Japanese guitarist, multi-instrumentalist, and vocalist Keiji Haino had been a prominent figure in the Tokyo underground since the mid-'70s before forming this incredible group that stands as one of Japan's most inventive and extraordinary and powerful groups of the era. Their work draws on noise,rock, free improvisation, and psychedelia, yet they sculpt their group sound in a fashion that their music is relative to few forms. In fact, the sound of Fushitsusha could best be described as contemporary Japanese music as some of their modalities and vigorous improvisational manner reflects the Japanese folk and traditional formulas. On the other hand, the electricity and refined indulgence of their feedback drenched albums and live concerts bares similarities to early Sonic Youth and the Swans, yet is as challenging as avant-garde improvisation. Sonny Sharrock's Black Woman and Peter Brötzmann's Machine Gun are good points of reference, as are Captain Beefheart, Guru Guru, or even Can.
Fushitsusha is part of a continuum in Japanese avant-garde music that was developing in the '60s with noisy improvisational groups such as Group Ongaku, Taj Mahal Travellers, and, most notably, New Direction Unit, who were versed in a free-form noise dialect that went beyond the free jazz movement to higher and more unsettling places. Where Fushitsusha fit into the spectrum of rock, noise, and avant-garde could be pondered for hours. The conclusion, in most cases, could only be that they are a phenomenon of an incredibly creative force in leader Keiji Haino, who has forged some of the most magnificent avant-garde recordings of the '90s seemingly out of blood, sweat, and tears. As a solo performer, he has such an extraordinary and singular approach one could only compare him to an artist like Cecil Taylor, as his work is all-consuming, brutally passionate, and individual.
Fushitsusha recorded their debut album in 1989; however, it is rumored that the group existed in various incarnations from as early as 1980. A self-titled double album that vanished from the market very quickly, it certainly made an impact on an influential level and was a quintessential recording in the Tokyo psychedelic rock revival and noise rock scenes born in and around the PSF label's Tokyo Flashback compilation series. The following album, commonly known not by title but by its catalog number (PSF 15/16), was a double CD of live recordings released 1991 in a stark black-on-black cover that would become their standard album housing aesthetic with few exceptions. At 13 tracks and 147 minutes, the trio of Keiji Hainoguitar and voice, Yasushi Ozawa bass, and Jun Kosugi on drums delivered an album that shook the avant-rock world and was pivotal in putting all ears toward Japan for noise and improvisation aficionados. The swelling feedback arcs of Haino's guitar collide with clustered abrasive fits of noise and the rhythm section sublimely balanced off-kilter pulse flow and jagged angular explosions. The group's improvisation often comes to a crest when they grab on to an abrasive and turgid riff driving it incessantly into a blitz of noise. Other moments see tendrils of feedback and percussion cascading into haunting ambience, infused with an electrical hum and Haino's banshee vocal making the calm incredibly unnerving. Haino's admirers included Sonic Youth guitarist Thurston Moore, who was a protagonist of the group from the start. Clearly he could relate to the approach of Fushitsusha as the tone pallet of feedback and noise of their first two albums parallel the work of Bad Moon Rising, though are considerably more abstract. Another New York musician and avatar of noise, John Zorn, had collaborated and promoted Haino throughout the '80s. He invited the group to record for his Avant label in 1993. Allegorical Misunderstanding was their first recording released on a label other than PSF and the work is probably the strangest in their discography. All due respect, Zorn's production aesthetic was clean and clear, though the signature of Fushitsusha is most often in the raw ambience of their recording situations. While their early releases sound as though they were taped from an adjacent building or down a long corridor, the "Airplane hangar" recording environment optimized the intensity of their group sound. Reputedly a hardworking group that practiced emphatically, it wasn't for the sake of developing songs as such as for devising strategies in which Haino could conduct the group. He directs the music using a set of codes ranging from wielding a baton to almost butoh dance gestures. The titles "Magic" one through ten revealed the mysticism on which the work is based.
The group certainly used rock language and Haino was always quick to state the influence of West Coast psychedelic rock group Blue Cheer in his rare interviews. The most stunning display of raw and powerful garage rock came with the 1994 album Pathetique with its four extended tracks of deconstructed riffs and fractured beats. Its origins are in Captain Beefheart & the Magic Band or even the Stooges, which should not lead the uninitiated to believe that Fushitsusha is an average garage revival band, though they somehow combine the '60s garage aesthetic with free improvisation sensibilities. Suffice it to say, at any given second the album can call to mind John Coltrane, '70s Miles Davis, Xenakis, Derek Bailey, Howlin' Wolf, Borbetomagus, the Music Machine, and Merzbow while remaining as far from pastiche as its does tradition. Released in 1994, this album marked the beginning of a highly prolific period for the group, its closing untitled track clocks in at 44 minutes and is one of the most blissful and self-defining pieces the group recorded.
Haino was producing a vast amount of solo recordings and collaborations and touring concurrently. Live appearances outside Japan with Fushitsusha were few and far between. By 1995, this changed and the group began to gain a higher profile on the European and American scenes with the abrasive album The Caution Appears on the French label Les Disques du Soleil appearing 1995. Its ten tracks were shorter, sharper statements than the sprawling extended psychedelia of the previous albums and marked a significant change in the group's sound. Another European release came out the same year on Blast First under the title Purple Trap, which also became an umbrella title as a sort of sister group to Fushitsusha. Releases under this name came in the form of a rare four-CD box set and an album of Haino with Bill Laswell and Rashied Ali released on Tzadik. This creates a little confusion as Purple Trap was an album title, a group name, and a label that published the Haino box set officially known as The Soul's True Love. The box included one untitled CD by Fushitsusha and three solo discs from Haino. The Blast First CD is subtitled The Wound That Was Given Birth to Must Be Bigger Than the Wound That Gave Birth; also known as Purple Trap, it is a double CD of extremely aggressive and noisy tracks that are no less enigmatic and somewhat humorously packaged in blazing Crimson artwork that defies the all-black uniform of Haino's artwork.Fushitsusha had worked with the independent PSF label loyally and had become synonymous with the avant-garde label's sound. Additionally, all of the group's members were working in splinter groups for the label. However, the association changed in 1997 when the Japanese major label Tokuma signed Fushitsusha for a series of four albums. Giving the group total artistic freedom, this was an exceptionally liberal phase in the Japanese music industry to put such an outward-bound group in mainstream distribution. Evidently, this project did not result gaining a higher profile and the collaboration with Tokuma dissolved after a stunning set of albums.
A Death Never to Be Complete appeared in April 1997 and was recorded in London in a high-end studio that captured Fushitsusha more successfully than ever. The album mixed shorter tracks — "Just As I Told You," the sub-three-minute opener is a fine example of the concise reduction the group was going for at this point — while other tracks extend into improvisational labyrinths in the classic early style. The next installment was The Time Is Nigh recorded and released at the same time so the production style is identical. It is curious that this pair of albums was not released as a double CD. The four tracks "Just Before," "My Precious Thing," "Black Cluster," and "The Time Is Nigh" display some of the more developed and edgy sides of the group, as if they are further abstracting their already advanced metamorphosis as it is one of the more challenging recordings of the group.
For the fact that live concerts of the group were highly disciplined, ritualistic, spontaneous and intense their greater albums are often those captured on stage such as Gold Blood taped live at San Francisco's Great American Music Hall during a November 7, 1996, gig that was broadcast on KFJC FM. One of the few recordings released on a U.S. label, the dark noise specialists Charnel House put this out in 1998. The recording is exceptionally high-quality for a live date and often, the sprawl into chaos is one of the most exciting aspects of their music that shows the group navigating through such stormy territory. Incidentally, this recording is the last to feature drummer Jun Kosugi, who left the group on good terms in pursuit of a more tranquil life. The elaborately titled "The Halation Born Between You and I Who Were Doomed to Appear in Form and his parting track "This Trembling in My Core, With Which of Your Cells Couldn't It Hold Hands!" display some of his most agile drumming with the group, somewhere between Sunny Murray and Charles Hayward.
A Little Longer Thus was released on Tokuma on June 24, 1998. Its nine tracks debut new drummer Ikuro Takahashi, who had evidently worked with the group for a considerable length of time in training to become an inside component of the Fushitsusha voice. The titles "Not That Way," "Repel," " Charged With Fever," "Head-First," and "No Second Chance" may be telling of where things were headed with the newly configured group. A more frantic and somewhat harder sound was developed with the inspired energy of this fearless ongoing experiment. Recorded during the same session and concurrently released was the awesome The Wisdom Prepared, which goes back to the original long form improvisation; one 74-minute track indefinitely closed the relationship with Tokuma whether or not for the fact that a Metal Machine Music-like gesture of such a statement remains unknown. It is entirely instrumental and a mammoth suit that runs the entire Fushitsusha gamut sans Haino's voice.
Often put on the avant-garde jazzand free improvisation stage for want of a better categorization,Fushitsusha appeared in front of a crowd of new music and free jazz fans on May 16, 1997, for the Festival International de Musique Actuelle in Victoriaville, Canada. The performance that became the album Withdrawe, This Sable Disclosure ere Devot'd was released the following year on Les Disques Victo. The energy of the group was at an all-time chaotic high on this night. The record features a track listing that implies they performed versions of songs from previous recordings, although they are completely unrecognizable adaptations. The pieces "Pathetique" "Vertigo" evoke images of the group wrestling with an overpowering electric force, not to mention a full house of Canadian jazz fans with mouths agape. Fushitsusha released I Saw It! That Which Before I Could Only Sense on the U.K label Paratactile in 2000 as a double-CD set. This sprawling work would be their last as a trio. Haino was infamous in his dogmatism surrounding the practice and strategies of the group. The degree to which they developed their own musical language within the rock format is exemplified on the extended workouts "Staring At a Point in Time, Memorizing, Vowing Never to Return and the drifting, two-part jam "I Saw It! That Which Before I Could Only Sense," part one a mere 29 minutes while part two clocks in at 54. This stunning album was also the parting shot for drummer Ikuro Takahashi, whose departure led to one of the most peculiar diversions in the group's progression. The album Origin's Hesitation was released in November 2001 after an extended leave while Haino produced more solo work. The twist to this release is that the overloaded guitar noise and feedback that was centrifugal to the Fushitsusha sound is gone entirely with Haino opting to replace the fleeting drummers himself taking to the kit and vocals with Yasushi Ozawa's bass out front. This extraordinary move in the Fushitsusha/Haino legacy could be interpreted as either the crumbling of one of the most fascinating and powerful groups in '90s Japanese music or perhaps as Haino himself saw it: as the optimum deconstruction in the name of invention. ~ Skip Jansen