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First Wave Japanese Screamo: 1993 - 2002
Japanese Screamo Disc Guide Part 1
For the past few months, I’ve been working on a disc guide for Japanese screamo. What’s a disc guide? These have been popular in Japan for decades. Basically, they provide a sort of curated encyclopedia for a music scene or genre. They’re created for those new to the scene and for completionists looking to finish their collection.
Screamo has been played by Japanese bands for almost thirty years at this point, and the many bands and releases from the country has had a unique impact on the world. The longest running screamo band in the world is from Japan (Envy), and both billionaires (Yusaku Maezawa) and mainstream musicians (DJ Steve Aoki) had their beginnings in the Japanese screamo scene. Indeed, most Japanese screamo has a distinct sound that sets it apart from other regions. A deep dive into the scene has been a long time coming.
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The culmination of this research will be a physical book you can hold in your hands. In addition to a complete account of Japanese screamo (from 1993 to 2022), it’ll also include a lot of illustrations and design elements. I’ve broken the last thirty years into five waves which help to explain the evolution of the genre and simplify a massive scene encompassing over 300 bands and 1000 releases.
I’m publishing each section here because I want to get feedback from readers like yourself. Are there any factual errors? Am I missing an important band? Do you disagree with the releases I consider “notable”? Please let me know in the comments (or reply to this email)! Thanks!
The dawn of Japanese screamo started in 1993 with the formation of two of the earliest proto-screamo groups, Cowpers and Sawpit. Both bands formed from different existing music scenes (Cowpers in the post-punk shadow of Bloodthirsty Butchers in Sapporo and Sawpit in the pop-punk world of Snuffy Smile). But 1993 saw the first Japanese tour of Fugazi, which awakened many Japanese to the possibilities of marrying melody and aggression in underground music.
Cowpers, Sawpit, Bonescratch, and Next Style (along with others) would begin sprinkling what we now recognize as “screamo” sensibilities into their music. Some of the earliest releases are notable for lacking cohesive sound between each song. On both Cowpers and Sawpit’s debut 7”s, there are the “screamo” songs (Rattle Brained and Recall, respectively), but other tracks display more conventional sounds. On their debut album, Bonescratch practically zig-zags between thrash and screamo.
For almost every band in this first wave of Japanese screamo, the groups transitioned into (and sometimes out of) the screamo sound. The aforementioned Cowpers would all but leave behind their early screamo leanings to become quite popular as indie rock darlings. But most groups would call it quits, only to have the members move on to full-on screamo bands, such as members of Bonescratch forming The Carnival of Dark-Split or Next Style morphing into Black Film Dance.
The album that changed everything was Envy’s 1998 album, From Here To Eternity. Envy had made a switch of their own; they changed their name from Blind Justice, with a sound more akin to NYHC, to Envy in 1995. After releasing a lackluster debut and a few splits, Envy made a line-up change bringing back Masahiro Tobita on guitar (active in the Blind Justice days) and replacing their drummer with Dairoku Seki (at that time playing with Smelling Cunts, who changed their name to Dove around that time). The result was a quantum leap in Japanese screamo. No longer were Japanese bands interpreting foreign screamo bands sounds. Envy alchemized something completely original. Influenced by, but wholly unique. In some ways, the scene needed this to allow itself to flourish.
After From Here To Eternity, there was a surge of bands releasing ground-breaking albums and EPs. In Envy’s hometown of Tokyo, a small scene including Kulara, There Is A Light That Never Goes Out, and Nine Days Wonder was particularly active. In a span of a few years, several releases from each band appeared before the bands split up.
Dim Mak Records, a label run by Steve Aoki (pre-DJ) in Santa Barbara, CA, was also integral in the scene. He released records from Nine Days Wonder, Envy, Sawpit, and There Is A Light That Never Goes Out. This gave the scene and bands much recognition outside of Japan (this is how I found the scene).
2002 marked the rough end of the era. Kulara, There Is A Light That Never Goes Out, and Black Film Dance all split up around this year. Hiromichi Kanno, a member of The Carnival of Dark-Split, Bonescratch, Next Style, and F.I.X, sadly passed away that year, leaving a hole in the Sapporo underground music scene. While many of the people active in these bands would go on to start other bands, some screamo and some not, the First Wave of Japanese screamo was over, to be succeeded by a new wave of bands.
One of the most remarkable things about this wave is how many standards and styles they created that are still active in Japanese screamo. Envy single-handedly created three different styles (fast, dark, emotional in From Here To Eternity; intense, furious in All The Footprints…; post-rocky, epic in A Dead Sinking Story). But other band’s sounds, like The Carnival Of Dark-Split’s San Diego-inspired racket or There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’s tense fury, continue to have torchbearers in almost every era as well.
First Wave Bands
Atomic Fireball [Tokyo]
Black Film Dance [Sapporo]
Bomb’s Not Food
Dance With Me
Dignity For All [Sapporo]
Evil Powers Me [Tokyo]
Fall To Flake
Gotta Move This Site [Tokyo]
Man Friday [Tokyo]
Next Style [Sapporo]
Nine Days Wonder [Tokyo]
Speak For Myself [Tokyo]
The 100 Lots [Tokyo]
The Carnival of Dark-Split [Sapporo]
The Meditations [Nagoya]
There Is A Light That Never Goes Out [Tokyo]
Wise Up [Tokyo]
蹴 (tr. Keri)
Cowpers - Cowpers 7” [1995-09-01]
The debut EP from Cowpers see them embracing a noisy, more aggressive tone than some of their later releases. Combining some of the post-punk sound of their city mates Bloodthirsty Butchers with the noise rock stylings of The Jesus Lizard, Cowpers flirted with a proto-screamo sound while others around the world were doing the same. The shrieks in Rattle Brained and dissonant melodies would provide a blueprint for later Sapporo screamo bands to expand from.
Bonescratch - Diaglam CD [1996-05-14]
The Sapporo scene was incredibly active in the ’90s, and Bonescratch was pushing the scene towards a screamo sound. This, their debut album, was released on HG Fact, one of Tokyo’s most iconic underground labels at the time. The sound Bonescratch brings through these 14 songs is all over the place. Some tracks are straight-up thrash, some hardcore, some Dischord Records-style post-hardcore. And then quite a few have a very recognizable ’90s screamo sound. The band would carry on in subsequent releases with the screamo vibe. And after the band split a few years later, the members would continue on to form many more screamo groups over the years.
Sawpit - Sawpit 7” [1996-10-14]
Firmly planted in the world of Snuffy Smile Records, Sawpit somehow made the transition from pop-punk to screamo at a time when the genre was still being formed. This EP, their first, was co-released by Sawpit’s own Vernacular Records and California’s Ebullition Records (arguably the most important force in the formation of the screamo genre). While the lead track Recall has an unmistakable screamo tone, the other tracks fit the more typical pop-punk structure. Later releases from Sawpit would see them lean into the screamo sound more and single-handedly develop the punk/screamo subgenre that many other bands would take even further.
VA - Platform Compilation 7” 
A 7” compilation released with the fifth (and final) issue of the zine Mission Undone. This features some of the pillars of the Tokyo screamo scene at the time. Wall was more screamo adjacent, playing in a melodic, post-hardcore style. This track is more raw than the re-recording from their debut album two years later. Next is Envy, in full-on transition. This line-up is before Dairoku Seki (drums) and Masahiro Tobita (guitar) joined the band. There are still strains of their future sound on their track here (which would be re-recorded and released on a split with Endeavor later). It’s furious, melodic, very much Envy, but not as epic as they would become. Swipe shares a drummer with Wall and has the most modern screamo style. Members would later go on to form There Is A Light That Never Goes Out. Wise Up plays a similar style to Wall, melodic, post-hardcore that isn’t quite screamo, but nevertheless fits well with it.
Next Style - Pleasure Rage Sad And Comfort LP 
Another milestone in Sapporo screamo, Next Style merged fast, youth-crew style hardcore with emo to create a sort of proto-screamo hybrid. Vocalist Morikazu Higuchi (Higu) would become an underground icon. His distinctive scream-sing-yell style has become a hallmark of any band he’s been in since (such as Black Film Dance, The Sun, Anma, Cut Back). Next Style, like most other bands in this era, was experimenting with blending hardcore and emo. While other bands came at screamo from other angles, the approach shown here from more straight forward hardcore creates some interesting moments.
Envy - From Here To Eternity CD/LP [1998-08-11]
1998’s From Here To Eternity marked a turning point in Japanese screamo. After years of stylistic development and lineup changes, Envy formed the five-member lineup they’d keep for several decades and recorded a monumental half-hour of pure Japanese screamo. One of the key elements that Envy created here is the melodic sensibilities that would become a consistent thread running through most Japanese screamo bands after this. Another element the Envy perfected was crafting songs that maintained an incredible sense of velocity. Eschewing the classic verse/chorus song structure, Envy crafted asymmetric songs that took melodic and rhythmic transitions in a direction unseen in screamo.
Swipe - How Are You Hiroki? 7” 
The final release before Swipe split and went on to form There Is A Light That Never Goes Out (TIALTNGO). These three tracks are the most refined in the band’s oeuvre, and see them looking both backward and forwards. The first track It Will Come Again Like The Sun Is Rising follows the direction that TIALTNGO will take: driving and dissonant screamo. The second track, Tomorrow, is a little more melodic punk with little screamo influence. The last track, Sky Is High, has some TIALTNGO traces (especially in the second half of the song) but has a strong Midwest-emo influence that doesn’t appear in any of the band’s other songs.
Kulara - 5 Pieces Songs CD [1999-09-01]
Another huge leap forward for Japanese screamo (and screamo everywhere), Kulara’s first proper release showed them in impeccable form. Combining warped guitar tones, dissonant melodies, odd time signatures, strangled screaming, and harmonica (yes, that’s right), these five songs were like nothing before it. One of the most remarkable things is they are able to take all these innovations and merge them into some of the most dynamic and intense screamo I’ve ever heard. There weren’t many bands after that carried on Kulara’s sound, but that’s mostly because they literally couldn’t. The level of musicianship on this EP is stellar.
Creep - My Self Portrait CD [1999-12-24]
Hailing from Osaka, Creep represented what was happening in screamo outside of the dual Tokyo-Sapporo hubs. In this, their debut album, Creep lives in the world between dark, noisy hardcore and screamo melody. Their biggest influence, self-proclaimed even, is Bonescratch, and you can see it. While Creep’s style (especially on this album) is more consistent, there is always a tension between more straightforward heaviness and melody. On the few later releases, they would adopt even more from the Sapporo screamo sound, especially The Carnival of Dark-Split.
Dove - Pessimistic Tourist CD [2000-07-07]
Another Tokyo screamo group, Dove isn’t just notable for having two members that would go on to form Toe and Dairoku Seki on drums (from Envy) but also for producing almost an alternative version of Envy’s screamo sound. Seki on drums obviously brings on the comparison with his distinctive drumming style. But Yamazaki and Yamane write screamo melodies that don’t go as epic and dark as Envy’s. The result is a very listenable, almost radio-friendly in some ways, strain of Japanese screamo. When Envy was boycotting all press, Dove filled the void and was much more amenable to the Japanese pay-for-play media system. After this EP, Dove would soon stop their activity, allowing Seki to focus on Envy and the others to form Toe.
Nine Days Wonder - The Scenery Is In Disguise There CD/LP 
This first album from Nine Days Wonder came after a 7” and split with Bluebeard. A band constantly in flux, The Scenery Is In Disguise There sees them in transition between dissonant screamo and catchy, melodic indie rock. The 9 tracks switch between each sound, sometimes even during the same song. Entries like Stuck and Magnet are full-on screamo, not quite the same as other bands in the scene either. There is a unique smoothness to the rhythm section and song structure that adds a groove to the songs. Lossleader blends their screamo style with the indie rock found on the other tracks. Nine Days Wonder’s next album would be completely indie rock (with electronics added) before the band fully morphed into an electronic act (mostly solo) and changed the name to 9dw.
There Is A Light That Never Goes Out - IE CD/LP 
After Swipe dissolved, three of the members formed a new group (with Akio Mori) that pursued the harsher screamo sound they were exploring in their final release. These 7 songs are a shorter album and the best document of There Is A Light That Never Goes Out (TIALTNGO). The band pulls in pieces of Kulara (desperate screams and deep drumming patterns) but keeps melodies that fit closer to post-punk. There’s also a very brooding mood that comes from the cyclical bass riffs that anchor every song. The instrumentation and interaction of the four members remind me a lot of how Fugazi’s songs worked together. TIALTNGO wouldn’t release much more than this EP (another split and a discography), but the band's impact continues reverberating in the music scene today as members haven’t stopped forming and playing in new bands.
The Carnival of Dark-Split - Focus CD [2001-07-16]
Unlike other bands in this era, The Carnival of Dark-Split came out fully formed. From their first demo to the last split, their unique concoction of dissonant, tremolo-heavy dark screamo was consistent. The group formed in 2000 and released Focus, their first and only album, the year after. 8 songs that capture feelings of chaos, loneliness, and cold, all aspects that could derive from their hometown of Sapporo. The Carnival of Dark-Split introduced other new things to screamo, layering in electronics (almost toy-like keyboards), lots of guitar effects, and static-y vocals (kind of an old-time radio sound). In fact, there was a lot of experimentation with the guitar/vocals section, which let the rhythm section (bass/drums) carry many of the songs. This is a really good album to drive to, as the songs never seem to ruminate on any section for too long, and the tempo is nearly always fast.
Envy - All The Footprints You’ve Ever Left And The Fear Expecting Ahead CD/LP [2001-09-01]
A furious two years after From Here To Eternity, which saw them touring through Japan, Europe, and Asia and releasing four EPs and a split, Envy released their quintessential album, All The Footprints You’ve Ever Left And The Fear Expecting Ahead. Although the progression of their sound in each release demonstrates a consistent direction, it’s still astonishing to compare their progress with the scene at large. Envy had such a distinct and unapologetic perspective. There are a few factors in play besides the brilliance of the members. They had the same consistent line-up since right before From Here To Eternity. They had been touring significantly overseas and weren’t holding themselves back to simply pandering to a domestic audience. And they were deep into a years-long boycott/blackball of Japanese media. Every song they wrote had to be the best. They had to be so unmistakably good that they couldn’t be ignored. And it worked. Aside from the musical perfection of this album, it was released simultaneously in Japan, America, and Europe and has been re-pressed over and over for the last two decades. Even listening to it now, it sounds fresh and urgent. There really hasn’t been another band that matched Envy on every dimension that they were displaying here. This is the story of Japanese Screamo. It’s what brought me into the scene and still stands as my all-time favorite album.
Black Film Dance - John’s LP CD 
Like most bands in this era, Black Film Dance was short-lived, releasing their entire discography in 2002 (this album was recorded in 2001). Formed from members of Bonescratch and Next Style, Black Film Dance took a very interesting approach to screamo. While most of their songs start with dissonant energy, they often devolve into hypnotic, repeating melodies anchored by keyboards and circular rhythms (see Nature, Draw). Higu’s vocals are distinct here (as with any release he’s on). Fans of Next Style will find that his approach here is evolved and even more confident in a personal and distinct sound. Every phrase is more expressive and intense than before. Although many of the members would move on to other groups (Discotortion and The Sun, notably), I always wish that we could’ve seen where Black Film Dance would’ve gone after this album.
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