Japanese Noise-Core Records
Here is the Shit-Fi top ten list of Japanese noise-core records (all of which are 7"s, most flexis). The list is based on my own personal taste, many years of listening to these records, and endless conversations with other enthusiasts. I published a list of the top five in 2002 in Game of the Arseholes #5, which was a dry run for this article. The intervening years have made the music much more obtainable, with reissues and scumbag bootlegs aplenty as well as the more benign file-sharing and MP3 downloads. I have included sound files for most, if not all, of the records on the list. It's true that most of these records are rare and getting rarer, and I cannot deny that I believe the most authentic and rewarding listening experience comes from the original vinyl housed in the original sleeve, but there is no reason to think this list is meant as some sort of exercise in the dread elitism that is so often associated with rare records. Nope, pure Japanese noise-core socialism here, comrades.
I am making a point of not defining what exactly "Japanese noise-core" means to me as a preface to this article. Rather, I hope the accumulated insights, details, and observations in these ten short pieces will constitute a full explanation of what this (noise not) music is and why I believe it is important. I will note that no "crust" records will be included, even though one of the records on this list is from 1991, two years after Gloom formed. I believe Gloom, taking influences from Extreme Noise Terror and countrymen Acid and Confuse, in addition to Disorder, Chaos UK, Discharge, is of a different era from the one covered in this list. Gloom is the finest band of that era, and will certainly be #1 on any list I write about it, but because I believe the "Confuse era" and the "Gloom era" to overlap, this list isn't limited to the 1980s only. Also, part of the impetus for writing this list, besides the current availability of the music online, is that I believe these records are beginning to capture a wider audience, outside the crust/collector scenes. Noise—whatever that means—is hip (maybe already passé, even), but are harsh-noiseheads hip to these records? In my opinion, anyone interested in extreme music should check these bands out. No need for secrecy here. The noise cat is out of the bag.
Thanks: Chris Minicucci, David Hyde, Murakami Kuniharu,Imants Krumins, Zach Howard, Takanori Nitta
Confuse “Spending Loud Night” (Kings World Records: CONFUSE 6)
“Spending Loud Night” is to Japanese noise-core what “The Medium Was Tedium” is to UK DIY or “Agitated” is to punk. And as in the ordering of the known primitive shit world scribed by Mr. Kugelberg, what places this record at the top of the Japanese noise-core list is metaphysics, pure and simple. Also, like “Agitated,” this record was released some time after it was recorded: four years later, in ‘87. One is tempted to argue that the world was not yet ready for such unholy screech as is contained herein back in the easy-going days of ‘83, but, alas, one doubts the world could’ve been any more ready in ‘87, either. (Also, one is not entirely convinced that some remixing did not occur between ’83 and ’87 to improve the sound.) It is known for certain that Chaos UK and Disorder were Confuse’s primary influences, but the bolt of feedback that sets off this attack also sets it a notch or thirty above the barmy UK noisenheimers of yore. The components of this noise sound more like the effects machines used in old movies about space aliens. They rev up, flutter around, and zoom to warp speeds. As would become the trademark of the Fukuoka (Kyushu) noise-core sound, it is the bass which produces the melody. Nary a discernable riff is to be heard emanating from the geetar. Solos come in when one expects them, and they’re quite crude, though novel in their apparent desire to push the limits of the noise a guitar can make. Vocals pan from one side to the other and seem to be mostly desperate screams like “Argh” and “Ugh,” certainly rarely matching up with the lyrics printed. At times, the drums, which approximate falling sheet metal, seem to pan willy-nilly as well. What’s so remarkable about this record is that each song has unique production values. They are all blindingly noisy, but as Kazimir Malevich never painted a simple black square which could be mechanically reproduced, Confuse layer their tunes with subtle and endearing qualities. For example, there is an extra, rumbling drum track that appears out of nowhere late in “Absolute Power of Armaments Old Man.” And, indeed, in the title track, which comes last on the record, and which is the truffle shaved onto the top of the soufflé, the noise is layered complexly, as if it were some sort of deranged symphony. “Hate War” is the fastest tune—actually, for ‘83 it’s remarkably fast. On the “Nuclear Addicts” flexi, it’s called “Hate (Is It War?),” but this, the earlier version, is superior. Incidentally, though “Nuclear Addicts” has the sleeve that launched a million myspace profiles, “Spending Loud Night” is clearly one of the finest punk catch phrases ever penned, and another reason why this EP is my favorite Confuse record. Regarding “Merciless Game,” the lyrics include the please-carve-this-into-my-tombstone line “AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH.”
But the great achievement of this record is its title track, and unlike the other three tracks, no different version of it appears on another Confuse record. The tune itself makes, say, O. Rex sound, oh, complex. It was probably inspired by “Farmyard Boogie,” Chaos UK’s perennial favorite sheep-shagging anthem. “Spending Loud Night” is barely half the speed of the usual Confuse fare, and Isoda-san (a.k.a. Dis) almost sings, in the way one almost sings at karaoke when one is too drunk to link the bouncing ball to the words on the screen. But this song goes a long way toward explaining the mysteries of Confuse: the ‘60s pop-art lettering on the picture sleeve makes a mite of sense once one hears the sub-sub-sub-sub-pop-psych major-key solo guitar overdubs. My father’s in the fireplace and my dog lies hypnotized by the sublime noize of Confuse. If Confuse are best understood as the Japanese hardcore band that embodied the fundamentally punk, and perhaps especially fundamentally Japanese punk, notion of pushing the boundaries of a genre to its extreme while never skirting those boundaries and heading somewhere else, maybe it is best to understand the sound of these solos as Confuse asking “What is most abhorrent to punks?”—hippies, natch—and then saying, “OK, so we’ll appropriate a hippie sound and turn it on its head so that it will make both the punks and the hippies cover their ears and run out of the room.” Of course, in their hearts, they knew that the diehards would not run in fear but rather would turn up the volume and try to crawl inside the speakers.
All Confuse records are worth repeated high-volume listens. But here is my slightly sacrilegious list of favorites in order of finest to almost finest (if I turn up assassinated, you’ll know to suspect certain Midwest and/or Southern California noise/punk weirdos as a result of this): “Spending Loud Night” 7", “Indignation” demo, tracks from V/A “Jisatu Omnibus” 8", “Stupid Life” 12", “Nuclear Addicts” flexi, “Contempt for the Authority…” 7". Bootlegs not included. Duh.
Kuro 1st flexi (Blue Jug)
We now begin the flexi portion of the evening. Most records collectors have more experience with things flexible than they admit. Along with The Execute (whose first record is #1 on a different list), Kuro were the originators of Motörthrash. Their discography has been the subject of many a work of fiction (ie, dealer lists), and other than GISM, they’ve been bootlegged more than any other Japanese band. Nevertheless, their first flexi, limited to 1000 copies, is, as violent noisy hardcore goes, perfect. Yes, it’s live. No, the songs don’t have titles listed (though they do on later reissue CDs). And yes, that’s the sound of men, women, and children as they cry and scream in pain. Or, men, women, and children as they flee from the open in search of safety. Or, men, women, and children groaning in agony from the intolerable pain of their burns.
After the fireworks and the screaming, a razor-sharp bassline speeds out of control to introduce the song “Jag Out.” If Lemmy is known as the original out-of-control speed-freak bassist, Kuro’s Manzi plays like Lemster’s reputation. Though fast hardcore already was well entrenched around the world by 1983, this record has that uniquely Japanese quality, perfected later by Gauze, of creating the feeling of speed over actual superfast tempos. And before long, chaos ensues. Judging from the Kuro live videos I’ve seen, chances are that when the Ray Sunshine–esque pans combine with the sound of what seems to be the band beating audience members over the head with their instruments, it’s because the band was beating the audience members over the head with their instruments. One wonders if the show was Kyushu’s Altamont. Actually, it’s obvious Kuro relished violent imagery, as so many of their posed photos show, and beating up your fans is shocking the first time and lame every subsequent time. But what keeps me from dismissing this band as mere thuggish show-offs is the excellence of the music, which captures the tension and fear they were obviously trying to create with their image. In fact, it is not just the audience member screams that make it sound like the show was violent, it’s the aggression of the playing, which balances calculated, precision playing with unexpected bursts and instruments cutting out. Maybe it’s more like a boxing match than a real fight. “Top Less Go,” the second track is slightly more mid-tempo, perhaps presaging the direction the band’s sound would take in subsequent years.
It should be noted that the recording on this flexi differs from the “Fire” live flexi (red wax, on KPP Records), also recorded in 1983. That flexi was ostensibly released twice, once with a picture sleeve and once sleeveless along with the “Fire” 7" set, which also includes the studio 1984 flexi, one track from which was included on “Killed by Hardcore” #2 LP. I’ve always been skeptical about the authenticity of the sleeve for the red live flexi, as the paper stock doesn’t seem to date from 1986. Its front reproduces the front of the “Fire” envelope and adds some additional text and the back is a collage of one of the pages of the “Fire” booklet and the insert to the “Who the Helpless” 8". Maybe there were leftover flexis that the band wanted to sell, so they made a cheap and easy sleeve for them. Rumors persist about distribution at gigs only, with variations about flexis tossed out into the audience—or was it through mailorder only? Nevertheless, this other live 1983 flexi is another must-hear. Even more violent, though less clear in sound, this recording is punctuated by many shouts and screams as well as the explosions of fireworks. The muffled, distant sound, combined with the, uh, incomplete guitar playing, give the feeling of hardcore disintegrating into ambient noise before one’s eyes (and ears). There are a few other live Japanese hardcore recordings that include fireworks, but this one is the finest. It is no coincidence that the notion of trying to blow up or smoke out your fellow punkers at a gig became especially prevalent in Cleveland, as that wretched locale—Painesville, actually (even more wretched)—for a time, was home to America’s highest concentration of Japanese hardcore fanatics.
Kuro’s first flexi differs from most of the other records on this list of Japanese noise-core in that it doesn’t use a specifically noisy guitar sound. Overall, their sound was more influenced by Motörhead than Disorder, and on the definitive “Who the Helpless” 8", one of the sharpest and clearest hardcore recordings ever, Kuro mix “HNSNSN” sweeping riffage with over-the-top distorted vocals with edges like a sawblade (due to the pellucid recording quality, each tooth becomes tangible). Confuse and Kuro shared a label, Blue Jug—run by a general, rather than specifically punk, music magazine—and both hailed from Fukuoka in Southern Japan, so it strikes me as notable that Kuro’s noise-core was qualitatively different from Confuse’s. The difference may cause some maniacs to question my inclusion of Kuro’s flexi on this list of noise-core records, especially when the red flexi I mentioned is more lo-fi, but I don’t think there is any better way to classify this record. And what it shares with the other records on the list, especially “Spending Loud Night,” is the way it took an influence from already-extreme bands and refashioned it into something new and even more extreme. In this case, noisiness is inextricable from that extremity, from its otherworldliness. Shit-fi doesn’t simply mean lo-fi or primitive (well, sometimes it does), it also encompasses a “Je ne sais quoi” that adds character to the music. I can only hazard a guess that because these bands hailed from an insignificant place, far from Tokyo or even Osaka, where Japanese hardcore was notoriously developing, they felt a compulsion to set themselves apart, attract attention, and make a name for themselves as doing something worthwhile and remarkable—to add that character to the music. There is also the shit-fi truism, as exemplified by Neos, Terveet Kädet, Shaggs, etc., that bands from locales far outside the mainstream’s (or mainstream underground’s) attention often manage to create music more interesting, more deranged, and more extreme than what is going on in the big cities, where the hope or possibility of “making it,” on however minor a scale, distorts priorities. Whatever Kuro’s motivations, these nutjobs certainly succeeded at creating music of enduring appeal, both in the high-speed noisy explosion of the first flexi and in the rockin’ yet menacing distortion of the 8".
Gai “Extermination” (Blue Jug / Violent Party EP 001)
If Confuse invented the Kyushu noise-core sound, Gai made it a genre. Even more obviously influenced by Chaos UK, Gai set the standard: trebly guitar, tin-pan drum rolls, incomprehensible vocals, and extremely simple songs, plus a sleeve with artwork in the doodling-with-the-free-hand-while-in-a-straight-jacket style invented by Disorder. More so than Confuse, Gai hemmed closely to the UK sound, with barmy streetpunk song structures. As the band evolved into Swankys, the streetpunk influence was itself taken over by a ‘77/fun-punk influence, and the band became an odd amalgam of noise-core guitars and bouncy, silly punk. To be honest, I think Gai’s flexi is the weakest record on this list, but it is important because it defines the genre. Dozens of bands, such as Dust Noise, Screaming Noise, Donkeys, Chaos Ch, ad noisiem, have directly copied Gai and Swankys, although Gai, far more than Confuse, strike me as themselves copyists. Swankys developed their own sound, but Gai’s flexi doesn’t have much of its own character, even down to not having a clear recording, just like Disorder’s “Perdition.” (The -ion endings endemic to Kyushu ’84 were certainly a tribute to that 12".)
The “Damaging Noise” demo is noisier and perhaps more Discharge-influenced than the flexi, aided by its neanderthal-rolling-around-in-the-cave-gutter vocals and a few killer d-beat raw punk tunes. “Break” mixes Kyushu noise-core with straight Discharge riff rip, whereas “Fallen Angel’s Balls” (I don’t think that means what they think it means) is probably the closest Gai get to the bizarre noisy guitar-work of Confuse (avec le d-beat), and, finally, “Know” is a speedy shot of Stockholm-like mangel. Definitely a prime example of parallel evolution.
The two-sided, black, blank-label flexi has two highlights to my mind: the artwork and “Blood Spit Night (for ever 76).” Looking at the sleeve, one can’t help but wonder if Gai thought Blue Jug was going to lay out for a full eight inches of noise because, obviously, part of the artwork wasn’t within the crop marks. But more likely, that’s how they wanted it. If they could fit all four band members on a scooter, they could fit the word “extermination” on the sleeve. Note the retouching, consisting of Chaos UK and Violent Party tatts. As for the back, well, it’s even more clear something was cut off, but we get the point. On to “Blood Spit Night: uncoincidentally, like Confuse’s song “Spending Loud Night,” this song has a totally different sound from the rest of the band’s oeuvre—well, until they made a career out of it as Swankys. But prior to that, “Blood Spit Night” was one of the only examples of UK snotpunk cross-pollinated with “Driller Killer”-style dental surgery. It’s a slow singalong tune that bears no resemblance to the sound of the Portland band that would take the song’s name as its own. It’s a song that’ll make for a good to pogo to dislodge some of the dirt that accumulated in your ears after rolling around on the ground during the first five tracks on the flexi.
In conclusion, the incestuous relationship between the members of Gai and other Kyushu noise-core bands remains unclear to me, and I’d love to read a well-written translation of a retelling of the history. Based on the somewhat confusing (ugh) liner notes of the Sieg Heil LP on Overthrow, Confuse taught Gai and Sieg Heil, who shared members, how to produce the classic fuzz/noise guitar sound (and showed them how to dress in proper UK LBS&A style). It seems that Gai, led by Swanky on vocals, started as Swankys and then reverted back to that name later. They received their influence from Confuse at the same time both bands, along with Sieg Heil, and presumably others like Gess and No Cut (who both went on to employ melody—The horror! The horror!), were tearing up the live houses of Fukuoka and Hakata. Confuse’s “Indignation” demo, though not the first recording (recorded in April 1984), was the shot across the bow for Japanese noise-core, as a fully realized, cohesive release of 13 songs defining a new style of music. Confuse’s “Nuclear Addicts” flexi and Gai’s flexi were recorded within a few days of each other in August and September 1984. Both flexis were preceded by Gai’s “Damaging Noise” demo, Sieg Heil’s “Nazism” demo, and the “Indignation” demo, all on Violent Party. As far as I can tell, Violent Party used two concomitant numbering schemes for their flexi and cassette releases (“Nazism” and “Nuclear Addicts” are both #2). CD and LP re-releases of both of Gai’s demos have been intermittently available in Japan. There is also a CD called “1981–1985 Violent Party,” said to include otherwise unreleased studio tracks from those years. Finally, there is the internet rumor, originating with Wedge of 9 Shocks Terror, that Gai covered Electric Eels, which, if true, could cause a rethinking of the genesis of the entire noise-core genre, but I need to hear this cover myself first. This sort of minutiae isn’t particularly interesting to most people, I assume, but many blogs and fanzines out there talk a big game when it comes to obsessing over this music, with very little new or useful information (or even writing!) available. I blame filesharing to a degree, because hopelessly obscure music is now much more widely available, but it is decontextualized and stripped of the original packaging, which tends to help situate it, with dates, thanks lists, line-ups, etc.—though shoddy bootlegs and unavailable legitimate reissues are to blame too. Anyway, all that aside, Gai’s flexi is an essential piece of any museum-quality noise-core collection, but listen to those three tracks from “Damaging Noise” first if you’ve never heard these maniacs.
Gudon “Zannin Sieja” (Kagai Mosou 002)
Some translations: “Zannin” means “barbarous / boorish / brutal / butcherly / cruel.” “Seija” is “holy man” or “saint.” Gudon means “crass or crassness / inanity / vacuity / insipience / thick-headedness.” And you can tell by listening to this flexi.
A williwaw of noise and feedback, Gudon’s flexi stands out from the rest of the band’s multitudinous recordings. Their later material includes classic Japanese thrash, with their tracks on v/a “Hang the Sucker #2” LP as one of the highlights of traditional late ‘80s Japanese hardcore. And their earlier material, from around the time of this flexi is relatively pedestrian lo-fi fast hardcore that appeared on demos and cassette compilations such as the faintingly obscure v/a “Hiroshima Street Punks 2 / Stop World War 3.” None of it sounds like “Zannin Seija,” edging more toward an amalgam of UK ‘82 chaospunk meeting UK ‘86 early thrash.
In the first version of this article, published in Game of the Arseholes #5, I wrote, “This flexi is a pissraw live recording from inside a garbage can full of short-circuiting Marshalls rolling down Mt. Fuji.” That’s still true. The vocals are filthed in a moldy shag rug of distortion, red-lined and rough. Gudon, from Hiroshima, had a guitar sound far different from the overdriven fuzz of Kyushu noise-core, but this tempestuous recording is the closest the band gets to that sound, with feedback melding with chainsaw rawness. The insistent drums keep the music driving forward even as the vocals and guitar drop out, leaving behind only contrails of squealing feedback. The third and fourth tracks have a slightly different recording quality from the first two, best described as the sound becoming more amorphous, with each instrument less defined against the others. The fourth, and longest, track has a guitar solo like a Shinkansen, which serves to give the song a shape and define its melody from beneath the froth.
Crass, as one of the definitions of Gudon, seems rather appropriate considering their early artwork and song titles. The ‘84 “Fushuu” demo sleeve has a sub-Vomit Visions picture of a stocking-clad woman serving up a turd, with the caption “Do you eat?” And “Zannin Seija” edges into the top ten punk picture sleeves ever with its crude drawing of zombified Jesus Christ doin’ the dog with a zombified Mary Magdalene (one assumes) in front of a crucifix. (J.C. is apparently the barbarous saint.) Included on the flexi is the song “Cock,” with “Torture,” “Happy Genocide,” and, uh, “Bottomless Bog” on the “Fushuu” demo. And we must never forget the incantation from the “Howling Communication” EP: Egger! Egger! Dusty Bitch Give Me Cold Meat!
In my experience, this one-sided record is the third or fourth rarest on this list, but it is still at least a bill or two more expensive than the next closest contender. For some reason, “Zannin Seija” seems less sought-after than many other Japanese hc classics, which is the collector’s loss. For sheer uniqueness and out-of-nowhere what-the-fuckness, this flexi is a bargain at any price. Unfortunately, the excellent 2xLP discography of the band released by Partners in Crime a couple years ago excluded the flexi, “Fushuu” demo, the “Hiroshima Street Punks 2 / Stop World War 3” cassette comp, and the “Freak Complex / Final Shout” demo. The latter is particularly rough, with lacerated-throat vocals and a distorted bass sound that should be the stuff of legend. I think these tracks are all available on a Japanese-only CD, but I’ve never seen it so I can’t be certain. Anyone out there have a copy? As a final note, Gudon’s bassist, Guy, runs the estimable Blood Sucker Records, and the guitarist on the flexi and all the early cassette-only material, Zigyaku, is the genius, virtuoso, avatar behind Half Years, Crück, Bastard, and Judgement.
State Children “Bomb Shelter for Moneymaking!” flexi (More 04)
State Children’s one-sided black flexi, recorded in October 1984, is one of the most obscure records on this list of noise-core gems. It is almost certainly the most expensive on the collectors’ market today. Six years ago, almost no one outside Japan knew of this record. In the intervening years, a few collectors and zinesters (including me), as well as bands like Atrocious Madness and Lebenden Toten have increased the legendary status of the record. Earlier this year, a bootleg compilation LP including the flexi appeared; around the same time, it was announced in Japan that an authorized reissue of the flexi was planned. Earlier this month, a rip of the band’s extremely rare demo “Do You Support the Invation of Gurenada?” appeared for download on an MP3 blog. (On a trip to Japan in 2002, I saw the demo cassette sitting on a shelf at Record Boy in Tokyo, but the proprietors balked when I asked if I could look at it.)
In one sense, I can understand the desirability of this flexi. It includes some of the most charming broken English available on a Japanese record of the ‘80s. The stark sleeve artwork looks great (though the very flimsy paper stock makes a mint copy difficult to find). It certainly is rare. And the music is some of the most bonkers noise-core ever, surpassing Gai in the “extremely basic” department, with a blinding noise guitar sound and the vocals of an insane person. But these qualities unite in a sound that does not strike me as particularly easy to listen to, and the average collector, seeking a rare record with raging tunes, would probably be disappointed by the “acquired taste” this music engenders.
The record begins with an explosion, followed by sirens and a voice announcing what seem to be evacuation orders in Japanese. Thin, high-pitched feedback rises from beneath the sirens. A very basic bass line quickly begins, accompanied by the rantings of a gang of lunatics, who shreik, caterwaul, moo, and grunt for 20 seconds or so. I get the feeling they are trying to express how utterly insane nuclear war is. Or maybe that paying $500 for this flexi is even more insane than nuclear war.
Once the music actually starts, it’s a fairly tawdry affair. Throat-wrenching, mic-swallowing screams, mosquito-buzz guitar, and bargain-basement bass and drums. I’d say that drummer Zero got his name when the other band members calculated how many time changes his abilities could accommodate. That guitar sound is even more noisy/fuzzy/WTF than Confuse’s or Gai’s. It is more like ambiance than actual riffing. I defy anyone to discern the chord changes. Only the bass seems to change notes once in a while. Really, it must be heard to be believed because despite all the noise, the “songs” are memorable. No one would confuse State Children with Confuse or Gudon.
State Children, unlike many Japanese hardcore bands if the era, seemed actually to espouse political beliefs. Their pacifist sentiment comes across as more than just sloganeering, though one would be hard-pressed to say that their music spreads the message well. Still, they seem more political than Gai or even Confuse. A short write-up of the band from before the flexi was released, along with lyrics to one song, and a note from bassist Death (one English word: “Lydon”) appeared in the first issue of a Japanese fanzine called 100 Club. This zine is clearly antiwar and includes an article on various nuclear disarmament campaigns around the world. I can’t read Japanese, but the piece on the ‘Children seems to indicate a few bits of trivia: there were at least two drummers during the year and three months the band existed (from formationed ‘til clashed); the existence of two tapes is mentioned; the flexi’s original planned title was “Fighting for Power Politics”; and they took influence from Discharge, Crass, and Disorder (duh).
The bootleg LP “Tunes for Fucker - Vol. 1,” in addition to State Children, includes Deadless Muss “Rise Against” 8" flexi, Janky “s/t” flexi, and A. T. Det “Last Child Has No Power” 7". The latter is one of my favorite Japanese records, perfectly capturing the occult metalpunk sound of Zouo and GISM, but more burly in its metallic sound, without some of the silliness of those bands. It sounds evil, and the inside of its sleeve includes a particularly gruesome morgue picture of a pregnant woman’s torso sliced open. A. T. Det were labelmates of State Children (the label’s only other releases were the mediocre Headless flexi and the oi-ish Aggressive Dogs first flexi); the label head Takeshi Fukushima (and bassist of Headless) is still involved in hardcore, most famously as the bassist of Rocky and the Sweden. Oddly, even though A. T. Det’s 7" was More 03, the bootleg lists it as having been released in 1985 and State Children’s flexi in 1984. Well, why let facts get in the way of a lucrative bootlegging operation? I’m actually inclined to believe that both records didn’t make it into circulation until early 1985. Also, the back of the flexi’s sleeve clearly says “Contorol Mama,” not “Control Mama.” Overall, the bootleg, which uses the front cover of State Children’s flexi for its own front cover, is of decent quality. All sleeve and label art is replicated. The sound quality is not measurably worse than the originals, but it is not better either, with the whooshing noise in the background of this flexi audible. Two aspects bother me: first, why compile these four records together? They don’t sound anything like each other. Perhaps the idea is to give a listener a cross-section of ‘80s Japanese hardcore. That is a reasonable, if unattainable, goal, but it doesn’t make for a very cohesive listening experience. The next volume of this compilation series, which just came out and which I have yet to see, includes Tranquilizer flexi (coming soon to Shit-Fi’s noise-core top ten list), G-Spot flexi, Manbiki Chocolate 8" flexi, and Zouo 7", again all over the map sound-wise. More importantly, though, this bootleg strikes me as particularly audacious, considering it marks the music © Tunes for Fucker Records 2007. Covering the bootlegger’s ass, I presume. As I’ve said before, MP3 downloads have made vinyl bootlegs nearly obsolete, especially when they include no bonus information or artwork, like this one. Furthermore, today’s hardcore punk bootleg market is sophisticated, using shell companies, money-laundering, and other techniques of criminal conspiracy that make one wonder how long until a bootlegged band drops a dime to the FBI (or Interpol) and a RICO prosecution ensues. I feel we have strayed far from the original, commendable goals of bootleg compilations like Killed by Death, Bloodstains, or Killed by Hardcore, into the realm of pure profit, far removed from punk’s ideals.
As for “Do You Support US the Invation of Gurenada?” (yes, that’s how it’s spelled), this demo should enter the pantheon of shit-fi classics, in the most basic sense of the term. It’s terribly recorded, lo-fi cavedwelling rubbish-bin core. Its brethren include RAPT, Imagen, Sekunda, Ruido de Rabia, Eat Shit, etc. Many short songs are included for proper destruction of all brain cells. Unlike the flexi, the incandescent noise guitar is missing from this recording, which may be due to poor recording techniques just not being able to capture the screech. It sounds a bit like it was recorded from inside a taxiing jet while the band played on the wing. Again, this must be heard to be believed, but I doubt many listeners, even the most ardent of shit-fi connoisseurs, will make it all the way through in one sitting. Still, I’d like to hear an original copy of the tape to be sure the lack of fidelity (and mega-tape-hiss attack) is not attributable to poor dubbing and conversion to the digital format. Maybe next time I’m in Tokyo, Beck-san will be more easygoing about letting me check out the demo for myself (pretty, pretty, pretty please!).
In conclusion, I am unsure if the bootleg LP has caused plans for a legitimate reissue to be shelved, but I hope not. A proper job, complete with rare photos, additional information, and the demo (or demos, if State Children really had two) included, would be invaluable, and it would be nice to know that the band received some recompense for their efforts. I doubt they received much at the time, as the scarcity of this record, even in comparison to the other More Records releases, indicates that it didn’t sell very well. Shame really. If I ran the world, State Children would have a gilded flexi hanging on their wall and the Nobel Prize, Ryder Cup, and about a dozen Tonys in their trophy case.
Z “Violence Action” (Z Record 002)
It’s a familiar story. In fact, without it, rare punk dealers around the world would be like the schlubs selling Dire Straits LPs out of cardboard boxes on street corners. It’s the story of mediocre bands that release one outstanding record (or song), one release differing in quality so greatly from the band’s other output that it is obvious they imbibed their tiny ration of genius in one great gulp. Z would be a totally forgettable late ‘80s/early ‘90s slightly metallic Japanese thrash band were it not for their “Violence Action” flexi (red wax, one-sided). Indeed the title song appears in an unrecognizably different version on the 8" comp, “I’ll Gather Up,” which is a veritable compendium of the era’s Japanese mediocore. Luckily, the good record in this case isn’t very rare and is most likely the cheapest record on this list. It was bootlegged on “Order of the Kite Volume One” CD in the ‘90s. Also, their split EP with Finland’s Valse Triste might still be available in some distros at the price of a new record.
The jacket of the flexi depicts a crudely drawn leather-jacketed, ripped-jeans, booted, be-mohawked skeleton. An apparent manifesto on the inside of the sleeve contains the English line “Stand hair” twice. Sincerely. The nose on the skeleton’s skull is pinocchic and would be phallic were it not for the absurd height of the mohawk. (Yes, I know you’re wondering “What, after all, is absurdity when discussing a walking skeleton with a mohawk?”) The points of the mohawk add up to ten phalluses for “Z Boy.” We know his name because he’s walking past a wanted poster for “Name Z Boy” which has an even cruder drawing of our friend on it. Reward: $15000. Natch. It’s clear that Z Boy is wanted for some “violence action,” and what’s more, it’s clear that said violence action was not only perpetrated on Z’s instruments but also on the flexi-disc listeners. It is sheer algolagnia.
The title track starts with a propeller hitting a girder. Oh wait, that’s a guitar. Then, “Go To Kill” is dominated by the sound of a crash cymbal being shoved into an industrial fan. Actually, in the first few seconds, before the cymbals begin, the rough guitar tone is more reminiscent of one heard on a lo-fi basement hard rock record (think Vulcan) than a late ‘80s high-speed hardcore record. That’s all over in a flash, before a riff really even develops, once the noise kicks in. The speed is notable because none of the other records on this list is defined by its speed. Certainly the 1988 release date meant that the band could’ve been aware of early grindcore (and superfast hardcore). Could Z be the result of laying Repulsion’s velocity atop Confuse’s noise and feedback?
What makes this record great is not just that this is rehearsal gutter junk, it’s that the band’s other releases didn’t sound like this. They’re not so fast, not nearly so noisy. The violence of their other recordings is calculated, blustery, like the poncy posing of so many metal bands. The violence of the flexi is tangible in the mad cymbal crashes, the tortured vocal barks, the string-breaking guitar explosions. Their ounce of genius was not only spent on the music, a goodly portion of it went into the decision to release this recording on vinyl (or whatever the hell flexis are made from).
The “Violence Action” flexi is a particularly ugly example of the Japanese noise-core sound near the end of its ‘80s incarnation. Before long, the facepaint and studded face masks would give way to the more traditional rags-core style of UK crusties. Here, whether intentional or not, the blinding white noise of the flexi seems to derive more from an encounter with early industrial music than from an attempt to outdo Chaos UK. In this way, the flexi evinces a feeling one associates with punk of the ‘80s, before the range of influences from which punk bands drew narrowed and ossified. Against this argument is the mediocrity of the band’s other recordings, as I mentioned. That unevenness, too, however, also seems wholly of the ‘80s, when first releases far outdoing subsequent ones was the norm. It’s nice to think that Z were trying to combine extremely harsh proto-industrial noise with Discharge and Napalm Death, though it’s probably just a fantasy. More likely, these punks just went for it and what resulted was a better outcome, in terms of extreme music, than anyone should’ve expected. The important question is: what the heck was Z Record 001? A demo perhaps?
From: Zach Howard
The text to the left of Shingi on the line up photo says "Z Wa Urusai" or in English; "Z is noisy". To his right it says "Kane Ga Nai," which means something like "No money" ("Kane" means money, "Ga" is a particle and "Nai" is indicating the negative form).
The text on the back side of the sleeve is, I think, an ad for their 1st tape (I've put the literal Katakana pronunciation in brackets). It says something about 1st [Te-Pu] (tape in English) and sending 600 yen to an address. The Katakana in the last line says [Hebi Meta] Fuckoff,or when spelled in English; "Heavy Metal Fuckoff". Finally, it looks like the tape has 26 songs.
Tranquilizer “s/t” flexi (Tranquilizer Record 001)
Just six or seven years ago, Tranquilizer’s first flexi was one of those Japanese hardcore records that few had seen or heard. Even the collector cognoscenti, who hypothesized about it in hushed tones (in hopes of keeping its price low), didn’t know much about it. Was it a bonzer or a boner? Now, after appearing on the second volume of the bootleg compilation LP “Tunes for Fucker” (which used Tranquilizer’s back cover image on its front) and showing up on an MP3 blog or two, everyone should know that this record is a unique, bizarre, and important piece of the Japanese noise-core puzzle. Unlike Confuse, Kuro, or Gudon, all previous notables on my list, Tranquilizer hailed from the north of Japan, the island of Hokkaido. Like Kyushu, northern Japan was far outside the Tokyo-Osaka axis, which may explain Tranquilizer’s shit-fi sound. But nothing else quite sounds like this record’s whirlwind of minced-up noise. The singer sounds like he’s using a kazoo. Let me repeat that in case you missed it: a kazoo. Oddly enough, he is now a famous doctor who appears on television often, and his wife is a professional wrestler. A few moments of live footage of the band ended up on YouTube after appearing on a Japanese television talk-show, ostensibly to poke fun at the good doctor’s youthful indiscretions.
I must say that his bowl cut today is only marginally less cringe-worthy than his weirdo grown-out mohawk in the video. Anyway, if Kuro—and L.S.D., as Jello Biafra noted in Incredibly Strange Music Vol. 2— ratcheted up hardcore’s “sonic attack” by distorting the vocals, Tranquilizer exceeded that intensity and pushed it into some other as-yet-unidentified realm. Well, I guess I can humbly identify it: shit-fi. Besides the blurry chaos of the vocals, the songs themselves blur together. (This mp3 doesn’t bother to attempt to artificially separate them, in order to capture the full effect.) The guitars are downright nasty, played without any subtlety. At the beginning of the record, it sounds as if the guitarist is idly strumming to see how bad he can make it sound, or perhaps to test the strength of the strings. The drums rarely deviate from a simple, driving beat. Whatever tune might exist within the chaos is actually somewhat easy to pick out, because, in ultra-basic punk fashion, the guitar, bass, and vocals all seem to be following the same lines, note for ear-bleeding note.
Like State Children and Confuse, Tranquilizer couple their violent noise with a pacifist message, but, at least to someone who doesn’t read Japanese and in the absence of a lyric sheet, it does not come across as typical sloganeering. The record’s sleeve depicts sepia-toned, imperfectly exposed, before and after shots of a prisoner of war, held by Japanese soldiers during the massacre in Nanking, garroted with a bayonet. Little else accompanies the photos, which is noteworthy because the photos are documentary evidence of atrocities some Japanese politicians deny ever occurred, or else minimize as Chinese propaganda. The weird thing is that out of context, sans captions (or lyrics) the photos do not have much impact as political tools. But Tranquilizer probably weren’t trying to be political. Rather, they were trying to conjure a certain nonspecific feeling of doom. The band’s name may seem to contradict the aggressiveness of the music, but the blurriness of the sound and the soft-focus message do evoke a sensation of having been tranquilized, though not quite enough to turn off one’s lights, just enough to distort one’s perceptions and push consciousness into a less-traveled state, a fitful, teeth-grinding, and trance-like sleep. Their second flexi, which should be cheaper and easier to find, sounds nothing like the first one. Only the singer and guitarist are listed on the sleeve, though the songs also have bass and drums. It is not noise-core. However, parts of the songs continue the tranquilized feeling, with occasionally far-off vocals, and gloomy music reminiscent of some of the late 80s metallic hardcore created by Tokyo stalwarts of the early 80s like Ghoul, The Execute, etc. Fans of low-budget but ambitious metal obscurities should certainly seek out the second flexi. Listen to the two flexis in a row and you’ll traverse the astral plane, from one antiwar, oppositional obsession with death to another, resigned or even eager form of Thanatos. Or maybe I’ve just been listening to too much psychedelia lately.
Song title translations:
2. TOSATSUBA (TAIRYO-GYAKUSATU)
Slaughter place? (Genocide)
3. BAKUDAN TOUKA MEIREI
The Order to Drop the Bomb
5. MEDOSA (MAJYO NO KYOUFU)
Medusa (Witch's Fear)
6. VIETNAM (KYOKUCHI SEN)
Vietnam (Brush war)
Thanks to Kevin Hunt for help with translation.
Toxo-Vomit “Crisis of Life” flexi (Dream-Record 001)
Describing Toxo-Vomit’s “Crisis of Life” flexi requires a superlative or two. The band name is the best. This flexi is the most obscure record on this list. It is also the most amateurish. (If auctioned on eBay, it could become the most expensive.) Whereas Confuse or Gai were professional antiprofessionals, studied in the imitation of the UK masters of chaos punk to the point that one gets the feeling their broken English was no more broken than that of the average Evo-huffing nutter from the East End, Toxo-Vomit, on the other hand, had a hard time putting together a record. The tracks are listed incorrectly on the sleeve. The center print of the label says “Toxo-Vomip.” And the front of the sleeve actually says, somewhat illegibly, “Crisis of Lfe.” Oh well. One gets the point. I don’t even really need to mention the drawing (or include this scan) for you to get an idea of what it looks like. The record appears to have been the first release on a label run by the Dream recording studio: maybe the blame doesn’t fall fully on the band. But why would a recording studio want to advertise its services with the work of these rank amateurs? Luckily for us, amateurism is the gold standard of shit-fi.
In the latter part of 1986, Toxo-Vomit were a little late for the trend. But their sound differs from Kyushu’s “typical” noise-core noise. Like Rustic Top Dogs and Armed Government’s Error, Toxo-Vomit came from Niigata, on the northwest coast of Honshu, Japan’s largest island. Niigata is the largest city on the Sea of Japan, but it might as well be an Alpine hamlet if Toxo-Vomit are its cultural emissaries. Though this record incorporates the fuzz/noise guitar attack we expect from Japanese noise-core, one can tell from its sound that the early 80s had ended. Although Gai and others had sped Japanese noise-core up on their own, it was European (well, and Brazilian, if I’m to be totally accurate) bands, taking cues from US degenerates like Gang Green, that really put the pedal to the metal, to far beyond the point of musical dissolution, totally, as they said, unhindered by talent. Toxo-Vomit recall bands like Scraps or Kuolema more than Chaos UK, even though it’s far more likely they dreamt of crash landing in Bristol than, say, Lille or Turku. It’s not so much that the Tox-Voms don’t sound Bristolian, it’s that by 1986, hardcore’s sonic limits had been stretched so far by so many that it was impossible for a band aiming for extreme noise not to capture some of what was in the proverbial ether. Unlike for Confuse in 1983, for Toxo-Vomit in 1986 there was no longer a single (perceived) geographic well-spring of extreme music. Maybe Toxo-Vomit never listened to any noise merchants other than Chaos UK and Disorder, but by 1986, those bands had already begun themselves to take influences from bands that had been influenced by them and had adopted their approach of pushing the limits of what was musically possible. I am discussing hardcore here, so rest assured the bad-arsed Toxo-Vomit don’t sound like some avant-garde outfit. Their sound is bare-bones and rough, but it’s also chaotic in a way that evokes the minute faction of contemporaneous noise-core from France, for example, as can be heard on “Imitation.” Their sound is a further permutation of Japanese noise-core, one step removed from the originators but also still one short of the next era, which would be dominated by sound-alike revivalists.
The bad news: my copy of this flexi skips. Badly. It’s definitely a pressing defect, not a warp or a bend. Maybe this too can be ascribed to their status as neophytes in the record-releasing game. (Then again, thousands of assjacks throughout history have self-released records that sound and look professional—and don’t skip—so who knows…) If I fiddle with my tone-arm enough, I can almost get the record to play properly, but I’ll have to save fiddling for another day. Thus, only one digitized track is available with this article. Shame too because you really must hear the drawn-out dirge “Ridiculous Life.” And how.
Coward "Voice" 7" flexi (Skeleton 004)
For taxonomists of hardcore, Coward’s “Voice” flexi may defy classification because it is so primal. It is, to be sure, Japanese noise-core, but I believe it could be filed alongside Underage, Varaus, Scraps, and D.T.A.L.—that is, loose, uncontrollable, frightfully lo-fi, and on-the-whole European, hardcore punk of the 1980s. The distinction between hardcore that begs subtyping and just-plain hardcore may be academic, but Coward seems to represent an absolute distillation of hardcore’s essence. It’s one of those records you play for your mom when she asks you what this hardcore punk phase you’re going through is all about. The music is the lowest common denominator, the residue left behind when all unnecessary adornment is swept away. It’s fast. It’s noisy. It’s basic but chaotic; unlike minimalistic hardcore, whose minimalism itself is its adornment, Coward’s full sound seems natural, lacking any sort of artifice. The noise is not an additive; it is a constiuent. This very simple example of hardcore punk comes in a simple package, a one-sided flexi in a simple foldover sleeve. One complication: it’s a very, very rare and very, very expensive flexi. Luckily, Osaka’s Crust War Records reissued it on a split LP with another rare (but inferior) record, Gasmask’s lone EP. The LP also includes some great live stuff as well as new recordings of songs written in the 80s by both bands, under the names Cowmask and Gasward (stinky!). This LP sold out in the blink of an eye, but MCR Records put it on a CD that should be easy to track down.
What makes Coward’s three-song flexi so compelling is its urgency. Despite the band’s name, the music is anything but pusillanimous. On my favorite track, “How Much?”, the members cannot quite manage to play in sync with each other because they are all so desperately trying to play as fast and mean as possible. Even the recording sounds fittingly urgent, with everything panned hard so that it sounds like they hit the record button as soon as they entered the room, before any poxy engineer had a chance to tell them how to set up. Part of the point of playing with such energetic urgency (yes, there was a point!) was demonstrating to any sadsack disco freak, greaser, poet, student, sheriff, vicar, or, worst of all, headbanger that there was no need to sully music by adopting such restrictions as talent, rhythm, tunefulness, or “taste” in all the bourgeois senses of the sensibility. To wit, Coward wrote on their flexi’s sleeve: “FUCK OFF HEAVY METAL, HARD ROCK, SLASH METAL.” With each song clocking in at about a minute and a half and nothing approaching a solo, a nuance, or a poodle-haired castrato to be found, Coward ran little risk of being confused with these abhorrent genres. It’s true there are a few seconds in “For Idiot” that approximate a guitar solo, but these seconds are devoid of any display of talent, technical prowess, or cockiness; the simple purpose of this exercise, instead, is to pierce eardrums. Coward’s gnarled bass sound is reminiscent of a herd of rhinoceri running through a corrugated-steel culvert. (Did you know that a herd of rhinos is actually—appropriately—called “a crash”?) That rhino bass starts out the record, and there’s no looking back from those opening moments. You’re either in or you’re wearing spandex and eye-shadow.
The bonus studio tracks on the reissue are noisy, but they are less sublime. “Little Joe” is like a much less talented take on the reigning thrash-til-death sound of the era, exemplified by fellow Osaka-based thrashers Outo. The live tracks are noisy but thin: cool to hear but not even close to the flexi in fulgent noisiness-is-next-to-godliness-ness.
Jigoku Manjyu “s/t” 7" flexi
Before I begin, I must note that my neighbor has been playing “That’s Amore” by Dean Martin at maximum volume for two days, which is far more cringeworthy, insaniac, and headache-inducing than any Japanese noise-core. I am glad to drown it out with Jigoku Manjyu. This one-sided flexi came out during the first moments of the “Gloom era” of Japanese noise-core, but it was not of that era. Rather, I believe it was one of the last examples of 80s-style Japanese noise-core. It is sparse, brutally primitive neanderthal noise-core, with rudimentary, roll-filled drumming and mosquito-buzz guitars. Unlike so many bands of recent years, this one did not consciously imitate any other. In fact, Jigoku Manjyu, which my pal Kevin tells me means something like “Hell in a Steamed Bun” (as in Chinese dim sum), may be the most original of the noise-core bands on this list. This flexi takes “I ain’t bin to no music school” to its extreme. These psychos didn’t go to school because they’re obviously feral and were raised by wolves. Clan of the Cave Bear or something. For me, a motivation for throwing back the shroud of “taste” on shit-fi music is demonstrating that music typically considered inept or primitive can actually be quite innovative. But if you’re reading this, you probably already know that. When it comes to high art, gimme Confuse or Jigoku Manjyu over Dean Martin any day.
On the primitive tip, Jigoku Manjyu apparently used a cave painting for the record sleeve. Whatever caveman was responsible, however, seems to have taken just a smidge of influence from Pushead, with those caterpillars crawling out of this poor soul’s skin. Also, I just love the lobotomy scar (or maybe the top of the skull was removed for a complete excision of the brain), which matches the feeling of the music. The only English that appears on the sleeve (which is folded upside-down) are the words “Hard Core” and, um, “Monoral.”
Oddly enough, two of the tracks on the flexi also appeared on a CD-only compilation called “Target Dictator,” released by the Fight Men label in 1991. This compilation features many of the second-string hardcore bands of the era, like Less Haze, Innocents, So What, Disclaim, and others. Jigoku Manjyu, unlike the others, don’t use any English on their page in the CD booklet. In comparison, Jigoku Manjyu sound like their target, dictator or otherwise, was quite different from the other bands’. Beyond the mystery and obscurity of the band, due, of course, to their avoidance of English and their odd artwork and sound, there is something unsettling about what their songs offer. What distinguishes the first era of Japanese noise-core from the next era(s), in my view, is this strangeness. These bands, from Tranquilizer to Z, Gudon to Confuse, come across as having attempted to build a new sound from scratch. Even when they paid obvious homage, it was by superseding the inventiveness of their forebears. Today, despite the rapidity with which we can access such obscurities, these records defy accessibility. Time has not diminished their oddity. Jigoku Manjyu is not feel-good music, and I can think only that with the homogenization of so much music today—even supposedly lo-fi, unpolished, and primitive music—this band’s time is now. If the state of music doesn’t piss us off, we need only look outside our windows for reasons to be angry. These Japanese noise-core bands are the soundtrack to a world growing ever more desperate, and one of its (perhaps minor) desperations involves the absence experiences that are not mediated, controlled, or alienated. The imperative of Japanese noise-core is not to be background music. By demanding our attention with their caustic sound, they engage us, and they demand open-mindedness—not toward the world of empty, mind-numbing commodities, but toward a life of rich, deeply felt sensations. In doing so, they reject the blasé, the mediocre, the false. To instrumentalize this sensitivity—what Susan Sontag might have called “an erotics of music”—would be truly radical. The choice is ours.
The choice is shit-fi.