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 care-fully 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 its 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.

Of course, post-war Japan was democratic, but its rules of freedom and what freedom permitted were still being set. In this way, Japanese rock artists probably share much of the same spirit of adventure and experience as their equivalent West German 'Krautrock' counterparts, only more so on account of Japan's long history of feudalism, its use of an entirely different alphabet and its geographical remove from the rock'n'roll Ur-source. Indeed, the alphabet barrier has been the main stumbling block in making any comprehensive study of Japanese music. For the poor Western author must rely on hearsay and the personal knowledge of a few elite Westerners whose experiences of Japanese culture - through their work, marriage to a Japanese, part-Japanese heritage and so forth - will see them set up as oracles of a kind purely because no one can unlock the information without first unlocking the alphabet. For our truth-seeking purposes, those 'Nipponised' Westerners are not trustworthy commentators, for they have a vested interest in keeping the mystery to themselves, enabling them to magnify the talents of their own particular favourite artists simply by not referencing those that fall outside their own personal taste. So let me make this clear from the get-go: although I don't claim to be any less subjective about the music contained within this book (having performed on stage with Acid Mothers Temple and members of Boris), readers can - through the large body of work that I have published on other subjects - trust that I am by no means a Japanophile or anything like. But while I am not setting out to whiten Japan's sepulchre, neither will I use this book as a platform to bash particular aspects of Japanese culture. There are many things about Japan that I do not enjoy or even approve of, but here is certainly not the place to snipe at or overly criticise its culture.

As with all of my books, I have written this Japrocksampler for several very specific reasons. The first reason (and most important for readers) is simply that Japanese rock'n'roll informs so much of the most interesting twenty-first-century music currently playing that it was abhorrent to me that so basic a problem as alphabet incompatibility was restricting our studies. Therefore, I felt duty-bound to provide some kind of key to unlock that unfairly barred door.

My second reason for writing this Japrocksampler is, however, a personal one and concerns my own role as an artist, and a British artist at that. In the past two decades, my commitment to fulfilling this role has grown considerably, and with it has come a dedication to understanding we Britons' place in the wider world. Indeed, I have long considered it arrogant to talk from any geographical vantage point other than my own. My personal experiences of Japan during rock'n'roll tours there throughout the 1980s and early '90s were followed soon after by over a decade of rigorous field research of my own British Isles and much of Europe for the writing of my two prehistoric tomes, The Modern Antiquarian and The Megalithic European. And what I learned through those travels was invaluable to my understanding of my own psyche and the collective psyche of the so-called British. Call it a Jungian conceit, or dismiss it entirely, but my single most overpowering discovery was of the dramatic similarity of worldviews that three island nations shared: Britain, Denmark and Japan. Each nation was comprised of a loose archipelago of islands, and each group of islands displayed the same attitudes towards its nearest continental landmass. This shared attitude is somewhat patriarchal and consists of, well, let us just call it 'Constantly Disappointed Toleration'. The British, the Danes [1] and the Japanese have, throughout their long histories, continuously acted as though everything would be fine and dandy with their continental near neighbours if only they'd take more advice from us. The British point-of-view can be best summed up by The Times's legendary front-page headline in response to the dense fog that covered the English Channel in the winter of 1911: 'Fog fills the Channel - Continent Cut Off!' But I was shocked, delighted, and somewhat relieved to learn that we British were not alone in these attitudes. Like five-year-old children who, on closing their eyes, solipsistically believe that the world outside no longer exists, Japan has - throughout its long history - been just as 'guilty' of such attitudes as we British. Of course, this could all just have been down to Japan's geographical isolation from the rest of the world. But with geographical isolation comes psychological isolation, a feeling that the world outside may not really exist at alt. And so I turned to a study of Japanese music initially because of these 'islander' similarities that I recognised between the British and Japanese communal psyche. But what a study it turned out to be! For the Japanese, in their physical remove from the Western world, have had time to develop a culture utterly dissimilar to anywhere else. Multiculturalism means nothing in Japan, for every outside culture must pass first through the Japanese filter, rendering it entirely Japanese in the process. And as we in Britain are currently experiencing our first major hiccups in our inelegant stumble towards a successful multicultural society, I have chosen at this important time to shine a light on Japan's unique worldview in order that we all should learn something about our own worldview. Sometimes we need to step right outside our own culture in order to achieve the Gods' eye view [sic] of our own actions as seen in the greater context of the wider world.

The Rock'n'roll Shaman Demands, or 'The War against Authenticity'

In 1995, I published a short book about the effects of British and US rock music on the post-war German psyche. Entitled Krautrocksampler, the book dealt not with the West German music whose creators had most closely approximated the sounds of British and American rock'n'roll, but instead celebrated those whose recordings most appropriately subsumed this alien music into their own psyche and made it their own; bands such as Faust, Can, Tangerine Dream, Neu! and Amon Düül. As far as I was concerned, bands such as the Scorpions, Tiger B. Smith, Jane and Birth Control were unnecessary of investigation because they'd so successfully aped the British and American sound that there were in their songs few traces of the German culture from which they themselves had originated. These bands had been successful only insofar as they had successfully hoodwinked themselves into believing that sounding like carbon copies of British and American rockers made them more valid, somehow more 'authentic'.

But what greater oxymoron is there than the phrase 'authentic rock'n'roll'? From the mid-1950s onwards, rock'n'roll's screaming genius was its ability to pose as Saturday night entertainment for most of post-war Christendom, whilst simultaneously heathenising all and sundry with its ardent beat and screaming electric overload. But authentic? If there's anything less authentic than 'a wop bop a loobop, a lop bam boom', then I'd love to hear it When Little Richard pulled that arbitrary sucker out of the air, you can be damn sure he wasn't about to take a jet plane to the African country of his ancestors' birth in order to authenticate the tribal provenances of its Ur-holler ... HE was its provenance, motherfucker! And every rocker who conscientiously mouthed that same 'a wop bop a loobop' gobbledegook mystical formula, from John Lennon to the MC5's Rob Tyner, unconsciously affirmed what we all unconsciously knew all along ... that Little Richard was a God, a divinity, a shaman blasted from the Underworld to howl his song before Hell's trapdoor swept him off his feet as the Great Goddess yanked his skinny ass back down there... C'mere you!

What could be less 'authentic' than rock'n'roll? How could it be authentic when rock'n'roll's inventors were the offspring of African ancestors whom pious God-fearing whitey had enslaved and uprooted to a new continent? By the mid-1960s, black Americans were so estranged from their African roots that even the visionary sax player Archie Shepp saw in his music no contemporary link to the Africa of his ancestors, when he commented that: 'Negro music and culture are intrinsically improvisational, existential. Nothing is sacred.' Of course Negro music contains umpteen sacred elements, but only when it's performed by Africans in their ancestral homeland. Archie Shepp was unable to recognise this, as he was one of those unfortunates whose ancestors had been spirited away from Africa by white slavers and denied the right to practise the religion of their homeland. Along with the rest of the lost Afro-American generations, Archie Shepp was - like the Jews in Babylon - forced to begin his culture all over again without temples, without traditions, with nothing more than oral histories and, quite literally, a New World View.

For rock'n'roll, however, its turbulent birth and lack of cultural provenance were two of the essential elements that were to ensure the form's continued survival right up to the present day. For rock'n'roll's blessed gift of spontaneity was to allow it to die and resurrect over and over in the coming years. And each new version of rock'n'roll - despite its obvious debt to previous styles and its parasitical feeding upon those previous styles - would manage to emerge complete and seemingly brand new to each successive generation searching for their own totems. Like the pragmatic Christians who purloined the pagan festivals while simultaneously outlawing and demonising the pagan Gods, the Sex Pistols appropriated the sound of the New York Dolls wholesale whilst simultaneously disparaging Messrs Johansen, Thunders & Co. whom they'd so conscientiously pillaged. In this manner, rock'n'roll has been able to reinvent itself over and over in bizarre and unforeseeable ways. Chip 'Wild Thing' Taylor was goaded into writing his million-selling love ballad 'Any Way That You Want Me' by a fellow songwriter who'd bet that Taylor couldn't write a tender love song using his own 'Wild Thing' chords. Reggae was 'invented' by Jamaican DJs who played Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs-style R&B so loudly over their inadequate PA systems that the skanking rhythms appeared to have turned around from the 2/4 on to the One. And when Jim Morrison appropriated the Kinks' 'All Day & All of the Night' for his own 'Hello, I Love You', he could hardly have guessed that Johnny Rotten would commandeer the same melody for the Sex Pistols' own 'Sub-mission' barely a decade later. The masters of appropriation were Cleveland band Pere Ubu, whose singer Crocus Behemoth admitted to writing their finest song 'Final Solution' simply by singing new lyrics over Blue Cheer's version of 'Summertime Blues'. Soon afterwards, Pere Ubu jammed the MC5's two-chord blitzkrieg 'Looking at You' for so long that it mutated into their own barbarian classic 'Heart of Darkness', though still retaining the Five's original 'looking at you' chorus.

Improvisation, Free Jazz & Electronic Experiments

All of the above is the reason why a study of Japanese rock'n'roll is now so essential. For the post-war Japanese not only had the ability and the desire to take what they considered to be most attractive from Western music, they also had the motivation to marry it up to all of the Japanese musical forms that they considered might be suitable. Radical musical experiments proceeded apace, resulting in a variety of unlikely conclusions: light pop instrumentals of the Shadows variety appeared replete with chromatic scales and jarringly atonal Eastern drone notes; behind certain sober album sleeves lurked bizarre arranged marriages of big-band jazz and musique concrète; sugary mid-'60s Easy Listening pop hits could suddenly hit astonishing psychedelic fuzz-guitar peaks; the miserablist negative storytelling of the rokyoku traditions returned to popular audiences via the Bob Dylan-Ied protest-song boom, resulting in the emergence of such Japanese outsider folk figures as Kan Mikami. Combine all of these events with the Japanese love of employing 'Japanglish' phrases - strings of English words that sound 'cool' to the Japanese - and we're in for one hell of a ride, as evidenced by the singing style of Damo Suzuki, who applied precisely that principle to singing with the German '70s band Can, and who successfully inspired a whole generation of punk and post-punk singers to follow him, myself included.

To the insular Japanese, the West was a giant wellhead of art, experience and information from which to guzzle like punks gate-crashing a wine-tasting; a gulp of this, a wee dram of that, downing whichever had the most appealing scent. Unlike the British and American scenes, whose musicians were expected - by the press and fans alike - to keep more or less to their own musical turf, the Japanese allowed... nay, expected their musicians and composers to embrace a wide variety of wildly different musical genres. This meant that much of the best and most vitally experimental of Japanese rock came not from rock'n'rollers at all, but from the underground jazz scene, from the musical ensembles of experimental theatre companies, and from progressive university musical faculties well stocked with electronic gear. Furthermore, several singular but highly successful 'experimental rock' projects came together with an actor or pop singer as its figurehead, as in the case of newly enlightened mainstreamers Yuzo Kayama, Mickey Curtis, Yuya Utchida and Akira Fuse, all of whom successfully acted as conduits or gateways between their audiences and these new mysterious underground rock sounds. Just as Italy's Franco Battiato and Germany's Achim Reichel and Udo Lindenburg temporarily waylaid their own successful pop careers in the late '60s and early '70s in order to embark on explorations of the then all-pervading psychedelic musical trends, so Japanese pop singer Akira Fuse sung songs such as the Carpenters' 'Close to You' and 'Love Story' to his teeming female fans, whilst simultaneously championing wanton experimental music on his one-off King Records LP LOVE WILL MAKE A BETTER YOU, credited to the studio ensemble Love Live Life +1.

Foreign composers and musicians arriving to play shows in Japan sometimes caused cultural uproar and swayed the minds of Japan's own artists not because they were famous but because their time was right, as the German jazz pianist Wolfgang Dauner discovered when he toured Japan in March 1971 with the some-what tackily named German All-Stars Band. In Germany, Dauner's own jazz experiments of the previous four years had ventured deep into Stockhausen territory, and his drummer Mani Neumaier had recently quit to form the experimental power trio Guru Guru. While touring Japan, however, copies of Dauner's Stockhausen-informed experimental LPs FREE ACTION, FOR and OUTPUT began to circulate around the Tokyo jazz scene. These records, on which Dauner had channelled his piano through ring modulators and other electronic devices, caused a sensation in Tokyo and prompted an offer from jazz composer Masahiko Satoh for the pair to collaborate on a series of experimental piano duets. And although the resulting LP PIANOLOGY was positively tame by the German's standards, Masahiko Satoh successfully re-deployed Dauner's techniques in order to create such iconoclastic kosmische avant-garde classics as AMALGAMATION and YAMATAI-FU. The artistic success of these records was such that they were to precipitate an avalanche of similarly wild statements from within the ranks of Japan's supposedly conservative jazz community.

Towards a Japanese Psychedelia - Japanese Rock'n'rollers & Drugs

Unsurprisingly, given Japanese culture's latent respect for authority and relatively recent adoption of democracy, the greatest distance between Western rock'n'roll artists and their Japanese counterparts has been revealed in respective attitudes towards drugs, Whereas we Western artists have, via religious upheavals and social revolution, had several hundred years to grow used to challenging the wisdom of authority, many of our Japanese comrades are still caught up in the overhang of feudalism and remain fearful of drug-taking, Even serious experimental Japanese artists Takehisa Kosugi and Keiji Heino maintain a resolutely anti-drug stance, while Asahito Nanjo, leader of Tokyo band Psychedelic Speed Freaks, was so fed up with having the authorities breathing down his neck that he changed the band's name to High Rise, and thereafter claimed rather disingenuously that his band's lyrical concept 'was to save the junkies", just to say if you want to take drugs, you're going to have to be prepared to die', [2] Of course, Nanjo's Tipper Gore-like stance is entirely understandable, as it's been informed by the threat of copping heavy drug fines for possession. But such pragmatism locks and bars the very doors of perception that Jim Morrison entreated us to 'break on through'. In this, the Japanese still have a great deal to learn from we barbarian Westerners, for even the superficially nihilistic Keiji Heino will still attempt to hoodwink his audience by naively declaring his music to be as powerful as the psychedelic drugs he has never taken. [3] To claim that one's music alone, however powerful, can do the same job as LSD-25 is more than just insulting to the true psychedelic voyager; it is saying 'I know' when in fact I cannot know. For the psychic and physical effects of a twelve-hour acid trip are as different from the ecstatic oblivion of attending a three-hour show in which 10,000 watts of electric music shoot through one's body as Astral Projection is from trolling the Underworld of the Ancestral Dead. The true shaman will never make such self-deluded proclamations. For those who have been truly psychedelicised know there is nothing that they dare cross off their 'To Do' list, since enlightenment completes us when we least expect it. As I wrote in The Megalithic European, such states 'can be brought on by over-meditation, over-tiredness, over-amplified sound and over-medicating oneself with caffeine, alcohol, magic mushrooms, painkillers, amphetamines...' [4]

When compared to Heino and Nanjo's puritanical attitudes, it is so much more refreshing to learn that supposedly enlightened '70s rockers Far Out were sniffing paint thinners in order to approximate at home what they'd heard took place in Britain and the West. And how much better the Japanese music of the time was because of the infiltration of such crazoid Filipino rockers as D'Swooners' drummer Eddie Fortuno and Speed Glue & Shinki's singer Joey Smith, both of whom ran riot across the Japanese mainland snorting this, inhaling that, and causing the authorities more headaches than all of the paint thinners you could ever wish to have imported. Again, the presence of these 'Western barbarians' proved essential to opening up the overly narrow Japanese mindset. So is the term 'Japanese psychedelia' an oxymoron? No, I don't believe so. Much Japanese music is truly psychedelic in the 'mind manifesting' manner that Aldous Huxley first termed it. It's just that Japan's most overtly psychedelic contributions do not lie on the surface awaiting our arrival; they have to be excavated through patient research. And so the purpose of this Japrocksampler is to roll up our sleeves, excavate through the sanctimonious bullshit, and reveal those hitherto unexplored shadowy basements wherein Japanese musical culture shines like a jewel. However, Japanese rock'n'roll is not the new black, and this book is not being written to create a new generation of Western neo-Japrock snobs. My four visits to Japan through the '80s and '90s were quite enough to reveal both sides of the coin, and there is a truth to be learned about ourselves from studying the Japanese ways. But this book is ultimately a quest for the truth. And, as I must restate, I have no intention of whiting the Japanese cultural sepulchre for its own sake, as the Japanese have historically proved quite capable of doing that for themselves.

A Little History of Japanese Music 1961-77, '78, '79ish

As I stated at the beginning of this Introduction, the purpose of this study was to explain to fascinated Westerners the series of historical events that contributed to giving modern Japanese rock'n'roU artists their singular worldview. However, deciding when to end the study was slightly problematic, as the great post-war Japanese musical experiment seemed not so much to have stopped as to have just petered out around the time of punk rock, subsequently lying dormant for around a decade before re-blooming in the late '80s. Looking for evidence in the LPs that I chose for my personal Top 50 would suggest that 1978 was the cut-off year. However, as this is only a preliminary investigation (and Japan is, from north to south, approximately the same distance as from Helsinki to southern Spain), I must most certainly have overlooked vast amounts of evidence. Perhaps 1978 really was the watershed year, however, because that was the time when everyone that mattered cut their hair short in response to punk and the all-pervasive robotising of Western music finally kicked in via Kraftwerk's TRANS-EUROPE EXPRESS, in Japan massively informing the direction of Ryuichi Sakamoto's hugely influential Yellow Magic Orchestra. It's clear that without Kraftwerk's red lippy and proto-Devo dummy routine, they never could have had the same worldwide cultural impact, especially on the ever style-conscious Japanese, who dumped their long hair and progressive ways for the nihilism of the Sex Pistols only because of the bottle of hair bleach awaiting them on the other side of the cultural doorway (but that's not nearly as shallow as I make it sound, for, as we shall see in this book, Inner Transformation is essential to the Japanese only when accompanied by external evidence of that Inner Transformation). Perhaps there was no real year when the great Japanese Experiment truly hit the buffers and came off the rails; perhaps it did just peter out of its own accord. Certainly, by the 1980s, Japan's music scene would be pretty much all about Technopop, J-Pop, J-Fusion and its all-singing, all-dancing, all-colourful varieties. Of course, there would always be standard bearers of the old ways, but it had all disappeared underground by 1979. And, as we all know, brothers'n'sisters, underground is worthy of proper excavation for it's where we're all gonna spend a considerable amount of our future 'down time'. Ho hum. So, instead of being overly neurotic about locating the cut-off date, let's instead just adopt a laid-back attitude and thank the protagonists of these ensuing chapters for their hefty contribution to our music culture. For I guarantee that a detailed study of this book will have you re-thinking your attitudes to music, art, time ... indeed, life itself. Yowzah!

Footnotes: (go back)

  1. If current archaeological records are to be trusted, then the Danes' full islander status was achieved only in the sixth century after Christ, when a thirty-kilometre earthen wall-and-ditch known as the Danewerk was dug across the south of Jutland directly east-west from the mouth of the river Schlei, at Haithabu, south of Schleswig, However, the presence of this enormous land barrier certainly achieved its broad psychological aim, as I learned during the writing of The Megalithic European, for, despite the similarities that Danish Neolithic monuments shared with those of northern Germany and the Netherlands, no Danish archaeologist had bothered to travel south of the Danewerk to make comparisons. To the Vikings, even an isthmus was called an Island so long as a longboat crew could drag their vessel - fully loaded and with their chieftain standing at its helm - across its narrowest point.
  2. Interview in Issue 3 of Opprobrium magazine, November 1996.
  3. From David Keenan's own interviews with Keiji Heino (personal communication 2006).
  4. Julian Cope, The Megalithic European (Element Books 2004), p61.

JULIAN COPE was born in Deri, South Glamorgan, and grew up in Tamworth. After forming a succession of half-groups and writing songs with Ian McCulloch (later of Echo & the Bunnymen), he eventually formed Teardrop Explodes with Gary Dwyer in 1978. He is the author of Krautrocksampler, The Megalithic European, The Modern Antiquarian, Head-On and Repossessed.

His website, www.headheritage.co.uk, contains some of the most entertaining and insightful album reviews on the web.