top of page

Hideo Ikeezumi: “It would be good to be somewhere where there would be hardly any passersby.”

An interview with Hideo Ikeezumi on his formative years and the beginnings of Modern Music and P.S.F. Records.

The following was originally presented in Takeshi Gōda’s 2017 book, Chika ongaku e no shōtai (An Invitation to Underground Music) edited by Akira Kato and published by Loft Books, Japan. The book is a unique, multi-layered exploration of the Japanese underground of the late 1970’s and early 80’s. It features numerous interviews with musicians, venue owners, journalists, promoters and others that formed an incredibly distinctive cultural intersection in Tokyo at the time. The legendary Club Minor is a particular focus along with the then burgeoning punk scene. In addition to Hideo Ikeezumi, other Japanese underground luminaries interviewed in the book include Tamio Shiraishi, Tori Kudo (Maher Shalal Hash Baz, Ché-SHIZU) and Harumi Yamazaki (Gaseneta). The below excerpt appears courtesy of the author and publisher and was translated by Alan Cummings. Black Editions would like to thank them for their efforts and generosity.

Gōda’s interview with Ikeezumi was conducted on July 27th, 2013 at the Wired Café in Meidaimae.

Chapter 10: A Japanese Underground Record Store The Experiences & Memories of Hideo Ikeezumi

Chronology Sept 1980: Modern Music opens in Meidaimae, Tokyo. Ads appear in Rock Magazine no.34, Fool’s Mate no.14, Zoo no.30, etc. ​ Sept 1981: Pinakotheca Records releases Keiji Haino’s Watashi dake? It becomes a bestseller at Modern Music. ​ Dec 1984: Modern Music releases High Rise’s Psychedelic Speed Freaks. ​ Sept 1989: Modern Music releases the self-titled Fushitsusha double album. ​ ​April 1990: Modern Music releases the Kan Mikami, Motoharu Yoshizawa, Keiji Haino album Live in the First Year of Heisei Vol.1 under the label name Poor Strong Factory (PSF). Vol.2 is released in September the same year.

An Invitation to Underground Music written by Takeshi Gōda and edited by Akira Kato.

March 1991: PSF Records releases Tokyo Flashback/P.S.F. Psychedelic Sampler. The series will run until 2011, with a further seven volumes. July 1992: Modern Music publishes the first issue of the music magazine G-Modern. It will run until issue 29 in 2010. March 2014: Modern Music closes, becoming an online business. February 2017: Hideo Ikeezumi passes away. Takeshi Gōda: Under the influence of my classical music-loving father, from my youth I was fond of singles and LPs. My parents started taking me to record stores when I was still in elementary school, and later I’d go by myself. At first, I liked the soundtracks to Westerns but gradually my interest moved towards other genres. At the time, I was living in Kanazawa where there was a new record store called Vanvan that had a listening corner. I remember being overjoyed to have the chance to listen to records I had heard about on the radio or in magazines. ​ At the start of my third year of middle school, my family moved to Tokyo. We lived about 15 minutes by bicycle from Kichijōji station. There were lots of interesting record stores in the shopping arcades around the station. Once I started getting into punk and new-wave, I became a regular customer. ​ There were Georgia and it’s sister shop Junior, which was co-managed by Yoshitaka Goto who would go on to found Pass Records; Record-sha which carried a great selection of new-wave and progressive rock; Natty Dread which was owned by Midori Yamamoto, younger sister to Yasumi Yamamoto, the famous lyrics translator; Record Plant, the biggest import store in Kichijōji; George which carried reasonably-priced second-hand records; Tony Record which still has its main branch in Jinbochō; Merurido which carried singer-songwriter and blues records… then of course there were the chain stores Shinseido and Yamano Gakki.[1] Another local chain called Meikyokudō had a branch in the best shopping building, and for some inexplicable reason they had a bootleg section. On the weekend I’d go around all these stores, often travelling to Shimokitazawa and Shinjuku too. ​ I had only had limited pocket-money so I wasn’t able to buy many records, but just seeing what records the stores were promoting and reading the little handwritten explanations gave me a thrill. Posters and flyers in the stores became a valuable source of information. This was pre-internet of course, and magazines had only a limited space to cover music. If you were interested in underground music there was virtually no information to be found in the mass media, aside from a small handful of specialist magazines. If you wanted information about anything under the radar, then you had to go where people with similar interests gathered. When it came to music, that meant record stores. ​ Modern Music was located on the second-floor of a mixed-use building a couple of minutes’ walk from Meidaimae station, on the Keiō Line. It’s no exaggeration to say that it was Tokyo’s greatest storehouse of information about underground music. As I will explain later, on your first visit it was an intimidating store to enter. The walls of the staircase leading up to the store were plastered several layers deep with flyers and posters. It was a treasure trove of information about gigs and releases that could be found nowhere else in the city. ​ In the late 1980s the store started an independent record label, PSF Records. From the 90s onwards, PSF and Osaka’s Alchemy Records would become focal points for broadcasting Japanese underground music out into the world. The labels became watchwords for assionate underground music fans from around the world. Of course, the role that the internet played in spreading this information was key, but even before then, Modern Music played a vital role in the dissemination and exchange of many different kinds of information. The owner of Modern Music, Hideo Ikeezumi, was never a performer of music himself, but his role was far too important to be described simply as a backstage one. In that sense I think we can call him a musician too. ​ At the time of the publication of this book, Modern Music no longer exists as a brick and mortar store.[2] The store finally closed in late March 2014, and I recorded this interview with Ikeezumi about six months before then.

Hideo Ikeezumi- The founder of P.S.F. Records, the Modern Music record store and G-Modern magazine.

It all began with Kobayashi Akira

Hideo Ikeezumi was born in 1949 in Itabashi ward, in northern Tokyo. Ikeezumi is an unusual surname, and he says the family may have a special lineage. Ikeezumi: For several generations, my family were painters and lived in Asakusa. My great-grandfather, my grandfather, my father. My father moved away from Asakusa when he got married and that’s why I was born in Itabashi. Apparently there was one other family in Asakusa called Ikeezumi, but they’re the only other ones I know who have the same surname. We must never have been good at reproducing (laughs). My family have been professional artists since the Edo period, employed by the Kanazawa domain. I’m not sure whether it was the Kaga Kanazawa domain or the Edo Kanazawa one. Probably the Edo one. Twenty years ago when I went to get a passport, I was asked at the passport office if I was the son of Ikeezumi sensei. My dad was an artist, I said, but he was never famous enough for anyone to call him sensei. Then they said that they meant some member of the Japanese parliament, Ikezumi. I’d never heard of him so I did some research and it turned out there was a guy called Motome Ikezumi who was involved in the February 26 Incident. Motome Ikezumi was a pre-war bureaucrat in the Ministry of the Interior. He later served as governor of Saga, Miyagi and Chiba prefectures, but he was never a member of parliament. In the February 26 Incident of 1936 he was working in the Home Ministry’s Police Affairs Bureau (equivalent to the current National Police Agency). He was in charge of their censorship division, so was involved in regulating information about the incident. Ironically, because Motome Ikezumi was involved in censorship before the war and the fanatical suppression of public debate, he ended up being expelled from office after Japan’s defeat in 1945. In any case, he was originally from Mie prefecture, so it seems that unlikely that there is any connection between his family and Ikeezumi. I ask Ikeezumi how he came to get interested in music as a boy growing up in a family of artists. Ikeezumi: I was a great student right up until the fifth year of elementary school. I was a member of my class council, really on top of all my studies, I guess what you’d call a literary kid. My dad was making paintings but he couldn’t sell them, so he was working part time for the publisher Kōdansha, doing illustrations for their “Collection of World Literature for Boys and Girls”. One of his colleagues at Kōdansha knew that I was into books, so every month he’d bring me the latest volume. I sit and read it and imagine all kinds of stuff, sharpening my imagination. Then one day the girl next door told me I should stop reading books all the time and start listening to music instead. She lent me a big pile of singles. There were all kinds of things – Elvis Presley to Connie Francis. I listened them all and they were, you know, just OK. But then there was this one single, Akira Kobayashi’s “Wandering (Sasurai)”, and as soon as I heard it, it really hit me. I started to cry. I still remember that moment so clearly, but looking back on it now it’s weird that an elementary student would be so moved by that song. “Wandering” was Akira Kobayashi’s 19th single, released in September 1960. It was the theme song for the film The South Sea Flare (Nankai no noroshi), which also starred Kobayashi. Both the film and the single were big hits. The plaintive, minor-key melody that runs throughout the song feels very much of its period, but Kobayashi’s trademark sonorous delivery (similar to his version of Atsuki kokoro ni, written for him by Eiichi Ohtaki) will bring back memories for anyone who heard him during this period. But just what was it about Kobayashi that attracted the young Ikeezumi? Ikeezumi: Even now, I don’t really understand it. It was beyond analysis. I’d go to see Kobayashi’s films. I was really into “The Rambling Guitarist” and his others.[3] Once I heard Wandering, all the pocket money that I used to spend buying books, I started to buy Akira Kobayashi singles instead. Basically, I stopped reading. It was like I was sick of them. So I started getting more and more into music. In elementary school I started listening to Yoshio Tabata and Michiya Mihashi. I liked too Hibari Misora too and would listen to her a lot. Jazz and rakugo [4] too. He was getting most of his information from the radio. Ikeezumi: When I was in middle school, they started doing late-night shows on the radio. I’d stay up till 3am so I could record them on an open-reel tape recorder. I had no idea about how to do direct-line recordings, so I put a microphone up close to the speaker and just pushed record. I remember spending a lot of money on the reels. I was always broke. Ikeezumi says that if he had never encountered music, he probably would have kept studying, got into a good university, then joined some big company. He says that he never realized that there were a lot of kids who had the same experience as him. Ikeezumi: When I talked to people later, one guy who was my best friend in high school told me that he had loved Akira Kobayashi too. Kan Mikami [5], Kazuki Tomokawa [6], Kenji Endo [7], they all listened to Kobayashi in elementary or middle school. He had some sort of influence of them all. Was Kobayashi an idol for boys at the time? Ikeezumi: Not really, but anyone who was weird loved him. If you went to see films by Yūjirō Ishihara, there’d be love scenes and it would be embarrassing to watch. But Kobayashi’s films never had any love scenes. The songs would be great and he’d be beating up yakuza. That’s what “The Rambling Guitarist” was about. It was nonsense of course, but Kobayashi’s songs were utterly natural. That was what was great about them. But today he’s always playing up to his fans, grinning at them and everything. He’s totally different now. Even Shichirō Fukuzawa [8] and Hiroshi Kawani [9] loved Kobayashi. Ikeezumi’s interest in music may have been sparked by Akira Kobayashi, but through listening to those late-night radio shows, his focus soon moved to Western music. Ikeezumi: The Beatles first appeared around the time I entered middle school. Everyone was listening to them, but because I am naturally perverse I started saying that The Stones were better. At the time though I was listening to everything: classical, jazz, latin. And I was not studying at all so my grades kept getting worse and worse. Ikeezumi says that the one type of music he refused to listen to was Japanese versions of jazz or rock. Ikeezumi: I hated Japanese jazz. Japanese rock too. Not that there was any rock really, yet. But Japanese jazz was just so boring. When rock started appearing, I heard Murahachibu and I thought that they just sound like a Stones cover band, and they didn’t do anything for me. I didn’t think that Happy End were that interesting either. But then one day this friend who was into Murahachibu brought over a record by Kan Mikami. And for some reason I just couldn’t deny that it was good. It wasn’t folk, it wasn’t enka. It was sort of bluesy, but it was really hard to get a read on it. So I asked him to lend it to me and after I listened to it a few times, it just hit me. The only folk musicians I heard that really made me sit up were Kan Mikami and Kenji Endō. The rest of them I just hated. So Ikeezumi was hit by the Akira Kobayashi shock, then the Kan Mikami shock. There was one more heretical jazz musician who grabbed the attention of the Japanese-jazz hating Ikeezumi, the guitarist Masayuki Takayanagi [10]. Recently there have been archival releases of his work, as well as a published collection of his musical criticism and theory articles from various magazines. Ikeezumi: I was into jazz from my teens, so I would read “Swing Journal”[11]. Takayanagi would write record reviews for them and they were always amazing. He would just lay into anything that he thought was bad. Whether it was because it was too commercial, or whether it was just boring. So, I thought he was just this amazing music critic. I had no idea that he played guitar. One day I was talking about him with a friend who was into jazz, and he said, oh Takayanagi’s a great guitarist too. So I went searching for his record but I couldn’t find it. Then finally I found his first leader album, “Independence”,[12] and when I listened to it I was just blown away. I couldn’t believe that there was someone in Japan who was capable of what Takayanagi was doing. That’s when I started listening to Japanese jazz seriously. Motoharu Yoshizawa, Sabu Toyozumi, Mototeru Takagi, Masahiko Togashi – I listened to their records and they were all really good. I was shocked. I was so influenced by Takayanagi. With everything he did, his music, his ways of listening, his criticism, he laid everything on the line. It was a wonderful way to live life. He would never flatter anyone, he rejected everything that was just commercial. It’s really down to his influence that I started to hate anything commercial too. It was 1970 when Ikeezumi started to listen to Japanese jazz thanks to the shock of hearing Masayuki Takayanagi. He was already an adult. But let’s wind the clock back slightly to his teenage years. Ikeezumi: I didn’t want to go to high school. I told my mum, and I ended up getting shouted at by her and by my middle school teacher. There was nothing I could do so I ended up going to high school. I liked my Japanese classes but everything else was just unbearable. It reminds me of how Keiji Haino dropped out of high school. Ikeezumi: Kaoru Abe also dropped out of high school. I’m close with his mother. When I released those Abe CDs, I took some copies over to her place and we started to talk. It seems that Abe was good at his studies, but then at some point he started hating having to listen to his teachers. I told his mother that the same thing happened to me and she was surprised. “You’re just like Kaoru,” she said. We’re the same age too. I still go to visit her sometimes and she’s always happy to see me. She says my character is just like his too. PSF Records released seven albums of unissued live recordings by the tragic saxophonist Kaoru Abe. Ikeezumi was involved in the creation of a documentary film about Abe, using videos recorded before his early death.

Ad announcing the opening of Modern Music, from Fool’s Mate no.14. November 25, 1980

From a record store chain buyer to owner of his own store

Ikeezumi finally graduated high school. But he chose not to go to university and instead started to look for a job.

Ikeezumi: For a while I was working at part-time jobs and thinking about becoming a professional pachinko player. I learned how to read the pins, how to shoot the balls. I became able to shoot just as quickly as any professional. But then they changed the machines so the balls were launched automatically, and you couldn’t use that rapid-fire technique any more. So, I gave up on the idea of turning pro. It was around then that I became close to this guy who was high up in the Itabashi ward office. He came by our house one day and told me that I was wasting my life and I should come and work with him. That’s how I ended up working in their commercial and industrial department. Sort of against my will. I worked there for about a year, and that’s when you have to sit an exam so you can move from being a provisional employee to a permanent one. And basically everyone passes this exam. But that year I was working there, I had so little work to do and I thought if I keep on doing this, I’m going to rot away as a human being. So, I decided not to sit the exam. The guy was furious with me. “You’re fucking around with your life!” he said to me. Anyway, I quit the ward office job. Then I started working as a laborer, digging ditches and holes, as I thought that would be good for bodybuilding. The money was good so I was able to buy loads of jazz, blues and rock records.

Then one day, by chance he came across a job ad from a record store.

Ikeezumi: I was reading the Sankei Shinbun newspaper, and there was an ad from this record store I always used to visit on my way home from fishing, looking for employees. The store was called Gobangai, their Itabashi branch. I went over and they hired me on the spot. I was still listening to those late-night radio shows every night, so I had a pretty good idea about what records were selling and what new releases were coming out. So, I was able to take a look at their stock and tell them what was missing, and what records might sell well. I’d copy down all the catalogue numbers, then give a list of them to the store’s buyer and recommended he should get them as they’d probably sell. They ended up selling well, and then they asked me to take over as the buyer. (laughs) I knew lots about jazz and classical too.

Gobangai was a record store that had its main store in the Shimura district of Itabashi ward, Tokyo. It still has a branch in the Tōbu department store in Ikebukuro. Ikeezumi joined the company in 1968, right in the middle of Japan’s postwar economic boom. Around the same time new record companies like CBS/Sony Records (currently Sony Music Entertainment) were being established. The economy was growing continuously so the market for records was expanding rapidly too.

Ikeezumi: Record stores were opening new branches all the time, and it was like the owners of the chains were in competition with each other. Teito Musen[13] and stores like that. Gobangai expanded to more than ten stores. In this period we opened new stores in Hitachi, Utsunomiya, Tachikawa, Shimokitazawa. We had another branch in the Tōbu department store in Ikebukuro. I was doing the buying for all the stores. It was hard. But when you’re doing that job, you’ll hear some new singer and musically they won’t be very interesting, but you know that they’ll sell well. As soon as you hear their songs. Or look at their face. I’d be booking events six months in advance, getting singers to come so we could do autograph events on the roof of the department store. We’d run those kinds of events and we’d end up selling 300 or 500 copies of their single. That would be more than the turnover for a day at one of our branches. Those kinds of events were very important in the management of record stores.

But there was so much awful music, Ikeezumi laughs bitterly.

Ikeezumi: Once a month there would be a meeting for all the store managers. They’d say next month we want you to push this new release and that new release. And they’d be so boring, for me anyway. The stuff I liked – Atahualpa Yupanqui[14], Georges Brassens[15], Masayuki Takayanagi, Kazuki Tomokawa, Kan Mikami – they’d hardly sell at all, just a few copies. Whereas the other new releases would sell hundreds. There was a huge gap. I’d tried putting some indies releases in the Ikebukuro and Shimokitazawa stores, and we managed to sell a few copies of them. I’d also order imports, good stuff that hadn’t been released in Japan yet. But they would never sell. (laughs) I ordered lots of psychedelic records, imports. But no one bought them!

It was the late seventies when he was ordering indie label releases and imports. Before that while ordering the latest hit records, he would also make little sections for his favorite, outsider artists. These never gained much attention, but the records he was promoting were on Japanese major labels.

Ikeezumi: It was Mikami, Tomokawa, and then a disciple of Yupanqui’s called Sonko Mayu[16]. But no one would buy them. We sold a few Yupanqui records. I was also ordering rakugo records because I liked them, but we would only ever sell a few copies.

So he would be making presentations at the shop managers’ meeting about hit records that bored him, but the artists he liked never changed. He was given a keen understanding of just how few records they sold. But since he understood what would sell, he was a really valuable employee for the store.

Ikeezumi: That’s right. (laughs) Whenever a new release was due out, we would do these tie-ups with the record company. They’d put together these panels so we could hear new releases. When I heard YMO I knew that they were boring but I understood that moment that they would sell. That’s what I told the guy from Alfa Records[17]. It was the same with Yuming, back when she was still called Yumi Arai. That’ll definitely sell, I told them. I had a really close relationship with the people from Alfa. I thought the same about Circus[18] – I knew immediately that they would sell. Alfa didn’t think they would sell as many copies as they did, but it turned out to be a big hit. YMO though, they were a huge hit. I just knew what would sell, what would make a profit. But at the same time, it was the world of Takayanagi, Tomokawa, Mikami, Sonko Mayu… that was what really appealed to me and I wanted to help them, but their records just wouldn’t sell.

In the nineties when Shibuya bristled with CD megastores, small and medium sized import stores and second-hand stores, the position of buyer that Ikeezumi occupied came to be more and more important. We could say that Ikeezumi was perhaps the first of those charismatic buyers. It wasn’t only knowing what would sell that was important, it was also about insisting on the kind of records you wanted to sell. Ikeezumi wouldn’t be able to sell records the wanted until later, when he opened his own store. The story of how he came to do so begins in the late seventies. Musicians who were inspired by the inception of punk rock began to release their own records independently, and Gobangai was one of the stores that would accept them on consignment. Ikeezumi gradually became more interested in those records than in the likes of YMO.

Ikeezumi: That’s right. Back then, bands like Friction and Mirrors. (Hiroshi) Higo brought the Mirrors single to the store himself. I listened to it and it wasn’t that interesting. I’d seen them play live so I told them that they were far better live. He was surprised to hear that. (laughs) Friction were the same, they were far better live. I was so disappointed when I heard their first album. This isn’t Friction at all, that was what I told the production guy from Trio Records.[19] (laughs)

At the time, the ads that Gobangai ran in magazines like Zoo and Fool’s Mate had a distinctive handwritten section where they introduced punk and new-wave imports and Japanese independent releases. I used the map in the ads to find my way to Gobangai’s Shimokitzawa store, located on the second floor of a shopping building. The shop had piles of independently released flexi discs and records, and punk posters and flyers for live shows were pasted on the walls. Gobangai generally carried only new releases, but there were enough indies (though this word wouldn’t become popular until years later) releases at the Shimokitazawa branch to make to make me think it was a specialist store. I remember seeing punk bands playing in-store gigs there many times. The author of those handwritten ads was the manager of the Shimokitazawa store, Tadashi Watanabe. He’s the same guy who went on to open the independent record store Fujiyama in Sangenjaya in 1984.

Ikeezumi would decide to go it alone around the same time. Something that happened when he was at the Shimokitazawa store working on returns would provide him with the final impetus.

Ikeezumi: The store was also carrying regular new releases. It was hard work to find them and take them off the shelves so I could return them. I’d go the store and return any records that had been on the shelves for four or five months and hadn’t sold. As I was picking them out, this young kid came up and started asking me a question. “I want to listen to psychedelic music,” he said, “but what’s good?” So I told him. Blue Cheer[20] and stuff like that, the basics. A few months later the same kid showed up at the Ikebukuro store. And as I was answering his questions, I felt like it would be more interesting to actually sell records, instead of just working as a buyer. I was just about to turn thirty and it felt like there was no way I could last another ten years in the job. So, I decided to quit and open my own store.

I started to look for a store to rent. I hated the idea of Shinjuku or Shibuya, so I thought it would be good to be somewhere where there would be hardly any passersby. (laughs) Kyōdō or Sasazuka[21], that kind of place. Then I happened to hear from a friend at Victor that someone he knew had opened a record store in Meidaimae but hadn’t even lasted a year. The guy was looking for someone to take over his shop. I went to take a look and it was very near the station and the record browsers were still all there. There were speakers and a record-player so I could move straight in, so I decided to go for it.

Meidaimae Is the station where the Keiō line and the Keiō Inokashira line meet. It’s three stops from Shinjuku on the Keiō line, and seven stops from Shibuya on the Inokashira line. All the trains, both express and local, stop there, so in terms of transportation it’s very convenient. Then, as the name of the station suggests, it’s near Meiji University’s Izumi campus so there are lots of students who pass through. The shopping street by the station is small and it’s not really big enough to even call it a shopping district. They’ve built a new building above the station, but even so, things haven’t changed much. But the important thing was that the last record store in the area didn’t even last a year. Ikeezumi was looking for somewhere where there wouldn’t be many customers and he could do whatever he wanted, and in that sense Meidaimae was perfect. The store opened in 1980. At the start he had no customers whatsoever.