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Interviews

Plugging into Japanese hardcore scene – an interview with KOWLOON GHOST SYNDICATE

Things are a little bit quiet around Japanese artists over here at IDIOTEQ, and it’s time to get back at it. Featuring veteran members of various hardcore punk bands, KOWLOON GHOST SYNDICATE has been introduced to IDIOTEQ by the band’s guitarist/vocalist Naoki Ando, who has also been recently involved in his DJ work on podcast called “Tokyo Unlearned“, hosted arm in arm with the vocalist of Japanese hardcore band ENDZWECK. To introduce KOWLOON GHOST SYNDICATE and discuss his other projects, as well as his inspirations and outside-punk activities, Naoki has agreed to offer this exclusive in-depth guide and take you through his experience withing Japanese hardcore scene. Read the full interview below and feel free to share.

KOWLOON GHOST SYNDICATE live!

Hey Naoki! Thanks a lot for taking some time with IDIOTEQ! Thanks for your amazing promo package! It’s always incredible to receive a handwritten letter all the way from different distant parts of the World! How are you?

Hi Karol, Grad you like the Demo cassette.

For the sake of internet, we can easily communicate wherever we want, who could imagine that Polish media interview a small Japanese punk band if in 20th century?

This world is not that bad than I worried haha.

As far as our band goes, things are going perfect, we are planning new recordings, doing shows with great band. We are going well.

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Cool! Alright, so let’s dig deep into the details of this new project of yours. What brought you guys together and how KOWLOON GHOST SYNDICATE came to be?

KOWLOON GHOST SYNDICATE was born in the early 2013, from the random online chat with the singer Yuichi, who sang and played bass in the band called GAUGE MEANS NOTHING / P.S. BURN THIS LETTER. I’ve known him for almost ten years because he was (and hopefully still is haha) a fan of the zine I did and he was introduced by ENVY guitarist at (probably) ENVY show. He was cool and we know each other for couple of years, saying hi and talked a bit at a show, but nothing happened then.

In 2011 I joined the band called SOON, kinda melodic band but I left the band for just 5 or 6 shows and fell like I want to play more aggressive type stuff. I am into this culture from 1986, I do want to stick in my roots. And I made a few sample tracks I want to play by Apple’s Garage Band and I was like “Oh this is it! the short! the sharp! but what should I do next?” and I had a flash to remember Yuichi. I sent the demo tracks and asked if he possibly start an another band with me. He was playing drums in STILL I REGRET (UNBROKEN-like hardcore, cool) then and the band was decided to cease.

We are just acquaintance, but I have a feeling like I can go along with him.

He was not full agreeing with this new project, but who cares, I know he would be going to gear up for this. And I called the drummer, Yasutomo to join this project.

I and Yasutomo sometimes jammed, and I love his beat. He is a veteran for playing in many like FOODCHAIN, WISE UP, MAN FRIDAY, 3 MINUTES MOVIE, PAUME, CODE, and PARACHUTE etc.

And I know he didn’t say no to this offer, haha.

So the practice starts with these 3, jammed every week and make new songs and searching for the bassist and another guitarist. Because Yuichi wanted to sing without instrument and I totally want to see him sing without it, and we discussed as we want to be multi-generation crossover team, I mean the age-varied team.

Our home town Tokyo is one of the largest cities in the world, and there’s a thousand of Punk band I guess. We played gathered in the same sub-genre like Real Screamo / Skramz / Emo / DIY punk but there’s a division for generations. We thought if we go over generation gap, that would be cool. Because we want to enjoy ourselves and we know guys here and there to hung out.

So we had a bassist Takumi from THIS TIME WE WILL NOT PROMISE AND FORGIVE, and KOHEI, the another veteran for playing EVADE, 満州候補者 (MANCHURIAN CANDIDATES), DANCE WITH ME, SLOW CRIMES, 1% etc.
So there are 5 guys practicing every weekend for almost 1 and half years for the sake of our full time job. We were slow to come up.

My idea is to play “Hardcore-As-Fuck” style, metal-tinged, 90’s, abrasive hardcore, like LEFT FOR DEAD, OTTAWA, THE SWARM, URANUS, ACME. I want to go like kinda dark, fast, angry, tight hardcore, not to be like modern extreme hardcore neither revival-ed power violence, even a grind core. There are so many great Japanese bands in that style, and anyone in the band never played this style of music before. I want to fill the blank spot.

Now Takumi left the band for personal reason and we have new bassist Takayuki (ex-BRIGHT AND DARK SIDE, in vein of SHIPPING NEWS).

KOWLOON GHOST SYNDICATE band

Cool, thanks! It’s been a year since the premiere of your debut demo. Can we expect some more recordings from KGS coming up sometime soon?

Well, it’s been a year since we recorded the demo session and we are planning to have a split release with the band called OFF-END. We have more songs to record, and I stock couple tracks to try. It’ll be out sometime in early 2015,if vinyl pressing plant is open for small bands (I hate the Major Label’s RSD invasion!). And the Pacific rim Punk scene is going so active beyond borders lately, A lot of foreign bands from Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, Australia, Taiwan come to tour in Japan, and also a lot of Japanese bands tour to those countries, Things are pretty going wild and we scheme a split or hopefully 3-4 way split with these bands in near future. We’ll see.

Great! Ok, so lyrics-wise, what do you write about and why do you want to raise attention for these particular topics?

Our message is mainly focused on some sort of introspection as we grow old, we know there’s no one to blame but to reconsider ourselves, and now we tend to look things from many aspect.

Personally I am thinking like I have to do my missions first, rather than pointing fingers to blame someone else and waiting for someone change the situation. I know I have the power to change things for the better. I become financially rich to do something and I have more knowledge, know-how since I am a mere student back in the day.

Or another basis of our lyrics are about despise and hatred against the confrontation caused by good and evil dualism.

We had a big paradigm shift here in Japan. You may know the tragedy of Fukushima, nuclear plant explosion caused by Tsunami and earthquake strike, and Japan is gaining some tension between China. The people are getting politically conscious, which is notable progress for me as I am disappointed for the indifference among us.However I see a lot of worthless argument, even to be a real extreme level like murder threat. For the goddamn sake of social media, the filth of humanity is visualized.

We should tell discomfort-ness or express the different view if we don’t agree with some issues, like if you see someone crying about his racial prejudice to immigrant even to present the willing to kill, you should oppose them on court or oppose by expression. I mean we need the verbal argument. But some portion of people is using threat to the intolerable opponent, even lead to violence versus violence. I might imagine that some of IDIOTEQ readers will question me what’s wrong with using violence to the ignorance. Well, you’re damn wrong. We have to disengage the Punk myth. That’s not cool anymore.

The medium of quarrel is not confrontation of good vs evil, it’s just a confrontation of my justice vs your justice. If we frame the issues in good vs evil, quarrel is keep going. I don’t want to justify the violence to prevail my justice. Conflict of ideology is inevitable. And our society is based on our ancestor’s endurance and tolerance to the difference. I don’t live to struggle with others, I live to make things worth of doing, and I am into solving the problem. I may am turning halfway of my entire life time and eagerly thinking what’s to do for the rest of my life. I am out of ideology vs ideology. I need to do things, or rather I want to leave a fortune for coming brothers and sisters.

I want people doing their own mission. Don’t waste time to fight, we can do lot more. So may rest of us.

the 1st song of our demo 「今を生きる」 stands for “Carpe Diem” is about overcome suspicions and doubts and assault intent occurred from anxiety after Fukushima tragedy, snuggle along with the chagrin of the disaster victims.

2nd song 「砂城」 “Castle of Sand” is about one aspect of justice turns out to the idiocy. Sometimes people are stack for his recognition and say a false rumours, lies over that and go illogical. These cases happen everywhere. i.e. US strongly persists the existence of chemical weapon and justify air-raid Iraq, or under the inferior situation, Japan army continue to fight against allied forces during WW2, let the soldiers starved to death before engagement, or in personal situation, some people make a fake photos and information in the cyberspace to jammed up the consensus of opinion. Lies necessary for YOUR justice? NO THANKS.

3rd song 「病理は深く」 “disease run deep” is about kicking out the rival who once are comrade because of gap and losing the prior purpose.

We decide what we are to be by our conscience and belief. Each people are different for where they are from and where they going to. In this society, I mean kindred are recognized as best virtue here in Japan, small difference is the matter for some people. We easily lost the solidarity, there’s no need for logic to exclude those who have different belief or liking. The rest call themselves as “the chosen few” and become radicalize, sometimes to wrong direction. I experienced these case so many times and I know the leader become a tyrant by kicking out the once-called-comrades and he even feel comfortable to have power to govern group full of “the elitists for him”

I believe the humanity have the instinct of rage, we need to control the fire. If we lose and let them go, no one is listening and we can’t change the world at last.

4th song 「絶望の味」 stands for “taste of despair” is about desperation and losing compassion to involve through the disgusting case mentioned above.

5th song 「異なる色」 “different colours” is about our expression of approval for the diversity by LGBT theme. LOS CRUDOS came to tour Japan in 1996 and Martin, the singer present what he is and ask for the acceptance. Since then, there’s couple of people in our community who come out what they are. I realize that our silence could be their fear to be themselves. So we express what we think of diversity as they could open up.

The unique feature of our lyrics is each member writes the lyrics for each part to sing.

Yuichi write his part and there’s a room for another member to take part, rest of us except drummer decide who is in on the blank spot, write the lyrics that fits to Yuichi’s part. This experiment is going so well, we discussed for that and thesis is going to be deep and mostly people could imagine various way. The introduction above is my personal thought, other pals may have different thought I guess.

This is very creative, and 100 times better than only in it for playing instruments and don’t care about what the singer think of.

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Thanks a lot for your thoughts! Considering your involvement in so many bands before KOWLOON GHOST SYNDICATE, has your approach to writing changed over the course of the last 2 decades? Or has it been always about the message and ’something more’?

Personally I was the guy who failed to play a band in my juvenile. I was like a green, young kid with a big mouth, stuck in the ideal nevertheless my bad playing skills, haha. I don’t have proper band in my teens and 20’s. So I do a fanzine called “Mission Undone” and label called “Never Shown Face” these days.

So this is the first trial to write the lyrics for the songs. The rest of us might write the lyrics before and they also don’t have this process I guess, I mean the co-working to make the lyrics together. We have stepped into new way.

About the message-wise, we are totally progressed to forward, beyond “Fuck this Fuck that” , “This is my life to live ” , ” True to the core ” , “You got stabbed my back” , “Stay positive” or possibly “She break my heart and leave me alone woolala-” haha.

I read and inspired by words like these, but you know, 30 years is way too long and I saw so many things to say rather than typical “Hardcore” topic, or experienced the bitter truth through , I think I should be true to what my heart feels.

In that sense, I can say we try to be something more.

To what do you attribute your longevity in hardcore punk and independent art “business”?

Because hardcore punk is the most exciting, progressive, creative, inspirational form of art.
I’ve been into this culture since I was 15, the music is more powerful, and the scene is broadened beyond the border, new kids coming to do different things.

I prefer liberal expression and this music and culture is perfectly fit to my favour.

Remember when we write a letter with soaped stamp, on the back of local flyers. I read every lines of Maximum Rock’n Roll, spend hours at record store managed to find gems from unknown 7″s, silkscreen/stencil to make own T-shirt, those days were still great.

And above all, I still love the feeling that this culture is open for everyone, we could connect wherever we live. I believe this music is rootless music unlike Reggae, Hip Hop etc.

Everyone can be proud of this music as one term ”My music” no matter where they live, no matter what colours of skin nor any nation.

I am not in music business but spend a lot of compassion to this and I am alright with that.

I believe Hardcore is about sharing and caring your neighbour. This mind-set gave me a lot of things. I meet a lot of hardcore music fans and musician in my business, even in my colleague. That was funny. We learn a lot from this and we can literally work together! I can’t leave!

Yup. Moreover, our interest for diversity of information and free art deliveries cannot be served better than in our current digital era. Do you find traditional methods of creating and distributing music more engaging than the more modern, digitalized solutions? What’s your take on that?

Hm, that is pretty complicated.

I love both analogue and digital as I am working as web designing category, and I do a podcast, and I have 8tracks account, Soundcloud account, constantly posting on Facebook.

I truly have a great benefit free culture on World Wide Web in both expressing and searching. I know this benefit is enormously huge as I could be interviewed from a guy in Poland! haha. So we should use as much as possible. World Wide Web is our weapons, our soapbox.

On the other hand, I still love the tangible objects like Vinyl, CD, zines, letters, and flyers. These have weight, scent, touch and I can imagine the whole stories to arrive to me, like someone have a hustle on recording, someone have dirty himself by ink and glue, or someone drive to post office to send the package. I am fascinated when I imagine people put their effort on something. Music, drawing, dance, doesn’t matter.
There are no music industries in 19th century. People don’t pay for listening the music.

History of music just laid back. And this is the tide we should follow. There should be more to find the new value or possibly the way to live off in this trend.

We should accept the benefit of digital era which covers the opportunities we don’t have in 20th century, we can reach to anywhere, anyone. But if possibly, I also encourage people to communicate offline. That is priceless.

Totally agreed. As mentioned, it felt really special to receive a physical handwritten letter from you Naoki!

KOWLOON GHOST SYNDICATE live

Ok, let’s go on. Please tell me, how does Tokyo influence your work? Tell me a bit about your closest neighborhood and your view on the whole country of Japan.

Thanks! Actually I almost forgot to write a letter to someone until I start KGS, for the goddamn sake of e-mail and Pay Pal. It’s great to do the bandwagon thing, which brings me back to who I was!

Tokyo… I guess this city affects me a lot. I was born and basically raised here except I was in Singapore in my infant era, and I lived other region of Japan for short period in 90’s. And my family mostly reside in Tokyo.

My neighbourhood is 15 min train ride from central Tokyo. You can see various culture/people/entertainment etc. here. A numerous foreign bands plays every week. This week is crazy, we can see BATTLES/ MELVINS / SHELLAC on same dates in different part of Tokyo. And other foreign bands are playing in same week along with domestic bands. That is so exciting. I have various inspirations from the bands, art, exhibitions here, besides reading books. There’s very futuristic region, immigrant region like Korean town, China town, and very calm, historic region like Emperor Palace in small squares. My foreign friends are surprised. Yes we have to make much money to live here, I can’t help it.

Sometimes living in Tokyo make me feel bad, or possibly it’s just the matter of so called life itself. I am struggling with life.

Sometimes I wonder why I am living here doing hard work as a freelance, sitting in front of my laptop for my client. It is to make money to live off here. But why I do this way?

It’s ridiculous I am still thinking like Juvenile, but I can’t help to have this mind popped.

This feeling may be caused from the location. 24/7 sleepless, busy city. Or it may be from some craving feeling or impatience somewhere in my mind.

Sometimes I fear myself I might lost the innocence I had once as I consumed myself in society, fear myself to get aged for nothing, Sometimes I feel like I did nothing, remain useless, Sometimes I feel like I am nowhere man out of the world. Tokyo gives me excitement, and on the other hand gives me fear.

These fear are the reasons I hit on the road again, I mean I restart a punk band.

The name KOWLOON GHOST SYNDICATE is named after the story in my head.

There’s a guy half dead, with daily duty in the bottom of city somewhere.

He has everything he need, job, family, properties, in return for his innocence.

He hears a whisper in midnight subway. “Hey what’s up? Let’s talk about the things you bet your life today” The whisper is from the poor looking guy in subway window. The poor looking guy has rugged wings, continue to talk. “You’ve done great til this late, but is it what you want? Look your back”

He is not just wasting his life. He remembers what he was even as time goes. He just intents to put it aside of corners in his memory. He is not looking back those good old days.

Then he got a catastrophic accident, he died. He is body counted, but not be remembered of anyone.
His spirit become a ghost, stray in the street. Seeking his old friends to yelling, dance as every chord hit them like a bullet, every word they spoke were the light in the darkness, every step they did is hope for revolution. This is it. The story is half real about me, half fiction. And the ghost could be you.

I can’t believe I am still that emotional, I want to believe my compassion again. Not drop out to throw my life away. I am not looking back, I just want to feel the breath the air I once love.

For me Tokyo is most influential city. A lot of cultures, skyscrapers, greenery, and impressive crowd, there are a lot of inspirations and I made a lot of memories there good and bad.

So Tokyo is very emotional city, personally.

I can generally say, Tokyo is really safe, very fun city. A lot of foreigners say Japan is so futuristic. That may be correct, but if you go rural area, you’ll see another great sight.

Personally I feel Japan is basically compact, minimal compared to other countries.

KOWLOON GHOST SYNDICATE logo

Your debut demo is a one hell of a harsh, violent hardcore delivery. What are some “trends” in Japanese punk scene happening right now? Is there anything you want to see more of these days?

Well, we tend to be like doing some hardcore revival thing but I think of myself as different type. You see raw, primitive Straight Edge Power violence lately, we are bit different.

We are more like respectful to our old favorite bands like OTTAWA, URANUS, JIHAD, LEFT FOR DEAD etc. We are the few.

As far as Hardcore trends in Japan is quite varied and broad.

We have very traditional Japanese Hardcore bands like FORWARD, SYSTEMATIC DEATH (All-time favorite), WARHEAD, THINK AGAIN, etc. and there are D-Beat type crust /anarcho bands like DISTURD, LIFE, KAFKA, FILTHY HATE, UNARM, etc. As beatdown hardcore scene, there are LOYAL TO THE GRAVE, DOGGY HOOD$, SAND, NUMB etc.

Grind/Sludge/Doom scene is really active. You may know CORRUPTED, COFFINS, SOB, BORIS, and there’s unknown great acts like FRIENDSHIP, SU19b, GUEVNNA etc.

Hm I should stop writing down these names. The list goes forever ha.

Pop punk melodic hardcore is already overground and there may be thousands of bands in that style.

But most rising trend would be Metal Core/Post Hardcore, I guess same things happen everywhere around the globe. As far as this genre, I believe there are thousands of units here in Japan.

I don’t get into those sub-genre much but who cares, that’s great. People love their music as their own.

If I recommend for IDIOTEQ readers about hardcore sub-genre in Japan, I’ll pick Post Rock and Power Violence from Japan. There are bunch of great acts here.

Ok Naoki, so apart from being in bands, what other activity do you incorporate into your creative work?

I myself love to see modern drawing like street art, or Russian art in early 20th century. It’s so powerful! My favorite graphic artist is David Choe and Ozabu. David Choe is really powerful, on the other hand, Ozabu is insanely detailed graphic artist!

I wish I could draw the art but my creative work is just composing punk rock tunes.

Besides playing music, I am running a podcast called “Tokyo Unlearned” since the beginning of 2015.

To expand my creativity, I am enjoining BJJ (Brazilian JiuJitsu) as a hobby.

It’s fun, have same sense of fine community like punk scene.

I believe physical stimulus works for mind.

Oh, no doubt! And how about some intellectual activity, an old school exercises for the mind? Do you read a lot? What are your favorite genres and writers?

Currently I don’t read much except technical guidance about my business, but I love Sci-Fi novel since I am really young. I once wanted to be an astronaut, gave up for the fxcking Physics and Differential! So I am dreaming in Sci-Fi novel.

My recommendations are:

“The Dispossessed” by Ursula K. Le Gwin. It implicates cynics against Hippie culture and Anti-capitalism. Very inspirational.

“Inherit the Stars” by James Hogan. Classic but really entertaining.

“Blood Music”, “Eon” by Greg Bear. He is strict for the real science. So realistic and exciting. He is the best.

I have no idea if published in other language, the Japanese author Yasutaka Tsutsui is my favorite too. I even fell in love to the heroine on his novel! haha.

Wow, amazing! I’m currently swamped with some good reads from Arthur C. Clarke and my local homie Stanislaw Lem, trying to keep up with news on dozens of space related websites and magazines :)

Ok buddy, what else? Is there anything you’d like to add before we finish this interview?

Well、I’ve had enough questions to let people know who we are!

So I’d like to say thank Karol for having us. It’s great that we are new band by old guys, got interviewed on the Web Media which have tons of cool interviews!

There are bunch of cool bands in Japan, Korea, Malaysia, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Singapore, Australia and other countries in this region. Most of those countries have young, compassionate, and growing scene. So keep your eyes open to us.

For catching up Asian Hardcore scene, you should check uniteasia.org, a Hong Kong based web site by Riz KING LY CHEE.

Or you can see those growing movement by the movie “The Other Option” (watch below)

And again, I am running a Japanese Podcast called “Tokyo Unlearned” we play the music all over the world besides Japanese Hardcore. So If you are curious, we welcome your asking!

Big ups to Karol and IDIOTEQ!

If you touch, you’ll never leave. We are in one syndicate. And thank you for reading.

KOWLOON GHOST SYNDICATE official website
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