This is part of a series of posts talking about music I’ve released through my own Call And Response label. I explain in a bit more detail here.
The release of 1-2-3-Go! Tokyo D.I.Y. Music 2005 took a lot out of me and led me to question whether it was worth continuing. It certainly left me in no mood to think about what the label would do next. However, I was still looking for new bands, busily exploring the live scene and starting to make headway in my music journalism, so I never quite switched off.
One of the things about the compilation was that it really had all been Tokyo bands, and of course there was a massive world of music outside the capital. Deracine, who had featured on the album, were originally from Fukuoka, and some of the other key bands playing in the Tokyo underground scene at that time, most notably Panicsmile, hailed from the same place. Hell, Number Girl were from Fukuoka, and even three years after splitting up they were still pretty much the most important band in Japanese rock. I made my first connection with the Fukuoka music scene through this bizarre sample-based hip hop musician called Moth and a lo-fi alt-rock blues band called Folk Enough. I met them on tour in Tokyo in the runup to 1-2-3-Go!‘s release, and saw Folk Enough again the following spring. They said I should come down to Fukuoka at some point and I filed that thought away for future reference.
Then in the summer of 2006, I was going through a period of extreme distress and upheaval in my personal life and I decided that fuck it, yeah, I’m going to just scoot on down there for a couple of days and check it out. I hopped on the shinkansen to Hakata and randomly checked into a hotel near Tenjin, and then met up with Inoue from Folk Enough for a drink. He quickly got busy on his phone contacting a bunch of his friends in the local music scene, and a steady stream of people began showing up. The next day I woke up in my hotel with a blazing headache and pockets full of CDs from people I didn’t remember meeting.
One of those CDs was a white CD/R with two kanji written on the front that I couldn’t read. I put it into my laptop and gave it a listen, and my life changed.
1-2-3-Go! had been great for me because it had helped break down the British indie mode of listening that I’d had ingrained in me during my teenage Britpop years, but at the same time, I was still dizzy with the exoticism of it all. What this CD/R from Fukuoka did was make music that sounded like it could have come from anywhere: that was great not in a Japanese way or a British way, but in a way that was simply distinctive, thrilling and catchy without either sounding wacky or imitating anything else too hard. I frantically mailed Inoue to ask what it might be and he said it was probably a band called Hyacca.
It turned out that it was a copy of a mini-album called Sashitai that they were self-releasing through a few indie CD stores. The title, like the band name was a fairly dubious pun. Hyacca comes from the kanji 百/hyaku meaning “hundred” and 蚊/ka meaning “mosquito”. However, write it as 百科 and the word suddenly means “encyclopaedia” or change it to 百花 and you get “many flowers” (although the pronunciation of this one depends on how you choose to read the Kanji). The meaning “one hundred mosquitoes” is not the first one most people get when they hear the name. The title Sashitai literally means “I want to stab” and is obviously a pretty violent image, although in the context of a mosquito’s behaviour, it’s probably the main thing mosquitoes think about. Or female mosquitoes at least. In the album’s title track, vocalist Hiromi Kajiwara whispers the word almost seductively before a blizzard of sonic violence is unleashed by her and the rest of the band, and it’s worth noting that “sashitai” sould also be read as “I want to penetrate”. With Hyacca it’s never worth reading too much into their intentions though. Where the explanation “a dodgy joke” is possible, Occam’s razor suggests that’s probably it.Hyacca: Angel Fish
The other thing I really loved about them was the way Kajiwara, Goshima and sometimes Harajiri would trade vocals back and forth between them. The name Call And Response for my label came partly out of liking the acronym “CAR” from Clear And Refreshing, but also from this thing I have for bands that make use of a mixture of male and female vocals. There’s just something it does for a song’s texture and dynamic that really appeals to me.
So anyway, time went by, I was able to catch Hyacca a couple of times on trips to Tokyo and started booking them myself. They were absolutely insane live in those days. There was a legendary show they played at Shibuya O-Nest that was put on by the Koenji record store Enban, where Kajiwara made it through one song before hurling herself into the drum kit, ripping all the strings out of her guitar, abandoning the music almost entirely, and spending most of the rest of the gig crawling around on the stage, moaning into the mic, occasionally getting up to commit random acts of violence on guitarist Goshima, who responded at the end of the gig by running at her and doing a flying kick into her. Twice. For a long time, the opening bars of the song Sashitai were a prelude to horror, violence and chaos.Hyacca: Sashitai
I eased my way back into the label with a short Valentine’s Day CD/R (the first of several such small-scale, silly projects) I did with a few friends and released as a limited edition thing through Enban, and then started work on putting together a remaster and getting a proper distribution deal for the Hyacca mini-album.
In the end there wasn’t much difference between the original and the remaster, just a bit of cleaning up of the sound and slightly wider stereo. It was such a good lo-fi album that I feared polishing it anymore would have ruined it. Getting it in shops like Tower Records was important though, for the band and for Call And Response. Foreigners in the indie scene are often treated with a bit of suspicion, not out of racism exactly, but more a sense that they’re more likely to be transitory elements: tourists apt to jet off at a moment’s notice. Getting a brilliant album like Sashitai out probably more than anything else forced people in the indie scene to take me more seriously.Hyacca: Sick Girl
And it really was brilliant. The violence of their stage shows was encapsulated perfectly in the music, but here it was controlled. The opening of Angel Fish draws on ambient, shoegaze-ish influences, before suddenly reversing direction and turning into staccato, rhythmical postpunk that leads into the combination of rollercoaster punk rock and bubblegum new wave melody with sudden intrusions of death metal growling that is Riot. Songs like Sick Girl and Telephone Number are similarly riotous new wave/postpunk raves, while Sashitai ricochets wildly between languid melody and outright warfare, with a wandering piano that always reminds me of Bowie’s Aladdin Sane. Then there’s the heartfelt balladry of Single Coil, a love song by Goshima to his guitar pickup, and it all closes by returning to melodic, shoegaze territory with the sweeping, romantic Skyline. Like Wire and Sonic Youth, Hyacca showed a capacity for bold pop statements and outright punk noise fury, as well as giving every sense that they saw no difference and certainly no contradiction between the two.
More than just being a great album though, Sashitai helped to establish the identity of Call And Response Records in its early days, and at a time when Kansai bands from Osaka and Kyoto like Afrirampo, Watusi Zombie, Limited Express (Has Gone?), Midori, and Oshiri Penpenz were all the rage in Tokyo, working with Hyacca built a bridge between Tokyo and Kyushu that has remained at the core of the label’s operation ever since.