Translated by Cayce
The five members met and they formed a band together so that each of them could get out of the boredom.
This was a small first step toward their dreams to come true.
Every morning at 7:30 AM, Higuchi Yutaka got on the Hachikou line at Takasaki to commute to class at Fujioka High School. His first class started at 8:50 AM, so he had more than enough time, but the next train came late enough that if he got on that one, he’d be late every day. So he took the early train, but he arrived at Fujioka at 8:05 AM. He always killed the extra morning hour hanging around the tobacco shop in front of the station.
It was the fall of his first year of high school. He’d been invited to the tobacco shop by Kiyomizu, a boy one year his senior who he rode on the train with, who said, “Lots of cool guys hang out there, so why don’t you come by sometime?” Higuchi was an outgoing underclassman of whom the second and third year students were very fond. He often hung out in their classrooms during breaks in the school day. The tobacco shop in front of Fujioka Station was where the high school students in their blue blazers and dark red neckties always whiled away the time before class in the mornings. After being invited there by Kiyomizu, Higuchi went to the tobacco shop almost every morning.
“He’s laconic and difficult, and you never know what he’s thinking.”
Higuchi’s first impression of upperclassman Imai Hisashi, who was one year ahead of him (and whose family owned the tobacco shop), was that he wasn’t very sociable. Higuchi was mostly attracted to the tobacco shop because of all the people who gathered there, and the music that was always playing.
It might have been called a parallelogram. In order for him to have a room of his own, Imai’s family had built a wall down the middle of a 10-tatami room in their house, forming an oddly-shaped four-mat room, which they gave to Imai. Friends of his had always been in and out since elementary school. Maybe it was because they ran a retail establishment, but Imai’s parents had never been the complaining type. They didn’t care if Imai invited all sorts of friends over. Rather, it had become a daily routine that every morning, a loudly chattering group of Imai’s friends would hang around, smoking cigarettes and drinking canned coffee. Of course the shop sold tobacco, but it also sold manga, and anyway Imai had a large number of records in his room. The whole atmosphere said “feel free to come and chill!”
Yellow Magic Orchestra, Devo, the Sex Pistols, Discharge. Rather than mainstream music, Imai loved slightly offbeat bands with unique, individual sounds, who shone with their own light. Recently, the music he thought was the coolest was Yellow Magic Orchestra’s “Technopolis,” which he’d heard in a TV commercial his third year of junior high. YMO’s melodies went directly into your ears so you couldn’t forget them.
“This is so cool!” Imai thought. He was fascinated by a sound the like of which he’d never heard before.
Imai had never considered buying a record with his own money before, but he went out and bought that YMO record immediately. He also became interested in synthesizers, but the ones used by Sakamoto Ryuuichi were preposterously expensive. “I don’t need those,” he decided, and never longed to buy them. Instead, he focused on continuing to accumulate albums and cassettes that had a sound he liked, using money his parents gave him or money he earned working part-time.
In his first year of high school, Imai discovered the band RC Succession when he borrowed a cassette tape of their music from a friend. A little before that, RC Succession had released a popular single, so Imai knew vaguely who they were, but the tape he borrowed was their best-of collection, “EPLP,” and listening to this, Imai received a different revelation from the one he’d gotten listening to YMO.
“Hey, real people are doing this!”
The amusing Japanese lyrics written by Imawano Kiyoshirou, the unique vocal style - the whole fascinating thing that was the band: there was a guitarist, a bassist, a drummer…and the raw rock-n-roll sound inspired him.
“It must be fun to be in a band,” he thought.
Imai tentatively conveyed his idea to his friend Araki. Imai had known Araki since their fifth year of elementary school. Araki was an amiable kid, and the two had never even gotten in a fight. Even though Araki went off to a polytechnic high school, he still always came to visit Imai at his house. They’d known each other for five years, so they knew all of each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and they always had fun together.
When Imai said he was interested in starting a band, Araki said “I want to do it too” and immediately decided to join. He’d always been interesting in music, but more than that, he did the same thing every day and it never changed, and he couldn’t help but grow bored after a while. Imai had developed interest in starting a band after listening to RC Succession, but Araki was motivated by a different strong desire—a desire to escape his dull routine.
“It can be work, it can be play. And isn’t it the coolest thing ever?”
Even with just the two of them, they decided to form the band as an escape from boredom. Their dreams were only just taking shape, but they were moving to make them a reality.
When he entered Fujioka High School, Hoshino Hidehiko joined the football [soccer] club right away. He’d been pretty good at football since elementary school, and he couldn’t help enjoying the practices that other club members found arduous. There was even a small corner of his brain that kept thinking “I just want to keep playing football forever. Maybe I should even try to go pro.”
But even though he’d been an undefeated goalkeeper in elementary school and junior high, he had more trouble keeping up in high school.
“Is this my limit?” he wondered. Once he thought that, his ambitions regarding football quickly ebbed away. He quit the football club and joined the “going home club” - slang for the kids who weren't involved in any extracurricular activities. Going straight home after school was too boring, but Hoshino didn’t have the money to go out anywhere, either. He spent the afternoons of his first year of high school wandering around aimlessly, wishing that his classmates would come hang out at his house so that they could have fun every day.
Hoshino had been in the top class since he entered high school, and in second year, he was put into the same class as Higuchi. Hoshino’s first impression of Higuchi was, “He’s always stood out because he hangs around with upperclassmen, but he looks like a fun guy.”
Higuchi, for his part, only knew Hoshino as “that really tall guy,” but gregarious as ever, introduced himself and the two hit it off. Thanks to his brother, who was five years older than he was, Hoshino was constantly exposed to popular music like The Beatles and Kiss. But he’d been so obsessed with football he’d never really let the music draw him in. Even when he quit the football club, he spent his days meaninglessly without finding anything to devote himself to.
Then, as always, Higuchi invited Hoshino in on a plan.
“Hide, why don’t we start a band?”
“A band!?” Hoshino didn’t know what to say to such a sudden proposal. And he’d never even picked up a musical instrument in his life.
“Over at this upperclassman Imai’s house, there are some guys who are really into the idea of starting a band,” Higuchi said, and summarized what had happened so far.
“I’m going to play the bass.” Higuchi told Hoshino about how he had chosen which instrument he wanted to play.
“Um, well then…I’ll play guitar.” Now that Hoshino was thinking about bands, he vaguely liked the idea of playing guitar. If he thought back on it now, he couldn’t think of any clear reason why he’d picked guitar. It was just that when he pictured a band in his mind, he didn’t fit with the image of the vocalist…maybe he thought he could be cooler if he were doing his own thing over on the side, rather than standing right in the front.
But Higuchi didn’t want to introduce Hoshino to everyone as a potential guitarist.
“He’s tall, he stands out, and he’s good-looking, so he should be the vocalist,” Higuchi thought. Higuchi got his heart set on the idea, and asked Hoshino again if he’d like to do the band, even though Higuchi had never heard Hoshino sing anything.
Meanwhile, Imai remembered Sakurai Atsushi, a boy who’d been in his class first year who always sat by himself. He’d heard that Sakurai’s friends who he’d known since elementary school had all decided to get jobs instead of going to high school. So all through first year, none of Imai’s friends had ever talked to Sakurai, and they’d never ended up in common situations.
Since childhood, Sakurai had never found it easy to make friends—he was shy and introverted and he didn’t want to stand out. Even when he entered high school he never did anything to draw attention to himself. The only people he’d ever hung out with were his few friends from elementary school, so every day, from the moment he arrived at school in the morning to the moment he left at night, he often went without ever saying a word to anyone. Everyone knew him as “that scary guy who hangs out with the delinquent kids from other schools.” Sakurai knew most people probably thought he didn’t care at all about school, either, but he decided he’d just let them think that, without denying or affirming anything.
Cigarettes, motorcycles, fights, and “regent” hairdos—those things were Sakurai’s only love in those days, and he had a lot of fun hanging out with his bad-boy friends. He wanted to escape the dullness of life, even for a moment. Of course he couldn’t escape reality, but he wanted to, and he was even mad at himself that he couldn’t.
Even now, Sakurai and Imai still remember their first impressions of each other. Imai thought Sakurai was “a guy with a sharp gaze,” and Sakurai thought Imai was “a little strange.” When they first interacted with each other, all they thought was “this guy is totally different from me.” But for more than a year, no circumstances allowed them to get to know each other more fully, and their only connection remained the fact that they were classmates.
Then, in their third year, a horrible incident brought them close together at once. Sakurai’s gang of friends got into trouble with the law, and in the aftermath, Sakurai was given no choice but to part ways with them. Separated from his former friends, Sakurai’s connections outside the school had been severed in an instant.
Sakurai’s dull, boring days had just gotten even more boring and dull. He decided that a small attempt to make friends at school might be a little better than just spending every minute alone. And then one day, one of his new friends said, “Let’s go to Imai’s house!”
Sakurai knew Imai’s house was a place where lots of different students like to hang out. It was in the opposite direction from his own house, but he was interested to go, so he let his friend take him there.
In the cramped, 4-and-a-half-tatami room, cigarette smoke hung in the air as music played in the background. Imai, the owner of the room, was unperturbed by seeing a new face, and immediately welcomed Sakurai in. The people who hung out at Imai’s room had no specific affiliation with each other. Imai’s friends brought their friends, and there was a tacit understanding that it was okay if people came even if Imai didn’t know them—it was as if he were sponsoring a space for them all to hang out in. Sakurai probably thought he could easily slip into the situation unnoticed, even though this was a place where people were friendly and accepted him. He felt a little sad that a place like this had been here all along and he hadn’t known about it.
“Peace is nice, isn’t it?” he thought. Before, he’d always been making trouble and getting high on thrills, but the atmosphere in this room was very relaxed, and that wasn’t a bad thing, he found. Maybe it was that he felt comfortable there. From then on, he came to dearly love that room with its ever-present music and crowd of friends.
Even after Imai had decided to start a band with Araki, he was still unsure about where to actually begin. He was only a high school student, and he had no money. Only the more he thought about it, the more he wanted to start a band—it became the only thing he wanted to do, and his desire to do it kept growing until he had his heart completely set on it and he just had to do it.
Meanwhile, Araki was busy talking to people and searching for members. He thought that when he graduated from high school he would move to Tokyo and search for members, because he was sure he could find people in such a big place. He tried adapting ads for band members of the kind that commonly appeared in music magazines to suit his and Imai's intents and purposes. Higuchi, who was a year younger than Imai, spent a lot of time talking to his brother, who was five years older. Of course, that brother later became Yagami Toll. SPOTS, Yagami’s band at the time, were entering a contest, the prize of which was a record deal. They also played gigs at local live houses. Yagami stressed that if they wanted to do a band, the first thing they had to do was play live shows.
So they all went together to see BOØWY perform live at the local live house “Make-Up,” which has since closed. When Imai and co. heard rumors that BOØWY and Rogue, bands from Gunma Prefecture, had both moved their base of operations to Tokyo and had been making a splash in the live house circuit, they decided to go see it with their own eyes, to confirm that indeed, if they wanted to do a band, they had to play live shows, too.
The upshot of this outing was that Imai decided yes, they definitely had to do the band thing. In the summer of his third year of high school, Imai coaxed his parents into buying him a 29000-yen Stratocaster-type guitar through a mail-order service from a maker called Pressure. Even though Imai was right-handed, he chose a left-handed guitar. He had no reason for the choice other than that he thought that the left-handed one was easier to hold, but since there was no chord book on the market with left-handed guitar chords, he started out learning all the right-handed chords completely backwards.
“Since I started out learning them that way, it’s like I see guitar tablature in code—I just play it backwards right away. Since that was the way I learned how to do it, now I can just play the chords as soon as I see them written down.” He always talks about it like it’s easy, but really, he must be doing a very clever mirroring act in his head.
Somehow, everyone noticed that Imai wanted to start a band. He was always in his room, holding his wood-pattered guitar, learning chords. Araki declared that if he were going to be in a band, he wanted to be the vocalist. Now he thought that the idea of waiting until they graduated high school and could move to Tokyo to search for members was waiting too long, and anyway, the group that hung out in Imai’s room was beginning to develop interest in the band, too.
Higuchi, who had talked so much about bands with his older brother, asked the bassist of his brother’s band to teach him the instrument. He said he wanted to play bass so he’d be able to feel its heavy thud vibrating throughout his body. Hoshino, who had been dragged into the band plot by Higuchi, paid no attention to Higuchi’s desire for “Hide on vocal” and instead chose to play guitar.
“I know Imai already plays guitar but it’ll be fine if there are two guitarists,” he decided. Hoshino had never picked up a guitar before, but he felt okay about it because they were all beginners, and he didn’t change his mind about joining the band as a guitarist. “Having two guitarists is kind of a different setup,” he thought. Maybe he thought each guitarist would be able to show off his own individuality.
Sakurai Atsushi also began to show interest in the band. He’d heard about SPOTS from Higuchi, and he’d been going to live shows. Maybe he’d be able to play the music he was hearing himself. The possibility was now before his eyes. Bands were music—music that you weren’t just listening to. The reason why he’d been getting into trouble was that he wanted some way to make himself noticed. Hidden behind his indifferent, introverted personality was a part that wanted to stick out and be noticed, and it was this part that couldn’t help getting excited on hearing the word “band.” He couldn’t help it, he wanted to join.
“If I do it, I guess I’ll be the drummer,” he thought.
From the time he was a child, he’d never hated listening to music. Sakurai loved beautiful melodies that he felt got stuck in his heart, and he felt the same way about rhythms. When he listened to music, before he knew it he always ended up pounding the rhythm with his hands or tapping it with his feet. Of all the instruments he’d heard, the drum rhythms always penetrated furthest into his ears and his body, much more so than guitar phrases.
It was the winter of Imai, Sakurai, and Araki’s third year of high school, and their graduation was looming before them. Everyone was clear that they wanted to start the band, but they hadn’t actually done anything for real yet. Imai and Hoshino both had guitars now and with chord books and finger picking practice, they began to master playing them. Sakurai bought an old, beat-up drum set off a friend for 30000 yen. However, when he went to practice the drums in his four-and-a-half-tatami room, his father yelled at him to shut up, in that instant reducing his drum set to nothing more than furniture. So instead, Sakurai got Yagami Toll to let him practice drums at his house. He watched Yagami practice drums and learned from him, and he paid special attention to observing drum form when he went to live shows.
There hadn’t yet been a moment for the five of them to decide “Okay, we’re officially starting the band today.” They were just trying to alleviate their everyday boredom. But then when such a moment came, it turned out to be very simple. They all felt the same way, so there was nothing to worry about. All it took was one word from Sakurai Atsushi to confirm the way they all felt.
“Anyway, let’s just start the band!”
There was no way any of them could say no. That was in March of 1984.
“If we’re going to officially start the band…” Imai thought, “We have to decide on a name.” He thought it would be really cool to have a name with kanji in it. Also a name that would make other people angry would be good. And a name that people wouldn’t forget after hearing once…he’d written down scores of names all over a white sheet of paper. The other four members had great respect for Imai’s sensibility (his roomful of records, his playing a left-hand guitar although he was right-handed) so whatever name he picked, they would have no disagreement. But they were a little surprised with the band name he finally wrote down on the paper.
“Wow,” they all thought, smiling bitterly. “It’s a name just as weird as Imai.”
When the three of them graduated from high school, Imai and Araki moved to Tokyo to go to vocational school, and Sakurai remained in Gunma and got a full-time job at a company that made bicycle parts. For Imai and Araki, “vocational school” was just an excuse to go to Tokyo, because they got allowances from their parents even if they only pretended to go to class. Sakurai wanted to move to Tokyo, too, but he knew his father wouldn’t like it, and would take it out on his mother if he left. Unlike the others, he couldn’t think exclusively of his own needs.
Higuchi and Hoshino were still in high school, so Imai and Araki had to come home on the weekends so that Hinan GO-GO could practice. In order to use their limited time in the practice studio as wisely as possible, they focused as hard as they could during their practice sessions. Since all five of them were beginners, they started by playing covers of songs by other bands as accurately as they could.
Less than a month after they had formed the band, they planned their first live appearance. They concentrated on being able to play at least one song perfectly. Perhaps they were simply fearless, or perhaps they thought there was no middle ground. But in any case, they were full of the idea that this would be a real first step for the five of them as Hinan GO-GO.
Many amateur bands participated in the Shinseido “Little Rock” event. All the other bands seemed to be playing BOØWY and Mods covers, but Imai didn’t think any of them were particularly impressive.
“They’re all the same, and that’s so boring,” he thought. “Why are they all just copying each other?” Imai thought Hinan GO-GO was the coolest band there. They chose to cover a song by The Stalin first because it was easy to play, but also because they were sure no one else would cover Stalin songs, and they were attracted to how The Stalin were such an individualistic and radical factor in the Japanese punk movement. As they played “Romantist” and two other songs, they were completely wrapped up in their first live performance, but not so much that they failed to notice that without a doubt, the band had become the most important thing to all of them. They recklessly raced through their set, and it was over before they knew it, but even so, it was a live they’d never forget. The day before the graduation ceremony, Imai thought “Maybe I’ll dye my hair a little bit,” and went totally blonde. When he looked in the mirror, he exclaimed “Cool!” without thinking. Along with the start of the band, he felt he’d now achieved freedom unhindered by school. Sakurai was very fond of his hair, as well, which he’d gotten dyed brown at the hair stylist’s during winter break his third year of high school.
With the start of the band, the five of them felt that they’d started new lives for themselves, separate from work or school, and they loved it so much it was almost like they had a superiority complex. They’d played their first gig as a live band. To them, even relocating to Tokyo was just one step towards an almost preposterously large dream. They would reinvent themselves. Now, the band was more important than anything. They’d started the band, they’d played their first live event, and to them, it had been a little like a contest. They’d made a new development—“We don’t want to do the same thing as everyone else.”
That was when they started to write their own songs. Their first ever original song was an 8-beat written by Hoshino entitled “Freaks.” It was the birth of their authenticity.
After the band had been going for 3 months, Imai began to write a song, too. He called it “PLASTIC SYNDROME I,” using the story “The Ship’s Sailor” from an anime called “Andersen Stories” as inspiration. It was his first-ever love song, but he didn’t want to write a typical love song, so instead, he wrote it as a twisted story about a man with a complex. Imai was a little embarrassed when he first presented the song to the other members, but they reacted well, saying “Wow, that’s cool!”
They don’t perform “PLASTIC SYNDROME I” live anymore, but after Imai first wrote it, they decided that from then on they would only ever play original songs, and they decided to change the band’s name from “Hinan GO-GO” to something else, to fit their new direction.
They wanted to find a name that would spell “impact” in one word, and would be hard to forget. Imai thought of one. He wrote it “Buck-Tick,” but pronounced it “bakuchiku,” meaning “firecracker.” In the summer of 1984, the new band was born.