Kuro 1st flexi (Blue Jug)

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We now begin the flexi portion of the evening. Most records collectors have more experience with things flexible than they admit. Along with The Execute (whose first record is #1 on a different list), Kuro were the originators of Motörthrash. Their discography has been the subject of many a work of fiction (ie, dealer lists), and other than GISM, they’ve been bootlegged more than any other Japanese band. Nevertheless, their first flexi, limited to 1000 copies, is, as violent noisy hardcore goes, perfect. Yes, it’s live. No, the songs don’t have titles listed (though they do on later reissue CDs). And yes, that’s the sound of men, women, and children as they cry and scream in pain. Or, men, women, and children as they flee from the open in search of safety. Or, men, women, and children groaning in agony from the intolerable pain of their burns.

After the fireworks and the screaming, a razor-sharp bassline speeds out of control to introduce the song “Jag Out.” If Lemmy is known as the original out-of-control speed-freak bassist, Kuro’s Manzi plays like Lemster’s reputation. Though fast hardcore already was well entrenched around the world by 1983, this record has that uniquely Japanese quality, perfected later by Gauze, of creating the feeling of speed over actual superfast tempos. And before long, chaos ensues. Judging from the Kuro live videos I’ve seen, chances are that when the Ray Sunshine–esque pans combine with the sound of what seems to be the band beating audience members over the head with their instruments, it’s because the band was beating the audience members over the head with their instruments. One wonders if the show was Kyushu’s Altamont. Actually, it’s obvious Kuro relished violent imagery, as so many of their posed photos show, and beating up your fans is shocking the first time and lame every subsequent time. But what keeps me from dismissing this band as mere thuggish show-offs is the excellence of the music, which captures the tension and fear they were obviously trying to create with their image. In fact, it is not just the audience member screams that make it sound like the show was violent, it’s the aggression of the playing, which balances calculated, precision playing with unexpected bursts and instruments cutting out. Maybe it’s more like a boxing match than a real fight. “Top Less Go,” the second track is slightly more mid-tempo, perhaps presaging the direction the band’s sound would take in subsequent years.

It should be noted that the recording on this flexi differs from the “Fire” live flexi (red wax, on KPP Records), also recorded in 1983. That flexi was ostensibly released twice, once with a picture sleeve and once sleeveless along with the “Fire” 7" set, which also includes the studio 1984 flexi, one track from which was included on “Killed by Hardcore” #2 LP. I’ve always been skeptical about the authenticity of the sleeve for the red live flexi, as the paper stock doesn’t seem to date from 1986. Its front reproduces the front of the “Fire” envelope and adds some additional text and the back is a collage of one of the pages of the “Fire” booklet and the insert to the “Who the Helpless” 8". Maybe there were leftover flexis that the band wanted to sell, so they made a cheap and easy sleeve for them. Rumors persist about distribution at gigs only, with variations about flexis tossed out into the audience—or was it through mailorder only? Nevertheless, this other live 1983 flexi is another must-hear. Even more violent, though less clear in sound, this recording is punctuated by many shouts and screams as well as the explosions of fireworks. The muffled, distant sound, combined with the, uh, incomplete guitar playing, give the feeling of hardcore disintegrating into ambient noise before one’s eyes (and ears). There are a few other live Japanese hardcore recordings that include fireworks, but this one is the finest. It is no coincidence that the notion of trying to blow up or smoke out your fellow punkers at a gig became especially prevalent in Cleveland, as that wretched locale—Painesville, actually (even more wretched)—for a time, was home to America’s highest concentration of Japanese hardcore fanatics.

Kuro’s first flexi differs from most of the other records on this list of Japanese noise-core in that it doesn’t use a specifically noisy guitar sound. Overall, their sound was more influenced by Motörhead than Disorder, and on the definitive “Who the Helpless” 8", one of the sharpest and clearest hardcore recordings ever, Kuro mix “HNSNSN” sweeping riffage with over-the-top distorted vocals with edges like a sawblade (due to the pellucid recording quality, each tooth becomes tangible). Confuse and Kuro shared a label, Blue Jug—run by a general, rather than specifically punk, music magazine—and both hailed from Fukuoka in Southern Japan, so it strikes me as notable that Kuro’s noise-core was qualitatively different from Confuse’s. The difference may cause some maniacs to question my inclusion of Kuro’s flexi on this list of noise-core records, especially when the red flexi I mentioned is more lo-fi, but I don’t think there is any better way to classify this record. And what it shares with the other records on the list, especially “Spending Loud Night,” is the way it took an influence from already-extreme bands and refashioned it into something new and even more extreme. In this case, noisiness is inextricable from that extremity, from its otherworldliness. Shit-fi doesn’t simply mean lo-fi or primitive (well, sometimes it does), it also encompasses a “Je ne sais quoi” that adds character to the music. I can only hazard a guess that because these bands hailed from an insignificant place, far from Tokyo or even Osaka, where Japanese hardcore was notoriously developing, they felt a compulsion to set themselves apart, attract attention, and make a name for themselves as doing something worthwhile and remarkable—to add that character to the music. There is also the shit-fi truism, as exemplified by Neos, Terveet Kädet, Shaggs, etc., that bands from locales far outside the mainstream’s (or mainstream underground’s) attention often manage to create music more interesting, more deranged, and more extreme than what is going on in the big cities, where the hope or possibility of “making it,” on however minor a scale, distorts priorities. Whatever Kuro’s motivations, these nutjobs certainly succeeded at creating music of enduring appeal, both in the high-speed noisy explosion of the first flexi and in the rockin’ yet menacing distortion of the 8".


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