This section of my 2021 roundup is really a continuation of the punk roundup, bringing in releases with a darker, heavier or more gothic take on punk, as well as acts with dark electronic or industrial elements. A lot of these bands have connections with the Discipline event held at the venue Bushbash in Koiwa, while others are just here because their sense of sonic gloom sat well with the general vibe while offering something interesting of its own.
Dead Bitch – self-vandalism
The Discipline event crew come up a few times in this roundup, and this cassette EP by industrial/noise producer Dead Bitch is the first release on their new label. The fuzzed-out, distorted electronic sounds and angry, frightened, disaffected vocal samples give the music here the (I assume absolutely intentional) atmosphere of a dusty video cassette found in a forest shack near where a group of teenagers mysteriously vanished in the 1980s. The second side features remixes by dark electronic scene heads Golpe Mortal (who will be cropping up again here too) and Cemetery add nasty beats to the proceedings, but in the process lose a bit of the eerie, creeping sense of space that Dead Bitch imbues their own takes with.
Klonns – Amon / Gehenna
One of the key acts from the Discipline event, Klonns delight in pummelling the listener with a thick wall of guitar thrash and boneshaking landslide of drums. When you’ve got a sound as tightly honed as this, it’s the small things that give the songs their own identity, like the metal chords that break through one of the rare breathing spaces the assault leaves you, and in particular here the guest vocals each track brings in. On Amon that means Hate from grindcore fellows Moonscape, and on Gehenna that means Aisha from the more conventionally punk but no less frenetic Ignition Block M.
Klonns / Soiled Hate – Different Senses split
Here’s Klonns again, and with another collaboration release, this time a split cassette EP with fellow grind enthusiasts Soiled Hate. Both bands specialise in minute-long blasts of densely packed hardcore, although Soiled Hate mix up the atmosphere a bit with some kind of silly but fun samples. The thing that really makes this split stand out, though, is the two electronic covers, one of each of the title artists, by Zaiden (who also released an EP from the Discipline label in 2021), which take the frenetic hardcore energy of each band and squeeze it through manic cyberpunk chicanes of synth noise.
Moonscape – Monolith
We met Moonscape briefly earlier when their intimidatingly named “Prophet and Zouo” (and vocalist?) Hate guested on Klonns’ track Amon. He’s back again here in his native environment: a roiling, volcanic lava pit of hardcore punk aggression and absurd metal guitar acrobatics. Where Klonns’ music is by design packed tight for maximum uncompromising impact, Moonscape are sonically more flamboyant and expansive — they can certainly do devastatingly intense, but there’s also a giddy joy in the trills, wails and embroidery of metal guitar, more shifts in tempo, more wild, clattering, explosive, flailing drums.
Ms.Machine – Ms. Machine
One of the breakout stars of the Tokyo indie scene in 2021, this debut album by Ms. Machine was something a lot of us had been waiting for for a long time and it won them a few overseas plaudits and a spot in the new bands stage of the summer’s weird, covid-dampened Fuji Rock festival. Like Solvent Cobalt, the music hinges on a core dynamic of creative guitar noise over drum machine beats, although rather than the vocals being distant howls from behind the veil, here they are deadpan spoken word announcements. A big part of what makes Ms. Machine work so well in their current three piece incarnation is how each member has their own territory to work in within the songs and leaves the others the space to work their own thing with just enough connecting tissue to create a coherent hole. Sai’s vocals are drained of emotion, leaving small shifts in intensity to imply deep wells of feeling seething beneath the surface; Risako’s disarmingly simple bass lines draw their own geometric shapes, walking in and out of both the vocals and rhythm patterns; Mako’s guitar fires flurries of noise but also gives each song a character and shape that plants hooks in the listener’s brain that live far beyond the moment of listening.
Ms.Machine – Vår
Another release from Ms. Machine, Vår had already appeared on the band’s eponymous album at the start of 2021, but this 12-inch single is an interesting artefact that connects the band to several parts of the Tokyo indie landscape. Label Black Hole have already shown up on this list with the Klonns 7-inch, and like Klonns, Ms. Machine have strong connections to the Discipline punk and electro noise events at the venue Koiwa Bushbash. Another of that event’s regular participants, trackmaker Golpe Mortal shows up too plying his dark electro, gothic-industrial trade through one of two remixes of the title track, while the other remix is an eerie accentuation on the song’s sense of confusion and loss by upcoming trackmaker Ermhoi of the creative collective Millennium Parade. New song Sommer, meanwhile, was recorded by Yui Kimijima at Tsubame Studio, which is increasingly the place where upcoming Tokyo indie and underground bands go to make their first big sonic statements, and its propulsive, swirling melancholy is a powerful coda to a year that seems to be a keystone in Ms. Machine’s life as a band.
Noiseconcrete x 3chi5 – Best of 2015-2020 CD
If you’ve been following this site over the past few years, you can probably skip over this one, as it is really a primer of previously released songs for a band I’ve been a vocal supporter of ever since I first discovered them in Nagoya six years ago. If you haven’t heard of them before, however, this is a great place to dive into their atmospheric collage of ambient noise, trip-hop and industrial sounds, over which 3chi5’s vocals float, sensual yet alien.
Noiseconcrete x 3chi5 – Worth Living Hunter
In the meantime, if you’re already familiar with this duo’s oeuvre, this is the place to pick up your next fix. Where their two 2020 releases split their sound into its more abstract experimental and pop extremes, this five song EP/mini-album brings both facets back together, while at the same time letting them continue floating apart. In the drawn out spaces of the opening title track, 3chi5’s poetry dances and flows in blue lines over moody, ambient backdrops, while sharp blasts of noise cut harsh lines through the sound, and stands as a microcosm of the whole Nx3 experience in many ways. The remaining tracks then act as dissections and deconstructions of that core cluster of elements, letting noise rise to the fore on one track, 3chi5’s vocals skipping through slippery jazz beats on another, sinking into sparse ambience on another, vocals fluttering disassembled over a reluctant beat on another.
Soloist Anti Pop Totalization – 4 Songs on Extended Play
While most of the artists in this section of my 2021 roundup exist in a space where the intersection between hardcore, techno and experimental noise collide and intersect in a way that feels distinctly contemporary, Soloist Anti Pop Totalization crafts his dark, synth-based punktronic missives out of something rooted in a much more granular way in the 1980s. Minimal wave in the mould of The Normal and early Mute Records sits at the heart of what he does and guides the routes it takes. Not that that’s a problem, any more than the bass, drums and four chord guitar setup of a punk band is a problem: within the restrictions of the setup, Soloist Anti Pop Totalization weaves back and forth between pulsing new wave, experimental, ambient and quietly beautiful (and, yes, pop) moments on this EP in a way that never feels limited.
Solvent Cobalt – Private Gloam
What strikes you first, and then keeps washing over you throughout this album, is the tidal surge of scratchy Jesus and Mary Chain guitar static. Deliberately simple, minimal drum machine beats loop their way doggedly through each song, while the vocals are indistinct echoes from far away, singing melody lines that are more often than not simply whatever notes the bass is playing at that moment. This is music all about the noises, squalls, flurries and textures the guitars are playing around with inside that sea of static. And luckily Solvent Cobalt are really good at playing those games, making this album, for all its dedication to one particular sound, sustain a prickle with excitement throughout.