, Hoburakin, whose bizarre sense of humor seemed to mystify Tokyo people, along with Hijo Kaidan, 9 members strong, still pissing and vomiting and throwing fish, rounded out the bill. They had promised each band a guarantee of ¥10,000 but only a hundred people showed up and they lost their shirts. We went home still stinking of fish and fermented soybeans, but happy that we had represented the best that Kansai had to offer. We let them see the unpretentious, direct approach that is so different from Tokyo’s, and were satisfied, and strangely proud to be doing something that they couldn’t do. We were willing to be ugly.

In the fall, Hijo Kaidan added some female members and played a gig at Kyoto’s Doshisha University with Neomatisse, Honey & Costume, and a few others. This developed into what was probably our most violent show ever. We threw everything — mike stands, tables, instruments, chairs, everything — into the audience. We chased everyone except the band members and the PA operators out of the hall. This seemed the logical extension of what we had formed to do. Now I can laugh about it but then we were quite serious. That intense energy and spirit, call it youth or strength or whatever, gradually moved over into the hardcore scene.

20 Guilders

•October 7, 2009 • 1 Comment

20guilders_cvr
Well-known Tokyo troublemaker/scenesters Suzuki Junzo and Tabata Mitsuru have gotten together and created a dream-psych-folk duo called, for some reason, 20 Guilders. Based on simple guitar and folk, the songs are most often on the calm side, though with the occasional burst of fuzz breaking through.

Junzo will be known for his solo work — which this is very akin to — and his recent membership in the New Miminokoto. His adept guitar work and emotional vocals fit right into this format. Tabata, perhaps best-known for his roles in Zeni Geva and Acid Mothers Temple, may surprise listeners with his heartfelt singing and gentle playing here. His “Enban” is a simple strum with background lead guitar and soulful singing.

There are two 20 Guilders releases out now, with overlapping versions of some of the same songs. Their self-released CDR “Patricia” and the “Wrong Songs for Patricia” cassette (Sloow Tapes) contain the same songs for the most part, with a couple that aren’t shared. However, the versions of them all seem to be different enough that if you enjoy the songs, you may well want both. The cassette’s only available in an edition of 70 copies, by the way, and the song “Little Swallow-Hikari”, only on the tape, features synth added by AMT’s Hiroshi Higashi.

There’s more info and contact for 20 Guilders on their MySpace page.

Listen to “Shadows of Faded Wings” from the “Patricia” CDR.

Some photos: Solmania, CCCC, Masonna

•September 23, 2009 • Leave a Comment

I’ve started scanning piles of old photographs I have around, and I’ll post any that seem interesting, just to share. Here first are a few noise folks, photos taken in the early 90s. When I remember who took a photo I’ll include that info, but years have passed and usually there’s nothing on the photo to tell me that. You can click on each photo to get a larger version of it.

First, a photo of Masahiko Ohno, aka Solmania, with one of his early custom-built noise-guitars.

solmania

Next, a couple of CCCC’s Mayuko Hino.

mayuko_hino

cccc

And lastly, a crazy Polaroid of Masonna:

masonna

Noizuwarcame “希望の水”

•September 23, 2009 • Leave a Comment

With references on the obi to Rallizes and LSD-March, and the mysterious cover picture, you’d figure on this being a psych-out album, and you’d be mostly right. It’s not a guitars-blazing Acid Mothers freakout by any means, though. Instead, it’s for the most part a laid-back, swirling affair — which isn’t to say that the trio don’t sometimes hit the accelerator and head off into the cosmos. They do at times, such as on the opening, title track (loosely translated as “Water of Hope”). Or “平和” (Peace), with an appropriately calm opening, abetted by violinist Chiako Okamoto, that explodes into some pretty out-there guitar-violin pyrotechnics.

Label boss Keizo Suhara plays bass with Noizuwarcame (yeah, I know that’s not quite the right pronunciation of the kana on the CD but that’s how they transliterate it on the cover), but it’s clearly songwriter Umemaru Chihiro on vocals and guitar who’s the centerpiece of the band. Single-named drummer Aiko fills out the trio.

Umemaru has clearly listened to his Gaseneta and Rallizes albums and learned their lessons, and this is good stuff, sloppy in the right places and aimed for the heart of the sun when it suits things. Garage rock, fuzzed-out bliss, and shadowy atmospherics all find their places here. There’s room for growth, to be sure, but fans of this sort of thing will know who they are, and you’ll want to search this out.

Listen to “Peace” by Noizuwarcame.

Videos worth checking out

•July 21, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Thought I’d toss in a quick post with a link to a YouTube user’s listing who has a ton of great videos to check out, including Godman, Keiji Haino, LSD-March, and more: click here for YouTube.

New Miminokoto – All About Mimi

•June 24, 2009 • Leave a Comment

newmiminokoto

Following a lineup change, Miminokoto released a superb live CDR last year, which had me looking forward to a new official album — and here it is, albeit under the name New Miminokoto, apparently to distinguish itself from the earlier incarnation.

The main change is guitarist and vocalist Junzo Suzuki, who has been mentioned on this blog before. His style isn’t radically different from previous guitarist Masami Kawaguchi, who’s busy now with his own New Rock Syndicate, but Suzuki’s feel seems even better suited for the dark, bluesy psychedelia of Miminokoto. His voice is passionate, and his guitar work moves fluidly from slow, delicate strumming into fierce fuzz-driven leads. Drummer Koji Shimura, the group leader, is joined by bassist-around-town Takuya Nishimura, whose bass alternates between steady, solid rhythm work and busier melodic playing.

Miminokoto has never made a secret of its inspiration from Kousokuya’s main man Kaneko Jutok, and here tribute is paid with two of Kaneko’s songs. The first, “Hour of Death,” might be my favorite piece on the album. A few years ago I was scheduled to play a show in Tokyo on a bill with Kaneko, but he shockingly passed away a month or so before the show. Instead, I was fortunate to see Shimura join a tribute to Kaneko with singer Mick and, if I recall correctly, Nishimura on bass.

Released by the stalwart PSF label, this is a must for anyone who’s enjoyed the previous Miminokoto outings as well as any of the other bands mentioned here. The band also have a great live album which they’re shopping around here in the U.S. (anyone with a label who’s interested, let me know and I’ll put you in touch with them!). Hopefully they’ll get that released and come tour soon.

Listen to “Hour of Death” by New Miminokoto.