You don’t see interviews with Japanese hardcore bands very often, but I’ve catched Encroached during their European Tour and they were amazing! Shortly after, I’m reaching out to their singer Shingo for an interview via email (my questions in English were translated into Japanese to Shingo by his brother and then the bro have translated his answers into English).
Are you a DIY band, what does it mean to be DIY in Japan? I’ve heard there are no autonomous or even cheap DIY spaces in Japan and you have to rent very expensive clubs (the so called “live houses”). Can you explain more about this and how does the underground scene in Japan works?
Yes, we are a DIY band in terms of organizing our own concerts and releasing music by ourselves. In my personal opinion, you are DIY, if you make your original music, plan live performances, and distribute the music by yourself. As you know, playing at a “live house” does cost much, but that’s how we do here. We can also rent a large studio and have a gig in there to avoid the cost. However, you’ll probably have to compromise in the quality of the sound. Sometimes, it’s worth what it costs, you know.
What is like to be a punk in Japan? Is the scene in Japan really into politics and activist stuff or is it’s just lifestyle politics and image? What are some important subjects and things the people are aware of, except the usual anti-war stuff in all the bands lyrics? It seems people from bands like Battle of Disarm are really into activist stuff, is it true?
There are some bands, of course, that indicate their political attitude by actually participating in demos and stuff. However, for most of the bands, music is for fun. It’s about making something out of their life or trying to stay in their senses in the everyday labor.
Is there violence in the Japanese scene? I’ve seen a lot of videos and photos from shows with suicidal stage-diving and the crowd going really crazy, also we know a lot of stories of GISM shows etc. Are the punx in Japan really so crazy?
I only know the scene since the ’90s, but I’ve heard that people were pretty violent back in the ’80s. I think they are not really anymore now. People are nice basically.
While here in Europe we see fewer people with the “traditional” punk outlook, it seems a lot of punx in Japan are still into huge mohawks or spiked hair, studded-vests, boots and full-metal gear. What is the reason for this? How do the ordinary people look on this kind of punx, is there still a form of (anti)social protest or everything is assimilated by the society?
I don’t think it’s unique to Japan that there are a lot of mohawks and spike-haired guys. Since the Japanese hardcore scene had strong influence from the UK hardcore, it could be viewed as so. I think there are a lot of different ideas and styles mixed in the scene now. There also are many bands of the US hardcore style. The ordinary people may not want to give a hug to a punk in a studded leather jacket, but I think most of them understand there are different people in our society.
You’re running Too Circle Records. Could you give us more information about the label? What kind of bands are you releasing, how are your releases distributed, how many do you press of each record? You have helped See You In Hell from Czech republic at their Japanese Tour and work with them on your label, are you in touch with other European bands? What are your favorite current European bands?
Basically, Too Circle releases the bands that have similar taste to my band. For bands from overseas, releasing discs from Too Circle means introducing them to the Japanese scene beforehand their Japan tours. The European scene has good solid bands. Some of those bands that I like lately include; Insomno, Fyfan, Death Token, The Now-Denial, Love Potion, Death With a Dagger, Disfear, Masshysteri, Svartenbrandt, Derrota, La Fraction, El Banda, Assassinators, Kolokol and many more…
As a record owner what do you think about the craze of European and American people to buy rare Japanese vinyls for hundreds of dollars from ebay?
I am personally not a record collector, so I hardly pay that much for old records. All I can say about them is they just can’t help, because they want those.
Are you only into underground hardcore punk bands from Japan? What do you think of bigger bands like Envy?
I’ve known the members of Envy for more than 10 years. They are nice people. I think it’s great of them that they are world famous now. I liked their music very much when they originally started, though.
The death of Kawakami from Disclose rumbled the punk scene worldwide. Is there problems with drugs and alcohol within the punk scene in Japan, it seems the higher incomes and the stress from the overcrowded and crazy life in huge cities like Tokyo are premises to drug and alcohol abuse, is it true? How do you deal with this problem? Also we know that Japanese people can’t stand on alcohol as much as Europeans…
I think that’s a personal problem. People ruin their lives for alcohol and drugs not only in the hardcore scene but also in anywhere in the society as a whole, whether in Japan or in Europe. However, more people tend to do drugs when they cannot see their bright future, like nowadays. In that sense, drugs may become a bigger problem in Japan.
Are you vegetarian/vegans? Is it something big in Japan? Is there an animal liberation movement there? One of the things that the Bulgarian media always tell us about Japan is that a lot of people there are consuming Bulgarian yogurt. What do you think about milk production?
I am neither vegetarian nor vegan. Few people practice that diet here. As a matter of fact, there hardly is a special store for them, and that makes it harder for them to practice it than it is in Europe. Bulgarian yogurt is well known, but we recognize it more as a name of a certain yogurt brand than the real one. We are familiar with milk productions, since we have had history of coexistence with animals. In Europe, milk productions might be seen as exploitation from the animals, but we thankfully take what we are given by the nature, and I don’t feel guilty about that.
What do you think about the commodification of the Japanese popular culture in Europe and the States? I know people even within the punk scene that are into anime and manga stuff.
I am not really into that kind of stuff, but yes, anime and manga are big here. I hope people in other countries would also enjoy those!
Recently I’ve read about the famous Japanese anarchist Kotoku, who was executed together with 11 other anarchists in 1911, after a kept in secret trial, with charges of planning to assassinate the Emperor. Is this is a popular thing in the Japanese history? Is there a paranoia of terrorism threats at the moment and police repressions under the mask of preventing terrorism?
Not too many people know the story about Kotoku Shusui unless they dig a bit deep into the history of Japan. I think that Japan’s political corruption is serious enough to get people rise in revolt. That will, however, never happen no matter how much the country stinks or how much people are exploited. One of the reasons is attributed to the fact that Japan is almost like a dependency to the States. People are tamed, or in other words, they know deep inside from the memory of defeat in the past war that violence does not pay. (Though I do not think so!)The Emperor is thought as the symbol of Japan now. He is much respected but not as powerful as his father was in the early 20’s.
What kind of actions do you think are useful on a day to day basis? Are we doomed to hell and condemned to sit on our asses? What is your look at tomorrow?
Today feels like a repetition of yesterday, when you live just to live. You should create something you can enjoy doing. I love hardcore music from the bottom of my heart. So I want to play with my band as much as possible and support as many bands from inside and outside of Japan as possible.
Think Globally Act Locally, Network of friends all over the world!
Anything you want to add to finish this interview? Peace or annihilation?
Of course, I hope PEACE! Thank you.