JAPANESE PSYCHEDELIC, PROGRESSIVE, EXPERIMENTAL & HEAVY ROCK [INCLUDING JAZZ ROCK, ELECTRONIC AND AVANT GARDE MUSIC]
Last updated March 2019, by Chris McLean Contact:
What you’re looking at here is not an attempt at describing the history of this music or of any imagined Japanese rock ‘scene’, but an artist-by-artist listing intended to give people a quick idea of who’s who, and what the music is like. This is aimed mainly at non-Japanese people who may have difficulty accessing and reading more accurate and comprehensive information in Japanese. I’d like to make it clear that this is written from an outsider’s perspective – I’m an Australian music enthusiast, but no expert on Japanese music. I’ve never been to Japan and can’t read, speak, or understand the language. Maybe one day!
To simplify sweepingly, the Japanese psychedelic rock scene beginning in the late 1960’s grew, as it did in many countries, from the influence of beat/r&b/psych-pop from leading UK groups, particularly The Beatles. The result of this influence was what was known as the ‘Group Sounds’ movement – basically involving lots of young folks seeking to emulate their idols by forming their own groups to play the new sounds. As the years passed most of these groups didn’t move with the times very well and were too commercially manipulated, remaining a pale psych-pop imitation of their UK and SF heroes. [It should be said that some Japanese music from this era does have a lot of strange charm due to the ways in which foreign musical influences were remoulded with crude gusto, and a few Group Sounds bands were actually pretty good.] This slowness in changing is comparable to the similar situations in Australia, New Zealand, and many African, South American and Asian countries at the same time.
However, as 1970 was ticking around some groups began to emerge who were making more credible and ‘progressive’ music, with musicians who had served time in Group Sounds bands, and some jazz and avant-garde musicians flirting with the rock world. Many of the best Japanese bands from this time were already showing the over-the-top enthusiasm with which younger Japanese people have become endearingly associated with in other countries. This, combined with the willingness to experiment and incorporate Japanese musical influences, adds up to give Japanese psychedelic and progressive music a special something which aficionados of such music should appreciate. Unfortunately, not many of these albums gained an international release, making the original LP’s from the 60’s and 70’s very rare indeed for the rest of the world. Even in Japan, I presume such albums would now be very hard to find after the countries’ record shops have been scoured by international collectors with money to burn. Also, only a relatively small amount of the vintage stuff has been reissued on CD, though more comes out over time – and those that have been reissued tend to go out of print quickly [and are often not re-licensed], and/or are usually hard to obtain for a reasonable price outside of Japan. However, a small portion of this music has become particularly popular due to the enthusing of fans with higher profiles such as Julian Cope, and once reissued for the first time, these records keep getting relicensed to different labels every time they go out of print. So, my advice is, if you see one of these more obscure albums in a shop or on-line and you know you want to buy it, don’t delay thinking you’ll be able to get it any time, because chances are perhaps you won’t! Even a lot of the newer Japanese music of interest seems to come and go pretty quickly, as Japanese experimental music is now very popular and prolific, but often with small print runs.
In case it helps to know, the main labels that have been reissuing a lot of the 70’s stuff are P-Vine, Showboat, Belle Antique, Coca/Nippon Columbia, Hagakure, and to a lesser extent PSF [Psychedelic Speed Freaks], Captain Trip, and French label Musea’s Poseidon imprint [some of their releases are first-time releases of archive recordings]. The Naked Line imprint of Universal Japan has also recently been releasing some welcome mid-price CD reissues, and some interesting rarities have come out [and are still to come] on Tiliqua.
The 80’s are represented here mainly by a variety of symphonic neo-prog, RIO, experimental/weird synth-pop and post-punk avant-garde music. Originally I was going to leave out lots of neo-prog stuff from the 80’s and beyond, due to a lot of it being pretty unoriginal and unappealing to me, but to consider a wider audience and in the interest of being more comprehensive I have put many of them in, although knowing less about them and not having the passion I haven’t gone into as much detail as with some groups or solo artists. I also hadn’t planned to include any of the synth-pop/art-punk-oriented stuff, but after actually hearing some of these bands I decided they were definitely weird and enjoyable enough to stand out and deserve mention. From the 90’s and beyond there has been a huge amount of supposedly ‘experimental’ and/or ‘psychedelic’ and/or ‘avant-garde’ music coming out of Japan, much of which is probably too basic, aimless, noisy and unpleasant to interest many readers of this article – or stuff that’s pure ‘noise music’. For this stuff I’ve tried to only discuss bands from these later periods that have something novel and interesting going on - in other words, the stuff that is still progressive in some way, or at least has a sense of aesthetics and art in the music. For example, Acid Mothers Temple clearly fit into that scheme, but bands like Mainliner, Musica Transonica and High Rise are pretty straight-forward noisy riff merchants (at least on the stuff I’ve heard), so although they would have been put in if they were from an earlier era, I’ve left them out. Besides, they are well-known and their fans probably know all about them anyway.
There’ll no doubt be a lot of stuff that I’ve missed on the radar, but this is as a work in progress. Simply put, since the 80’s a huge number of progressive rock and experimental groups have sprung up in Japan. It’s quite a task to keep track of them all!
Some initial details were gleaned from ‘The Primer – Japanese psychedelia’ by Alan Cummings [appeared in The Wire, August 1999], Hans Pokora’s first few ‘Record Collector’s Dreams’ books [showing record covers and release info, with very limited and sometimes misleading genre assignations], progarchives.com, cdreissuewishlist.blogspot.com, tiliqua-records.com, and a lot from extensive web-crawling; the rest is based on my own limited knowledge and opinions of groups or solo artists I’ve heard myself. I also have to thank the internet people who have helped me get to hear some stuff I wouldn’t have heard otherwise, especially http://mutant-sounds.blogspot.com and http://prognotfrog.blogspot.com. Please bear in mind that not being able to read or speak Japanese has made it very difficult to find accurate information on many of these bands or musicians – it’s only since I had nearly completed the first draft years ago that Google started offering to translate Japanese web pages, and even then the process isn’t anywhere near perfect. And, Google can’t translate my many Japanese CD liner notes! To Japanese readers, therefore, this article may seem to be hopelessly inadequate and full of inaccuracies. I have tried to do my best piecing together fragments of information, and listening to whatever I can. I look forward to the publication of a comprehensive book on this subject written in English by someone who is also Japanese-literate and has broad tastes.
In 2007, when an earlier version of this page was still on the Record Heaven (Sweden) website, Julian Cope’s book ‘Japrocksampler’ came out, which is a good English source for more detailed information on some of the more major of these artists, and contributed to fleshing out some of the entries in the current version of this page. However, as you’ll notice, our tastes and opinions differ considerably in some areas, although there’s some overlap. Regardless, Japrocksampler is recommended reading for a much more thorough look at the roots of Group Sounds and the Japanese avant-garde, and leading into the ‘new rock’.
A Note on the Layout
Next I’ve listed bands and individual people alphabetically in sections divided into groupings of decades. As some bands span the decades, this is based on earliest recordings. For example if a band formed in the 70’s but didn’t record until the 80’s, they’ll be in with the 80’s stuff; if, however, there are recordings available from the 70’s that didn’t get released until later, then I would put them in with the 70’s stuff (but you might find some entries that slipped through my net and broke these rules). Previously I had a division between everything up to the mid-70’s, and later groupings, but I changed this because the mid-70’s borderline was too confusing and tenuous. I hope this change has made things a bit easier to navigate as this web page keeps growing. In Japan, surnames or family names are put first, unlike the fashion in most other places. Here I have put family names last to make it easier for western readers, although in a few cases I wasn’t sure which was the family name and which was the given name of a person.
GO TO PAGE 1: 60s-70s A-E