LIFE: 30 Years of Noise-Drenched Japanese Crust Punk

An interview with Tokyo's crust punk legends LIFE.

Legends of Japanese crasher crust LIFE started out in May 1991 in Tokyo. Ever since that early ’90s moment, “Liberty Independence Freedom Equality”, as the acronym stands for, have made loud protest punk music, often intensely chaotic and uncompromising, that sums up everything we love about the genre.

In 2020, they released their incredible third full-length Ossification of Coral, a full throttle assault of a record, a noise-drenched swirl of shrieking vocals, blown-out guitar sound and hallmark crasher crust rhythms. In addition to the band’s ever present anti-nuclear, anti-war politics, they are now on a mission to spread the message of defending the fragile balance of ecosystems and save humanity from an impending ecological apocalypse.

Celebrating the thirty year legacy of our favorite Japanese crust punks, we teamed up with Romain of Terminal Sound Nuisance blog for this exciting new interview with LIFE’s singer Hirofumi ‘Hiro’ Kimura. Originally published in the second issue of Светло бъдеще fanzine, September 2021. All band photos by the great scene photographer Teppei Miki.

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Do you remember how you got into punk? What came first to you—DIY ideals and politics, or punk music?

When I was nine years old, my older brother, who is five years older than me, introduced me to punk music, such as Sex Pistols, Dead Kennedys, Crass, G.I.S.M., Gauze, The Comes, etc. I also remember watching the punk movie UK/DK over and over again because I loved it so much.

The first time I went to see my brother’s show with my mother, I was blown away! Loud music and mohawks! I instantly fell in love with punk fashion as well. I think it was at this point that I decided to create my own band and perform.

You have been playing crust punk with LIFE for about 30 years and the band has existed through several different decades. How would you describe the evolution of LIFE in terms of sound? Do you still listen to the ’90s records of LIFE?

Before I knew it, 30 years had passed since LIFE formed.

The early years of LIFE were heavily influenced by the so-called Japcore scene. After some member changes, since everyone in the band was into Mob 47 from Sweden, we switched to a more Swedish hardcore influenced sound. We still play songs from those days at our live shows even now.

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When you started out, what were you trying to create with LIFE? What were the first years like for you? There were many crust bands in Japan in the ’90s, did that influence and inspire you? Why do you think the crust genre is so popular in Japan?

Upon forming LIFE, I wanted LIFE to be a band with a strong message. I aimed for lyrics that are simple but to-the-point, in the same manner as the aforementioned Mob 47 or Doom, and that encourages people to freely exchange opinions and thoughts.

I had to work a lot to make ends meet, but still rehearsed once a week. Band practice was the highlight of my life back then.

Around the time that I moved to Tokyo, I saw Macrophage and AcidI was totally blown away! I also received a huge impact from S.D.S. and was heavily influenced by them as well. S.D.S’s shows and musical abilities were all in all totally brilliant. Also, Disclose, Gloom, etc. The list goes on and on.

Acid, the pioneers of the Japanese crasher crust sound.

The world has changed a lot between 1991 and 2021.What are the main differences you have noticed throughout the time? How has social media affected the life of LIFE? What are the good and the bad sides in your opinion?

A big merit of using SNS (this is what people in Japan call social media) is that you can widely announce and instantly deliver news such as upcoming gigs and tour dates.

But unfortunately, there are downsides as well, such as criticism, verbal attacks, spreading false rumors, bullying, etc., all done in the shadows of anonymity. This seems to be a worldwide issue, not limited to Japan. There’s an increase of suicides due to the deep wounds people receive from the hidden bullying on social media. Maybe there’s more downsides to SNS than merits…

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You seem to play a lot of gigs locally, how do you find the motivation and dedication after all that time? Could you imagine a life without LIFE?

My motivation is simply the joy of playing in a band. The most enjoyable moments for me are when we make new songs in the studio, or even just the little chit-chats I have with my members. I have so much fun being with my band members.

I honestly can’t imagine a life without LIFE, but one thing I’m sure of is that without LIFE, it would’ve been a pretty boring life. I wouldn’t have had chances to tour overseas and all over Japan, such as playing in Nagoya and Osaka every year.

Online streaming has made almost all punk music available freely and instantly, while before you had to look hard and wait for music. Do you think streaming and YouTube changes the way we consider music now?

I think the way we consider music has changed drastically. YouTube was fun at first, because we could watch live videos from the past, such as early Discharge and whatnot, but to be honest, I feel I consumed so much time just watching YouTube all the time. And since we have online streaming now, it seems to me that the number of people who are interested in getting the actual vinyls or CDs have become way less than before.

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LIFE has been known for its anti-nuclear, pacifist message. The last record, however, was called Ossification of Coral, why changed the focus to environmentalism? Do you think the climate crisis is the biggest existential threat we are facing in the world right now?

It’s true that LIFE has been focusing on sending out the message of anti-nuke, anti-war and peace. The tragedies of all past and ongoing wars in the whole world, including the tragedies of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, directly affect the socially vulnerable or disadvantaged people.

I think that the most important challenge we face today and in the future as well, is how every one of us can live a happy life.

LIFE’s most recent release, Ossification of Coral, focuses on the issues in Okinawa (Southern islands in Japan). The brutal facts and outcomes of the battle in Okinawa in the late stages of WW2, when citizens were hugely affected and numerous innocent people were killed, are in danger of being forgotten. Along with current issues, such as the Henoko, US Military base construction that is being carried out without the consensus of the local people, I wanted to let people know the brutality that’s going on, or has happened in Okinawa.

I do think environmental issues that are jeopardizing the whole world are one of the biggest threats we are facing now. Issues such as marine plastic waste, flooding, droughts, and starvation due to food crisis are huge threats to all people living on this planet.

To illustrate my basic philosophy of environmental issues, I’ll give you a real world example. Easter Island is a tiny island in the middle of the South Pacific, and 1500 km away from the nearest island in Polynesia and 3000 km away from Chile in the South America continent.

Originally, it was an uninhabited island, but Polynesian bravely moved to Easter Island by double-hulled canoe and started living there about 1500 years ago. They cleared the forest for cultivation, made paddy fields, built houses, and developed the island. Although the tiny island less than 30 km in circumference was not rich enough to feed many people, inhabitants vigorously developed all over the island and tried to secure their food.

However, the rise in population far outstripped the production of food. As a result of producing more food beyond the productive capacity of its soil, the environment of the island got worse than they had expected and food production greatly decreased. Facing starvation, inhabitants started fighting each other for food. In addition, severe starvation drove them to take cruel action such as eating human flesh.

There were no trees left on the island, so they were unable to make canoes for escaping from the island. Therefore, the population decreased to less than several hundred, though it is estimated that the population had reached a peak of 7000 people. Not only people on Easter Island but also all human beings cannot survive without the blessing of nature. The blessing of nature meansregeneration of lifethe ecosystem itself. The ecosystem means that various things live together as they are.

Even though there is very small environmental destruction in a limited area, loss of biological diversity will result in loss of “food”. There are a lot of things to learn from the 1500 years’ history of Easter Island, and now, environmental scientists around the world pay attention to the island.

Nowadays, environmental destruction is getting much more serious than generally known. However, we keep an eye only on the phenomena (air pollution, deforestation, acid rain, shortage of water resources, extinction of species, etc.), and we miss the essence of the problem. Various factors cause the destruction of the system to regenerate life on the earth. In other words, the earth system for life to support each otherthe Gaeais destroyed. That implies human beings will result in losing “their food”.

Worldwide environmental destruction is nothing but worldwide “starvation”. In the future, not only developing countries but also all countries including Japan will suffer from starvation.

The ecosystem is irreparably destroyed by the ego of human beings, and even the survival of human beings is endangered. Now, are there any ways left for our survival? Assuming that our choices in the past lead to the present situation where we live today, there is only one way to change the future.

That is to change everything such as our way of thinking, sense of values, and lifestyle. For example, keep it in your mind that everything on the earth has “life”. If you value your own life, you have to consider the life of others important as well. Let’s stop bullying other people and animals, breaking the branches of trees, and plucking the flowers. Don’t be greedy for money, food, and any other stuff. We should not keep them too much and throw them away. Come to think of it, there are a lot of things we should do to improve the environment.

No matter how small it is, if thousands of people take a small action, the accumulation of our efforts will greatly influence the future. Just talk over the matter and put into practice what we can do. That means we fulfill the duty of protecting the earth (the Gaea).

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Many people really love Japanese culture and bands but the world of Japanese politics is not well known outside of Japan. What are the main political problems people face in Japan today? What are your views about the Tokyo Olympics and what do people think about them?

Japanese politics and politicians areand have always beenconcealed and close-minded. You really can’t say that we have a fair political system with the collisions between the government and some multinational corporations.

The concealment and elimination of all inconvenient truths by throwing around a large sum of money to make everything look nice on the surface, including the Olympics, are all daily practices. The National Diet (Japan’s bicameral legislature) is based on a hereditary system and members of the Diet are all scum.

I really can’t understand what the Japanese government is thinking about, forcibly holding the current Tokyo Olympics when the majority of people were against it due to fear of the spreading of COVID-19. The Olympic Games that are all about government and corporate greed, based on monetary interest should be abolished!

There don’t seem to be as many crust bands as in the ’90s and ’00s. Is this the case in Japan? What are the good young crust/hardcore/d-beat bands you enjoy? Any favourite young foreign bands?

It’s sadly true that there are less crust bands now. Instead, grind core seems to be catching on with the younger generation and we’re seeing more grindcore bands now.

The younger bands from Tokyo that I enjoy are Unarm and Asocial Terror Fabrication.

The foreign band that I’m most into now is Lifeless Dark from Boston, US.

After 40 years of hardcore punk music, the scene has divided into many different genres and sometimes into many small scenes that don’t really connect with each other. Is it something that you see in Tokyo? Do you try to play outside of the crust/d-beat world and reach other audiences?

For instance, when the Great East Japan Earthquake and the meltdown of Fukushima Nuclear Plant occurred, LIFE performed at a “sound demo” on the back of a big truck, which is an unforgettable experience for me. We were really pumping adrenaline during our performance. It was a great chance to play in front of the mass, and I’m aware there were mixed reactions, but nonetheless, it was a valuable experience for us.

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Punk scenes in a lot of parts of Europe seem to be getting quite old as there are no real new generations coming into the scene, there is no new blood. Nothing wrong with old-school punks of course, but punk kids are the energy of punk. Is the scene in Tokyo getting older with no next generation too? Or is the scene young?

Similar to the European scene, the Tokyo scene is also getting old. I mentioned this earlier, but it seems that many of the younger generation are leaning towards grindcore these days. But it’s a natural flow, so I don’t have a particular opinion about it.

Japanese punks seem to be obsessed with the early Doom/Sore Throat sound and aesthetics and, for the past 30 years, many bands have created their own ‘early Peaceville’ crust worship with bands like Macrofarge, Abraham Cross, Reality Crisis, Asocial Terror Fabrication or Zykade for instance. Do you have a theory about why Doom is so popular over there?

Doom is one of my favorite bands as well. They came to Japan a few times and showed us brilliant performances. The reason behind Doom’s popularity in Japan is probably their full-on, flooding rhythm and riffs. And also, not to mention their great personalities and humanities as human beings.

Do you believe that DIY punk can still be a place for important conversations and political ideas to thrive? How do you see punk, crust and metal as part of the underground culture of the future?

As in the phrase, “DIY OR DIE,” nothing will be born if we just sit around and wait for it to happen. I think positive thinking and taking action are essential in the future of punk as well.

Thank you so much for reading. Let’s do our best with each other!

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