Translated by Cayce
Birth of the new BUCK-TICK.
A breakthrough from the indies scene to the major scene.
All that was around them seemed to start changing.
Imai was thinking that he would soon introduce the band to a man he thought could be the new vocalist. He didn’t want there to be a hole in their lineup by the time their December live at Shinjuku Jam, which was rapidly approaching, arrived. He wanted the live to mark a new start for Buck-Tick, but they couldn’t participate if they didn’t have a vocalist. The man he was thinking of was two years younger than the other members of Buck-Tick, and had been the vocalist of a post-punk band with good beats. He had been Imai’s acquaintance for quite a while, and because he was tall and good-looking, Imai thought he would be perfect to round out Buck-Tick’s visual impact. He was always thinking about showing off how cool he was on stage, and he was always so conscious of his identity as a vocalist that he’d even bought a microphone stand to hold and rehearse with at home in front of his mirror.
But then Imai got a call from Higuchi, who said, “It looks like Sakurai wants to be the vocalist.”
“But…” Imai protested.
To be honest, Imai couldn’t just agree. He already had someone who wanted to join the band, but he wasn’t sure if their prospective wanted in so badly he would even switch to being the drummer. Also, Imai had never heard Sakurai sing before.
Eventually, the band had a meeting to decide the new vocalist. Imai told the rest of the band that there was a man he knew who wanted to fill the role. However, Sakurai’s desire to become vocalist was much stronger than Imai had thought. Sakurai had never up to that point said that he wanted to do something for himself, or displayed any personal ambition, but again and again, he entreated the band, saying, “I’m serious, I really want to be the vocalist. I definitely should be. I’m better than this guy Imai is pushing for.”
Sakurai had never met the other man or heard his voice, but he would never forgive Imai if the other man became vocalist in spite of Sakurai’s earnest wishes. There was no one who wanted to be vocalist more than Sakurai did. He believed this without a doubt.
“If Sakurai wants to do it that badly…” Imai found his own resolve was weakening in the face of Sakurai’s enthusiasm. But if Sakurai switched to being vocalist, what would they do for a drummer? They didn’t have enough time left to search for one.
“I think my brother would be willing to be drummer,” Higuchi said, mentioning that his brother’s band had broken up. Everyone knew that Yagami Toll would be a powerful drummer for them to have. Also, Yagami had told them that he wasn’t doing anything in Gunma.
“Yagami Toll is the only drummer possible for the new Buck-Tick.” All four members felt the same way.
However, Higuchi knew that after the breakup of S.P., his brother hadn’t made any move to continue being in bands. But first, they would phone him. Higuchi contacted his brother in Gunma that night.
Yagami’s answer was that although he didn’t lack interest in Buck-Tick, he’d lost all his drive to make music in a band and try to go pro. “I just want to make music as a hobby,” he said. He was very determined about this, but Higuchi didn’t give up. He decided to hang up and let his brother decide if he was really sure about it all, and after a few days, call him back and try to persuade him. The band members really wanted Yagami as a drummer. How much would he regret it later if he just kept hiding out in Gunma without trying to realize his dreams? He wouldn’t know if he hated Tokyo until he tried living there. Still without giving Buck-Tick a definitive answer, Toll allowed himself to be dragged to Tokyo, even though it was half against his will.
Yagami had many concerns, especially because S.P. had never played any gigs in Tokyo, so it was an unknown field for him. Also, he wondered if he would feel satisfied drumming for a band that was, in his eyes, still young and working on their technique. He had no confidence. It was so soon after he’d lost his own band, and the hole pierced in his heart by that loss would take some time to fill in.
The next morning, Higuchi got on the first train on the Takasaki line and headed out to his parents’ house in Gunma. When he arrived, he haphazardly packed his older brother’s possessions into a large bag, and forcefully dragged him back to Tokyo. During the two hour train ride, Higuchi tried to convince his brother, and his brother listened intently. As he watched the scenery roll by outside the window, Yagami slowly began thinking about things.
“I’m still really nervous about this, but maybe I should do it anyway,” he thought. As he gave in to his brother’s earnest persuasions, he smiled sadly in his heart.
In November 1985, the new Buck-Tick was born. Vocals: Sakurai Atsushi. Drums: Yagami Toll. They soon started rehearsals with the new positions. In December, they would play live at Shinjuku Jam. Everyone worked their hardest. This live would be a fresh start for Buck-Tick and they didn’t want to have any regrets from not practicing enough.
On the day of the live, Sakurai sang so hard that he lost his voice, and only moved as much as the stage. He couldn’t think about style, he had his hands full just performing. Yagami broke multiple drum sticks, drumming to his outer limits. Higuchi almost broke his bass strings. Hoshino and Imai played guitar in abandon. Buck-Tick’s “fresh start live” only last 30 or 40 minutes, but the members would never forget it. Yagami thought, “I really had to do it after all, didn’t I.” Imai began to feel like the band had always had this lineup. “Now, I can start to change the person I’ve been up till now,” Sakurai thought, and bade goodbye to his former self. Higuchi wanted to do more lives than ever before, and Hoshino celebrated the band’s new birthday from his heart. Soon, they would begin a new year.
Buck-Tick continued their live activities through 1986 as Higuchi kept repeating like a mantra, “Let’s do more lives and increase our following.” But the band also held a meeting to discuss whether they couldn’t increase their following more quickly and easily than they would on the live circuit by advertising more.
They were thinking about how in March, they’d appeared in the “Newcomer Introduction” column of the indies magazine Doll (number 32), and afterwards their tickets had sold much more rapidly. Even though it was just a tiny column, people had read it and been interested, and had come to see their lives. This was a new discovery for the five members, who up until then had only sought to increase their following by increasing the number of shows they played.
“Why don’t we make a self-produced record?” someone suggested. Maybe they couldn’t release anything on a pre-existing label, but making their own label could be fun. Also, the number of record shops selling indie records was increasing. The members had as yet no release schedule and no idea where the release would be, but they were sure they would do it someday, so they decided to make a master tape. Thanks to a connection Yagami had with someone he’d been in a contest with in the days of S.P., they were able to record for the reasonable price of 100,000 yen. It was 20,000 yen per person, which was a price they could manage.
At the Yamaha Hiyoshi Center Studio in Hiyoshi, the band recorded four songs. They picked only songs that were popular at lives that they also liked: “Plastic Syndrome Type II,” “To-Search,” “One Night Ballet,” and “Secret Reaction.” On the tape, they made sure to preserve the tough spirit that they displayed at lives—the recording was the same old Buck-Tick. They had no way of knowing that this music would come to be known by the world much sooner than they thought it would be.
It was July 1986 when the members met Sawaki Kazuo. Sawaki gave the overwhelming impression of being a right-wing, frighteningly radical man. His gaze was sharp, he had a shaved head, and strangely, he always wore a khaki military uniform. He told them he’d seen one of their lives at a live house called “Yaneura” [“Attic”] in Shibuya. He’d originally come to see one of the other bands playing opposite Buck-Tick, but Buck-Tick had excited his interest more. He’d immediately called the number listed on the leaflets being distributed at the live house, saying, “I want to meet the band members.” He was the president of Taiyo Records, and was also active in a band under the Hinomiya Music Society—all in all, his name was very well known in the indies scene. He had a strange talent that could have been called “clairvoyance.” In any case, his predictions very often came true.
He got his hands on a flyer that listed the five members’ names and birthdays, and told them, “You’ll definitely sell by next year. Make no mistake.”
How were the band members supposed to respond to this sudden pronouncement by a man whom they did not know and had never seen? Their response was, “What on earth is this guy saying?” Just because they’d been told “you’ll definitely sell,” didn’t mean they could believe in it. Still, they had no choice but to nod and agree.
At the band meeting a few days after they’d met Sawaki, he was all they could talk about. Now, before their eyes, there was a real chance for them to release the master tape they’d made in May as a real record on Taiyo Records. Also, Sawaki was interested in BUCK-TICK’s individualism and in their future prospects.
“We’ve got to do this,” the members all agreed.
Originally it was supposed to be released on September 21st, but the date was pushed back by a month, and Buck-Tick’s first record was released on October 21st instead. This time, it was a single with “To-Search” on the A-side, coupling with “Plastic Syndrome Type II” on the B-side. The day after their record release, Buck-Tick played a celebratory gig at their dream venue, Shinjuku Loft. For anyone playing in a band, playing a live at Loft carried the honor of real acknowledgment in the music community. Buck-Tick couldn’t help but be overjoyed to perform there.
Their single made it to number 6 on that year’s indies charts, and thanks to the release and to the live at Loft, Buck-Tick’s following began to increase with a speed they’d never seen before. They became known by a wide variety of people thanks to their singles, flyers, and lives. They played lives at Shibuya La Mama, ACB, Shinjuku Jam, Yaneura, and TAKE OFF 7. They did lives outside the city at halls in Takasaki and Maebashi. They performed at school festivals.
Then, in 1987, in the two weeks between January 21st and February 4th, they recorded their first album, “Hurry Up Mode,” at the same studio where they’d recorded their single. In 100 hours, they recorded 13 songs. Everyone stayed over at Sakurai’s house and slept only two or 3 hours before returning to the studio, and they continued this hard schedule for the entire two weeks.
When they had finished recording, they resumed their live activities. In March, they toured Kansai for the first time. It was exciting for them to play at venues where they’d never played before. A new movement was beginning. Even the members were realizing this. In just half a year, their environment had broadened out into a much wider world. This might very well continue with their album release. The five members believed it would.
The release of the album was scheduled for April 1st. It was not only released on vinyl, but as a CD as well. This was the first time that anyone in the indies scene had tried such a thing. In addition, Sawaki gave the members the news that they would be performing a live on the release date at the Toyoto Public Hall in Ikebukuro. The live was a showcase event featuring all the artists on Taiyo Records, but Buck-Tick was the main act.
Although Buck-Tick had gained many fans on the live house circuit, would they, as an indies band having never made a major debut, be able to attract a crowd of 1200 people? It remained to be seen. The band members always worked their hardest to do as much as well as they could. However, they weren’t confident that they could make this “hall live” at a venue they hadn’t chosen into a success. Bands with the same aspirations as they had had broken up one after another. Even Sawaki faced sneering comments such as “You’re crazy,” and “you’ll definitely fail.” There was no way they could succeed. There was no way anyone around them was thinking that this live at the Toyoto Public Hall would be a successful break for Buck-Tick.
It was Sawaki’s idea to use sticker tactics. The stickers had a simple design: they just said “BUCK-TICK PHENOMENON April 1st Toyoto Public Hall” in white letters on a black field. The band posted them indiscriminately everywhere and anywhere that young people spent time, in order to be as eye-catching as possible. They especially focused their attack on the Shibuya and Harajuku areas, where youth interested in music tended to gather in large numbers. They put the stickers on telephone poles, on pedestrian bridges, and in parks. Any place where it was possible to put stickers was plastered over with them.
Azami Shigeo and Ojima Hitoshi, who had acted as roadies for Buck-Tick since their high school days, went out at night in the band’s equipment truck and posted the stickers guerilla-style. At any rate, since they were essentially defacing public property, they had to make sure they weren’t caught by local police officers. One night, two or three staff members were out putting up stickers as usual. On their way home, just as one of them asked, “Where do you think we should go and put stickers next?” a police officer appeared in front of them. Like little spiders scattering, all the staff members except Ojima immediately ran away, leaving him behind.
At that time, stickers advertising “EP4” had just started appearing as well, so “public property damage by sticker posting” was coming to be seen as a rampant crime epidemic. In response to this, the police had been increasing their rounds, in hopes of catching one of the perpetrators red-handed. Ojima was now suspected of being guilty not only of the “BUCK-TICK PHENOMENON” stickers, but the stickers for many other bands as well.
In any case, there were over 3,000 “BUCK-TICK PHENOMENON” stickers, and they stood out. Because they bore such simple letters, they definitely attracted interest. What exactly was the “BUCK-TICK PHENOMENON”? People would find out when they went to Toyoto Public Hall on April 1st. That’s what everyone who saw the stickers must have been thinking.
Buck-Tick had sold 400 advance tickets. “We at least want to fill half the place,” the band thought morosely as ticket sales soon reached a peak. Still, they had no choice but to go through with it. The staff wanted to help the band as much as possible before the show. Of course, there were flyers, and also advertisements in indies music magazines. Sawaki himself mailed piles of announcements to record companies, gathering large groups of people, including directions and promotion staff, in order to etch the “phenomenon” of Buck-Tick’s first hall live into as many heads as possible.
It was April 1st. The response they were getting was already beginning to exceed the expectations of the staff and the band members. Around the Toyoto Public Hall, as the pre-show rehearsal started, people began to gather, and, in a stroke of luck beyond anyone’s wildest dreams, the band sold 400 same-day tickets. Usually, it was a big deal if they sold 20 or 30 same-day tickets, and this was 20 times that number. In the end, they didn’t sell out, but the whole ground floor of the hall was crowded with over 800 people, and in some of the seats were record label executives who had begun to take notice of the band’s existence. Though they were still contained by indies limitations, the band seemed to let off their own unique light, and shining in the midst of it, began to break their own boundaries.
Their first song was “Plastic Syndrome Type II,” just as they had recorded it for their album Hurry Up Mode. The band tried to play a live that was like a compendium of their previous performances. They tried to express the things that they thought were their most defining characteristics twice as much as they had before. Their compositions, their costumes, their style, their actions, their breathing, the crowd reaction—they made it their very best.
Through the hour-long live, the band members were thinking about the future of Buck-Tick. They had played a live in front of 800 people and succeeded, and they had to let their feelings about it sink in.
At the wrap party after the show at Shinjuku Loft, record label executives and important people of all kinds gathered together. The situation around the band members was changing with rapid speed, and the live at the Toyoto Public Hall was just the beginning of the introduction.