Monday, December 28, 2015

Rest In Peace Lemmy Kilmister

It has been a really tough year.

I just found out about the passing of Ian Fraser Kilmister (affectionately known as Lemmy) a half hour ago. I spent half of the day making arrangements to see my grandfather, who is also on his way out, only to cap off my day with this news. In a lot of ways the stories are the same. People with a profound impact on my life, people who got to lead great lives themselves, and whose ending is something that I've been expecting for a little bit. It hasn't been an easy day.

I know that anytime these high profile deaths happen, people say "what does it matter to you? You didn't actually know them. You never met them." What's the point of music then? What's the point of going to shows? What's the point of any of this? Lemmy wasn't a guy I got to share a cigarette with ever, but that doesn't mean his existence didn't impact countless lives. His charisma, his personality, his music, the way he dressed, the way his voice sounded are all things we gravitated toward and wanted to be. I used to joke that I was smoking a pack a day because I wanted my voice to sound like Lemmy's. His existence mattered to me and his death matters to me and to you and to everyone else because the impacts he made mattered. We talk a lot about things like 'influence', 'heroes', and 'legends'. In the subculture, that begins and ends with Motorhead and Lemmy. There is an alpha and omega and it's him. It was, it is, and it ever shall be. There are benchmarks for how to live in this subculture and he laid a lot of them out for us. He taught us how to carry ourselves like made men doing what we wanted on our terms. He was a larger than life personality. He lived sex, drugs, and rock and roll the way it should be. He wasn't the braggart that the Rolling Stones or Led Zeppelin were about it. Lemmy's world was his and his friends'. What went on in it belonged to them, never for the outsiders. Partying like there's no tomorrow is not G7 on the jukebox. It isn't something you parlay into a role in Pirates of the Caribbean. It is something that you use toward personal exorcism, only sharing it with a select group of people who understand why you do it. That was how Lemmy lived. That's what Motorhead was about. That is what punk music is about. It isn't for everyone and it is self-destructive. He got it. He made it. To the initiated ones, "Lemmy is God" isn't just a quote from the movie Airheads, it's the honest truth.

I really don't know what to say about Lemmy that hasn't already been said or won't be said in the coming days. I once heard someone say during a eulogy that "there aren't enough words worthy enough to measure the departed person's impact and value". As a writer I like to pride myself on being able to find the words for any situation and circumstance. How do you sum up Lemmy? You can't. There aren't enough words worthy enough to measure his impact and value. I've been writing this whole time and I haven't said anything that really measures what Lemmy meant to this whole subculture. He influenced countless bands. An entire galaxy of them. All of them wanted to be like him and Motorhead. Everyone from Metallica to Inepsy. Imagine a world without Motorhead and I'll show you a world without punk music. It doesn't happen without them. 

In September, Lemmy infamously and sadly declared "I can't do it" onstage during a performance because his body couldn't physically handle the strain from playing anymore. We knew the end was coming then. Studies have shown that when a man's wife dies, he typically doesn't last much longer after. A lot of factors are attributed to this, but the major one is simply the man just loses the will to go on. Lemmy's first love in life was music. While he didn't give it up exactly, it wasn't the same. His body had finally betrayed him and quit at 69 years old. Three months later, he was gone.

I'm sitting here and I'm struggling with the death of a 70 year old British man I never met. That sounds really stupid, doesn't it? For a lot of us, a lot of you who read this, and for a lot of you who know me, you understand that it's more than that. The small rooms we crowd into, the bad decisions we make, the friends we keep, the way we dress... it is all more than that. Lemmy Kilmister wasn't another rocker. He wasn't another musician. He's the guy who helped build all of this. He's the one that showed us the way. A lot of people say "Lemmy is God" because Steve Buscemi said it in a movie once. Most of them will never really understand what that truly means. Lemmy is gone, but he will never die because gods don't die.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Merch: Weird Luke's Mutopia Toys

Weird Luke is a bit of a subculture treasure. If you've been to a New York City punk show in the last few years there's no doubt you've seen him around. Topped by a bright red mohawk, Weird Luke is dressed like a warlord from Mad Max. In addition to being a mainstay of the New York punk scene, Weird Luke has made a name for himself with his handcrafted resin figurines. His collection has quietly become one of the most unique and impressive things in today's subculture. Based out of the Brooklyn neighborhood Gowanus, Luke has built a brand (and a band, GMK AKA Gowanus Mutant Kommandos) out of the area's notoriety for potentially being radioactive.

Mutopia Toys has become something that some of the best bands in hardcore punk have worked with in recent years. Bands like Crazy Spirit, Perdition, Hoax, Hank Wood and the Hammerheads, Kromosom and many more have worked with Mutopia. In essence, Luke brings forth a creature representative of that band's aesthetic or vision. The results are always something that invokes intrigue. In addition to bands, Mutopia Toys has done collaborations with Pork Magazine, Death Traitors, and even a special drop with Mishka for the New York City Comic Convention. Lastly, Mutopia has their own Mutant Kommando / NukeTruppen series which are Weird Luke's personal creations of what happens when punks become radioactive mutants.

Because these are handmade (and if you've seen one of these in person, you'd understand how much detail is put into each one), not many are made. If you're not around New York or don't keep up with some circles, it is easy to overlook what Weird Luke / Mutopia is doing with his figures and miss out. It seems like now, more than ever, toys / figures are wildly popular. It is great to see someone within the punk scene putting out these kinds of figures by punks, for punks.

Something like Mutopia doesn't come along very often, if ever. This is especially true in a community like punk where certain limitations are not only expected, they're mandatory. To see Mutopia rise up and do what its doing on a front like toys is a marvel. When we think about the manufactured output of hardcore punk, we talk about music and records, merch and clothing, printed materials like zines, and all kinds of other things. Going into 2016, everything that can be made into merchandise likely is... except for toys. Weird Luke is holding it down for punk in an arena that rest of us have not really tried to lay claim to. That fact alone merits them mention. The fact that he excels at what he does is more reason for us to talk about it and for you to check them out.

Just some of the Gowanus Mutant Kommandos

An array of Luke's work including his pieces for Perdition and Crazy Spirit

Collaboration with Death Traitors

You can purchase some of these figures directly from Weird Luke at the link below. You can also find some of his figures available online at Katorga Works, Dripper World, and other locations.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015


I want to preface this with a few things. First of all, this is my first time writing anything in depth since I was still in school, about 15 years ago, and its terrifying. Secondly, there are people out there that could write an encyclopedia on X-Japan, and I am not one of them. There is so much information out there about them, and so much documentation of every little thing that they did, from every song at every gig ever played, to the exact guitar Hide or Pata used at each gig and so much more. Anything that I could write will not be as thorough as others could write, but I hope to touch on a few things that many of these X-fanatics tend to overlook. Not because of their lack of knowledge about the band, but because most of them don't come from a hardcore punk background. There are a few other punks in America that have been into this stuff way longer than me, have much more impressive collections, knowledge of bands, and general knowledge of the whole scene. I'm not claiming to be a pro on any of this. Just a fan wanting to share some of the reasons all this stuff became so interesting to me. I think its actually amazing music and would hope to turn a few people on to listening to X and some similar bands. People like Thomas, Caiazzo, Tommy and many more were jamming this stuff way before I ever took the time to look into it, and I just wanted to give respect where its due.

A quick biography of the band...Drummer and founder Yoshiki started playing music at a very young age. He was a classically trained piano player and began music theory lessons at the age of four. After discovering Kiss and other American hard rock bands, he decided to switch to drums. His father committed suicide, something that he witnessed, and he stated that event in his life lead him to want to play fast and aggressive music, which fueled many records to come. He started his first band, Dynamite, in 1977 alongside future X singer Toshi. Dynamite would eventually change its name to Noise, and finally break up in 1982. That same year, Yoshiki and Toshi started X. They released two singles, 1985's "I'll Kill You", and 1986's "Orgasm".The latter is considered by many as one of the best Japanese metal records ever. After many inconsistent lineups, with the only stable members being Toshi and Yoshiki, they finally solidified the full band in 1987 with Toshi on vocals, Yohsiki on drums, Pata on guitar, Hide on guitar, and Taiji on bass. This lineup would begin to play out regularly, selling out many of Japan's larger live houses. This "indies era" is considered the best X era by many fans. The gigs were raw, energetic and they quickly became one of the biggest bands in Japan's underground scene. In August of '87, at a gig at the Kyoto Sports Valley (my favorite X show ever, the whole thing is on YouTube, go watch it now), they released their first VHS, a format that the band would continue to use throughout their career, and something that helped their sales immensely between album releases. 

A year later, in 1988, they would self-release their first full length album, Vanishing Vision, on drummer Yoshiki's own label, Extasy Records. The first press of 10,000 sold out within a week, and over time they would sell close to a million copies. A year later they signed to CBS/Sony and released their second album, Blue Blood. With the release of this record, they became one of the biggest bands in Japan, selling out massive venues and becoming huge celebrities in their country. They would release three more studio albums, a handful of VHS, and many CD singles before their initial break-up in 1997. The band sold out the 55,000 capacity Tokyo Dome eighteen times, making them one of the few acts to ever sell it out, alongside the Rolling Stones and Michael Jackson. After their 1997 split, they would take a ten year hiatus and reform in 2008, with Pata, Toshi and Yoshiki being the only members from the early days. A world tour and several international gigs would follow. The band is now planning to release its first studio album since 1996's Dahlia on March 12 of 2016, along with a massive gig at London's Wembley Stadium.

Not being Japanese, I can never fully understand the love (or hate) that millions of people have for this band. They were the biggest rock band in Asia for over a decade, and continue to play giant international shows, including recently selling out Madison Square Garden, a show that I was fortunate enough to attend. It's insane to me that a band can become so big, and so famous somewhere in the world, and be virtually unknown elsewhere. Everyone in the world knows Green Day, but ask anyone in the USA who X-Japan is and 9.9 times out 10 they will have no idea who you're talking about. Their fame in Japan is like something you would see in a movie. I recently saw a video of Yoshiki talking about how much he likes living in LA part time, because when he's in Japan he can't go into public without being mobbed by people. In the same interview he said he was talking with his friend, David Bowie, about how he deals with this and how hard it is. When they were recording their fourth album, The Art of Life, Yoshiki really wanted to record in a studio called One on One in Hollywood. He was told that the studio had the best drum sound in the world. This other band called Metallica had the studio booked for almost a year straight to record The Black Album and Yoshiki was pretty much laughed at for wanting to record there, being an unknown foreign artist in America. So he turned around and bought the studio and they recorded The Art of Life there. They were that kind of famous.

I first heard them when I was in high school. A friend of mine had a DVD of theirs and all we could talk about while we watched it was how big their hair was. I don't even remember what the songs were, or if I even liked what I heard. It's kind of a blur. I remember there being a piano, lots of blood, roses, and I was just shocked by how they looked (fitting considering their slogan, "Crime of Visual Shock"). For a few years, I had the name burned into my head, but never really gave them a listening chance. It wasn't until I went to Japan for the first time that I really started paying attention. My first trip there I was surprised that so many people I met listened to this band. And it seemed like everyone's house I went to had stacks of VHS, books, CD's, etc. I began looking into them and realized that the music really clicked with me. It was completely different than anything I was into at the time, but as soon as Blue Blood kicked in on my first listen, I was hooked. Right around the time I got back from that first trip, Thomas had just released a new issue of Evil Minded Zine with the whole issue dedicated to visual kei and Japanese metal. This became my bible for a bit. The whole world was new to me, and having accessible information via his zine really opened up the door for me to find some of the music that has become my favorite ever. I owe him a big thanks for that.

Something that really caught my attention in his zine was the mention of a band called L.O.X., which stands for Lip Cream, Orange, X. This was a crazy collision of worlds for me, and suddenly everything started to make sense. L.O.X. (originally called Masami and LOX) was a project band featuring Naoki from Lip Cream/The Comes on guitar, Yoshiki from X-Japan on drums, Act from Orange/S.K.V.(Sakevi of GISM's side project) on bass, and originally Masami from Ghoul on vocals. After Masami ended up in a coma in '89, they released an album entitled Shake Hand with different vocalists on each track. Among these singers were Toshi from X-Japan, Ishiya from Death Side/Forward, Butaman from Tetsu Arrei, and even Naoki from Lip Cream sings a song. There's also a live video with Tokurow from Bastard on vocals! There were a few other vocalists, but we'll keep it at these for the sake of this article. The album was released on CD and LP format and put out on the infamous S.E.X./Sunshine Sherbert label that also gave us the first Tetsu Arrei LP. When I first read this, I knew that I had to start digging deeper. Here was this band, X, that I was becoming obsessed with, and their members shared a project with some of the most legendary Japanese hardcore personnel ever. L.O.X. is kind of surrounded in mystery though. On the album, Yoshiki goes under an alias instead of his real name. Many believe because this was shortly after X had signed with a major label, and he was under contract to not release any material with another label. His face is even blurred out on the band photo. This always confused me though because Toshi is listed on the CD, and his picture is on there as well. Maybe Yoshiki was just being mysterious, or maybe he had some deal with ownership to the X rights that we don't know about it. Either way, the album is a ripper, its pretty easy to find and there's a few YouTube videos out there. There is some video of them performing with Masami very early on, but its hard to find.

Shortly after discovering L.O.X., on a hunt for more information relating X to the punk scene, I noticed that X drummer and founder Yoshiki ran the famous Extasy Records. While most of their releases were of up and coming bands tied to the visual kei scene, looking at the catalog I saw that the second release on the label was Poison's 1986 Mystery Temptation EP. For those that don't know, Poison (later called Poison Arts) was Chelsea's first band before Death Side. If you haven't heard it you need to, and I'd suggest starting with the flexi, this EP on Extasy, or the Kick Rock 12". Also on Extasy Records, in 1990 was an awesome band called Virus. While their music was more thrash metal, their bass player Noboru was in another band called Ogreish Organism, who had a ripping CD in 1993 on the legendary Selfish Records. Chelsea also played guitar on about half the songs on this CD (while the other half of the guitar tracks were done by Zigyaku from Bastard/Gudon). Also in this band was Minoru, bassist of The Comes/Lip Cream and more recently Color Rice Men and Eiefits. As you can see, both the metal and hardcore scenes were very intertwined at times. It makes sense, as some of these original Burning Spirits bands had such amazing guitar work, and definitely had a metallic feel from time to time. Speaking of Chelsea, in January of 1989, he, alongside Ishiya, Butaman, Baki from Gastunk, and a handful of others entered CBS Sony Roppongi Studio in Tokyo to sing back up vocals on X's first major label release, Blue Blood. The album would sell more than 700,000 copies initially, be certified gold, and spend more than 100 weeks in the Japan Oricon Top 100 charts. A year later is when L.O.X. would record their only album. The connection and friendship seemed to last through all the years when X was growing in popularity. Even on their Dahlia LP, which was their final studio album before their initial break up and a complete removal from their thrash/speed metal roots, as well as being certified gold selling more than half a million copies and topping the Japan charts for 15 weeks, they still thank Tetsu Arrei and Death Side on the album.

When I initially started looking for X's connections to punk, it seemed to be mostly through Yoshiki and Extasy Records. Talking with members of some of the original Burning Spirits bands, I learned that he was an old friend of a lot of those guys, and was involved in the punk scene in one way or another. Which makes sense after learning about all the stuff I've mentioned so far. I heard a couple stories about him from some of these older guys. One of which that Yoshiki's infamous hair, half spiked up/half long flowing locks, was just a mere mistake. He was on his way to a punk gig in Tokyo, and he was doing his hair (either on the way or before he left) and didn't have time finish it. He only got halfway through, and that look just stuck with him and became iconic. Its even become the silhouette of his Hello Kitty character, Yoshikitty. But I wondered if he was the only member of X that had connection to the punk scene and if he just invited his friends to sing backups on Blue Blood or where else a connection was made. Then I learned of the origins of Hide.

Although not an original member, Hide quickly became X's biggest celebrity. He joined on second guitar before the recording of their first full length, Vanishing Vision, and ended up being a major force of the band until they initially split in 1997. He also enjoyed more success as a solo artist, both at the same time and after X's split, than any other member. His fame was cut short in 1998 after his death, a questionable suicide or autoerotic asphyxiation gone bad. His death was dubbed the end of Japanese teenage rebellion by the press, and his funeral procession, which can be seen on YouTube, is comparable to something you would've seen for a king or someone of that importance. There were approximately 50,000 people in attendance at his funeral, and nearly 60 were hospitalized and close to 200 were treated on scene for self-inflicted injuries. The scene at the funeral was crazy with young fans literally throwing themselves over the barriers and onto the street, bashing their faces into the pavement as his hearse passed by them. There were also a string of copycat suicides. It was a national phenomenon when he died. It shocked the country and changed the face of pop culture in Japan forever. I'm telling you all this to illustrate just how big his celebrity was. I don't know who to compare him to in American popular music, because I can't think of a single mega-celebrity in America who had that much influence on culture, but also played on records with legends on the same level as Ghoul, Lip Cream and City Indian. 

This band is called Saver Tiger (originally called Saber Tiger and later known as Yokosuka Saver Tiger). This was Hide's first band, formed in 1981. They played a fair amount of live gigs and released an 8" flexi in 1985 (#1 want list item). The next year they contributed two tracks to the Devil Must Be Driven Out By Devil compilation from Hold Up records. The guitar playing on the record, especially the song "Dead Angle", has some serious Burning Spirits feel to it. In my opinion, these are some of the best Hide riffs ever. In 1987, Saver Tiger would break up and Hide would think to stop playing music all together. Shortly after this, Yoshiki asked him to join X and the rest is history. Although he didn't contribute too much songwriting to X's catalog (Yoshiki wrote about 98% of their material, guitar parts, lyrics, composure of songs, etc), a Saver Tiger song he wrote called "Sadistic Emotion" was taken for X, changed to "Sadistic Desire", and became a staple song in their set for almost their entire existence. Not to mention, a fan favorite, and my favorite X song hands down. His solo stuff was more rock than anything. It was experimental and it was the 90's, so almost anything went. He collaborated with numerous famous American musicians, was friends with Marilyn Manson, and lived in LA for a while. There is a retrospect CD of the Saver Tiger stuff, called The Origin of Hide that you should be able to find online rather easily. Side note- (Two other members of Saver Tiger went on to join the band D'erlanger, who are worth a mention. Their demo tape, Birth of the Splendid Beast, is one of my top 3 Japanese metal demos, and their first EP, Girl, is an absolute ripping thrash metal release. They would later change their style to a more goth sound with the release of their first LP, La Vie En Rose and continue to make music through the 2000's.)

I haven't been able to find much on the other X members relating to the punk scene. It may be out there, or it may have just been Hide and Yoshiki. Pata, while an amazing guitarist, really lacked on the solo stuff. And his early bands were nothing of a great mention, at least on the relation to hardcore topic. Taiji was strictly metal, and after leaving X, joined the famous Japanese hair metal band Loudness, who had a bit of commercial success in America at the time. But regardless, X were more than a band. They created a cultural movement that shook the normality of Japanese society that can still be felt to this day. On my last trip to Japan I was able to visit Hide's grave in Yokosuka. It was an intense experience to say the least. Going there to pay homage to a guitar player that has influenced me greatly was powerful enough, and to go there with members of Disclose and Deceiving Society and see how much it meant to them was even more surreal. Something about X really clicked with a certain age group in Japan and those people, no matter what musical path they went down, still love them to this day. If you haven't heard them, take a minute to check out some of their stuff. The early demos and first two EP's are raw and awesome. Classic Japanese metal. The first 2 LP's are flawless in my eyes. The rest is open to conversation, I like it all, but many that I know do not. The first LP, Vanishing Vision, was self-released, and has sold roughly 800,000 copies since its release in 1988. Think about that next time your band is trying to push those 500 EP's you spent your summer working to pay for. We've all been there.

Included are the band's four full-length albums and a compilation of their singles.

- Jakke Sullivan

Monday, December 7, 2015

Rest In Peace Tim Butcher

Tim Butcher passed away this past weekend.

For a lot of you that name might not mean anything. However I promise you that all of you either knew Tim or know someone hurting from his passing. Tim was a big part of the Los Angeles hardcore punk scene for the last decade. To hold it down that long in a city as big as LA tells you how much he loved being a part of this. He loved playing music and was constantly finding a project to be involved in. He was in Pressvre, Minus, and Hell In The Cell to name a few. He played with Trash Talk a few times. Tim's love for music was unrivaled. More importantly, regardless what stage he was on or what the band was, he made it a point to always have fun. It was this philosophy that ultimately defined Tim. He was just positive energy.

On a personal level, the loss of Tim Butcher is a particularly difficult one. I started talking to Tim about eight years ago from the old Southern California message board where we struck a rapport over our shared love of hockey (since our favorite teams were rivals, we had plenty to discuss). From this we ended up becoming friends. It wasn't until I lived in Los Angeles last year that I really got to spend a lot of time with Tim. We would talk about our creative ideas (we were both working on trying to sell TV shows we developed), music, pro wrestling, and hockey (unsurprisingly the debates hadn't changed). I was really lucky to get to spend a lot of time with Tim then because I got to know one of the realest human beings I've ever met. He was the most straightforward and earnest person. He didn't pull punches and he didn't sugarcoat things. If you said something stupid (as I often would), he would tell you in a second. If you did something that was cool, he would tell you so. Isn't that what every friend should aspire to do? Call you on your mistakes and encourage you when you do well? For this reason, among many others, Tim knew what the word "friend" meant.

I have only been back to Los Angeles for one night since I left last year. In January, I was passing through and got to roll with Tim and a few of our friends to an Ajax show in Pomona. I was at a weird point in my own life. I just spent three months in Dallas sorting myself out and had taken a job to start in Connecticut in less than a week. Seeing all of them that night was weird for me because when I left LA almost half a year earlier I was in a dark place. Talking to Tim helped to snap me out a lot of the daze I had been in. One thing he used to do when he talked to me was he would outright ignore the stuff he thought was irrelevant or pointless and immediately ask about something worth discussing. I would talk about some column I wrote and he'd ask about the TV show's status. He had an attention for success. He knew what was good and how to further it while avoiding the bad because it wasn't worth the time. Spending time with him that night put things a lot of things into perspective. As he called it a night, he just told me to keep doing what I was doing. I needed that hang out with Tim that night. I'm thankful that I was able to go to LA for one night only and spend it with him. His perspective on everything is something few people have and now we no longer have it anymore and the world is poorer for it.

A lot of you probably don't watch professional wrestling and that's okay, so indulge me for one moment. Owen Hart died in 1999 as a result of a tragic accident. The next night on Monday Night Raw they ran a tribute for him. To this day I distinctly remember a lot of what the wrestlers said about Owen in their testimonials. "Consummate friend", "the best sense of humor", and "lived for his passions". I thought about all of the things people said about Owen and I realized "that's Tim". The last quote I think about is from Debra. "I still can't believe that you're gone... I keep looking for you." Los Angeles will never be the same without you in it, Tim. Whether we realize we're doing it or not, we're always going to look for you at shows and parties. The truth of it is because by looking for you, if even only for one second, we have an opportunity to remember you and wish you were here with us.

I love you, Tim.
I'll see you on the other side.