Ever since we started to get ripples of suggestion that nuito may be back in the rehearsal room, we’ve been keeping our ears occupied with Japanese music of similar schizo-noise-weird-ness. Because why not, right? Japan is full of crazy-shit sounds if you look hard enough. From the twisted pop of Zazen Boys to the weird stop-start jazz of te_ri, Japan has it all. So we decided to just let loose this week and throw all of our favourites in one arboredticle. So here goes nothing…
For many, the inception of math rock and noise rock in Japan started with Yoshida Tatsuya and Sasaki Hisashi of Ruins. Formed in 1985 and still very much active, Ruins spit out abrasive and spazzed out free-jazz that John Zorn fans would get a right boner over (incidentally, Zorn released several Ruins albums on his own label, Tzadik Records). Nowadays, Tatsuya is the sole member of Ruins, which he calls Ruins Alone. Apt.
Come on, one can’t go past Zazen Boys. They’re like if Red Hot Chilli Peppers were (finally) in a car accident and received major brain injuries, and were insistent about continuing their music careers. And we didn’t want to offend them so we just let it happen. But srsly, this Tokyo four piece are a wacky but much appreciated force, and there are wonderful parallels with math/noise rock chimeras like U.S. Maple and early My Disco.
Four guitarists. Three drummers. No eyes. Biscuits. This is 五五七ニ三ニ〇, a pop band featuring eight junior high school girls previously of unknown identity (hence the long fringes), but now confirmed to be part of the Japanese pop idol group Shiritsu Ebisu Chuugaku. We’re surprised that this band hasn’t penetrated the West yet, not least for their highly abnormal premise. Our readers went nuts for their single, 半世紀優等生 (Hanseiki Yuutousei), which was released earlier in the year. Make sure you watch this one right to its blaring finish, it’s phenomenal.
A noise rock trio direct from the planet Kero Kero (if you didn’t catch that in their accents), eX-Girl played an eclectic mix of post-punk, jazz, prog, psychedelica and, I dunno, space rock? The band disbanded around 2009, presumably to return to Kero Kero and support local farming. Or summat.
Osaka’s Boredoms are a staple in Japanese noise rock, or ‘Japanoise’. Listeners can expect distorted guitar, heavily stop-starting song structures and screeching vocals coming in from all angles. Chocolate Synthesizer should be your go-to album here, and interested punters should also check out drummer Yoshimi P-we’s other shit-hot band OOIOO.
If you can memorize a sajjanu song from start to finish, you’ve unlocked God mode. There appears to be no easy way out from their impetuous instrumental cacophony, and with most of their tracks clocking in at the 10 minute mark, you’re a fool if you try. Just sit around and get molested.
You will find gold in Koenji Hyakkei, but you have to dig for it. The Tokyo quintet, led by Yoshida Tatsuya of Ruins, have produced wildly outlandish albums, most notably Viva Koenji! and Angherr Shisspa. The sound is a beautifully intense mixed meter jazz with wild female-fronted vocals, and luscious Zappa-esque key changes and counterpoint you’d have no chance of predicting.
God fucking bless Afrirampo. Critically lauded for their wildly raucous live performances, the guitar/drum duo played dirty garage-style punk over crazy call/response style squealing. What I loved about Oni and Pikachu is that they pushed the female voice far beyond we’ve become accustomed to thanks to the (fucking) pop industry. Nope, there’s no gentle ‘feminine’ chirping of lyrics here, both musicians let loose without a trace of inhibition. And its for that reason alone that they are bad fucking ass.
One of my personal favourites. Marmalade butcher take inspiration from prog, jazz, fusion and (you guessed it) video games, and the net result is deliciously excessive and totally bewildering. Listening to their 2014 full length Uteruchesis is like getting pissed on by unicorns.
Hailing from Osaka, experimental pop group urichipangoon brings deliciously weird compositions and off-kilter time changes, which at times mirrors the eccentric freak folk of Animal Collective. Their 2008 magnum opus, Giant Club, comes with high recommendation.
23 years on, noisecore act Melt Banana continues to bring visceral punk assaults to audiences worldwide. Guitarist Ichirou Agata has spent the better half of this time pushing the limits of conventional guitar technique and experimenting with various pedals, in turn defining the band’s signature sound. It’s often hard to know where you are with Melt Banana; one minute you’re in a farm full of cute animals, the track changes and you’re in purgatory. Take a map.
Autopsy Report Of A Drowned Shrimp
If we had to name our favourite arthropod-based music group, Autopsy Report Of A Drowned Shrimp would probably be the prime candidate. They’re a surprisingly hard band to track here in the West; they seldom tour internationally and they are seldom seen on social media. The band play infectiously groovy bass-driven funk. In shrimp costumes. This shit should be viral.
Wha Ha Ha
An enigmatic and slightly elusive product of the early 80’s, Wha Ha Ha were an experimental prog group with twangy guitars, incoherent melodies and barely decipherable vocals. Their sound is quite similar to that of Massacre, who were also releasing albums around this time. It’s only now that these albums are starting to get their deserved recognition.
So Kyoju Murakami is from Iwate. He composes conventional guitar parts and writes the score. He then digitally enters the score into musical composition software and uses bugs to distort it and create an overly disordered version. He then listens to the distorted score and relearns it on guitar. He then rehearses the song with drummer Takashi Katayama, over Skype because, you know, they like 850km apart. Is this considered crazy? Hand me the Doritos.
Pop songs played using Harry Partch’s 43 note microtonal scale. The perfect soundtrack to a film chronicling the day-to-day failings of an unemployed clown. Might even work for an unnecessary It remake…
Susumu Hirasawa, a former guitarist with prog rock band Mandrake and kraut-rock act P-Model, entered solo composer territory in the late 80’s. Although most Hirasawa’s contemporary albums are a bit more coherent, his early works there’s clearly ants in his pants. In albums like The Ghost In Science, Virtual Rabbit and AURORA Hirasawa carves up wacky almost vaudevillian-style pieces in the realm of Cardiacs. The stuff I wet my pants over, basically.
Aight, they’re a little out of the general scope of our site, but it’s near impossible to not acknowledge a band like Peelander-Z, who are now quite active in the US touring circuit. Basically, it’s like a bunch of homeless ex-punks decided to become The Wiggles. Taco taco taco taco, etc…
A band that has certainly been under our radar for too long, instrumental prog stalwarts Happy Family have surprisingly been at it since the 90’s. DC label Cuneiform Records have been re-issuing their releases, so now’s your chance to get involved. Their self-titled full length comes highly recommended…
To conclude our collection, we salute the wildly animated troupe that is Shibusashirazu Orchestra. Here they can be seen running round in underpants, climbing stage scaffolding, imitating bees and swinging burning maces. A festival favourite and at times a genuine head-scratcher.