“1981-1984” (Sky Station SS-320)
For me, this is one of the most exciting reissues of Japanese punk. Sekinintenka, which means “pass the buck,” had been a total mystery before. I’d heard only their four tracks on V/A “ADK Omnibus vol. 1” 2x7". I knew they released a flexi in 1981, but I'd seen it for sale only once (it was also displayed on the wall of tasty infamy at the now-defunct Kōenji branch of Erect Records). With that lone appearance on a sale list as a guide, I’d guess that flexi is one of the rarest Japanese punk records. They also released a second flexi, an 8" called “In the Shadows,” and a mini-album called “Good Luck.” The omnibus tracks are typical fare for the ADK label—meaning they’re pretty offbeat. I had assumed the band only got weirder as time progressed, so I never sought their later releases, which are somewhat more common. This CD is organized nearly chronologically by recording rather than by release, which is helpful, as the “Good Luck” 12" includes both their first and final recordings. Contrary to my assumption, the band developed a more straight-forward sound over the years.
ADK bands in general took their influences from a combination of early British hardcore like Discharge and The Exploited, Motörhead, and postpunk bands like Birthday Party, PiL, and, I’m sure, NY’s No Wave stuff, which also influenced the first wave of Japanese punk. The trademark of the ADK hardcore sound is precise and repetitive guitar playing as exemplified by guitarist and label honcho Tam on early Stalin songs and in G-Zet and LSD. Because there was great diversity between the bands on ADK, and because it released some of the greatest hardcore as well as the greatest arty punk, the label is one of the most exciting and unique ever to fall under the punk banner. ADK should be ranked alongside Touch & Go, Dischord, and SST in the hall of fame, and unlike those labels, it had to good sense to quit while it was ahead.
The two earliest Sekinintenka studio tracks, from late ‘81, showcase a band that could’ve gone in two directions. The first song, just over a minute long, is similar to Aburadako or The Stalin, with rhythmic Michiro-esque vocals, and a driving, upbeat sound. The next song, over six minutes long, is characterized by sparse guitar and electronic noises, less shreiky vocals, and consistently off-kilter drums (is that an oxymoron?); it’s a discomforting jam from which all the boogie has been scientifically removed.
The live ‘81 tracks, recorded a few months before these studio tracks, are similarly diverse. One is a dance track of sorts—the singer is doing a James Brown impersonation and repeating over and over “You can dance!” over a repetitive wave-funk riff. The other two tracks are in the Tam/ADK mold. The ‘81 tracks have a different singer from the rest of the recordings.
The tracks from the ultra-rare ‘82 flexi are again split between the short/punky weirdness and the long/nonpunky weirdness. I think the CD tracks were mastered directly from the flexi because they have that half-flat/half-hollow and slightly warbly sound endemic to flexis. The longer track, with its out-of-place piano tune beneath the noise and two different, simultaneous vocal tracks, sounds to me like the product of locking a gang of drugged-out loonies in a studio and telling them to play punk. Out of context, no one would label this punk rock, but it’s unsettling in the manner of other early ‘80s mental-ward-escapee bands from Texas or Finland today labeled punk.
The ADK Omnibus tracks, from ‘83, are the shortest and most hardcore on this CD collection, but they are not straight-forward or by-the-numbers. They alternate between the repetitive riffing I’ve been describing, complete with a very similar tone to Tam’s in G-Zet, and guitar noodling/noisery. The songs are the shortest and most direct on the CD. For those wondering, of the four bands on that compilation, Sekinintenka are only the third-weirdest.
The ‘84 tracks, from “In the Shadows,” seem like the most typical for the Sky Station label, which reissues big-name Japanese punk bands like The Star Club. These tracks are much more melodic and even anthemic than the other stuff on the CD, but, with the exception of the title track, elements of the band’s earlier sound are still legible here. The powerful recording makes me wonder why I’d never before heard anyone talk about how good this record is.
Finally, the live ‘84 tracks are the least interesting on the CD, but they’re still cool.
(I should mention that members of this band continued to play in Japanese punk and hardcore bands well into the ‘90s, with a member in Dessert, who are well-known in Japan and who sound like a less scatterbrained Paintbox.)
This CD comes housed in a cool cardboard gatefold with pasted-on (like old-style LP jackets) textured paper plus an insert. The packaging makes the lack of a vinyl companion to the CD less lamentable. There’s little English anywhere, but there’s enough to figure out what one is listening to. It’s a shame that Sky Station releases get zero overseas distribution because this an excellent release of a band few outside Japan know. Listening to this CD makes me wonder if Japanese hardcore could have followed a completely different trajectory from the one it did, if, perhaps, the somewhat artsy influence had been more popular than the metallic influence or the UK ‘82 influences. Maybe the sound of bands like Sekinintenka is too arcane to have had any wider popularity, even within the hardcore punk world, but then noise-drenched chaos isn’t easily digestible either. To me this CD is like a really expensive wine or cheese (or, um, seitan). You know you should like it, but until you open your mind to the subtleties of it, you might not find it appetizing; once you do, however, it’s extremely rewarding.