Zone Tripper

On the Grid watching Friction play Kawasaki; Tokyo Rockers, Gin Satoh, Toshio Sasaki

Short pause over, Comi Comi returns with a report on Friction playing Kawasaki, published in The Wire #450. The band has performed in some form or other since 1978. But there is more to their story as Friction, a name rarely mentioned in the same breath as Japanese contemporary art, describes a band at odds with the exhaustion of Tokyo in the late 70s and early 80s. The review touches on the band’s history accompanied with notes and photos from the concert that night in Kawasaki. There are also photographs from Gin Satoh’s book Underground GIG Tokyo 1978–1987, a crucial document of its day, an excerpt from the Tokyo Rockers documentary, a three-way discussion with curator Mika Yoshitake on Parergon: Japanese Art of the 1980s and 1990s, the exhibition at Blum & Poe Los Angeles in 2019, plus Iggy Pop and ad-hoc picture frames (slightly obsessed by these), and New York’s White Columns, known as 112 Workshop in 1978. This is Comi Comi, 5 — Zone Tripper.

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Friction, a Japanese band with a long and complex history, understands the meaning of place better than most. It’s now early June; rainy season. The heavens have opened, wet one second then humid the next. Dumb, numb thunderstorms, goes the line from a Dylan Thomas poem that also lends Friction an album title. Words that sound like they come from all directions now point toward Kawasaki, an industrial city south of Tokyo. This is where the band mid-pandemic dares to perform when it seems unlikely, if not impossible. “Landscape affects you,” Bernard Sumner once wrote: LA gave us the Beach Boys, Düsseldorf gave us Kraftwerk and Manchester gave us Joy Division. With its strange mix of anxiety and excitement, Tokyo and Kawasaki now give us Friction.

Formed in 1978, Kawashima Akiyoshi (aka Яeck) and Chico Hige had just returned from New York submerged for a year in downtown’s ‘no wave’ scene. They hung around CBGB’s and TriBeCa’s Mudd Club, played with James Chance & The Contortions and formed an early version of Teenage Jesus and the Jerks with Lydia Lunch. Both came home convinced anyone could start their own scene. So they did. They called themselves Friction and held a string of shows with groups like Lizard, Mirrors, Mr.Kite, and S-Ken. Just like New York's no wave, the Tokyo Rockers scene was short-lived. Yet by the end of 1979 Friction had established itself as THE underground band of its day. Today its a two-piece, stripped to its bear essentials. Яeck is now joined by Tatsuya Nakamura on drums, once of The Stalin and Blankey Jet City. He even played with Bill Laswell, and John Zorn who appeared on Friction’s Replicant Walk (1989) later reissuing their follow-up, Zone Tripper, on his own Tzadik label.

The mood tonight at Kawasaki’s Club Citta dubbed “Indoor Survival’ is understandably mute. Yet despite the grid taped to the floor, there is still the odd person pushing their way through to the front. Яeck and Nakamura emerge with little fanfare and almost ignore the crowd. What comes next is a blistering 90 minutes that includes The Kinks’ ‘You Really Got Me’, more distorted and groove-based than ever. ‘Choke’ sluggishly repeats its title over and over again, while other songs stretch further backward; ‘100-nen’ (100 years) was originally produced in 1980 by Ryuichi Sakamoto. They culminate with back-to-back renditions of ‘The Heavy Cut’ then ‘Zone Tripper’ from the album of the same name; this is when the crowd finally erupts. The band barely say a word, save for Яeck asking how they sound as both laugh at each other. It’s a joy to watch. People scream “Яeeeeck” from the back of the room as he taps on effect pedals, rubbing the bass across his belly in search of more noise. Two encores ensue; the first very quickly, the second less so – this audience is reluctant to let them leave.

The night that almost never happened becomes a night to remember. Back stage, depleted and drenched in sweat, Яeck greets well-wishers with open arms, explaining he’d retuned his bass from 440 to 444 Hz “to boost the listener’s immunity”. All of this predates an impending, spectators-less Olympics, taking place during something much more serious. Despite the mood and stupid weather, Friction for one night only took all this negative space and joyfully gave it back to anyone who cared to listen.

The Wire #450: On Location (Aug. 2021)


Addendum

Alan Vega, Suicide: “We didn’t want to entertain people, we wanted to throw the meanness and nastiness of the street right back at the audience. If we sent them all running for the streets, that was considered a good show.”

Scott B (Billingsley), filmmaker: “You couldn’t sound like these bands if you knew how to play. You couldn’t make one of these films if you knew how. That’s the thing that was really unique—these things were done by people who were sophisticated intentionally but their knowledge of technique was primitive. What made it so exciting was the contradiction and the friction between those things” 1

An excerpt from Hideaki Tsushima’s documentary Tokyo Rockers (1979)

Underground GIG Tokyo 1978-1987: Action Portrait by Gin SATOH is available here

Parergon: Japanese Art of the 1980s and 1990s
Curated by Mika Yoshitake

Blum & Poe, Los Angeles
February 14 – May 18, 2019

Ad-hoc photo frames
More framing!! —Yamataka Eye & Gin Satoh at Parergon: Japanese Art of the 1980s and 1990s, Blum & Poe, Los Angeles | Photo: Tomoya Kumagai
It’s those frames again, wow!!! — Gin Satoh at Parergon: Japanese Art of the 1980s and 1990s, Blum & Poe, Los Angeles | Photo: Tomoya Kumagai

Looking to Britain, Germany, or even New York for answers seems pointless when the period from 1977 to 1979 affected each and every place in profoundly different ways; Some blunt with others elusive. The press release for Toshio Sasaki’s exhibition at 112 Workshop/112 Greene Street (later White Columns) perfectly in 1978 summed up the mood that year: “The installation will include a monumental sculpture of a boat imbedded in a concrete wall, as well as two smaller ‘steel houses’ and a video piece for monitors.” At the end of their Tokyo Rockers interview Friction are told “it’s because of punk, right?” Яeck hesitates as if everything he just said had been completely misunderstood. “It ain’t punk.” It’s not? “I don’t know,” he shrugs. It’s not important.

Thanks for reading. More to follow.

S.

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Past issues:

Comi Comi, 4. Wish you were here
Comi Comi, 3. Nerves and New Skin
Comi Comi, 2. Positive entropy
Comi Comi, 1. Burn it Down, Build it Up

1

Marc Masters, “NO!: The Origins of No Wave,” in Pitchfork, Jan 15, 2008. Available at: https://pitchfork.com/features/article/6764-no-the-origins-of-no-wave/