Interview with Hideo Ikeezumi
Interview and translation by Jimmy DeeThe founder of the Japanese mainstay PSF label narrates the recent history of the Tokyo underground and his crusade to bring psychedelia to the land of the rising sun. The interview took place Saturday, April 1, 2000 in Tokyo.
Modern Music opened in September 1980. Soon it'll be 20 years.
Oh, that's right.
I wonder if I should do something to celebrate. Could be a pain. (laughter)
How did you come to open a record store?
I was always interested in music and records. In 1970 I happened to start work in a record store thinking it was part time. I liked it, and I've been doing it ever since. That was a chain store. I started working as a buyer in the main branch. The records you find at a chain store are totally commercial. That kind of thing sells well. There was almost nothing coming out that I liked. But the things I did like I wanted to put in the stores, so I ordered them. Occasionally I'd go from the main store to the branches and check, and those things weren't selling at all. Ordering a lot of high-selling records, 100 or 200 a day, and repeating that every day gets to be a drag. If you keep doing that kind of thing as a job past 30 it's not very rewarding work. I thought of starting a record store and selling only the records I liked. I like recommending good music to people and promoting those things. So that's how Modern Music got started. And so, naturally I don't like to stock things that will sell. The Beatles and such -- I don't want to stock those sorts of things. At first I couldn't sell much at all. (laughter)
Were you a musician before that?
(No.) In high school I bought a guitar and played it for three hours -- God, it just wasn't right for me. I gave it to my brother.
After just three hours?
Three hours. (laughter) Memorizing chords just really wasn't happening. It was terrible. Next I bought a trumpet, and I think I played that for about a week. I learned to read music. Of course really I think it's best just to listen. (laughter)
Are you originally from Tokyo?
The record store you worked in from 1970 was also in Tokyo?
As you just said, from the beginning Modern Music mainly dealt in the music you liked. At that time, mainly what kind of music was that?
Japanese stuff was well...(terrible). At that time, independent releases were coming out a few at a time. I bought all the independent releases. There weren't all that many, but I thought those kinds of things were good. Not much good was coming out on the Japanese major record labels. I had a lot of contacts at the record companies that supplied the chain stores, so I went over to the record companies and talked to the production people, but they were all business people. God, it was impossible.
As for overseas stuff at that time of course, in Europe, right, it was the time the psychedelic reissue boom started, and I was ordering and stocking almost all those things. That was also when noise was at its best -- SPK, Throbbing Gristle and such, right -- there was a lot of that kind of thing. There was a lot of LAFMS-related stuff too. Then there was British rock and Krautrock.
At that time, I had heard every noise record and had gradually gotten tired of noise, and I was really tired of contemporary music. I thought I completely knew rock. I had listened to tons of rock and gotten bored with it too, I thought. At that point in Japan, of American mid-late 60's psychedelia only the most famous things had been introduced. There were no magazine articles or recordings of Japanese performances. In Japan, the only things coming out were the ostensibly well-known releases.
So when I heard the reissues, I thought they were great. I thought they were really good. But the most important genres of psychedelia were not to be found in Japan. They just weren't there. So I started listening to shreds of psychedelia, and I loved it. And the people who came to the store all liked weird things, so none of them knew psychedelia. Naturally. So I played it for a lot of people, and they all liked it. So like that psychedelia began to spread. At just that time, High Rise started coming to the store as customers, I got to know them and we talked quite a lot. It was exactly that time, so in about the fourth year, I was thinking about releasing a record from the store. That era really was the most interesting, wasn't it? Things are not so interesting any more. (laughter) So psychedelia was a real shock. It's funny. It's not pop. What would you call it? It's different from ordinary rock too. Really, it was the total music of that time.
Around '83, the scene wasn't so great, so I thought maybe I should make a record. I talked to people about it and thought it should be psychedelia. It has an improvisational character and a feeling of speed. (HR leader Asahito) Nanjo happened to tell me, "Oh, my band is like that." I went to see a live show, and they were really good.
(Guitarist Munehiro) Narita was already playing at that time? Before that Mitani of Conformist had quit, and they changed the name --
(Narita) was really good as Kosokuya's drummer, really good. The interesting bands at the time, Kosokuya was one, Fushitsusha was another. There were quite a few good bands coming out then. Maher was another. Maher, Che Shizu. After that there were a few, like Marble Sheep.
White Heaven's Ishihara worked at the store, didn't he?
Yeah, that's right. And Matsutani of Marble Sheep.
Have there always been musicians working there since Modern Music first opened?
Let's see -- relatively continually. Ah, but as far as musicians, it was Ishihara, Matsutani and (Koji) Shimura (of White Heaven, Nagisa Nite, Mainliner and High Rise). And one other person who played punk. In the beginning it was like that. They were all college students, and they were all playing in bands.
As for Japanese noise, it was a little unusual. All the people who were playing noise were music freaks. They listened to free jazz and contemporary music, they listened to normal music, they listened to violent stuff, and they produced that kind of noise, so it has kind of a twisted feel. The LAFMS people in America are that way too, really pretty twisted. European noise has a raucous musicality -- it's relatively harsh noise. Punk is like that too. American punk is more interesting. London punk is relatively straight. Noise is pretty much that way too.
In Japan -- not the people who were playing noise but the people who were listening to noise -- at that time, in the 80's, the people who liked noise and free jazz and a lot of things like that, understood without explanation the value of psychedelia. Coming from free jazz and noise, when they heard psychedelia they really got it. It's an interesting phenomenon.
I don't listen to noise any more. I don't listen to it at all. Whitehouse and the like, they were stealing from everyone. (laughter) PSF has hardly released any noise.
Why is that? Is there any reason?
Because I don't listen to noise. Because I try to release only the things I want to hear. I want to release some enka in the future. One of these days. (laughter)
You have already released several CD's of other kinds of music, right? For example, Michihiro Sato and such. Tsugaru jamisen.
That's right. Tsugaru jamisen is interesting, really the most interesting. I actually asked Michihiro Sato to improvise for me. But he really couldn't, because it was already complete. It's amazing. Playing is difficult. I asked him to change the way he played. You strum and play a certain way, so I asked if he couldn't open the spacing or something on the return. It's hard. And so when you play, it's interesting, you can't really play it like a guitar. An amateur might have the impression you could play it that way. It would be interesting to give (Keiji) Haino a Tsugaru jamisen to play. (laughter) There are quite a few interesting things in Japanese music. But somehow Tsugaru jamisen is the most interesting.
That's something I previously had no idea about: Japanese traditional music.
Well, there's almost nothing left but the form, since the state often "preserves" it. There's not much living music. On the contrary, in the case of nagauta songs for instance or kouta songs, there are people teaching these things in the city. Things like gagaku are not played. That's almost completely dead. Almost. Bunraku though, a person plays the Futozao shamisenóthe player plays, and the singer sings, like this, from the center of the body. The shamisen player cannot sing. So, one sings and the other plays the shamisen like this. And then they use puppets and perform a joruri ballad. That's really interesting. Watching and listening are both interesting at the same time. They perform using puppets, so watching requires some degree of imagination too. It's good. In the case of kabuki, human beings perform and the form is somewhat fixed. I don't have much interest in kabuki. Bunraku is better.
Well, to return to the previous topic, were you acquainted with Tokyo musicians of that time (other than High Rise)? At that stage, for example Kaoru Abe was already deceased.
Oh yeah, he was already dead.
For example, when did you first meet Haino?
Haino? I was going to see his live shows, but I didn't know him. Haino had come to the store. After we released the High Rise record, Nanjo brought him to the store.
Oh, really? You met him through Nanjo?
(Haino's band) Fushitsusha was already famous, around here anyway. And, well, they're a great band. I thought they deserved a decent major release. High Rise was obscure and chaotic, so they were interesting. So I thought about releasing them. I had no interest in releasing Fushitsusha.
At the time, after 1980, new releases had become pretty uninteresting. That was the case in Japan. At first interesting things were coming out, but gradually it changed. Foreign releases too were really pretty bad. So we thought if we ourselves made something we liked and we promoted it to like-minded people who came to the store, we started thinking, why couldn't we sell 300 records? After all, those people had been accumulating. So we made "High Rise." We made 300. But it wouldn't move right away. It took about a year to sell them all. We were really pushing them. (laughter) Have you heard that record?
What did you think?
Well, as Narita said, it's a record like a storm. (laughter) But...the sound quality...
It's awful isn't it? (laughter)
I like it though.
It's good, isn't it?
When we sent the tape to the pressing plant, the engineer told us the balance was uneven, and we should fix that. Well, we'd already recorded it in the studio at high volume, so we figured we'd record it once more. He said if we did it a certain way it would improve, but when he brought it back it really hadn't. It had become normal. (laughter) It was just terrible. But whenever you record there's mischief. Things warp and rub and such, so it becomes interesting. If you record with perfect accuracy in the studio, you probably won't get that feeling.
Why did you decide to start a record label?
Well, as I said before, there weren't many good new releases coming out, either Japanese or imports. Of course new releases are the most interesting. We thought we should release something ourselves, as long as we had something that sounded good. So we made a record. Without necessarily thinking of starting a label, we thought it would be interesting to make a record ourselves. When we made the first High Rise album, well, the reputation was good among record freaks, but among normal people, not at all. (laughter) So we thought even if we sent it to other record stores, it might not sell, at that time.
When we released the second album, the second one sold. We made 500 of the second. We sent about 100 of the second overseas. We didn't send any of the first overseas.
I really began to think of starting a label from about the time I released "Fushitsusha" to the time I released "Live in the First Year of Heisei." Around that time, there were a lot of good, unknown people who wanted to make records.
There's an interesting point. The live shows on "Live in the First Year of Heisei," (1989) at least in part took place in the sixty-second year of Showa (1987). Perhaps "Live in the Sixty-Second Year of Showa and the First Year of Heisei" was a little long.
But some part was recorded in the first year of Heisei (1989), right?
Yeah. Well, I wanted to have an appropriate title for a clean division, "Live in the First Year of Heisei."
I happened to be a big fan of Kan Mikami since the time of his debut. I would often go to see him live. I don't drink, so when the shows ended I'd leave right away. So I knew his face, but we'd never spoken. Then one day I was waiting for a friend after one of Mikami's shows. I was reading a magazine. When Kan Mikami finished, he came down from the stage and was drinking beerólots of beer. So I gave him my card, since I was running a record store. He asked what kind of record store I ran. Of course we had a lot of common interests -- Akira Kobayashi -- we certainly had a lot to talk about. We both really liked "Sasurai." Of course he had a big influence on me. So we became friends. (laughter) We're exactly the same age too. We were both interested in Akira Kobayashi as well as Kazuki Tomokawa. Kenji Endo too and Yoshio Hayakawa -- they all had an impact on me since elementary school. From an adult's perspective, they might not be interesting. But from a child's point of view, what would you call it? Thinking stupidly -- instead of running along on a rail, they all took pains to get off of it. There's meaning to that. (laughter)
So our relationship improved and built up. Then after that, John Zorn was (touring), back when he was unknown. When I spoke to him, he really liked Japanese folk songs -- he has about 10,000 records. He asked who was the best, and I said, "Kan Mikami." Kan Mikami is the best, right? When I said I often went to see Mikami, Zorn said he wanted to perform with Mikami. I told Mikami, he said, "Let's do it," and they soon played together. It was great, really great. The audience was really small. But a while after that, when Zorn had become really popular in Japan, he played at Mandala 2. There were tons of people at that show, and well, that was not so good. (laughter) When he heard "First Year of Heisei," he really liked Keiji Haino. After that he started paying attention to Keiji Haino. Now, everyone knows Keiji Haino overseas, right? Kan Mikami's songs would be difficult overseas.
I guess so, because of the language. But having said that, I think there are a lot of people abroad who don't know Japanese but like Mikami's music.
When did you decide to publish a magazine?
When would that be? I can't remember. It was about ten years ago. Around 1980 there were a lot of interesting magazines. But ten years ago there was none. Since underground stuff didn't sell, there was really nothing. Of course if it's not in print you can't get it out to the provinces, the good new releases that come out. There were really nearly no magazines at all about those kinds of things. So I figured I better do that too. (laughter) I thought about putting out a magazine, but when I talked to printers, it was really expensive. Anyway, all the acquaintances I spoke to cooperated and I got manuscripts. There was only one pro among them. That person's manuscript was the worst one. When I read it, God, the pro's was just uninteresting. Generally, all the writers were amateurs. Now, there are sort of too many good writers. More undisciplined writing is more interesting. The writers all understand that current music magazines are uninteresting. So they all make the effort to write for me. Even when they're really busy themselves, they write manuscripts. They dive in and send the manuscripts. It's great.
So of course when someone asks, I always write for them. Well, not for big magazines. Through those undergound, small-circulation -- like 1500 copies -- magazines, the word gets out. So I send copies to record stores in the provinces, like Hokkaido and Kyushu. People who buy and read the magazines learn about the music and buy it. Then the person who bought the music thinks it's good and tells someone in their neighborhood.
Particularly in New York you get fanzines from all over -- New Zealand, England or California, for example. In Japan it doesn't seem to be that way.
Music is the worst for finding materials that introduce those kinds of things. If you go to a bookstore, music magazines, particularly those that deal with Japanese music, are all the same. That kind of form is all that's left. All of Japanese society is (like that). Wherever there's the most money or wherever you can sell something, that's where they aim. It's all become that way, so it's not what's important, it's what you can sell. (laughter) At least in America it must be different.
The name PSF was originally an abbreviation for "Psychedelic Speed Freaks," wasn't it? Is there any other meaning? For example, I've also heard "Poor Strong Factory."
(laughter) That was -- that was a joke, though. (hearty laughter) When we made our record, naturally we were told it needed a number. So it would be number 1, but we were told we needed a catalog number. There was no time, so we just took the initials of Psychedelic Speed Freaks and 1 and used that. I actually prefer it to mean nothing. When I named the store and the magazine too -- somehow it's no good to have a meaning. So naturally the second release became PSF-2, then 3 and 4. PSF -- just like that. (laughter) It's kind of cool that way.
These last few years, during the 90's, there have been reissues of a lot of releases from the past, particularly Krautrock -- in fact, as you recently wrote in Studio Voice, a lot of people who are now listening to rock and psych are also interested in people like Lamonte Young or John Cage. Old bands like High Rise and the Dead C have gained popularity as well. Particularly recently I think things like the Velvet Underground have become more popular too. I wonder if this is a fin-de-siecle phenomenon. What do you think?
Oh, not at all. That sort of thing happened in 1980 too. Even though psychedelia started in 1959, it sounded really fresh to young people. So history repeats. And music magazines will sometimes do special issues on those kinds of things. Recently (Studio Voice) did a Hadaka no Rallizes special issue. Young people don't know it, so they give it a listen.
Rock is like that. There were the Beatles, about whom there was nothing at all of interest. Then in the opposite direction there's punk or psych or garage and the like, which was really interesting. And it's interesting that in Japan they were never introduced. Pretty much, that period, the second half of the 60's, there was a lot of stuff in Hong Kong, in northern Europe, in many places. Japan was the only place where there was nothing happening. Well, of course there wasn't much in China or places like that. (laughter) Rock wasn't deeply rooted in the sixties. Twenty years later, in the eighties, it had taken root.
Any future plans? I imagine you'll keep releasing High Rise, Haino and Mikami CD's and the like.
You'll probably throw a big party in September. (laughter) Any other plans?
(I'll release) Kosokuya's (Jutoku) Kaneko solo. It's been decided since last year, but...
In '98 or '99, the record he released with (Overhang Party's) Rinji Fukuoka, "Searchin' for My Layline," was great, I thought. Will it be something like that?
Drone and such?
Well I don't know what's going to happen for sure, but for the time being it's solo. Solo, but he'll probably use some people as backups. Narita may play drums. (laughter)
The old Kosokuya.
Well, the concept is decided but when we'll record it... In June there's Aihiyo. It'll go on sale in or around June. It's ordinary hit songs, like "Kimi no Hitomi wa Ichiman Volto" ("Your Eyes Are 10,000 Volts"), well-known songs. When Haino fans see the songs, "Why is he playing this kind of thing?" They may get upset. (laughter) That should be good. That's really psychedelic rock 'n' roll. That's really interesting.
Last year in LA, Haino was arrested, wasn't he?
Oh, yeah, yeah. (laughter) I understand a guard was handling an instrument roughly -- hurdy-gurdy or something. At that point, he complained, and it happened. (laughter)
American police can be a pain in the ass. (laughter)
Considering the way he looks...
But in LA?? (laughter) Well, Haino doesn't exactly look like a business person. (laughter)
Actually, I understand that on the current Fushitsusha Europe tour, onstage in the Netherlands, Haino and (drummer Shoji) Hano got into a fight. There were even fisticuffs.
That's been going on for a long time. He fought with Nanjo too (laughter), Hano did, in America. Haino often kicks his drummers around onstage. They don't get into fights though. It's onesided, on Haino's part. I don't think it's very good.
Well, that's everything I wanted to ask. Is there anything you want to say?
I would like to put out some young, unreleased bands. There's a
recession now. Underground record stores don't do too well now.
It was bad before too, but it's rapidly getting worse. It's
reaching the point where I won't be able to continue the label.
I may have to stop doing this myself. I'd like to keep on running
a truly independent label, but it could be really hard. I don't
know what will happen to PSF. There are a lot of things I can
sell overseas. Tomokawa sells in Japan. In July or August I'm
going to sell one (Tomokawa release) overseas. (laughter) I'd
really like to release some good unknown people, but there aren't
any. There really are none. Young people mainly get into house,
techno and such, in Japan. There really aren't any young bands
with a psychedelic feel. I usually make Tokyo Flashback with
about half obscure, unknown bands. I've been thinking of putting
one out since last year or the year before (but I can't find the
bands for it).
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