Sometime back in the early 90’s I was part of an email music discussion group called chugchanga. This was before way before blogs were around and also a good bit before discussion boards took off. Lots of well-informed and well-connected types used this list (for example Steve Albini would often pitch in) and it was a great way of finding out about new music that wasn’t necessarily being covered anywhere else. There was an Irish guy, who lived in Holland at the time (I’ve forgotten his name), who regularly contributed lengthy analyses of obscure and fascinating-sounding bands he had unearthed. One of these was Fushitsusha: a Japanese psych-rock trio who were led by an enigmatic character called Keiji Haino. They sounded like an incredible proposition. Not really a rock band in any conventional sense, they mixed together free improvisation with scorchingly heavy guitar noise to create something else, something that was, allegedly at least, beyond rock music.
At the time they only had two releases. Both of them were double live CDs, both were released on a Japanese label called PSF that had virtually no distribution outside Japan, and consequently both were impossible to find. There were of course no Soundcloud links to click on, no iTunes, no online audio of any kind, and so it was impossible to find out what they really sounded like, impossible to actually hear them. This didn’t stop me becoming a fan though. Based on the rabidly enthusiastic descriptions of their music that I encountered, I constructed it in my head anyway, and it loomed large in my imagination for some time before I eventually got my hands on one of their albums. I can’t recall now how that happened. It was either through a mail order operation such as Forced Exposure, or the result of a visit to a record shop like Rough Trade in London or Other Music in New York.
I can’t say it was a disappointment when I finally heard them, but I did struggle to reconcile what was coming out of the speakers with what I had imagined. Like a movie adaptation of a book you really like, it never seemed quite right somehow. I still bought more of their CDs, as by this stage they were becoming more prolific and their albums were easier to come by. Occasionally I would come home from a night out and crash out in a stupor on the sofa with Fushitsusha blaring on the headphones, thinking that now was the time that all would be revealed to me. Inevitably I would fall asleep during a quiet part and then be woken up 30 minutes later, terrified, by Haino’s tortured screaming in my right ear. This didn’t help.
A few years later, in 2001, Keiji Haino played in Dublin. By this stage he had disbanded Fushitsusha but was still releasing a bewildering stream of albums, some solo, some collaborations with other figures from the world of experimental music. Some of them were not unlike the phenomenal guitar explorations that Fushitsusha were famed for, but many were completely different – voice improvisation, weird Japanese folk, and even an album of (I kid you not) hurdy-gurdy music. He was booked to do a three-night stand in the Project Arts Centre with the idea being that something completely different would be going on each evening. The first night was to consist entirely of a solo percussion performance. The second was to be a trio formed by Haino on guitar, local lad Paul G. Smyth on piano, and English improviser Barry Guy on bass. The third night was to be a collaboration between Haino and a local traditional musician on uileann pipes (whose name I have also forgotten). I bought tickets for all three nights but only really expected the improv trio to deliver anything like what I wanted. As it happens the one I was looking forward to the least, the solo percussion one, turned out to be completely mesmerising, while the others (though not without their moments) again fell short of what I imagined Haino to be capable of.
Soon after that, distracted by other things, I lost track of what he was doing. My Haino Cds got relegated to the boxes up in the attic, the 2nd division of stuff that I never get around to listening to and don’t have the space for downstairs. However, earlier this year I heard a rumour that he had started playing with Fushitsusha again, and sure enough there quickly followed an announcement that they were playing at a festival in England, and then that was followed by news of an October gig in Dublin. The gig happened last week and the photo above is 9 minutes and 29 seconds of it. It was phenomenal. A friend of mine once said to me, in reference to Casper Brotzmann (another fairly intense and heavy guitar improv type), that his stuff sounded like a city exploding. This is a pretty apt description of Haino’s sound too. I found myself thinking that this is obviously what an electric guitar is supposed to sound like, and that everyone else prior to this has been doing something fundamentally wrong, stumbling about and not quite grasping how to use the bloody thing properly. Sometime soon when I have a day off I am going to venture onto the attic, dig out all the Haino/Fushitsusha albums I own, and then listen to them all in sequence – very loud. I think I’m finally ready.