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Punk icon Akihiro Namba says only rock can cure Japan’s ills

25 Comments
By Dan Grunebaum

It’s been a decade and a half since Japanese punk sensations Hi-Standard made their U.S. debut on Fat Wreck Chords and toured North America with NOFX. But as the band’s frontman—now a solo artist—prepares to head back out on tour at age 40, Akihiro Namba is still a bundle of raw energy.

“I haven’t really toured since Hi-Standard, so it will be interesting to see the reaction,” he says, leaning forward in a folding chair at a smoky practice studio in Sangenjaya. “Back with Hi-Standard, we used to sell out the countryside. They would go wild in a way that jaded Tokyoites didn’t. With this tour, I’m hoping to bring out the old Hi-Standard fans and create new ones as well.”

It’s hard to underestimate the impact that Namba’s old band had on the local music scene. While it’s common now for Japanese rock groups to write and release their own albums, in the ’90s Hi-Standard were one of only a few mainstream acts doing things for themselves.

The group’s DIY ethic extended from founding their own label, the still-influential Pizza of Death, to hosting their own punk festival (and live swansong). Air Jam 2000 drew some 30,000 moshers to a bayside Tokyo location, paving the way for the Punkspring event, as well as laying the groundwork for the likes of Asian Kung-Fu Generation and their Nano-Mugen Festival.

These days, Namba is the father of two children—and of a new solo career under his own name. After flirting with techno in his first post-Hi-Standard project, "Ultra Brain," he’s returned to a straight-ahead rock trio format and embraced his melocore roots. The just-released "Punk Rock Through the Night" mines a classic vein of confessional, self-help punk.

“In Japan these days, there’s a lot of pressure,” he says about the song “Mirai e ~It’s Your Future~.” “Young people don’t have hopes and dreams, so I wanted to write a song for them saying, make your own dreams, build your own future.

“It’s the rockers who can speak directly to young people, to encourage them to be more optimistic,” he continues. “It’s rock that has the ability to scream about what is wrong with the country, and what we can do about it. The rock scene is the most sincere about Japan’s problems.”

Another one of Namba’s dreams, both for himself and his fellow rockers, is to become overseas ambassadors of Japanese culture. “Japanese musicians need to go abroad more, and to try to appeal more to overseas audiences,” he says. “Especially rockers, who go over better in the West than J-pop artists. I want Japanese music to go overseas more, to provide a stronger message about Japan.”

Tying his country’s problems to the West’s, Namba says that by speaking directly to young people overseas, they can collectively change the world. “I love American culture, but I hate its government, and Japan’s too,” he says. “But it’s not the politicians I want to speak to, it’s the young people. All the great punk bands from Green Day to Rancid feel the same. That’s why I sing in English. Art and fashion are important, but music speaks the most directly—it’s a powerful tool for expression.”

Akihiro Namba will perform with The Telephones and others from 7 p.m. on March 4 at Club Quattro in Shibuya. 2,500 yen.

"Punk Rock Through the Night" is available on Tearbridge Records.

This story originally appeared in Metropolis magazine (www.metropolis.co.jp).

© Japan Today

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.


25 Comments
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It is a good start for Akihiro Namba warming American audiences as well as speaking to Japanese young generations. He has a courage and vision to transfer his insights and voices over Japanese young generations. I wish I can hear his live performance in Shibuya.

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At the risk of sounding like a killjoy, I remember the hippies in the late 60's and early 70's saying practically the exact same thing. Now their generation is the ones in charge and... #Meet the new boss... Same as the old boss.#

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Power and ideology are often a disaster when it comes to historical movements. The hippies discovered, after the sixties were done, that it was impossible to live the "Free Bird" way, because the world already has a spin and you have to keep it moving through commerce, etc. I think that when they moved into politics and business, they got comfortable and greedy, and voila! I agree with Namba, however, speaking to young people responsibly through music may be the only way. My high school students are all obsessed with dumb crap like AKB/NMB 48. The content of J-Pop and K-Pop is a total waste of oxygen.

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I take it he's telling the kids about how fractional reserve banking systems work then?

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started out pizza of death, now on avex....ooops

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It's good to have dreams and move onward and upward, but isn't punk about 35 years old already? And rock much older than that? And many say both are long since dead?

In 1979 I was a young guy into current music. Did I listen to genres 35 years old or older? That'd be 1940s dance-hall music, swing, big-band and crooners like the Dorsey Brothers...

Um, no.

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Good music can never die. Akihiro Namba has the right idea.

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Someone needs more money.

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Profound.

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Didn't he hear that punk and rock are finished?

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As much as I like some J-pop songs the ones that really stay with me for the lyrics are the rock songs. Not sure you are being fair either Fadamor; those people didn't exactly fade away - the hippie movement was enormous and a youthful, invigorated movement is what Japan desperately needs.

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All the great punk bands from Green Day to Rancid

LOL!!!

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"Japanese music to go overseas more, to provide a stronger message about Japan." Japanese rock and pop is mostly a rip-off of US pop. So you rip-off US pop, recycle it, and feed it back to the US market. Yeah, that should work.

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Cactus, that is what many British blues and rock bands such as Led Zeppelin did. In that case it was extremely beneficial for Americans.

White Americans never really listened to the blues until it was played by British bands who fell in love with it after hearing it at the American Folk Blues Festival in the 60s.

Black Americans could then sell their music to a white audience.

Some Japanese music may turn out to be more than a rip-off. There is nothing wrong with absorbing foreign influences. The Beatles explored Indian music, The Stones explored North African sounds.

Punk and rock are not finished. Good luck to Namba. He seems to have the right idea.

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"White Americans never really listened to the blues until it was played by British bands who fell in love with it after hearing it at the American Folk Blues Festival in the 60s."

speak for yourself.

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By "never really listened to the blues", I'm guessing gaijintraveller really meant, "couldn't possibly have listened to the blues or my whole belief-system based on the omniscience of British rock would be exposed as a lie". Actually it's a pretty crafty statement. You could provide numerous cases to refute him, but he would just counter that such cases don't meet his definition of "really".

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Punk always recycles itself with each genreation. Before Namba everyone was listening to Blue Hearts, Hi-Standard was the rave for us 90s punk kids and this generation as more of an aggresive punk sound but it hasnt changed and punk will never die.

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maybe... GOOD rock. but all the good bands I have heard in Japan are SUPER indie underground bands.

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Well it can't do any more harm than current J-Pop...

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What other nuggets of wisdom does this man give out? No music no life?

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never did get the drift of the "pizza of death" moniker.

and i didn't think that his band was of the caliber of other bands like "foul", "blood thirsty butchers", and "copass grinders" from the tokyo scene in the 1990s.

so it is understandable that he cites bands somewhat passe--as in banal and innocuous--bands like rancid and green day... though i have to admit to not having the patience to listen to more than a few bars of music from either of those bands. they represent the dumbing down and mass-marketing of punk or alternative music the way i see it, even if they start their own little inbred scenes with corporate sponsors.

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that is what many British blues and rock bands such as Led Zeppelin did. In that case it was extremely beneficial for Americans.

Yeah, but they changed it. They didn't just regurgitate a poor impression of it.

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" I want Japanese music to go overseas more, to provide a stronger message about Japan.”

Er, what's the message, man?

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"Especially rockers, who go over better in the West than J-pop artists"

They do? Weeaboos are the largest audience of Japanese culture outside of Japan, and my guess is that they would prefer things which are more Japanese rather than copies of existing western concepts.

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I am the one of Hi-Standard fan. I used to play their songs all day when I was young. Since they had disbanded, I has been longing for them to come back to stage. And so I am very happy that they came back and played their songs at Air Jam. Akihiro Namba said that rock music can inspire and move peoples’ mind. At times, I surely realize the power of music. Ironically, when the earthquake disaster at Tohoku happened I could reaffirm it. Many charity concerts have taken place, not only in Japan but foreign counties. I hope that the rock scene comes back and appeal to people like it had been before!!

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