From 2003-2008, FACT operated as a bi-monthly print magazine. As part of a new From The Archives feature, we’ll be regularly uploading vintage articles from FACT’s ink-and-paper days. Following Peter Shapiro’s guide to the remarkable Arthur Russell, we’ve dug out a real treat from 2007: the 20 best Japanese rock records of the 1960s and 1970s, courtesy of The Teardrop Explodes frontman, JAPROCK author and dedicated music archivist Julian Cope.
Japanese rock ‘n’ roll music of the past decade has offered the West so much of worth that the time has now come to question how Japan’s rock musicians reached this fascinating place.
The long-sustained underground careers of such contemporary movers and shakers such as the Boredoms, Makoto Kawabata’s Acid Mothers Temple, Boris, Asahito Nanjo’s High Rise, Ghost and their ilk have – while meaning doodly squat in their own country – managed to inspire so many new musicians here in the West that I felt it was essential to investigate thoroughly the Japanese music of their childhoods and teenage years. For, just as Krautrock and the John Peel show sustained my own lost generation in those early ‘70s wilderness years before our own voices could be heard through punk rock, so must the musicians of the aforementioned Japanese bands have been shown evidence from some previous (and possibly now lost) generation that a heady rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle was still possible in Japan’s notoriously anti-hard-drug culture.
That these contemporary Japanese bands drank huge draughts from the same fountainhead as we British and American rock ‘n’ rollers is indisputable, but I knew from my own four tours of Japan that it could be barely half the picture. For those tours revealed to me just how carefully the Japanese thrust everything they discover from the outside world through their own singularly Japanese filter, mainly resulting in a peculiar copy of the original, but quite often bringing forth something magnificent and wholly better than that which had first inspired it.
I figured that if Japan’s rock ‘n’ roll followed the same pattern as the rest of it’s culture, then there must be a high percentage of lost genius still awaiting rediscovery. For, as we have seen from some of the wonderful music recorded in the Communist Bloc and under fascist regimes, most rock ‘n’ roll artists of any real worth will, in their quest to activate the Ur-spirit that dwells within them, inevitably cull experiences from vastly different sources. As such, the music contained within this Top 20 consists of hard rock, proto-metal, purely psychedelic free-rock, experimental theatre works, choral and orchestral music, experimental percussion works, improvised ambient wipe-outs, progressive rock and unadulterated guitar mayhem…
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01. FLOWER TRAVELLIN’ BAND
In which Yuya Utchida’s naked biker boys came of age and then some. For Satori is one of the all-time great hard-rock rages to have been unleashed upon the world, a festival of guitar worship led by axe-wielding maniac Hideki Ishima, who Jeff Becked and Jimmy Paged a number of archetypal Tony Iommisms, interlacing each Satanic riff with a more dazzling stellar lick, and invigorating every troll-like sub-basement grunt with a bazillion squirly Hindu sitar figures. This is so out on a limb that it still defies true comparison with other records. They just haven’t been recorded yet.
02. SPEED, GLUE & SHINKI
Blues-based funereal dirges about scoring amphetamines (‘Mr Walking Drugstore Man’), paranoid sludge-trudge proto-metal anthems about taking drugs to avoid straight people (‘Stoned out of My Mind’), cuckolded dead marches to cheating women with invitations to them to commit suicide (‘Big Headed Woman’): welcome to the world of Speed, Glue & Shinki.
03. LES RALLIZES DENUDÉS
HEAVIER THAN A DEATH IN THE FAMILY
(AIN’T GROUP SOUNDS, 1995)
Has a one-way trip into the Heart of Darkness ever been made on a more handsome jalopy? For those of you who love your rock ‘n’ roll mayhem to be grounded in traditional chord sequences à la Electric Eels and the mid-‘70s Cleveland bands, here Mizutani’s channelling both Lou Reed and Leigh Stephens.
04. FAR EAST FAMILY BAND
(COLUMBIA/MU LAND, 1976)
This righteous kosmische union of Japanese commune band and legendary Krautrock producer yielded two sides of extraordinary meditative space rock, setting it apart from almost all other Japrock. Recorded at the height of his powers, Klaus Schultze arranges the twin synthesizers of Akira Ito and Kitaro around Shizu Takahashi’s drums, pushing guitars, bass and voices into the horizon.
05. J.A. SEAZER
Anyone searching out a single J.A. Seazer record for their library should aim for this album. Seazer was forced by Victor Records to include only the most obvious excerpts, culled from the five-hour original play, in order to reduce the work to a single vinyl LP. In doing so, the composer unintentionally created a ‘greatest hits’ compilation.
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06. LOVE LIVE LIFE + 1
LOVE WILL MAKE A BETTER YOU
Commencing with singer Akira Fuse’s goggle-eyed one-day-old-baby innocence, opener ‘The Question Mark’ escorts us through an 18-minute free-rock R&B adventure like nothing before or since. Clanking harsher than even the title track of Funkadelic’s Free Your Mind & Your Ass Will Follow, and twice as long; cosmic as the Cosmic Jokers Galactic Supermarket, and gnarly as John McLaughlin’s out-there-a-minute axe excursions on Miles’ ‘Right Off’, do these guys fight for their right to party!
07. MASAHIKO SATOH & SOUNDBREAKERS
This preposterous piece of psychedelic avant-jazz sounds like the work of aliens, each with only one foot in our universe. Propelled by cacophonous brassy blasts, volleys of machine-gunning, ecstatically ‘Light Fantastic’ rhythms and moments of Teo Macero-style ‘Mixing Concrète’, the result is the most singular mash-up of inappropriate sounds any listener is ever likely to hear.
08. GEINOH YAMASHIROGUMI
Commencing with the greatest scream of any rock ‘n’ roll record ever, this transcendental debut by Geino Yamashirogumi (Yamashiro’s Performing Arts Group) inhabits its own space like no other. Performed by 70 singers accompanied by a highly authoritative and psychedelic band, this unfathomable beauty is comprised of two side-long pieces of ritual chanting and theatre music.
09. TAKEHISA KOSUGI
Clad in a super-appropriate sub-Bridget Riley Op-art sleeve and comprised of two side-long compositions, this is Kosugi’s most immediate and essential work ever. An all-time drone classic, its stratospheric violin and wah-mouth explorations are guaranteed to make moonwalkers out of fans of Tony Conrad’s Outside The Dream Syndicate or Klaus Schultze’s Irrlicht.
10. J.A. SEAZER
This mighty soundtrack for Shuji Terayama’s nihilistic movie of the same name contains all of the elements necessary to reach J.A. Seazer’s intended pleasure centres. Here, turmoil, mind-numbing repetition, abject misery and gristly patriarchs abound, and all orchestrated by Seazer’s damaged proto-metal and choral-led psychedelic sound.
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11. FAR OUT
Arriving in a flurry of analogue heartbeats and echo chambers, formless monophonic Moog synthesisers and microphone feedback, Far Out’s 1973 album is an alien and exquisitely beautiful music embodying all the greatest aspects of rock ‘n roll at once. Herein, there are rhythms with which to brain yourself, howling banshee vocals, melancholy tunes, dive-bombing seagull guitars, overly hopeful Utopian lyrics, and harmonies to live for.
12. LES RALLIZES DENUDÉS
BLIND BABY HAS ITS MOTHERS EYES
(JAPANESE ROCK, 2003)
Massive slabs of distortion inhabit every seam of this monstrously linear album. The bass lines are uber-monolithic, in places dropping away in a dubby style that leaves the top end teetering like a tiny boat waiting to be swallowed by a whirlpool.
13. TOKYO KID BROTHERS
THROW AWAY THE BOOKS, WE’RE GOING OUT IN THE STREETS
Sounding as thrilling and beserk as J.A. Seazer in full flight, this amazing interpretation of Shuji Terayama’s ‘city play’ is by far and away this ensemble’s finest hour. Only the movie version betters this ecstatic performance.
14. FAR EAST FAMILY BAND
Ey-up, it’s the Cosmic Jokers… Oops, silly me, Klaus Schultze has been at the mix again and turned Far East Family Band’s Moody Blues fixation into a kosmische classic. Always utterly devoid of any sense of proportion and sonic balance, Klaus transformed the band’s merely excellent second LP into a new beast, replete with fangs, fiery tongue and sixty-metre tail.
15. SPEED, GLUE & SHINKI
SPEED, GLUE & SHINKI
Sagging under the weight of Joey Smith’s howling, lupine genius and loopy extended metaphors, it’s hard to imagine this self-titled double-LP barrage was created by a disintegrating band just 12 months into their career, but it’s true.
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CEREMONY – BUDDHA MEETS ROCK
Released in answer to Ikuzo Orita’s superb Polydor Super Session series of LPs, this riposte/rip-off, written by Buddhist poet/songwriter Naoki Tachikawa and organised by Teichiku Records’ A&R director Hideki Sakamoto, challenged every one of Orita’s projects and beat most of them cold simply by working through Orita’s own blueprint line by line.
17. BLUES CREATION
DEMON & ELEVEN CHILDREN
Opening with the super-stoner anthem ‘Atomic Bombs Away’, this brilliant second Blues Creation LP is a proto-metal classic. Its eight songs were both complex and supremely individual, despite showing clear influences from fellow countrymen and free-thinkers Flower Travellin’ Band.
18. FLOWER TRAVELLIN’ BAND
MADE IN JAPAN
Recorded in Canada by a jazz keyboard player who didn’t understand them, this follow-up to Flower’s Satori was confused, disorientated, depressed, self-deprecating and a wonderful album, replete with mucho Satanic raga.
19. KARUNA KHYAL
Imagine the Jehovah’s Witnesses were right and the world had ended in 1975. Imagine a tribe of Louisiana backwoodsmen who’d been reared on a diet of freak-out albums, voodoo rituals and re-runs of Bewitched. Yup, Karuna Khyal is that kind of paganism.
20. LES RALLIZES DENUDÉS
(10TH AVENUE FREEZE-OUT, 2006)
This ‘retrospective/best of’ – on double vinyl no less – contains seven Les Rallizes Denudés classics, including the 13-minute-long tinnitus-inducing Dronefest Maximus of ‘Enter the Mirror’ and the full Wakabayashi version of ‘Smokin’ Cigarette Blues’.
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