You Ishihara of White Heaven Looks Back on the origins of “Tokyo Flashback”, Modern Music and the “Brilliance and Enigma” of Hideo Ikeezumi.
Translated by Taketo Shimada from the original piece as posted by You Ishihara on his blog reststayrelationship.com in a post titled "MM This and That"
You Ishihara and White Heaven as pictured in Tokyo Flashback.
“By the way – I received all the songs for our compilation CD, and I wonder what the title should be.”
“Hmm, what are you looking for?”
“I think Tokyo should be in it since we focused on the bands from Tokyo.”
“I know there’s a psychedelic compilation album called Texas Flashback, how’s something like Tokyo Flashback?”
“Yeah, I like that! Let’s do that.” “But we might not want that, that title might suggests something like a retrospective of rare tracks from the past…” “Who cares about what it means (laugh)” That’s how we decided on the title, and I think Matsutani (1) designed the cover art if I remember correctly.
(1) Ken Matsutani, one of the staff at Modern Music who later founded the
band Marble Sheep and manages the record label Captain Trip.
After a little while he said –
“Could you write ‘Tokyo Flashback’ here” and handed me a pen and a paper.
“Like this?” “Yeah, that’s not bad. Just what I wanted.” “Don’t you think it should be a little more legible?” “No way, I like this. The cover art doesn’t really matter anyway.” So my hurried scrawl got printed on the album cover as is, and it’s been used over and over since then.
As you can see from the photograph, on the cover art they had an ashtray inside the register and another one in front of the register. It’s hard to believe now but the employers smoked when they were working (I recall most of the customers smoked as well, but Ikeezumi-san didn’t smoke). Haino-san would pace around as he used a 7″ record to fan the smoke away and say “Darn it! You guys are doing this on purpose, you know I hate cigarette smoke”. Once, we unearthed a substantial amount of yakitori skewers from the mess around the register during the end of the year cleaning session. They were remnants of treats the customers would bring, which was often beer and yakitori. One of the customers couldn’t remain indifferent and squealed to Ikeezumi-san “Some of your employers are drinking beer while working”, but he only said, “Ah, it must be Matsutani, we can’t do much about that”. It was a pretty mellow store.
In the early 80’s, Modern Music wasn’t a record store that focused solely on ‘difficult’ and ‘real’ music like some might think. I was only a customer then, but they imported a lot of punk and new wave new releases, and music directors of fashion shows for some of the most experimental Tokyo fashion labels of the time, like Comme des Garçons or Yoji Yamamoto, would regularly check in to look for something that was ‘very avant-garde and unheard of’. They also stocked German new wave records from small labels that only a few stores carried, and there were many musicians and music writers who stopped by to look for them. DAF, Palais Schaumburg, Liaisons Dangereuses were some of Modern Music’s top sellers at the time. They even stocked neo-acoustic and electronic pop music by small labels from the UK and Europe. Ikeezumi-san was pretty tolerant about new genres of music that came after punk music, like Post-Punk. He told me many times that he took his pre-teen daughter to a Ramones show with him and the show was great, or that he preferred Jobriath’s second LP much more than his first after listening to them many times, or that he really liked Wire. You might think of him as a purveyor of extreme underground, but he had other sides as well. Around that time, bootleg reissues of Big Star’s first and second LPs came out, and I think Modern Music sold more copies of them than anyone else in Tokyo. When Peter Ivers’ memorial LP Nirvana Ivers came out in 1985, he placed a massive order of them and sold out right away. He wrote letters and dealt directly with artists such as Workshop (a band similar to Can) and Jandek, or with labels like Orange Records, David Peel’s independent record label. No one around us knew about Jandek at the time, and only Modern Music had a Jandek section in their record bins. Those ‘Modern Music exclusives’ were a hot topic among the regular customers and sold out quickly and repeatedly, so he was perpetually placing new orders for them. The store usually closed at 8 pm, and he would gather the employees and regular customers who were too lazy to leave, and take us out for a bite to eat. Neither Ikeezumi-san or I drank then, so we just ate our dinner while the guys who liked to drink, like Matsutani, ordered drinks and snacks. We tirelessly talked about the same old topics, like music, records and pro wrestling. Ikeezumi-san usually covered the bill at the end of the night, the record industry was thriving back then. Ikeezumi-san firmly believed you can’t form an opinion until you listen to it. He would usually buy himself a copy of any new release that received a good review on lets say Music Magazine (2), jazz, ethnic or hip hop, it didn’t matter. He would listen to them and usually say “it was pretty bad” and toss the record in a bargain record bin. I would tell him “You didn’t even have to listen to it, you knew it’d be bad”, but he would counter by saying “but I’ll feel awful if it was really good, so I suppose I can buy a copy and listen once”.
(2) Music Magazine is a Japanese music journal started in 1969. It separated itself
from other music magazines of the time with its often philosophical writings.
I would imagine there are different perceptions of Modern Music to the customers from different eras. For some of them, it’s a store that specialized in avant-pop of the time like new wave or industrial music, but for others it was known for their large collection of very rare Italian progressive rock LPs. (Not many people would remember this, but there was a time when the walls of the store were covered with ultra rare and mega expensive progressive rock LPs with ‘Sold’ or ‘In Contract’ signs pasted on them. It was around the time Ueno, who later went on to work for UK Edison (3). The store had a great selection of New York Punk and their offshoots (when Koyama worked there), or it was the place to go for minor psychedelic and garage rock, or rare Frank Zappa LPs (several well known Frank Zappa collectors frequented the store), while others visited the store for Japanese folk and free jazz. I think the perceptions of Modern Music depend on when you went there and what you were after, but I think it’s also influenced by the people working there at the time.
(3) UK Edison is a record store in Shinjuku, Tokyo. Initially specialized in Hardcore
and New Wave, now focused on Japanese Visual-Kei music.
The music business as a whole started to show signs of rapid decline, and he was forced to temporary close the store when the neighborhood went through rezoning. I feel it was around then that the vibe of the store slowly started to shift but I was seldom there around that time so I don’t really know what caused it. Every April when the school year starts, freshmen from nearby Meiji University who saw the sign outside that says ‘Imported Records’ would come in and ask “Do you have Michael Jackson?” or “I can’t find Eric Clapton”. He hated to deal with them, so he would crank up Metal Machine Music and chase them away, such was the brilliance and enigma of the owner and the store. There were chasms between facts and perceptions of Modern Music the store and PSF the record label. I would like to make clear that I can only talk and write about Modern Music, and I don’t have much to offer when it comes to PSF, except for the very beginning of the label.