“s/t” LP (Shadoks 082)
This reissue proves and disproves in equal measure conventional wisdom about the pre-punk music world. It shows that there was actually compelling, aggressive, underground, alternative music made around the world in the 1970s before the punk explosion. Nearly everyone knows this fact by now. But 3/3 (or, Sanbun No San) also proves that punk’s revolution was an economic revolution as much as, if not more so than, a musical one. The 1970s’ interstices between punk and hippie were filled by marginal weirdos, loners, basement dwellers, artists, and radicals—that is certain. Problem was that there was no way for these people to get their message, such as it was, out to the world. The recent great finds of this era, like Debris’, Simply Saucer, or even the Electric Eels and “I Got A Right”-era Stooges, were and continue to be appreciated retrospectively. At the time, there was no infrastructure in the music world to support what was deemed unmarketable; even less prevalent was the notion that independent releases were an end, not a means. Punk changed all that.
Recorded in 1975, the LP by 3/3 was probably the most legendary Japanese record among punk collectors simply because it barely existed. Rumors persist of fewer than 10 copies ever made. The LP was manufactured as a test pressing with the hopes of generating record-label interest. That didn’t work. Its nods to psych were too late and its patches of raw, straight-forward, aggressive heaviness apparently were either too late for the post-Sabbath trend or too early for punk. Few people had heard this record prior to this reissue, but in recent years, when many English-speaking record collectors began to frequent Tokyo specialty shops, rumors began to spread outside Japan about the pre-Friction band. Supposedly, a CD-R was auctioned on Yahoo Japan, and if true, I believe that CD-R provided the source material for this reissue. (A strange drop-out near the end of the first song is not a pressing defect—it does at least appear in the MP3s I obtained a while back, possibly also sourced from the mythic CD-R.) So, does the LP live up to its legend?
As a piece of proto-punk, this record is everything one demands from that pseudo-genre. To me, the bizarreness of some proto-punk (I’m looking at you, the Midwest) is acceptable if it is the substitute for heaviness and aggression on records that lack those qualities. Luckily, 3/3 is heavy and not weird at all, at least certainly not to anyone who has listened to even the most elementary heavy psych. Some of its songs, with mucho wah-wah, are clearly influenced by Hendrix more than any other artist, and for the most part, the record doesn’t have the slow, riffy heaviness of Sabbath (or Sabbath-like Japanese bands such as Blues Creation or Flower Travellin’ Band). It falls somewhere in the middle, enhanced in my estimation by its stripped-down, live-sounding recording. This recording quality is reminiscent of the other key obscurities in the Japanese proto-punk world that were reissued recently, the two 7”s by Benitokage. Unlike in Benitokage, however, I don’t detect any glam influence in 3/3. Also, relatively speedy tempos abound. Certainly it’s faster than the Pistols! Reck’s singing, present in about half the songs, strikes me as sufficiently proto-punk as well. He doesn’t scream but he doesn’t wail either, and in some places Reck seems to be singing nonsense (or maybe it’s proto-punk scat). It’s unpretentious, which is probably the best way to describe the overall effect of the album. The LP doesn’t exactly hold together as an album because the song order is imperfect, with the best stuff at the end of the A side and beginning of the B side, and the weakest, most Jimi/wah-wankish, and longest song starts the record. But the record fittingly ends with a song called “Let it flow,” which has a definite downer, spaced-out vibe. As a document of a live show or even rehearsal, this record succeeds because it lacks the mediation a more polished recording would introduce.
3/3’s line-up included Higo Hiroshi on bass and Reck on guitar and vocals, whereas in Friction, Reck played bass and sang, and the redoubtable Tsunematsu Masatoshi played the six-string. The drummer remained the same in both bands. A close look at the photos on the back of this LP reveals that it’s Friction depicted, not 3/3, even though the kick-drum appears to have a “3” on the front of it. With Friction’s current crosscultural popularity (amongst both punks and nerdy norms), listeners will surely be attempting to hear hints of Friction’s spare, abrasive, downtown-Manhattan-one-upped-in-Tokyo sound. They’re not there, except insofar as 3/3’s rawness and live-quality recording may have carried over to the punk era. (Lyrically, Friction remained psychedelic as far as I can tell.) Though nothing by 3/3 jumps off the vinyl and grabs you around the throat like “Crazy Dream.” Alas, such is the lot of the punk fan working backwards.
So, is upwards of $40 a fair price for an LP with no information about the band and photos of the wrong band on it? Well, let’s just say, you need this record, and shoplifting from the few independent record stores left isn’t a solution. It’s in my nature, I think, to jump at the chance to own on vinyl music that is otherwise unavailable, especially music made by folks who went on to be in one of the best bands of one of my favorite eras (first-wave Japanese punk). Apparently, others agree, as this LP is one of the first that curmudgeonly Shadoks has pressed twice on vinyl. The first pressing comprises 500 numbered red-vinyl copies, and the second 350 black-vinyl copies. One hopes that Mr. Shadoks is giving some of his profits to Reck and Co., but one has doubts in this regard.