Friday, July 18, 2008

Yura Yura Teikoku

A uniquely Japanese hybrid of Jimi Hendrix, Les Rallizes DesNudes, the Velvet Underground, 60's Japanese pop and the 13th Floor Elevators.
Yura Yura Teikoku started as a four piece in 1989. They were fixtures in Tokyo's underground psychedelic scene - they played at the legendary hole-in-the-wall UFO CLUB in Koenji and appeared on premier Japanese psych label PSF's "Tokyo Flashback" compilations. They released a demo cassette and two CDs on their own Jigoku (Hell) label and eventually signed to Captain Trip records, for which they recorded a proper album and a live CD. Their early material was proggy, heavy-psych with lots of dueling guitar solos and bombastic drumwork. Friends who attended shows of this era recall being frightened by singer Sakamoto Shintaro, who at the time shaved off his eyebrows and wore his waist-long hair parted down the middle, traditional Japanese ghost-style. Their fan's devotion was a sign of things to come -- many audience members mimicked Sakamoto and shaved off their own eyebrows. Yura Yura Teikoku were good - Kamekawa Chiyo's hypnotic basslines and Sakamoto's piercing voice distinguished the band from their peers - but material from the early years pales in comparison to their later masterpieces.
In 1992 their second guitar player left and the band went through a succession of drummers. In 1997 current drummer Shibata Ichiro joined the group and the ecstatic psych-pop sound for which Yura Yura Teikoku would become famous was born. In 1998 Tokyo's MIDI Records released the three-piece's first major album, 333. Every music magazine in the country lavished the record with praise and their fan base exploded overnight. Yura Yura Teikoku songs popped up in karaoke booths and their shows were swamped with worshipping fans. Since 1999, getting tickets to one of their performances has been near impossible - shows sell out in a matter of minutes. What happened?
Yura Yura Teikoku are the first and only Japanese underground psychedelic rock group to have achieved "overground" success. Yura Yura Teikoku look and sound like no other band in Japan, and their widespread popularity strikes most followers of underground psychedelic music as just plain...weird. For me, what's really weird is that they've followed their masterpiece 333 with four albums of equal brilliance, inspiration and growth. They've become more experimental with each album yet continue to attract more fans.
Well if they're so good, you might be wondering, why haven't I heard about them? I've got a million Fushitsusha records, I've got my Boredoms and my Cornelius records, I even scored some Tomokawa Kazuki CDs off the Forced Exposure website, but why haven't I ever seen a Yura Yura Teikoku record in America? My response -- I HAVE NO IDEA! Yura Yura Teikoku has been criminally overlooked outside Japan.

1 comment: said...

It can't work in reality, that's exactly what I think.