Buried Treasures Of Japanese Underground vol.2 sugar plant

Text by YODA (KiliKiliVilla)
On this page, I would like to share the thoughts of the label's artists and myself with our international supporters who continue to show interest and support in KiliKiliVilla on Bandcamp.
If you can read pages written in Japanese with automatic translation, please check out KiliKiliVilla's WEB MAGAZINE, where you can find past interviews with the artists and detailed introductions of the albums.

sugar plant 2018

Sugar Plant was formed in 1993 when Shin'ichi Ogawa and Chinatsu Shoyama met as university students. In Tokyo, many indie labels started their activities in the mid-1980s, mainly in the punk genre, and gradually expanded from there. In Osaka, bands focusing on hardcore, noise, and uncategorizable performances further stimulated the chaotic scene. At the center of this scene, BOREDOMS and S.O.B. soon became recognized abroad. I have asked a specialist to write a manuscript on the state of the scene during this period, which I will publish in this series in the near future.

The situation changed drastically in the 1990s. In the indie scene, the New Wave generation of the 80’s retreated and a younger generation emerged. It was at this point that bands that could be labeled “indie rock” finally appeared on the scene. This new generation, especially sensitive to the rise of UK indie music after 1989, began to sing in English. This was due in large part to the influence of Flipper's Guitar, a band in which Keigo Oyamada, better known as Cornelius, played with Kenji Ozawa. I would say that they brought about a paradigm shift to the term “indie". Strangely enough, there were no bands in Japan in the 80's in the style of The Smiths, for example. Import record stores imported a great deal of UK indie into Japan, and there were numerous enthusiastic listeners. However, there were no bands in this style until the debut of Flipper's Guitar. No one thought such a band was possible. Flipper's Guitar's first album, which was sung entirely in English, was a shock to me, and their taste for quoting and paying homage to classic UK indie songs was outstanding. Everything they did was stylish. Despite their short existence, they ushered in a new epoch in Japan. With the dawn of the 1990s, Japan began to see the emergence of indie-style bands one after another. This later became known as SHIBUYA-KEI.

Back to Sugar Plant. By the time they started their activities, it was no longer unusual for music-loving university students to play music in the same style as the international scene. While most bands in Tokyo followed the British music scene, Sugar Plant was an exception. They drew inspiration from American indie bands like Galaxie 500, Yo La Tengo, and Low. This made them somewhat heretical in Tokyo's music circles at the time. I first discovered them through a friend who shared a tape of their debut album, "Hiding Place," recorded in 1994. I reached out to them as soon as I heard it.

In the early 90s, small local labels engaged in DIY activities were prevalent worldwide. It was common for Japanese bands to send their demos to these small labels. One of the most representative of these was SARAH RECORDS, based in Bristol, England. Though it seems unimaginable today, mail and faxes were crucial during that period. Before releasing their album, Sugar Plant put out two 7-inch records; one of them was released by POP! NARCOTIC. In Japan, "Hiding Place" was released in 1995 on my own label, WONDER RELEASE. This marked the beginning of a relationship that has lasted over 30 years between Sugar Plant and me.

Sugar Plant embarked on their first extensive U.S. tour in 1995, facilitated by Pop Narcotic. They drove across the U.S., playing with indie bands from across the nation. This exposure to the real American indie scene reaffirmed their musical direction. The positive reception they received throughout the tour boosted our confidence significantly, instilling a firm belief in creating our own music that transcended simple admiration. For me, Sugar Plant was more than just friends; they were comrades-in-arms with whom I navigated the trials of my youth. In the years following 1995, we spent every weekend together.

1995: the year I first encountered raves and parties. I will have to write more about the Tokyo dance scene in the 90's another time. I attended my first rave in July, and by September or October, I was so captivated that I had already invited the two members of Sugar Plant to join. For the next four to five years, I spent nearly every weekend with them at clubs and outdoor raves during what was a truly vibrant season. The act of dancing shifted my approach to music, necessitating a reevaluation of my prior musical experiences and a redefinition of music from the perspective of dance. Previously, my engagement with music was driven by admiration, but dancing allowed me to delve deeper into the music, enhancing my ability to analyze its structure and uncover hidden messages. It was as if I could hear sounds that were previously inaudible to me. This period marked a profound paradigm shift in my consciousness. Never before had I engaged with music with such an intense spirit of inquiry, and it was during this time that my perspective on music was firmly established.

The underground parties in Tokyo in the mid-90s were really exciting. Half of the audience was non-Japanese, there was a mix of different ethnicities that one would not normally meet, and the floor was very positive and energetic. Naturally, a considerable amount of drugs were passed around. It was like experiencing our own version of the 1988 acid house movement in England. It was a wild and exciting few years, and it's hard to imagine what Tokyo would be like today without it.

We talked about everything there. We would go to parties on the weekends, go to after hours in the morning, and chill out in the park during our weekend routine, discussing what we found on the floor that day. Soon we couldn't get enough of the dance music played at the parties, so we would gather at someone's house and listen to all kinds of music. How happy we were to have someone to talk to at that time. Only by bouncing our thoughts off of a partner could we truly communicate the meaning of the music, which would often trigger fresh ideas. Sugar Plant is a friend with whom I spent a lot of time immersed in music. The songs “after after hours”, “trance mellow”, and “happy” were created during those days.

At the time, I was encouraging many musicians, not just Sugar Plant, to attend raves and delve into dance music. Many of them began producing dance tracks influenced by their experiences there, but Sugar Plant took a different approach. They aimed to integrate the vibes and ideas from these parties and raves into their music. There’s a particularly memorable episode from that time. One summer night, we spent hours at the beach with a portable CD player and speakers. Since this was before the era of iPhones and iPods, we carried a stack of CDs in a holder and played music all night. There were about five or six of us, sharing laughs over silly stories, playing our favorite songs, and waiting for dawn. As the horizon transitioned from dark blue to purple, then from red to orange, everyone fell silent in unison, letting only the music fill the air. Shin’ichi chose "Ocean" by The Velvet Underground. Listening to Lou Reed’s voice as I watched the horizon shimmer, I felt a special resonance that reshaped my perception of the music of Neil Young, The Doors, and others. If you've seen the movie “Almost Famous”, you might recall the scene where the tour bus sings along to Elton John's "Tiny Dancer". We experienced similar moments multiple times during this period.

After a party one night, I couldn't go home, so I ended up at my friend's place to listen to music. At the time, Shin'ichi was deeply absorbed in Derrick May’s "Strings of Life" by Rhythim is Rhythim, a track from 1987 that remained a party anthem even in the mid-90s. It's said that whenever a DJ spun this track at the climax of a party, it would bring tears to the audience’s eyes. Shin'ichi played it repeatedly, prompting me to ask, "Why do you listen to it so many times?" His reply was profound: "I want to unlock the secrets of this song and incorporate them into my own music."

We were learning a lot from dance music, concluding that the only true criterion for judging music should be one's own heart. We aimed to convey the complexities and joys of expressing a message through music without deceit or ulterior motives. Music had to be honest.

Having someone to discuss these ideas with helped me to grasp them deeply and realistically. Through such dialogues, I also realized that great music can't just be thought out; it needs to be felt deeply. With this realization in heart, I went on to create "after after hours" in 1996 and "happy" in 1998.

The three titles, “after hours”, “trance mellow”, and “happy”, were, in a sense, a trilogy. The theme of this work revolves around how to weave the sensations gained from dancing and partying into our own music. It was not merely about crafting songs in a preferred style, but rather, a creation influenced by personal experiences and sensations. I believe it was this sense that resonated with foreign artists. As a testament to this, when “after after hours” was released, Sugar Plant was celebrated as a hot newcomer in the US. Their 1997 US tour proved to be a great success, performing alongside well-known bands. However, back in Japan, we faced the challenge of being misunderstood. During this period, both Sugar Plant and I grappled with an adolescent crisis, struggling to reconcile the values demanded by society with our desired freedom, the truths we had uncovered, and an irreversible life, all amidst pervasive risks.

The next album, "trance mellow," advanced Sugar Plant's exploration even further, drawing inspiration from cosmic chill-out genres, ranging from Cafe Del Mar-style chill-out to influences from the Cocteau Twins and Slowdive. Notably, the final track, "meadow," serves as a tribute to Gavin Bryars' "Thinking of Titanic," a contemporary musical masterpiece. This concept was uniquely suited to the cultural and creative climate of the 1990s. Following the album's release, Sugar Plant's presence at outdoor raves and club gigs soared, positioning them as pioneers in blending club culture with rock music. They performed at numerous legendary parties during this era, attracting a diverse and expanding audience.

The album "happy" was born under these challenging conditions. It was meticulously crafted, undergoing numerous changes and revisions, with a strong emphasis on detail and a sincere effort to expose my inner self. Sugar Plant also felt that the album was ready for release. However, its reception in Japan was not as robust as we had hoped. Although it garnered high praise from some quarters, it failed to significantly alter our circumstances. Nevertheless, in the US, "happy" was paired with "trance mellow" and released as a double album, which received a warm reception. The subsequent US tour was larger in scale compared to previous ones.

As the 2000s began, Sugar Plant and I started to engage more with society, and the changing seasons became evident as families started to form around us. Following the release of the more sophisticated album "dryfruit" in 2000, sugar plant entered a long hiatus.

My reflections on our mindset and the situation in the late 90s reveal that our thoughts from that time have not changed. For me, listening to music is essentially a form of communication between the creator and the listener. The most fulfilling moments come when my honest feelings are directly conveyed. If the music becomes overly intellectual or if other messages interfere, my interest fades. That said, I remain eager as ever to share my enthusiasm for great music with others.

Whether "happy" holds something special is for the listener to decide, but as one of its creators, I believe we managed to convey an important feeling surrounding a moment in time faithfully. Sugar Plant is now being rediscovered on subscription services abroad, especially with "happy". I am convinced that something in this album remains vibrant and relevant. The remastered version offers a clearer and more expansive sound. I encourage you to have a listen, and hope that you enjoy it.

Sugar Plant 1997 US TOUR

Stream the latest live shows from Sugar Plant.
The live video of Sugar Plant and Penny Arcade's April 27 concert can be viewed here until 21:00 Japan time on May 4. The site is in Japanese, but you can watch it from overseas as well.
You must register with an email address to watch. Please use 1500001 for your postal code, as a postal code and telephone number in Japan are required for registration. For the phone number, please enter 0901234xxxx (where xxxx is any number).

27th April CLUB QUE

Sugar Plant Interview 2018 (Japanese)