“I thought it would be good to be somewhere where there would be hardly any passersby.”
An interview with Hideo Ikeezumi on his formative years and the beginnings of Modern Music and P.S.F. Records

An Invitation to Underground Music written by Takeshi Gōda and edited by Akira Kato.

The following was originally presented in Takeshi Gōda’s 2017 book, Chika ongaku e no shōtai (An Invitation to Underground Music) edited by Akira Kato and published by Loft Books, Japan. The book is a unique, multi-layered exploration of the Japanese underground of the late 1970’s and early 80’s. It features numerous interviews with musicians, venue owners, journalists, promoters and others that formed an incredibly distinctive cultural intersection in Tokyo at the time. The legendary Club Minor is a particular focus along with the then burgeoning punk scene. In addition to Hideo Ikeezumi, other Japanese underground luminaries interviewed in the book include Tamio Shiraishi, Tori Kudo (Maher Shalal Hash Baz, Ché-SHIZU) and Harumi Yamazaki (Gaseneta). The below excerpt appears courtesy of the author and publisher and was translated by Alan Cummings. Black Editions would like to thank them for their efforts and generosity.

Gōda’s interview with Ikeezumi was conducted on July 27th, 2013 at the Wired Café in Meidaimae.

Chapter 10: A Japanese Underground Record Store
The Experiences & Memories of Hideo Ikeezumi

Chronology

Sept 1980: Modern Music opens in Meidaimae, Tokyo. Ads appear in Rock Magazine no.34, Fool’s Mate no.14, Zoo no.30, etc.

Sept 1981: Pinakotheca Records releases Keiji Haino’s Watashi dake?  It becomes a bestseller at Modern Music.

Dec 1984: Modern Music releases High Rise’s Psychedelic Speed Freaks.

Sept 1989: Modern Music releases the self-titled Fushitsusha double album.

April 1990: Modern Music releases the Kan Mikami, Motoharu Yoshizawa, Keiji Haino album Live in the First Year of Heisei Vol.1 under the label name Poor Strong Factory (PSF). Vol.2 is released in September the same year.

March 1991: PSF Records releases Tokyo Flashback/P.S.F. Psychedelic Sampler. The series will run until 2011, with a further seven volumes.

July 1992: Modern Music publishes the first issue of the music magazine G-Modern. It will run until issue 29 in 2010.

March 2014: Modern Music closes, becoming an online business.

February 2017: Hideo Ikeezumi passes away.

Takeshi Gōda: Under the influence of my classical music-loving father, from my youth I was fond of singles and LPs. My parents started taking me to record stores when I was still in elementary school, and later I’d go by myself. At first, I liked the soundtracks to Westerns but gradually my interest moved towards other genres. At the time, I was living in Kanazawa where there was a new record store called Vanvan that had a listening corner. I remember being overjoyed to have the chance to listen to records I had heard about on the radio or in magazines.

At the start of my third year of middle school, my family moved to Tokyo. We lived about 15 minutes by bicycle from Kichijōji station. There were lots of interesting record stores in the shopping arcades around the station. Once I started getting into punk and new-wave, I became a regular customer.

There were Georgia and it’s sister shop Junior, which was co-managed by Yoshitaka Goto who would go on to found Pass Records; Record-sha which carried a great selection of new-wave and progressive rock; Natty Dread which was owned by Midori Yamamoto, younger sister to Yasumi Yamamoto, the famous lyrics translator; Record Plant, the biggest import store in Kichijōji; George which carried reasonably-priced second-hand records; Tony Record which still has its main branch in Jinbochō; Merurido which carried singer-songwriter and blues records… then of course there were the chain stores Shinseido and Yamano Gakki.1 Another local chain called Meikyokudō had a branch in the best shopping building, and for some inexplicable reason they had a bootleg section. On the weekend I’d go around all these stores, often travelling to Shimokitazawa and Shinjuku too.

I had only had limited pocket-money so I wasn’t able to buy many records, but just seeing what records the stores were promoting and reading the little handwritten explanations gave me a thrill. Posters and flyers in the stores became a valuable source of information. This was pre-internet of course, and magazines had only a limited space to cover music. If you were interested in underground music there was virtually no information to be found in the mass media, aside from a small handful of specialist magazines. If you wanted information about anything under the radar, then you had to go where people with similar interests gathered. When it came to music, that meant record stores.

Modern Music was located on the second-floor of a mixed-use building a couple of minutes’ walk from Meidaimae station, on the Keiō Line. It’s no exaggeration to say that it was Tokyo’s greatest storehouse of information about underground music. As I will explain later, on your first visit it was an intimidating store to enter. The walls of the staircase leading up to the store were plastered several layers deep with flyers and posters. It was a treasure trove of information about gigs and releases that could be found nowhere else in the city.

In the late 1980s the store started an independent record label, PSF Records. From the 90s onwards, PSF and Osaka’s Alchemy Records would become focal points for broadcasting Japanese underground music out into the world. The labels became watchwords for assionate underground music fans from around the world. Of course, the role that the internet played in spreading this information was key, but even before then, Modern Music played a vital role in the dissemination and exchange of many different kinds of information. The owner of Modern Music, Hideo Ikeezumi, was never a performer of music himself, but his role was far too important to be described simply as a backstage one. In that sense I think we can call him a musician too.

At the time of the publication of this book, Modern Music no longer exists as a brick and mortar store.2 The store finally closed in late March 2014, and I recorded this interview with Ikeezumi about six months before then.

Hideo Ikeezumi- The founder of P.S.F. Records, the Modern Music record store and G-Modern magazine.

It all began with Kobayashi Akira

Hideo Ikeezumi was born in 1949 in Itabashi ward, in northern Tokyo. Ikeezumi is an unusual surname, and he says the family may have a special lineage.

Ikeezumi: For several generations, my family were painters and lived in Asakusa. My great-grandfather, my grandfather, my father. My father moved away from Asakusa when he got married and that’s why I was born in Itabashi. Apparently there was one other family in Asakusa called Ikeezumi, but they’re the only other ones I know who have the same surname. We must never have been good at reproducing (laughs). My family have been professional artists since the Edo period, employed by the Kanazawa domain. I’m not sure whether it was the Kaga Kanazawa domain or the Edo Kanazawa one. Probably the Edo one.

Twenty years ago when I went to get a passport, I was asked at the passport office if I was the son of Ikeezumi sensei. My dad was an artist, I said, but he was never famous enough for anyone to call him sensei. Then they said that they meant some member of the Japanese parliament, Ikezumi. I’d never heard of him so I did some research and it turned out there was a guy called Motome Ikezumi who was involved in the February 26 Incident.

Motome Ikezumi was a pre-war bureaucrat in the Ministry of the Interior. He later served as governor of Saga, Miyagi and Chiba prefectures, but he was never a member of parliament. In the February 26 Incident of 1936 he was working in the Home Ministry’s Police Affairs Bureau (equivalent to the current National Police Agency). He was in charge of their censorship division, so was involved in regulating information about the incident. Ironically, because Motome Ikezumi was involved in censorship before the war and the fanatical suppression of public debate, he ended up being expelled from office after Japan’s defeat in 1945. In any case, he was originally from Mie prefecture, so it seems that unlikely that there is any connection between his family and Ikeezumi. I ask Ikeezumi how he came to get interested in music as a boy growing up in a family of artists.

Ikeezumi: I was a great student right up until the fifth year of elementary school. I was a member of my class council, really on top of all my studies, I guess what you’d call a literary kid. My dad was making paintings but he couldn’t sell them, so he was working part time for the publisher Kōdansha, doing illustrations for their “Collection of World Literature for Boys and Girls”. One of his colleagues at Kōdansha knew that I was into books, so every month he’d bring me the latest volume. I sit and read it and imagine all kinds of stuff, sharpening my imagination.

Then one day the girl next door told me I should stop reading books all the time and start listening to music instead. She lent me a big pile of singles. There were all kinds of things – Elvis Presley to Connie Francis. I listened them all and they were, you know, just OK. But then there was this one single, Akira Kobayashi’s “Wandering (Sasurai)”, and as soon as I heard it, it really hit me. I started to cry. I still remember that moment so clearly, but looking back on it now it’s weird that an elementary student would be so moved by that song.

“Wandering” was Akira Kobayashi’s 19th single, released in September 1960. It was the theme song for the film The South Sea Flare (Nankai no noroshi), which also starred Kobayashi. Both the film and the single were big hits. The plaintive, minor-key melody that runs throughout the song feels very much of its period, but Kobayashi’s trademark sonorous delivery (similar to his version of Atsuki kokoro ni, written for him by Eiichi Ohtaki) will bring back memories for anyone who heard him during this period. But just what was it about Kobayashi that attracted the young Ikeezumi?

Ikeezumi: Even now, I don’t really understand it. It was beyond analysis. I’d go to see Kobayashi’s films. I was really into “The Rambling Guitarist” and his others.3 Once I heard Wandering, all the pocket money that I used to spend buying books, I started to buy Akira Kobayashi singles instead. Basically, I stopped reading. It was like I was sick of them. So I started getting more and more into music. In elementary school I started listening to Yoshio Tabata and Michiya Mihashi. I liked too Hibari Misora too and would listen to her a lot. Jazz and rakugo4 too.

He was getting most of his information from the radio.

Ikeezumi: When I was in middle school, they started doing late-night shows on the radio. I’d stay up till 3am so I could record them on an open-reel tape recorder. I had no idea about how to do direct-line recordings, so I put a microphone up close to the speaker and just pushed record. I remember spending a lot of money on the reels. I was always broke.

Ikeezumi says that if he had never encountered music, he probably would have kept studying, got into a good university, then joined some big company. He says that he never realized that there were a lot of kids who had the same experience as him.

Ikeezumi: When I talked to people later, one guy who was my best friend in high school told me that he had loved Akira Kobayashi too. Kan Mikami5, Kazuki Tomokawa6, Kenji Endo7, they all listened to Kobayashi in elementary or middle school. He had some sort of influence of them all.

Was Kobayashi an idol for boys at the time?

Ikeezumi: Not really, but anyone who was weird loved him. If you went to see films by Yūjirō Ishihara, there’d be love scenes and it would be embarrassing to watch. But Kobayashi’s films never had any love scenes. The songs would be great and he’d be beating up yakuza. That’s what “The Rambling Guitarist” was about. It was nonsense of course, but Kobayashi’s songs were utterly natural. That was what was great about them. But today he’s always playing up to his fans, grinning at them and everything. He’s totally different now. Even Shichirō Fukuzawa8 and Hiroshi Kawani9 loved Kobayashi.

Ikeezumi’s interest in music may have been sparked by Akira Kobayashi, but through listening to those late-night radio shows, his focus soon moved to Western music.

Ikeezumi: The Beatles first appeared around the time I entered middle school. Everyone was listening to them, but because I am naturally perverse I started saying that The Stones were better. At the time though I was listening to everything: classical, jazz, latin. And I was not studying at all so my grades kept getting worse and worse.

Ikeezumi says that the one type of music he refused to listen to was Japanese versions of jazz or rock.

Ikeezumi: I hated Japanese jazz. Japanese rock too. Not that there was any rock really, yet. But Japanese jazz was just so boring. When rock started appearing, I heard Murahachibu and I thought that they just sound like a Stones cover band, and they didn’t do anything for me. I didn’t think that Happy End were that interesting either. But then one day this friend who was into Murahachibu brought over a record by Kan Mikami. And for some reason I just couldn’t deny that it was good. It wasn’t folk, it wasn’t enka. It was sort of bluesy, but it was really hard to get a read on it. So I asked him to lend it to me and after I listened to it a few times, it just hit me. The only folk musicians I heard that really made me sit up were Kan Mikami and Kenji Endō. The rest of them I just hated.

So Ikeezumi was hit by the Akira Kobayashi shock, then the Kan Mikami shock. There was one more heretical jazz musician who grabbed the attention of the Japanese-jazz hating Ikeezumi, the guitarist Masayuki Takayanagi10. Recently there have been archival releases of his work, as well as a published collection of his musical criticism and theory articles from various magazines.

Ikeezumi: I was into jazz from my teens, so I would read “Swing Journal”11. Takayanagi would write record reviews for them and they were always amazing. He would just lay into anything that he thought was bad. Whether it was because it was too commercial, or whether it was just boring. So, I thought he was just this amazing music critic. I had no idea that he played guitar. One day I was talking about him with a friend who was into jazz, and he said, oh Takayanagi’s a great guitarist too. So I went searching for his record but I couldn’t find it. Then finally I found his first leader album, “Independence”,12 and when I listened to it I was just blown away. I couldn’t believe that there was someone in Japan who was capable of what Takayanagi was doing. That’s when I started listening to Japanese jazz seriously. Motoharu Yoshizawa, Sabu Toyozumi, Mototeru Takagi, Masahiko Togashi – I listened to their records and they were all really good. I was shocked.

I was so influenced by Takayanagi. With everything he did, his music, his ways of listening, his criticism, he laid everything on the line. It was a wonderful way to live life. He would never flatter anyone, he rejected everything that was just commercial. It’s really down to his influence that I started to hate anything commercial too.

It was 1970 when Ikeezumi started to listen to Japanese jazz thanks to the shock of hearing Masayuki Takayanagi. He was already an adult. But let’s wind the clock back slightly to his teenage years.

Ikeezumi: I didn’t want to go to high school. I told my mum, and I ended up getting shouted at by her and by my middle school teacher. There was nothing I could do so I ended up going to high school. I liked my Japanese classes but everything else was just unbearable.

It reminds me of how Keiji Haino dropped out of high school.

Ikeezumi: Kaoru Abe also dropped out of high school. I’m close with his mother. When I released those Abe CDs, I took some copies over to her place and we started to talk. It seems that Abe was good at his studies, but then at some point he started hating having to listen to his teachers. I told his mother that the same thing happened to me and she was surprised. “You’re just like Kaoru,” she said. We’re the same age too. I still go to visit her sometimes and she’s always happy to see me. She says my character is just like his too.

PSF Records released seven albums of unissued live recordings by the tragic saxophonist Kaoru Abe. Ikeezumi was involved in the creation of a documentary film about Abe, using videos recorded before his early death.

Ad announcing the opening of Modern Music, from Fool’s Mate no.14. November 25, 1980

From a record store chain buyer to owner of his own store

Ikeezumi finally graduated high school. But he chose not to go to university and instead started to look for a job.

Ikeezumi: For a while I was working at part-time jobs and thinking about becoming a professional pachinko player. I learned how to read the pins, how to shoot the balls. I became able to shoot just as quickly as any professional. But then they changed the machines so the balls were launched automatically, and you couldn’t use that rapid-fire technique any more. So, I gave up on the idea of turning pro. It was around then that I became close to this guy who was high up in the Itabashi ward office. He came by our house one day and told me that I was wasting my life and I should come and work with him. That’s how I ended up working in their commercial and industrial department. Sort of against my will. I worked there for about a year, and that’s when you have to sit an exam so you can move from being a provisional employee to a permanent one. And basically everyone passes this exam. But that year I was working there, I had so little work to do and I thought if I keep on doing this, I’m going to rot away as a human being. So, I decided not to sit the exam. The guy was furious with me. “You’re fucking around with your life!” he said to me. Anyway, I quit the ward office job. Then I started working as a laborer, digging ditches and holes, as I thought that would be good for bodybuilding. The money was good so I was able to buy loads of jazz, blues and rock records.

Then one day, by chance he came across a job ad from a record store.

Ikeezumi: I was reading the Sankei Shinbun newspaper, and there was an ad from this record store I always used to visit on my way home from fishing, looking for employees. The store was called Gobangai, their Itabashi branch. I went over and they hired me on the spot. I was still listening to those late-night radio shows every night, so I had a pretty good idea about what records were selling and what new releases were coming out. So, I was able to take a look at their stock and tell them what was missing, and what records might sell well. I’d copy down all the catalogue numbers, then give a list of them to the store’s buyer and recommended he should get them as they’d probably sell. They ended up selling well, and then they asked me to take over as the buyer. (laughs) I knew lots about jazz and classical too.

Gobangai was a record store that had its main store in the Shimura district of Itabashi ward, Tokyo. It still has a branch in the Tōbu department store in Ikebukuro. Ikeezumi joined the company in 1968, right in the middle of Japan’s postwar economic boom. Around the same time new record companies like CBS/Sony Records (currently Sony Music Entertainment) were being established. The economy was growing continuously so the market for records was expanding rapidly too.

Ikeezumi: Record stores were opening new branches all the time, and it was like the owners of the chains were in competition with each other. Teito Musen13 and stores like that. Gobangai expanded to more than ten stores. In this period we opened new stores in Hitachi, Utsunomiya, Tachikawa, Shimokitazawa. We had another branch in the Tōbu department store in Ikebukuro. I was doing the buying for all the stores. It was hard. But when you’re doing that job, you’ll hear some new singer and musically they won’t be very interesting, but you know that they’ll sell well. As soon as you hear their songs. Or look at their face. I’d be booking events six months in advance, getting singers to come so we could do autograph events on the roof of the department store. We’d run those kinds of events and we’d end up selling 300 or 500 copies of their single. That would be more than the turnover for a day at one of our branches. Those kinds of events were very important in the management of record stores.

But there was so much awful music, Ikeezumi laughs bitterly.

Ikeezumi: Once a month there would be a meeting for all the store managers. They’d say next month we want you to push this new release and that new release. And they’d be so boring, for me anyway. The stuff I liked – Atahualpa Yupanqui14, Georges Brassens15, Masayuki Takayanagi, Kazuki Tomokawa, Kan Mikami – they’d hardly sell at all, just a few copies. Whereas the other new releases would sell hundreds. There was a huge gap. I’d tried putting some indies releases in the Ikebukuro and Shimokitazawa stores, and we managed to sell a few copies of them. I’d also order imports, good stuff that hadn’t been released in Japan yet. But they would never sell. (laughs) I ordered lots of psychedelic records, imports. But no one bought them!

It was the late seventies when he was ordering indie label releases and imports. Before that while ordering the latest hit records, he would also make little sections for his favorite, outsider artists. These never gained much attention, but the records he was promoting were on Japanese major labels.

Ikeezumi: It was Mikami, Tomokawa, and then a disciple of Yupanqui’s called Sonko Mayu16. But no one would buy them. We sold a few Yupanqui records. I was also ordering rakugo records because I liked them, but we would only ever sell a few copies.

So he would be making presentations at the shop managers’ meeting about hit records that bored him, but the artists he liked never changed. He was given a keen understanding of just how few records they sold. But since he understood what would sell, he was a really valuable employee for the store.

Ikeezumi: That’s right. (laughs) Whenever a new release was due out, we would do these tie-ups with the record company. They’d put together these panels so we could hear new releases. When I heard YMO I knew that they were boring but I understood that moment that they would sell. That’s what I told the guy from Alfa Records17. It was the same with Yuming, back when she was still called Yumi Arai. That’ll definitely sell, I told them. I had a really close relationship with the people from Alfa. I thought the same about Circus18 – I knew immediately that they would sell. Alfa didn’t think they would sell as many copies as they did, but it turned out to be a big hit. YMO though, they were a huge hit. I just knew what would sell, what would make a profit. But at the same time, it was the world of Takayanagi, Tomokawa, Mikami, Sonko Mayu… that was what really appealed to me and I wanted to help them, but their records just wouldn’t sell.

In the nineties when Shibuya bristled with CD megastores, small and medium sized import stores and second-hand stores, the position of buyer that Ikeezumi occupied came to be more and more important. We could say that Ikeezumi was perhaps the first of those charismatic buyers. It wasn’t only knowing what would sell that was important, it was also about insisting on the kind of records you wanted to sell. Ikeezumi wouldn’t be able to sell records the wanted until later, when he opened his own store. The story of how he came to do so begins in the late seventies. Musicians who were inspired by the inception of punk rock began to release their own records independently, and Gobangai was one of the stores that would accept them on consignment. Ikeezumi gradually became more interested in those records than in the likes of YMO.

Ikeezumi: That’s right. Back then, bands like Friction and Mirrors. (Hiroshi) Higo brought the Mirrors single to the store himself. I listened to it and it wasn’t that interesting. I’d seen them play live so I told them that they were far better live. He was surprised to hear that. (laughs) Friction were the same, they were far better live. I was so disappointed when I heard their first album. This isn’t Friction at all, that was what I told the production guy from Trio Records.19 (laughs)

At the time, the ads that Gobangai ran in magazines like Zoo and Fool’s Mate had a distinctive handwritten section where they introduced punk and new-wave imports and Japanese independent releases. I used the map in the ads to find my way to Gobangai’s Shimokitzawa store, located on the second floor of a shopping building. The shop had piles of independently released flexi discs and records, and punk posters and flyers for live shows were pasted on the walls. Gobangai generally carried only new releases, but there were enough indies (though this word wouldn’t become popular until years later) releases at the Shimokitazawa branch to make to make me think it was a specialist store. I remember seeing punk bands playing in-store gigs there many times. The author of those handwritten ads was the manager of the Shimokitazawa store, Tadashi Watanabe. He’s the same guy who went on to open the independent record store Fujiyama in Sangenjaya in 1984.

Ikeezumi would decide to go it alone around the same time. Something that happened when he was at the Shimokitazawa store working on returns would provide him with the final impetus.

Ikeezumi: The store was also carrying regular new releases. It was hard work to find them and take them off the shelves so I could return them. I’d go the store and return any records that had been on the shelves for four or five months and hadn’t sold. As I was picking them out, this young kid came up and started asking me a question. “I want to listen to psychedelic music,” he said, “but what’s good?” So I told him. Blue Cheer20 and stuff like that, the basics. A few months later the same kid showed up at the Ikebukuro store. And as I was answering his questions, I felt like it would be more interesting to actually sell records, instead of just working as a buyer. I was just about to turn thirty and it felt like there was no way I could last another ten years in the job. So, I decided to quit and open my own store.

I started to look for a store to rent. I hated the idea of Shinjuku or Shibuya, so I thought it would be good to be somewhere where there would be hardly any passersby. (laughs) Kyōdō or Sasazuka21, that kind of place. Then I happened to hear from a friend at Victor that someone he knew had opened a record store in Meidaimae but hadn’t even lasted a year. The guy was looking for someone to take over his shop. I went to take a look and it was very near the station and the record browsers were still all there. There were speakers and a record-player so I could move straight in, so I decided to go for it.

Meidaimae Is the station where the Keiō line and the Keiō Inokashira line meet. It’s three stops from Shinjuku on the Keiō line, and seven stops from Shibuya on the Inokashira line. All the trains, both express and local, stop there, so in terms of transportation it’s very convenient. Then, as the name of the station suggests, it’s near Meiji University’s Izumi campus so there are lots of students who pass through. The shopping street by the station is small and it’s not really big enough to even call it a shopping district. They’ve built a new building above the station, but even so, things haven’t changed much. But the important thing was that the last record store in the area didn’t even last a year. Ikeezumi was looking for somewhere where there wouldn’t be many customers and he could do whatever he wanted, and in that sense Meidaimae was perfect. The store opened in 1980. At the start he had no customers whatsoever.

Ikeezumi: At the start I had so much free time. Honestly, so much free time. I was constantly in the red. So, I thought that I had better sell all of my jazz and blues records. I put them out in the store and with that I was just about able to survive. Then I had all of these promos, but I thought it would be a bad idea to sell them, so I made this section where if you bought two second-hand records, I’d give you one of the promos. I learned later that I had put some super valuable records in that section. (laughs) There were customers who would buy the second-hand records just to get hold of those promos.

It seems that Ikeezumi hadn’t opened his store with any strong ideas about selling punk, independent and imports.

Ikeezumi: Not at all. I’d just got tired of the buying job. I never had any time off. It’d be 9pm before I finished in the evening, and that meant I couldn’t go to see shows. The salary was good, but I was about to turn thirty and I felt like I wouldn’t be able to keep it up for much longer. That’s why I quit. Just like that. They all tried to stop me.

I ask him how he came to choose the name of the store.

Ikeezumi: I asked a few friends what I should call the store. What was it they said… Nakayoshi, Something With A Guitar, just really boring ideas. The best idea I came up with was Modern Music. But it wouldn’t be good if there was a shop in Osaka with the same name. This was before the internet, so I called up Yuzuru Agi, the editor of Rock Magazine22 and asked him if there was a store in Osaka called Modern Music. He said no. OK, I said, and that was it.

Ikeezumi asked his old colleague Tadashi Watanabe to create the ad to promote the opening of the store. What arrived was a typical handwritten ad that said, “from Pere Ubu to Akira Kobayashi”. Fair enough, he thought, but in fact it was a phrase that perfectly captured what Ikeezumi was aiming for. It wasn’t just about underground and independent releases, it was about trying to sell the records he liked. And in fact the store did stock records by Akira Kobayashi.

A site for gathering together people and information

Just as Hiroshi Higo had brought the Mirrors single (the one on Gozira Records) to Gobangai, Ikeezumi began to create links with the newly exploding indie labels.

Ikeezumi: The first one was Pinakotheca. A while after I had opened the store, they said they were going to release an LP by Keiji Haino. I said I would take fifty copies and I heard back from Satō at Pinakotheca, saying that there was no way I could sell that many. I replied that I would sell them all, so Satō and his wife turned up to deliver the records. His wife was this really elegant woman, though she died later. You can see her in the background of the Kousokuya CD jacket.23 Anyway, at the time there weren’t that many indie labels around.

The records I was really pushing were psychedelic rock, from the sixties. In my twenties I read all the music magazines, from Music Life to New Music Magazine. So, I thought I knew all there was to know about rock. Jazz too, I would read Swing Journal. But then around 1977 and 1978, a lot of European psych reissues started to appear. The reviews would say that there were lots of amazing 60s psych records, so I started ordering them and they were all really great. I was shocked that I hadn’t known anything about these records before. The first one that really hit me was The Charlatans24. Then there was the C.A. Quintet25. There had been no Japanese domestic releases by those kinds of bands in the 1960s and originals had never made it into Japan.

In the early 1980s there was a worldwide psychedelic revival, and a vast amount of unknown 60s garage and psychedelic albums were reissued. Most of them were bootlegs, sourced from original LPs, but I am sure I am not the only one who felt a rush of excitement about the number of bands I had never heard of before. But here again, Ikeezumi became aware of the attractions of this music before most others.

Ikeezumi: In terms of labels there was Psycho and Eva26. The records they released surprised me the most. When the store opened, I had the full range of their releases in stock, and I would tell anyone who came to the shop about them. No one knew anything about it but I was totally enthusiastic, and I wanted everyone to know about 60s psych. One day (Jun) Hamano from Gaseneta came to the store and I was surprised by how much he knew about it already. He knew everything.

At the time no one knew anything about psych, really. So, I’d recommend records to customers and they would buy them. And some of them would come back and say that The Charlatans were boring. I’d tell them that they need to listen to it three or four times before they’ll get it. It’s a little low-key, right? I told (Shintarō) Sakamoto27 about Peter Ivers28 and he got really into him. When he became famous later with Yura Yura Teikoku, he said he loved Peter Ivers and word about Ivers really got round then. I just thought that there’s no way I can ever compete with anyone on a major label. (laughs)

Like Sakamoto, there were some who became obsessed with psychedelic rock while visiting Modern Music as customers, and who then decided to work there so they could hear the music all the time. Among them were Ken Matsutani from Marble Sheep & The Rundown Sun’s Children and You Ishihara from White Heaven. Matsutani’s band would later shorten their name to Marble Sheep, and some people may know Matsutani as the owner of Captain Trip Records who have reissued many psychedelic and krautrock classics. Many too will know of Ishihara as the producer and fourth member of Yura Yura Teikoku. Of course, it was long beforehand that they worked at Modern Music.

Ikeezumi: Matsutani was a customer from around the time that the store opened, and it felt very natural that he started working with me part-time. Ishihara started by buying records from overseas. One of his friends told me that he would be dreadful at dealing with customers, but I said that he can talk about music so it will be fine. I gave him a chance and there were no problems. He was great at buying from customers too.

As these kinds of people started to gather around the store, Modern Music began to exercise an even greater magnetism as a hangout. I saw an advertisement in Fool’s Mate magazine and started to visit the store once a month in search of prog stuff on Recommended Records and industrial rock. The shop was really small but it was piled high with rare classics and undiscovered records. A TV in the corner would be playing rakugo videos. Ikeezumi would always be deep in conversation with the regular customers, and trying to find the right timing to butt in to buy something was always difficult. It was definitely not a store that was easy to enter for first-time visitors. But the thing that always astonished new customers were the innumerable flyers that were pasted on the wall and handrail on the stairs that led up to the second floor.

Ikeezumi: They were really important. But the fire department would come by and they’d tell me that the flyers were a fire risk and I needed to remove them. But I’d push back and say that they were an important information resource for my customers and I wouldn’t take them down. That happened a few times. I said that if there was a fire, I’d take full responsibility. If I took them down, I would lose sales. I was lying about that bit though.

I visited the store on several occasions to leave flyers for my own band. There would be flyers for shows by Marble Sheep or Keiji Haino beside mine, and I’d make a note of the date or tear off one from the bundle of flyers. Back then, weekly listings magazines like City Road and Pia would print the schedules for live venues, but they would just be a list of artist names so there was no way to find out anything about new bands. I should add that you could read those lists looking for unconventional band names and then develop an image of what the band would sound like. In that sense, creatively designed flyers were an important source of information, as can easily be seen if you look at those uploaded on to Satoshi Sonoda’s blog, Isu monogatari.29 It felt like whenever I visited Modern Music in search of real underground music, I’d come home with a few flyers.

Ikeezumi: There was no internet then, so the flyers were very important. I put them up inside the store too.

Many of the store’s regular customers had their own bands. That’s how the idea began for Modern Music to start releasing records. This was the start of “the independent label PSF Records” from “Japan’s number one music shop” (as the headline on the label’s website used to say).

Ikeezumi: When I opened the store in 1980, new releases were… I was selling loads of 60s psych records, but new releases were just boring. All of them. I’d say that if a great new band appeared, then I’d start a label and release a record. (Asahito) Nanjō30 from High Rise started coming to the store. I told him that I was looking for a band that was both psychedelic and avant-garde, and he said that the sound of his band would fit perfectly. He brought me a cassette, I listened to it and it was really great. And that’s when we decided to release it.

PSF-1 High Rise’s “Psychedelic Speed Freaks” (1984)

But when I sent the master tape to the pressing plant, they said there was horrible phasing on it, and they sent me an adjusted version. I listened to their version and it was so boring. I couldn’t release it. The way the band had recorded it, the sound of the guitar was explosively distorted. If you adjust it all, you lose a bit of that effect. So, I sent the adjusted tape back to the plant. Then they said that if we pressed it as it was, there was a danger that the needle on the cutting machine would jump. And if it broke the needle, it would cost hundreds of dollars to replace. So, I went to have a chat with this guy I knew at Alfa Records who knew a lot about recording. And he said, well, I can see why the pressing plant are saying that, but he was confident that the cutting machine needle wouldn’t jump. He said he was 100% sure, so I told the pressing plant that I would accept all responsibility for any damage. So, they went ahead and there were no problems. But when the LPs arrived, there was no number on them, so I had to come up with some kind of catalog number. The record was called Psychedelic Speed Freaks, so I decided to just go with the first letters, so PSF-1. That’ll do, I thought. (laughs)

That first High Rise album, released in a limited edition of 300, was reviewed by Marquee Moon and other magazines, gaining fulsome praise for its recording and its real psychedelic feel. Word began to spread about it overseas too, and within a year the pressing had sold out.31

Ikeezumi states that even after he put out the first High Rise album he wasn’t intending to create a label and start releasing more records. Just as he says, the second High Rise album didn’t appear until 1986, then the next release was a double LP by Keiji Haino’s Fushitshsa, three years later in 1989. The Fushitsusha album has the catalog number PSF-0~1 but there is no label name mentioned on it. He talks about the process that led up to the release of the Fushitsusha album.

Ikeezumi: I had decided that I was only going to release records by artists that were completely unknown and that were really great. At the time Fushitsusha were already well known so I didn’t think there was any need for me to put out a record by them. But, then I realized that they were only famous to me and the people around me, and the rest of the world had no idea who they were. Nanjō from High Rise also encouraged me to release it, and that’s how I made up my mind. I thought that if I put it out then maybe more people will get to know them. And it ended up selling well, overseas as well. English magazines all praised it. It seemed like they were shocked when they heard it.

In 1990 Modern Music released the volumes of Live in the First Year of Heisei by Kan Mikami, Motoharu Yoshizawa, and Keiji Haino. This was the first time that the label name PSF (Poor Strong Factory) appeared on a release. From that point on the label began an ambitious release schedule, and as I mentioned at the start of this piece, along with Osaka’s Alchemy Records it became the label which best supported the core of Japanese underground music.32 For the moment, let’s close with Ikeezumi’s explanation of the early direction for the label.

Ikeezumi: Once I opened the shop, I would only go to concerts by artists that I loved. Takayanagi, Mikami, Tomokawa. At that time in the 80s, Haino wasn’t play live very often.33 I’d go to see High Rise sometimes too. And the rakugo performer, Danshi Tachikawa. When I was thinking about which artists to release on PSF, someone would suggest a band and so I would go to see them play live. It turned out there were a lot of good bands around, so I decided to bring them all together and release a compilation. That’s how Tokyo Flashback came about.34 This sold really well outside Japan, everyone was fascinated by it. So I turned it into a series, and when we’d put a new band on it, they’d get offers from overseas to release a CD. So it always sold well overseas, but not so much in Japan. Eventually sales began to rise a bit, but then soon afterwards the whole record industry began to decline. That was about ten years ago.

Unlike the one-time only experience of a concert, records have a semi-permanent existence which allows music to be shared and experienced across time and space. Ikeezumi chose music and free time over money, but he was able to exert an influence on musical culture not just in Japan but internationally too. Just as musicians are able to use their personal preferences to create revolutions in the music scene, preferences and likes can change the world too. I want to whisper that likes are the best form of revolution.

Notes:

  1. From the list of stores, the only that is still open is Shinseido. Yamano Gakki still exists, but it is now just a musical instrument store and doesn’t sell any music. New import and second-hand stores opened later, but on the whole there has been a decrease in their numbers.
  2. The shop remains open online. PSF Records also remains active as a label. NB Both the online store and the label ceased activities with Ikeezumi’s death in February 2017.
  3. The Rambling Guitarist (Gitaa o motta wataridori) was released in 1959, so it predates Nankai no noroshi. It would play at the so-called second-run cinemas.
  4. Classical Japanese comedy, performed by a single, sitting comedian.
  5. Born in Aomori prefecture in 1950. Inspired by Shūji Terayama, starts writing contemporary poetry in 1967. Starts performing as a folk singer in 1969 and makes his record debut in 1971. The unique world of his lyrics and his singing style see him dubbed an enka (hateful song) singer. With Yosuke Yamashita as a producer, he recorded the musically unique experiment BANG! In 1974. In 1990, PSF released a trio record by Mikami, Motoharu Yoshizawa and Keiji Haino, Live in the First Year of Heisei. Releases many solo and collaborative albums on PSF until 2010. In recent years he has also run a poetry school.
  6. Born in Akita prefecture in 1950. While still at middle school he encountered the poetry of Chūya Nakahara and begin writing his own poetry. In the early 1970s he began adding music to his poems and performing under the name Kazuki Tomokawa. Makes his record debut in 1975. Yoru e isogu hito, a song he wrote in 1977 for the singer Naomi Chiaki becomes very popular. In 1993, releases a solo album on PSF called Hanabana no kashitsu (The Fault of Flowers). Releases many solo and collaborative albums on PSF until 2010. Publishes an autobiography, Tomokawa Kazuki dokujiroku (Hakusuisha) in 2015.
  7. Born in Miyagi prefecture in 1947. Begins singing his own songs while at university. Makes his record debut in 1969 with the single Honto da yo / Neko ga nemutteru. In 1970 releases the album Niyago, with backing provided by members of Happy End. Was highly praised as a unique folk singer who expressed emotional fluctuation. In the late 80s he advocated a “pure music” (jun ongaku) unconstrained by genre. From the early 2000s he continued to release new albums alongside archival live performances. Passed away in 2017.
  8. 1914 – 1987. Novelist and guitarist. Born in Yamanashi prefecture. In the pre-war period worked as a classical and flamenco guitarist. Made his debut as a novelist in 1956 with Naruyama bushikō, which won the Chūōkōron New Novelists prize.
  9. 1933 – 2003. Magazine editor and performance artist. Born in Tokyo. From the late 1950s was involved in political activism and various so-called happenings. In 1962 took part in the Jiritsu Gakkō. Later became the chief editor at the publishing company Gendai Shichōsha, where he worked on many important books. Played a key role in the founding of the independent art school Bigakkō in 1969. In 1981 formed an improvisational voice performance unit with Toshi Tanaka called Mouthpiece. Played in a duo with Takehisa Kosugi in 1983, and after this collaborated with many musicians, butoh dancers and artists. In the late 90s illness forced him to suspend his performances, but in 2000 he began to perform again, now seated in a wheelchair. In 2002, PSF released a solo album, Flashback, recorded in 1983. Died in 2003 at the age of 69.
  10. 1932 – 1991. Jazz guitarist, improviser. Born in Tokyo. Started studying guitar at age 16, and at 19 he turned pro. Founder member of the Jazz Academy Quartet in 1961 with Masabumi Kikuchi (piano), Hideto Kanai (bass), Masahiko Togashi (drums). Formed the Shinseiki Ongaku Kenkyūjo in 1962. Formed his own New Direction group in 1969 and released the album Independence. Performed with Kaoru Abe (alto sax, bass clarinet, harmonica) in 1970 and released the duo album Kaitaiteki Kōkan. During the 70s played with his own groups, New Direction for The Arts and New Direction Unit. In addition, played on records with Sadao Watanabe, Kimiko Kasai, and others. Following a spell of hospitalization in 1980 and 1981, returned to live performance solo, with a new group called Angry Waves, and in a duo with Masahiko Togashi. Died in June 1991 at the age of 58. Since his death, the label Jinya Disc has released many archival recordings. PSF also released several previously unissued live dates, as well as a reissue. As Ikeezumi mentioned, Takayanagi was a frequent contributor to music magazines including Swing Journal, Jazz Hihyō, and Ongaku. Some of his articles, reviews and interviews were compiled and published in 2006 in the book, Bon ongaku ronshū (Getsuyōsha).
  11. The leading mainstream Japanese jazz magazine. It was published monthly from 1947 to 2010.
  12. Released under the group name Masayuki Takayanagi and New Directions in November 1969. The line-up was Takayanagi (guitar), Motoharu Yoshizawa (bass, cello, percussion, folk pipe), Yoshisaburō Toyozumi (drums, percussion). Toshio Satō was also credited with “time conduct” but he wasn’t a real member. The most recent CD reissue was in 2007, but this now seems to be out of print.
  13. Their store in the Kiinokuniya bookshop building in Shinjuku was well known, but it closed in 2011. As of the time of writing, their only remaining store is Music Teito Nishi-Shinjuku, which specializes in rakugo and performing arts CDs and DVDs.
  14. 1908 – 1992. Argentine folklore singer, guitarist, lyricist and composer. Born in Buenos Aires. Started performing in the late 1920s and recording in the mid 1930s. Lived in Paris for four years from 1948. Was awarded a major French record prize in 1950. Moved back and forth between Argentina and France, recording and performing live. His songs and performances are simple but highly artistic and were much loved across Europe and Latin America. He also performed in Japan in 1964, 1966, 1967 and 1976. Published a biography and book of his lyrics. Died in France in 1992. His albums were originally released by Japanese major labels, but recent reissues and unreleased performances have been released by independent labels.
  15. 1921 – 1981. French chanson singer. Born in the south of France. Active as a poet since the Second World War, and began performing as a singer in 1948. Made his recording debut in 1952. Enjoyed a huge reputation as an uncompromising singer-songwriter in France. Several of his albums were released by Japanese major labels in the 1970s, but at the moment his releases are only available second-hand in Japan.
  16. Born in Tochigi prefecture in 1935. His real name is Yoshio Arakawa. Studied with the classical guitarist Andrés Segovia. Opened for Atahualpa Yupanqui in 1967, and received a guitar and the name Sonko Mayu from him. Later performed across Japan and internationally, and is still active today. Concert information is available on his official website: http://sonkomayu.com
  17. Established in 1977 by the music production company Alfa Music. Yuming aka Yumi Arai (from 1976 Yumi Matsutoya) was signed to Alfa Music, but her records were released by Toshiba EMI Ltd. Yellow Magic Orchestra (known from the late eighties by the YMO acronym) released their debut album on Alfa Records in November 1978. The tie-up that Ikeezumi is talking about here was probably for Technopolis, a single from their second album, released in October 1979.
  18. Vocal quartet consisting of two girls and two guys. Released their debut single, Mr. Summertime, on Alfa Records in 1978. The song got to No.1 on the Oricon chart (it was also used as the theme song for campaign by a cosmetics company). Several more hits followed, including American Feeling (1979, used In a campaign by an airline). The line-up has changed but the group is still in existence.
  19. The debut friction album (commonly known as Atsureki) was released by Pass Records but distributed by Trio Records. Trio had nothing to do with manufacturing the record. Reck has commented that the energy on the album was somewhat ambiguous, as they didn’t have an audience to project energy off in the studio (Rock gahō no.19).
  20. Formed as a trio in 1967 in San Francisco. Released their debut album, Vincebus Eruptum, in 1968. Summertime Blues, a single taken from the album was a hit. After releasing their second album in 1969, their guitarist Leigh Stephens quit the band. The band continued with various lineup changes under the leadership of bassist and vocalist Dickie Peterson, before effectively coming to an end with Peterson’s death in 2009. In recent years the band have been described as the originators of heavy metal, but when Ikeezumi was teaching his young customer about basic psychedelic rock, they had been largely forgotten (in 1971 their sixth album was released in Japan and reviews appeared in Music Life and other magazines). In his autobiography, Iru beki basho (2007), the Japanese rapper ECD writes, “I have no memory of seeing Blue Cheer being reviewed seriously in any Japanese music magazine”. The critic Aquirax Aida wrote about Leigh Stephens in a theoretical essay titled Ika no gitaa/”Jazu no hōkai” shōkōgun (Othering the Guitar/”The Fall of Jazz” Syndrome). This essay appeared not in Rock Magazine or Zoo but in Jazz Magazine (1977), so it may have been overlooked by many readers. The essay was reprinted in volume one of Aida’s collected writings, but its revolutionary transgressions make it essential reading contemporary listeners.
  21. Kyōdō is ten stops from Shinjuku on the Odakyū Odawara line. Sasazuka is one stop from Shinjuku on the Keiō line. I’ve looked at music magazines from the time and there are no ads to be found for import or second-hand record stores near either station.
  22. Rock Magazine ran two special issues with the title “modern music”: issue 13 (November 1978) and issue 26 (August 1979). Issue 26 in particular had lots of musician biographies, record catalogues, and small label catalogues. The editor’s note announced that the idea of a genre called modern music had been inspired by Pere Ubu and their music. Pere Ubu themselves were described in the magazine as “the most revolutionary and interesting band”.
  23. First Live 1979 Kichijōji Minor (PSF, 2006). Ikeezumi is talking about Toshiko Watanabe, who was the drummer in an early Kousokuya lineup.
  24. Formed in San Francisco in 1964. One of the earliest bands to play psychedelic rock, but their debut album didn’t come out until 1969. In the 1980s a compilation of their early tracks was released and their reputation was revisited. One of their early members was Dan Hicks (1941-2016), a unique singer-songwriter who enjoyed a quiet fame in Japan from the 1970s. He passed away in February 2016, aged 74.
  25. Psychedelic rock band who were active around Minneapolis from 1966 to 1971. Their 1969 album Trip Thru Hell is renowned as the quintessential psychedelic rarity.
  26. Psycho Records was a UK label who reissued the C.A. Quintet as well as the mysterious California musical-religious commune group Ya Ho Wha 13. Eva Records was a French label who reissued The Charlatans’ first album and a compilation of their early tracks, as well as various British beat groups.
  27. Sakamoto was a frequent visitor to Modern Music around the time that he founded Yura Yura Teikoku in 1989. Sakamoto was born in 1967.
  28. 1946 – 1983. Singer-songwriter and blues harpist. Born in Illinois. Graduated from Harvard University. Released an album as the Peter Ivers Band in 1969. In 1974 releases Terminal Love, under the name Peter Peter Ivers Band, co-produced by the veteran bassist Buell Neidlinger. It will be many years later when this album will come to be acclaimed as an acid folk classic and Ivers’ best work. After releasing Peter Ivers in 1976, he works on a biographical musical as well as starting to write songs for mainstream singers. After recording another album with Neidlinger in 1983, he dies under mysterious circumstances, aged 36. A compilation album, Nirvana Peter, is released in 1985. Shortly after this Ken’ichi Takeda writes an article about Ivers called “Weird and Deceased Musicians” (Music Magazine, February 1986. Also included in the collected volume of Takeda’s writing). In the essay, Takeda tells the story of how ten years ago he acquired a copy of Terminal Love by writing to the Japanese record company that had a commercial relationship with Iver’s US label. The Japanese company told him that they had received a promotional copy but didn’t want it and they gave it to him. The three albums mentioned above were finally reissued in Japan in 2001.
  29. http://d.hatena.ne.jp/chairs_story
  30. Asahito Nanjō was a manically active presence in the Tokyo underground scene. Some of the bands he played with or led included Lapis & Red (an experimental unit with Lapis, ex-Friction guitarist), Michio Kadotani & Rotting Telepathies, Tamio Shiraishi & Dame Na Atashi, Harumi Yamazaki’s Taco, Kousokuya, Tori Kudo Band, a duo with Takafumi Satō (Pinakotheca), Junko Shinozaki Unit, Red Alert, Conformist. Together with Munehiro Narita (from Tamio Shiraishi’s Tokyo, Kyōaku no Intention, Taco, Kousokuya), he formed Psychedelic Speed Freaks in 1982. This became High Rise, an improvised heavy rock band that summarized and put into practice many of the ideas that came out of Kichijōji Minor. Other early members included the drummer Ikurō Takahashi (Seishokki, Akebonoizu, Kousokuya, Fushitsusha), and Masashi Mitani (Maher Shalal Hash Baz). High Rise played together with Gaseneta in 1985. They released many albums on PSF and on European and US labels. The US label Black Editions is planning a major reissue program of all the albums by High Rise, Musica Transonic, Mainliner, Okami no Jikan, Toho Sara, as well as Narita’s Tokyo and Kyoaku no Intentions, with various unreleased tracks (the information above comes from the band).
  31. In 2014 it was reissued in a limited edition of 500 CD + DVD set.
  32. In September 2004 there was a special PSF & Alchemy 20th Anniversary concert, and an album with the same title was released by PSF.
  33. Haino withdrew from live performance between 1983 and 1986 in order to recover from a health issue.
  34. The first volume was released in 1991 with the subtitle P.S.F. Psychedelic Sampler. The series continued up to volume 8, released in 2011.