Japan has a long and fertile tradition in the area of psych-tinged experimentation, from the explosive jams of Acid Mothers Temple to enthralling sludge of Bo Ningen, and Boredoms’ experimental noise iterations.
But scratch a little deeper and you’ll find that there’s a fearsome swathe of contemporary artists right across Asia that are busy expanding on this heritage with hallucinatory class. Conceived by the members of cosmic Japanese dream merchants Kikagaku Moyo, the record label GURUGURU BRAIN was brought to fruition to recognise the supersonic efforts of musicians from across Asia who flirt around the edges of psychedelia.
2014’s Guruguru Brain Wash compilation was the label’s manifesto, and shows how deep and varied the cosmic exploration goes. Suitably impressed by their stated aim that, “as label heads and musicians we’re interested in the unique cultures that spring up around music in each country”, Liverpool International Festival Of Psychedelia invited the team behind Guruguru Brain to present a cross-section of this buzzing Asian underground at this year’s festival. The result is Narrow Road To The Deep Mind – consisting of live performances from four Guruguru Brain artists (profiled below) – which invites you to step inside this world and be transported to the far side of the globe.
Will Lloyd speaks to one of the label’s chief Brains Go Kurosawa to find out a little more.
Bido Lito!: How would you describe what Guruguru Brain does as a label, to someone who has never heard about it before?
Go Kurosawa: So we, the label, are based in Tokyo and are focusing on finding and releasing [artists from] the Asian music scene. We don’t really care about genre, what we care about is region. For the whole of Asia, we want to surprise the main market, which is Europe, the US and the whole world because we have hidden, good artists still undiscovered and waiting to be heard.
BL!: That brings me nicely onto my next question: how do you actually go about finding and unearthing those hidden gems from across the continent?
GK: Since we’re based in Tokyo right now, for bands in Japan I go to see them and meet them to talk about concepts etc. For other Asian countries it’s more difficult. But we still hear from [other places like] France, for example, and we’re always constantly online looking and trying to discover what’s out there.
It’s an advantage to be in Japan, but there are disadvantages too. Japan is really far away from some of the other Asian islands, and it’s not like Europe, where you can take a train or a bus [to another place] there. Also, we always have to ship to Europe, which is a key point financially because of shipping costs.
BL!: In terms of the artists that you’re looking for, what do you look for stylistically and visually?
GK: It’s kind of difficult to put it into words, but we like bands or artists who think their music is global, rather than just ‘we want to be big in Japan’ or ‘big in this country’. To be heard in Europe is like being two steps ahead [of the scene at home]. We want to find bands who think, ‘OK, the UK is on the same planet. It’s not impossible’. Those people tend to make music with more confidence.
BL!: Taking this idea of a ‘global sound’ forward then, what sort of things are indicative of that in bands that you watch or listen to? Do you imagine certain bands being played on European radio, or do you just sort of ‘know’?
GK: Both concepts are important. Plus, if we hear that the artists haven’t really been discovered or are maybe stagnant, or play loads but don’t really look outside their own country, we give them our ideas. We’ll say, ‘Let’s surprise other countries, people outside of this country.’ We put the path in front of the artist. It’s kind of difficult to define but when we hear, we know.
BL!: Do you feel there’s more of an appetite for those kinds of bands in the West?
GK: It totally depends on the band. Like with Nawksh or Prairie WWWW, they have a following and have already made careers in their own countries. But some bands, like Ramayana Soul and Scattered Purgatory – who we’ve released on tape – are from other countries like Indonesia and Taiwan. They, like most Japanese bands, are stuck in their scene and are not recognised in their countries.
BL!: It must be rewarding to take some of the smaller artists to those bigger stages abroad. Is that something that motivates you?
GK: Yeah, plus it’s great when we put something out and then you hear people starting to chit-chat about that band or other music scenes like, ‘So what’s the scene like in Karachi?’ or ‘What’s Jakarta got going on?’. Most have no idea, and so knowing that we’re playing a part in their discovery of new music scenes is really rewarding.
BL!: Are you hoping that your Narrow Road To The Deep Mind curation at Liverpool Psych Fest will be something that you can take back to Japan to show that supporting underground artists can and have been successful?
GK: Definitely. We want to be able to say, ‘We’ve already done this in Europe, so why not here too?’ Plus, some of the smaller bands that we’re bringing to Liverpool would never have thought about playing a festival with so many amazing bands from all over the world. I feel so glad that we can be part of such a great event.
BL!: Do you think it’s possible that Japan and Asia could one day come together and combine their efforts similarly to propel their own artists, big or small, into the world?
GK: Yeah I think so. Take events like Glastonbury or Coachella, for example. Both are huge festivals that can showcase acts from all around the world, but we don’t have any such kinds of festivals in Asia yet. If a label like us or our artists can gain more awareness then the scene becomes bigger, and then anything could happen. All it would take is for Europeans travelling to China or Indonesia to find themselves at a decent music festival and suddenly they’re discovering unknown local bands. That’s what I wish for one day, and I do believe that it will happen. Before us, no one in Asia had done anything like what we do. Labels mostly put out 70s reissues, and so weren’t contributing anything new to local scenes. We hope to be at the forefront of Japanese and Asian labels affecting a positive change, if we can.
BL!: Can this be the beginning of a much greater movement?
GK: Yes, and that’s why we’re so happy to be a part of it. Its name is the International Festival of Psychedelia. But until now it’s mainly had European bands, Western bands and American bands, but to be international you need to include Asia. You cannot forget about Asia, Africa and all other parts of the world. If you, the reader of this interview, are finding yourself bored or even just used to the European and American music that’s on offer – look to the other side of the world, where there are still tonnes of acts waiting to be discovered that could change your life or even make your mind explode. Please keep an eye on us, and thank you for supporting us.
Guruguru Brain present Narrow Road To The Deep Mind at Liverpool International Festival of Psychdelia on 23rd and 24th September.
Dreamy Japanese mind-wanderers who are also the chief Guruguru Brains. Glittered with soft vocal harmonies, warm sitar and biting fuzz, Kikagaku Moyo’s delicately executed kraut/folk songs take the listener on an unexpected sonic journey.
Born out of the vibrant Japanese psych explosion, Minami Deutsch’s pulsating, futurist krautrock whirls its way into the deeper recesses of your cortex. A spectacle of cyclical, crystalline guitar noise.
The project of an anonymous, masked experimental producer from Karachi, Pakistan. Imagine the analogue-worshipping experiments of Flying Lotus mixed with Eastern influences and genuinely daring songwriting and you’re close to the Nawksh experience.
An experimental folk band formed in Taipei, Taiwan. Their music combines poetry, folk, ambient and tribal elements, seeking inspiration from the might of nature. The four Ws in their name are not to be pronounced, serving as a pictogram for a waveform, as well as the imagery of grass billowing in the wind.