Tag Archives: Ruins

A Brief Survey of Experimental Psych in Japan

Koenji Hyakkei

Koenji Hyakkei

Back in the 1960s and ‘70s, Japan was home to a host of experimental psych bands. And while Les Rallizes Dénudés, Flower Travellin’ Band, Far East Family Band, and Taj Mahal Travellers didn’t sound the same, they all shared a love for lengthy improvisation and owed a debt to the avant-garde. They weren’t afraid to get weird, they were sometimes political, and they sometimes rode their motorcycles around naked (at least, that’s the way Flower Travellin’ Band is portrayed on the cover of their 1970 release, Anywhere).

But the real fun started in the ’80s, when the freaks discovered punk. Bands like High Rise and Fushitsusha played louder and faster than their predecessors. They made more noise and oozed attitude. But unlike traditional punk, they also continued to improvise and jam. Those trends continued into the ‘90s—and continues into the present—with the emergence of bands like Boredoms, Ruins, Acid Mothers Temple, and their assorted side projects, splinter groups, and others.

But whether the country has an actual experimental psychedelic scene is up for debate. “Is there even a scene in Japan?” Acid Mothers Temple guitarist Makoto Kawabata told Pitchfork in 2002. “Are there actually musicians who see themselves as part of a scene? Of course the members of our group are Japanese, but the idea of a specifically ‘Japanese’ rock is pointless. Rock can only ever be rock, no matter where it exists in the world. So, rather than being the Japanese AMT, we’d like to be seen as the People’s AMT.”

Those sentiments notwithstanding, many of the current musicians are interconnected enough to suggest the existence of a scene, however loose. Some, like drummer Tatsuya Yoshida (Ruins), bassist Asahito Nanjo (High Rise), and guitarists Mitsuru Tabata—and even Makoto—have performed, at some point, with just about everyone else in this list. The artists making experimental psych in Japan are propelled by one another’s energy. They influence one another and, inevitably, inspire one another as well.

What follows is a deep dive into Bandcamp’s storehouse of Japanese experimental psych. It is adventurous, exploratory, and weird in the best possible way, whether you’re listening in your car fully clothed or on your motorcycle in the nude.

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Twenty-Five Years of the Brain-Melting Sounds of SKiN Graft Records

Skin Graft

U.S. Maple

In 2016, the St.Louis-based label SKiN GRAFT quietly celebrated its 25th anniversary. To commemorate the milestone, the label re-released the very first full-length LP it issued back in 1991: Dazzling Killmen’s impossible-to-categorize underground rock touchstone Face of Collapse. “That’s a band that changed my life,” says SKiN GRAFT founder Mark Fischer. “I really, really doubt that I’d be talking to you right now if that band hadn’t existed and we hadn’t found each other.”

That’s no hyperbole. Back in the late ’80s, Fischer and a friend, Rob Syers, were publishing a DIY comic-punk ‘zine called SKiN GRAFT that was popular in the St. Louis area. The irreverent art caught the attention of Dazzling Killmen vocalist/guitarist Nick Sakes, who asked Fischer to draw a comic for the band’s upcoming 7”.

Fischer, who had always daydreamed about starting a record label, ended up not only enthusiastically drawing the sleeve, but also releasing the single himself. “It went all right,” he says, “so I said, ‘Well, I guess I have a record label, so I’ll do more.'”

This sonic and aesthetic ambition would distinguish SKiN GRAFT in the coming decades, as it released albums that combined challenging music with elaborate packaging. For example: The label released a Chinese Stars EP shaped like the titular weapon—which actually got stuck in one customer’s car stereo, Fischer says—while Made In Mexico’s Zodiac Zoo LP boasts a pop-up band photo in the gatefold. “I always thought of SKiN GRAFT as a comic book company posing as a record label,” Fischer says with a laugh.

The label maintained this creativity-driven DIY ethic as it moved its headquarters to Chicago for a time and started releasing music by bands outside of the Midwest. However, over the years, SKiN GRAFT has amassed a loyal community of musicians and collaborators. In fact, Fischer still works with Sakes: The musician’s latest band, Xaddax, is set to release a new single this summer.

Having that enduring, supportive community means a lot to Fischer—it’s a trait he respected about other indie labels, like Dischord. It’s also helped SKiN GRAFT maintain momentum over the years. “It became easier to find stuff the more I went along,” Fischer says. “The people that were making the kind of music that was appropriate for the record label, we all just sort of found each other.”

Fischer, who now lives in Europe with his wife and young daughter, patiently and enthusiastically told us about the significance of select SKiN GRAFT catalog releases.

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