Tokyo Noise - An Interview With FACIALMESS

Adam, our newest member, had an opportunity to interview Kenny Sanderson of FACIALMESS, and if you're a fan of noise you're in for a real treat.

Hey Kenny! Awesome to able to finally interview you. Can you tell our readers who you are and introduce Facialmess.

Hello Adam, my name is Kenny Sanderson, originally from the UK, but living in Japan since late 1995. FACIALMESS is my harsh noise project. I`ve been active under this name since 1997. I have released about 50 to 60 tapes, records and cds on various labels, played live all over Japan and have also visited the United States twice. This year will see the first European FACIALMESS shows. I also promote noise shows in Tokyo from time to time, usually for visiting foreign noise artists.

My first introduction to your work was actually through the band Nikudorei. I was listening to a lot of goregrind and frequently checked the Razorback and Relapse messageboards. The "Genital Torture" album has a certain mystique about it and I immediately tracked it down. Then there is the greatest 3 way split ever with Nikudorei, GBN and Arse Destroyer which is a lesson in noisegrind 101. Tell me about Nikudorei. How did it start? When did you become interested in grind and noisecore? Is the band still active?

I came to Japan in October 1995, at that time, among other things, I was listening to a lot of classic noisegrind -- A.C., 7mon, Deche Charge etc. One of the first things I bought when I got here was a compilation tape from the guitarist from DxIxEx. I don't remember exactly how I found out about the tape, maybe from a mail flyer from another contact, anyway Nikudorei was one of the bands featured on the compilation. The Nikudorei tracks were just excellent, the drum patterns were more inventive than the regular short blasts of most noisegrind, and the noise made by Okada`s microphone was so harsh and piercing. Also included in the tape was a flyer for an upcoming show at the old 20,000 volts in Koenji. On the bill was Nikudorei, DxIxEx, Incapacitants and a few others that I don't remember. Nikudorei opened the show, just Okada on noise and vocals and Hirakawa on drums. The set lasted about 30 seconds and was just about the most explosive thing I had ever seen. Talking to Okada later (through my wife's translation), I learned that they were looking for a guitarist / noisemaker. So the next Sunday I took my guitar and one DOD fuzz box up to Kashiwa for a jam and was offered the gig.

I was an active member of Nikudorei until the end of 1999. We played a ton of shows, in Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya with so many great artists. Merzbow, Masonna, SOB, Corrupted, Melt Banana, Hellchild, Discordance Axis, Gore Beyond Necropsy to name a few. Our sets were usually very violent and short. Two or three minutes maximum. During my time we put out a bunch of split tapes, a split 7” with Anal Massaker, a split flexi with Corrupted and the “Genital Torture” cd on HG Fact.

After my final show with them, which was actually with Bastard Noise, Okada continued with a revolving door of members including Vivian from Gallhammer and Ucchy from Cunts/Napalm Death is Dead. He also recorded what I would say is the best Nikudorei record “Chain of Evil Dead” on Dotsmark records. Okada stopped all activity a number of years back for a few reasons and has pretty much disappeared from the scene. Nikudorei really was his project.

You also asked me how I got into grindcore and noise. Like most British people my age, my first experience of grindcore/extreme music was Napalm Death, around 1988/89 or so. I saw them on a BBC documentary on metal. I was listening to thrash at the time but Napalm was a such massive jump from say “Ride the Lightning”. I wasn't really sure if I liked it musically, but it was definitely intriguing. I kind of forced myself to like it . At that time, Napalm had a very high media profile, they were covered in the mainstream weekly music press, they were on kids TV, national radio, and most famously there were the Peel Sessions (that first session is still THE perfect grindcore statement, I mean Mick Harris` s drums on that recording...huge!!). Kind of hard to believe now just how much mainstream exposure they had. Although maybe not, seems like they have come full circle, this year they played Glastonbury, maybe even dangerously close to “national treasure” territory in the UK.

But at the time, the kids at my school who liked Napalm were not really metal fans, they were listening to bands like Big Black, Swans, Sonic Youth, mostly American noise rock, so I started getting into those bands too. Napalm was a massive gateway band for me, from them and through Godflesh, Scorn, Painkiller etc, I discovered hardcore, industrial music, post punk, electronics, dub reggae and eventually harsh noise.

The first real noise record I heard was a 7” by the industrial band Headbutt that my friend taped for me, which would have been around 1991. It was completely devoid of any kind of traditional musicality, no discernible rhythm, melody or even structure. Just 5 minutes of what I thought sounded like radio static. As when I heard Napalm for the first time, I wasn't sure if I actually liked it, but the fact that it existed was really exciting for me. Definitely my punk rock moment. You know, instead of “learn 3 chords, form a band and put out a record” it was now, learn no chords, don`t use instruments, do not form a band, but still put out a record.

How did Facialmess begin? What was the first release and what were your influences?

FACIALMESS was actually my second noise project. I first started making noise under the name of Metodtorinus, but only “released” a couple of tapes. At that time I was listening to a lot of “shit” noise projects like Sonic Disorder, Extreme Hair Stench, Traci Lords Loves Noise and Nut Screamer. They were releasing splits with grindnoise bands, so they were my first influences rather than the likes of Merzbow and Masonna. I started this around the same time I joined Nikudorei in early ‘96. Then about a year later I bought a 4 track, decided to get a bit more serious about my sound and renamed my project FACIALMESS after a Carcass lyric.

I don't actually remember the first thing I put out under that name, there were a couple of self released C10s and very low profile splits. I also sent out a bunch of one-off tapes to people, all packaged in individual unique designs, kind of like classic industrial mail art. But I would say my first proper widely available release was the “Fucking Dilemma” tape on Italian label Less than Zero, this was followed by a split 12” with Grunt on Freak Animal and the “Madcap Barely Smiles” tape on Spite. I am currently in the process of digitising some of these early recordings for a retrospective which will be available as a free download on Love Earth Music, Dustin from Actuary`s net label.

I also played my first solo show sometime in `97. I had given or sent, a tape to Kazumoto Endo (Killer Bug), he was booking a show for US act Spastic Colon at the time and offered to put me on the bill.

Speaking of influence, Kazumoto gave me a copy of his “Evergreen” 7” at that show. That record was noise "year zero" for me. The composition, dynamics and clarity of that recording was nothing I had ever heard before in noise. It set the bar. And one that is still, 20 years later, a fucking milestone in sheer cut-up harsh noise perfection.

What was your rig like back when you started compared to now? With my experience, I ended up using a dozen or so cassette players to make my earlier releases because I had no idea what the hell a pedal was, let alone how to make noise. How was your experience early on?

Yep, I was kind of similar to you, when I started out, I had no idea about what different pedals did, and there was no real internet back then to find out these things. I basically looked at whatever others were using and bought similar pedals/machines. My first ever recordings were made on an old karaoke machine. I made what I later discovered was called a feedback loop, feeding the output back into the input, through my one DOD fuzz pedal, recording the results on the machine itself. The machine had a kind of crude reverb effect on it which I manipulated too. The result was this high pitched crumbling wall of feedback noise. I rediscovered these tapes a few months back, and they do sound pretty good actually.

So from there, I just started spending all the money I could on pedals, samplers, synths, mixers, and other various noise boxes and through trial and error developed a rig that allowed me to create the sound that I wanted. However, my basic distortion has been the same for years, a contact mic through a Buzz Box and a Death Metal, but everything else is pretty fluid. I do try to keep my rig fairly minimal and simple though, usually 2 pedal chains and a sampler which I can cut and splice with my line switcher.

Where were you born and how long have you been in Japan? What made you decide to move here?

I was born in Plymouth, a small city on the south coast of England, but I only lived there for a very short time. After that my family moved to a small rural town called Spalding in the middle of the country, about 2 and a half hours north of London. I spend my early childhood and the majority of my teenage years there. It`s a pretty unremarkable town, and as far as music went, nothing much happened there, there wasn't much of a local scene, aside from a few cover bands and you had to travel a few hours to Nottingham, Leicester or London for gigs, which kind of made it difficult if you couldn’t drive. However, I had a good group of friends and we exchanged music and experimented with forming various bands. I eventually moved to London for university in 1992.

I moved to Japan in October 1995. There were a few reasons at the time, number one was that my girlfriend (now wife) was Japanese, she was studying English in London and it was time for her to come back to Japan. Also, I had just finished my undergraduate degree and I really wanted to have a couple of years out before I did my masters. On top of all that, there was my increasing interest in the Japanese underground. The year previously I had seen the Boredoms, Merzbow and Zeni Geva, I had just bought my first Merzbow record, “Venereology” on Relapse, still a fantastic album that I play once every couple of months. I am sure this is responsible for turning so many people on to real Japanese Noise. Also, I forgot to mention that I had actually visited Japan for a month during the summer of 1994 and I really loved it. I managed to get to a gig, I saw Omoide Hatoba with The Bustmonsters at Shelter.

So, I guess those three reasons were why I decided to make the move. At the time, I was thinking I would only be here for 2 or 3 years, but here I still am over 20 years later.

How has the Japanese noise scene changed since you first arrived to what it is now. How was the noise scene in general changed?

I can only really comment on the Tokyo scene and I wouldn't say there has been any clear linear development or concrete narrative to speak of but I would definitely say that currently the Tokyo noise scene is in a really good place. A lot of the bigger first and second wave names are still very active. Incapacitants, Astro, Government Alpha, K2, Merzbow, Hijokaidan, Kazumoto Endo all play relatively often and pull respectable crowds also there are so many great newer artists like scum, Spore Spawn, shikaku, Linekraft, Leecher, Necromist, Amnesia Channel and their duo Slaughter Table, Wolf Creek, who are a couple of high students form Saitama and a bunch more that I am forgetting.

However, I would like to especially mention a couple of artists that I feel have had a big impact on the popularity, sound and direction of the current noise scene. One would be Blackphone666. Although he has been a fixture of the scene for a while, over the last 4 or 5 years he really has come into his own. His sound is a seamless blend of traditional dynamic Japanese noise, spastic cut up noise and power electronics. He also incorporates drones, and electro-acoustic elements with an overall aural aesthetic of post dubstep bass music. His live sets are always immaculately composed and he is equally at home on noise bills, hardcore and grind bills as well as at techno and more dance music orientated events. He is definitely bringing noise to a wider audience. Another act I feel deserves special mention is Kazuma Kubota. His sound is an emotionally immersive mix of shoegazey ambience and the cut up harshness of acts like Kazumoto Endo, K2 and maybe myself. Again, regarding composition, he really is raising the bar of the genre. He is probably the closest thing Tokyo has to some of the American acts like Pedestrian Deposit or Jason Crumer. I have certainly been able to see the influence his sound has had on some of the emerging acts I have seen recently. I was lucky enough to play with him at the big Amplified Humans festival in the States last August.

One more factor that definitely adds to the health of the Tokyo noise scene is the emergence of the venue Soup in Ochiai as the premier place for noise in the city. It has a great quadraphonic PA system steered by the best soundman in Tokyo, Nobuki. It is reasonably priced to hire out and usually attracts a sizeable enthusiastic crowd. The staff are all top people too. It is my favourite place to play in Tokyo and I always try to book it for visiting acts. I have to thank my sorely missed good friend Kelly Churko for introducing noise to Soup many years back. R.I.P Kelly. Actually when I am on the subject of people who are sorely missed I have to also mention the very sad death of Koji Tano (MSBR) in 2005. Koji was completely devoted to noise and experimental music. He put out the Denshi-Zatsuon magazine, and ran the Denzatsu,com record shop and label. He booked countless shows and brought over so many great foreign acts Bastard Noise, Sickness, Slogun, Daniel Menche, Sightings, Richard Ramirez, Control to name but a few. He offered acts guarantees and always run a very professional operation. His sheer enthusiasm and dedication for the genre has never been matched and he still leaves a gaping hole in the scene. I don't think anyone has filled the void, especially when it comes to booking tours for foreign noise acts.

What's your advice for international touring artists wanting to tour Japan?

I have to be careful here that I don`t come across as too negative, because Japan really is a great place to place. You are almost guaranteed fantastic sound at most venues and you should get an enthusiastic crowd and get to meet some great people. However there are definitely some things that you should be aware of, and they are pretty well documented all over the web, but regarding noise, I think these factors can be amplified due to how small the scene is, even compared to say grindcore.

Firstly, plan ahead, six to seven months is best, and make as many contacts as possible so there is time to book decent venues and put strong bills together. I get a lot of emails saying “hey, I'm coming to Japan next month, can you book me a couple of shows”. I always want to help people out, but unless I already have a show booked and I can fit another act on the bill, it`s just not going to happen.

Secondly, familiarise yourself with the “noruma” system of booking a show in Japan. It`s a pay to play system, and to book a weekend show at a decent “live house” in Tokyo can cost around 100,000 yen. So if no one turns up to the show, the organiser can be seriously out of pocket. I don't think a lot of foreign artists realise this, it's not laziness, greed or aloofness that stops an organiser from being unwilling to book more than one show or offer a guarantee, it's just that no one can afford to take that kind of hit. Obviously there are cheaper venues, like the aforementioned Soup or the ridiculously cheap Flying Teapot, but these venues get booked up quickly. However, I don't think pay to play is all bad though, for your money you get a great backline, usually very competent sound engineers, soundchecks, a staffed bar and a merch area. Also, seeing as it's the artists rather than the venues themselves that are paying for shows, it does create a widely diverse music scene. There are definitely artists regularly performing over here that would struggle to get shows in say London, where the venues need a crowd of drinkers in for them to make money.

With this in mind, and now that the previously mentioned Koji Tano is so sadly no longer around, it`s unlikely one person will be able to book an entire Japanese tour. It`s much better to make contacts with local organisers . It`s not too hard to get shows in Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka, Sendai and Fukuoka.

Next, don`t assume that you can just crash at someone's place. A lot of people are ok with it, but Japanese flats are small, especially in the city, don't take it personally if people are not into putting up you and your entourage. It really is a practical question of space, and on top of that, a lot of artists have families, so kids need to get up for school, spouses have to get ready for work etc...it can be tough if you have a bunch of noise musicians crashing in your one dining/living room area. Also it is really easy to find cheap places to stay in the cities. Guest houses, capsule hotels and cheap business hotels are all really reasonable, not to mention airbnb.

I think the last thing I would mention is always bring merch. You might not make much or even anything from the door, however most artists do pretty well on tapes and cds especially. Don`t be afraid to markup the prices either, 1000yen for a tape, 2000yen for a cd is pretty commonplace. Not sure if this is true or not, but someone once told me that audiences over here are suspicious of anything that is too cheap.

There are videos of you playing outside of Shinjuku station which is one of the coolest thing I've seen. When did you start these type of performances?

Thanks for the compliment. I have actually only done one of these guerrilla noise shows. It was so much fun, I use a lot of urban field recordings in my work, so, in a way, playing in front of Shinjuku station really was the perfect “venue”. Surprisingly, I got a few compliments from passers by after the performance. Also, Kazumoto Endo`s video of that performance went relatively viral for a noise video, it got something like 200 shares and 20,000 views in two or three days. Would love to do it again. Regarding the shows themselves, they are set up by Necromist and Amnesia Channel, who also do a super harsh project called Slaughter Table, no let up there, just pure brutality. I think they started doing them a couple of years back, always in the same spot, outside the south east exit of Shinjuku station.

I actually hadn't been to one until May of this year. I was playing a few shows with Being, a great act from Dayton, Ohio and owner of Skeleton Dust records, and he wanted to do a guerrilla show, so I put him in touch with Necromist and they sorted out a date for the show. I went down and had a blast. I told Necromist that I wanted to do the next one, so we planned it for a couple of months later. I think mine was the first one that the police didn't shut down. Maybe they are getting used to them. As I said, I want to do it again, maybe later in the year.

Hey man, I really look up to you and your work and I am happy we have been able to connect. What do you have coming up and any last words for our readers?

Yep, thanks Adam, really happy you have moved over here and I am really excited about the prospect of Winter in Osaka shows in the near future, we definitely need to make those happen soon. As for future plans, the next couple of months are really busy. I have a split cd with US cut-up act Boar on Breaching Static, a C20 coming out on Bacteria Field, a 5” lathe cut on Moral Defeat. Later in the year, there is a split C30 with Stress Orphan, hopefully a cd of a collaboration I did with Blake from Pig Destroyer and a tape of the live set I played with Bastard Noise when Eric Wood was over here a couple of years back. Regarding shows, next month (September 2017) I am playing 3 shows in Tokyo, one with Mei Zhiyong from China at studio DOM in Koenji. This will be a killer show , it`s free and also on the bill are Blackphone 666, Linekraft, Slaughter Table and shikaku. It goes down on the 3rd. Then on the 15th, I am playing with US acts Dessiccant and Embarker at Flying Teapot in Ekoda as part of their Japanese tour. Lastly on the 23rd, I am playing at Soup at one of modular synth artist Dave Skipper`s regular Heavier than Jupiter events. It`s a great varied bill headlined by Preparation Set, this super heavy dub act. The sub bass these guys produce has to be felt to be believed. After that, in October I head to Europe for a week with Kazumoto Endo. We are touring with Polish acts MAAAA and Purgist. We take in Warsaw, Prague, Berlin, Cologne, Geneva and finish up at the LUFF festival in Lausanne, Switzerland. For more details on this check out the Facebook event page. It's the first time I`ve played in any of these places so I am really looking forward to it.