Kids of the Black Hole #4: No Sleep 'til Tokyo
by Mike Riley
Kids of the Black Hole #4: No Sleep
I have just fulfilled every punk's dream (well, what should be every punk's dream) of spending some time immersed in Japan's illustrious hardcore/punk scene. My band, Pulling Teeth, was invited to play six shows in ten days throughout central Japan. We started in Tokyo, made our way a couple of hours north to a small town called Ashikaga, home of Japan's oldest school, crossed the country westward to Kyoto, it's oldest city, then worked our way southeast to Osaka before heading back north to Nagoya and back to Tokyo. We even had a few days off to take in some culture and history around Kyoto and Iga, home of Japan's supreme Ninja training compound in feudal times.

The first show in Tokyo was my favorite with a good mix of bands, from thrash to metallic to powerviolence. The bands Breakfast, And Believe, UG Man, and Dreadeye were the highlights this night. Breakfast spent some time on our east coast last fall and the singer was wearing a Deep Sleep shirt at this show and we talked a bit about Celebrated Summer Records. They have a few releases on the US label 625 Records that combine elements of fast hc/punk with some Minutemen stylings. Good stuff. The singer of Dreadeye would be one of two tour guides/road managers that would be traveling with us for the next ten days. They also laid claim to being the only band we played with to have a female member. Seeing that on the first night had me excited for the possibility of a more gender equal scene than we often see in the States, but unfortunately that would not be the case and things were pretty much the same in that sense. Plenty of female show attendees but few involved in the bands or behind the scenes activities. Dreadeye have a new 7" out on WD Sounds out of Japan, which gave PT's first CD, Vicious Skin, a Japanese release. Label head Masashi organized this tour for us and would be our other tour guide/road manager.

The next day in Ashikaga is when the effects of jet lag had really kicked in and I unfortunately spent the majority of the show half-asleep on the couch on the venue's patio. This night's best band award goes to Elmo, who feature Osan's (Dreadeye singer) younger brother on vocals. Elmo play some raging noisy screamy hardcore simliar to American bands like Converge and Graf Orlock. Intense stuff. They have a self-released demo, but unfortunately no contact information.

The next day's eight hour drive across the country took us through miles-long tunnels through the mountains and across bridges over the valleys. If it wouldn't have been so cloudy it probably would have been pretty breath-taking. The Kyoto show would be my next favorite of the tour and I'm quite upset that I was feeling so ill that I couldn't enjoy it to the fullest extent. The lack of sleep and clubs smokier than the Talking Head before the smoking ban turned a slight sniffle into a full-blown head cold. Outnauts, who ended up being my favorite band of tour, played this show. They play a brand of early 80s style American hardcore/punk similar to Regulations meets JFA. Not unlike something you might hear these days on Grave Mistake or No Way Records. They have a couple 7" EPs out on some small Japanese labels and most recently a split 7" with San Francisco's Giant Haystacks out on Snuffy Smiles, Japan's equivalent to No Idea Records. This night's other highlight goes to Norde who literally define the phrase "most brutal band ever". They take the best parts of American bands like Slayer, Tragedy, and Hatebreed, and combine it with some classic Scandinavian metal for an incredibly heavy sound that is both raging and epic and will leave any heavy band wondering why they even bother. They have a CD out on Radical East Records which I highly recommend, though it unfortunately does not quite live up to the expectations left from their live show.

We spent the next four days sightseeing and taking in some Japanese history and culture because unless you're a pretty big band, playing shows on weeknights is most often not too worthwhile. We hit some temples and shrines including the temple of 1001 buddhas and Ryoanji Temple which houses Japan's most famous Zen garden. We also spent plenty of time in the area's record stores and took a day to learn all about Japan's most superior ninjas of feudal times. The fact that most of the history we took in was at least 1000 years old was a bit mind-blowing and it's really impressive that so much of this history is still in tact and so well kept up.

After four days off we headed to Osaka to pick back up with playing shows. Organism and Midnight Resurrector would be the highlights of this show. Organism play some tight Japcore, which is characterized by fast hardcore/punk that rages at full speed non-stop with pummeling drums and elements of old British and Scandinavian hardcore/punk. They have a self-released CD out. Midnight Resurrector have a 7" EP and a full-length CD on HG Fact, which you could compare to American labels like Prank or Tank Crimes. They play a style which mixes elements of bands like Integrity and Ringworm with old Metallica and a touch of hard rock. All of the venues were about 100-150 capacity, but with huge sound systems, not far off from what the Ottobar uses. So needless to say these shows were LOUD. Tonight's was by far the loudest though and while it adds to the energy of these intense bands, it can sometimes be a bit hard to take. My ears rang for a few hours after this show.

The next night found us in Nagoya, about half way between Osaka and Tokyo. One of the first things I saw when we got to the venue was a sticker for the old College Park punk band SuperChinchillaRescueMission. That put a big smile on my face. Tonight's best bands were Not A Name Soldiers, Clown, and Cortecuellos. NANS played some late 90s American thrash revival type stuff similar to bands like Tear It Up and Life's Halt, and featured the vocalist from Tomorrow, another great Japanese thrash band of the late 90s. The singer carried a mic-stand that had been altered to look like a camoflauged machine gun and wore army boots and a flak jacket. Entertaining stuff. Clown played some raging Japcore and featured a singer that charged into the crowd at every opportunity flipping people over his shoulder along the way. Cortecuellos were a super-tight grindcore band that any fan of Magrudergrind or Triac can get into.

On our final night of tour we played in a west Tokyo suburb alongside seven thugged-out moshcore bands that really aren't my style, though I must say that every band, just like every single band we played with all tour, was incredibly tight and high-energy. If you're into 90s NYHC-style bands like Bulldoze, Fury of Five, and Subzero than you'd probably dig most of the bands that played tonight, Facecarz and Creepout being the best of the bunch.

Some of the things I learned about the Japanese hardcore/punk scene and Japan in general: most bars stay open until 5am, beer is sold in street-side vending machines, and public consumption of alcohol is quite acceptable so these kids rage hard until the sun comes up and can survive on little to no sleep; most bands tend to practice for sometimes up to a year before playing out live to make sure they are up to par with the scene's best bands, meaning every single band we played with were incredibly tight and super high energy; vending machines with used girl's underwear is an urban legend; people would rather ask me about American bands than tell me about Japanese bands; Pizza of Death Records is Japan's version of Epitaph Records, so most legit hardcore kids want nothing to do with the label or the bands on it; door prices of $20 - $25 and t-shirt prices of $30 - $40 is the norm and if you mark your prices down the products are thought of as inferior and are not wanted; and nine times out of ten, Japanese bands blow American ones out of the water in tightness, energy, and rage.

It was an amazing experience that I will remember for the rest of my life. I will consider myself very lucky if I am able to do it again in the future and I highly recommend the trip to anyone remotely interested in hardcore/punk music. I guarantee you will be blown away by the majority of bands you see.
Posted by: Mike Riley

Features (May 1st, 2008)