If you’re up for a punchy night out of punk and hardcore, tomorrow night’s showcase at The Wall, Friends from Far East, should be very, very good. The main draws are the two Japanese bands, Brahman and Hawaiian6, both emblematic of J-core, Japan’s indie scene for skate punk and hardcore. Brahman is one of those bands that leaves it all on stage at every show, and in the last few years I’ve begun to think of them as Japan’s answer to Green Day. They’re both bands that started out and stayed indie, have pushed a punk sound into the mainstream, have produced multiple great albums and demonstrated real longevity. And they’ve done this without ever getting cheesy or becoming overly commercial.
Brahman formed as a four-piece in 1995 in Ibaraki Prefecture, which is just north of Tokyo, and from there they quickly integrated into Tokyo’s skate punk and hardcore scene. In Japan, they now generally play to rooms of at least a few thousand people, and at festivals like Fuji Rock or Rock in Japan they’ve lately been slotted on main stages, playing to 15,000 or more. They release their own CDs, yet have still managed to break into the Japanese pop charts. One of their early albums, A Forlorn Hope (2001), sold more than half a million copies in Japan and even got a small release in the US. There have also been tours and releases in Europe. And this overseas attention comes despite Brahman being a band that only sings in Japanese and doesn’t seem especially interested in whether or not foreign audiences are able to understand them.
Having seen the band play several times over the last decade, I believe there is something about their songs that carries, and listening to them helps me imagine how Japanese listeners can love British or American rock without really understanding any of the lyrics. Brahman’s melodies always seem to be catchy, approachable and non-pretentious, but they also have a bigness to them. They are properly anthemic. The vocals are also free of all those typically Japanese nasal sounds and false emoting — musical/cultural elements that tend to be off-putting to non-Japanese — and lead singer Toshi-low has a delivery that’s uncoached, intensely emotional and always a perfect anchor to the thrash riffs that are swirling around him. In the past couple years, he’s also figured out some way to stay upright while walking on top of the crowd. It’s almost Jesus-like.
Or should I say Brahman-like?
This will be Brahman’s third trip to Taiwan. Their last appearance was in 2007. The other Japanese group on tomorrow’s bill is Hawaiian6, who are extremely tight, and though the sound is more generic power-punk, should also bring plenty of moshable fun. There are also two Taichung bands in support. Damnkidz is an offshoot of the Useless Brotherhood (廢人幫), the crew that formed Taichung’s original punk scene just over a decade ago. And Flesh Juicer represents Taichung’s new breed.
■ Friends from Far East, with Brahman, Hawaiian6, Damnkidz (死小孩) and Flesh Juicer (血肉果汁機), tomorrow at 7pm at The Wall, B1, 200 Roosevelt Rd, Sec 4, Taipei City (台北市羅斯福路四段200號B1). Admission: NT$1,700 at the door, or NT$1,500 advance through indievox.com.
The record label Taiwan Colors Music, or TCM (角頭音樂), has just released a book to mark its 50th CD release, Face TCM (角頭音樂50臉譜). The label launched in 1998, and its imprint is now almost universally associated with the various strains of home-grown Taiwanese folk. Aboriginal folk is perhaps the most obvious example, and TCM is indeed famous for introducing singers like Panai (巴奈), Long Ge (龍歌) and Pau-Dull (陳建年), the singing cop from Orchid Island who shocked Taiwan’s entire music industry in 2000 by beating out all the mando-pop pretty boys to win the award for Best Singer at the Golden Melody Awards. But TCM has also released Hakka music, pirate radio recordings from southern Taiwan, top indie rock bands like The Clippers (夾子) and LTK (濁水溪公社), and even a compilation of music by expatriates, like the 2001 release Foreigners in Taiwan. In so many ways, the record label has helped drive ideas about a new multicultural identity in Taiwan, an identity that only really began to appear in the mid-1990s around the time of its formation.
From the very beginning, TCM used the retro-style packaging of large cardboard sleeves on the template of the jackets for old 10-inch, 78rpm records. The album covers and descriptions in both Chinese and English are offered for all 50 releases. One of these descriptions is taken from a review I wrote about the band LTK several years ago.
One curious omission from this catalogue is the CD Oh! Formosa, which features jailed former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) on the cover and included top DPP figures delivering ear-shattering versions of classic Taiwanese tunes. It was produced in 2000, just after A-bian became president. If you have a copy, it might be worth keeping in plastic, just in case it ever comes back into fashion again.