Our regular readers know by now that Japan produces way more than its fair share of weird music — so much so that some of the weirdest stuff remains virtually unknown to Anglo audiences. That’s certainly the case with the recorded works of punk singer, poet, novelist and cat-lover Kō Machida. When our good friend the mysterious Interweb Megalink sends us something and is like, “I don’t even know what the hell this is” — which is how we got introduced to Machida’s 1986 masterpiece, Doterai Yatsura — we are way off the outer fringes of the Roman alphabet internet.
Machida, whose real name is also sometimes transliterated as Kou Machida, got his start in 1978 in a punk band called Inu, which is a Japanese word for “Dog.” They released one album before breaking up about three years later, a fun but not particularly weird set of herky-jerky, Clash-like rave-ups called Meshi Kuuna!, which translates to something like, “Don’t Eat!” There’s also apparently a second album released after they broke up called Ushiwakamaru Nametottara Dotsuitaru Zo, but I haven’t been able to track down any of the music.
In fact, most of Machida’s catalog remains offline, or at least unfindable unless you’re able to search for it using Japanese characters. But his first solo album, 1986’s Doterai Yatsura (sometimes called Wild and Crazy Guys, though I can’t tell whether that’s an English translation of the Japanese title, or just based on the fact that cassette versions of the album said “Wild and Crazy Guys” in English on the cover), is a cult classic that’s been uploaded to YouTube in various forms over the years. I hardly ever post full album streams on this site because I know you’re all busy people with short attention spans, but I have to share all 36 minutes of Doterai Yatsura because it’s amazing.
Great, right? You can still hear Machida’s roots in angsty post-punk but he’s also experimenting with tape loops and analog synths, and it sounds like he’s drawing from No Wave, industrial, early video game music and maybe the noise experiments of The Residents and Hanatarash, Yamataka Eye’s notorious pre-Boredoms noise-rock group. There are bagpipes and harmonicas and tribal percussion freakouts (Cromagnon might be another influence) and weird spoken-word passages and looped sex noises. It’s surprising and disorienting in the best possible way — maybe less so if you’re fluent in Japanese, although Machida is apparently known for playing with language in ways can be cryptic even to native speakers and often impossible to translate. (One song title on Doterai Yatsura, for example, is usually translated as “Primitive Hitman” but more literally means “A Man Who Killed a Parakeet That Hit a Conga Drum”.)
Doterai Yatsura is all the more remarkable because as far as I’ve been able to tell, Machida never really recorded anything else like it. This track from his next release, a 1987 EP called Hona, Donaisee Iune, still has highly eccentric vocals, but musically it’s downright accessible compared to his previous work:
And I’m pretty sure this is a track from a 1992 album called Harafuri, credited to Machizo Machida and Kitazamagumi, which I believe was the name of his band at the time:
More recently, Machida appears to have morphed into a sort of Bowie/Bryan Ferry art-rocker; at least that’s certainly the vibe he’s channeling in this clip:
But these days, Machida is more famous in Japan as a novelist. His 2004 novel Punk Samurai Slash Down, set in Edo-era Japan but sprinkled with anachronistic language and modern cultural references, was recently adapted into a feature film that I hope will be coming to our shores soon because it appears to feature monkey warriors and big dance numbers and samurai armies battling to the strains of “Anarchy in the U.K.” Speaking of films, Machida has also starred in a few himself — most famously, a 1995 film called Endless Waltz in which he played a free jazz saxophonist. So yeah, he’s a true Renaissance man. And did I mention that he also loves cats?