Gauze: 言いたかねえけど目糞鼻糞 12” (2021, XXX Records)
Recently, copies of Gauze’s 6th album hit US shores. If you follow punks on Instagram, you’ve likely seen people showing off their copies. My sincere apologies to anyone who was hoping to get a copy from Sorry State. I dropped the ball and didn’t look into getting copies until it was too late, but hopefully we can rectify that in the future and carry the next pressing. Luckily for me, I could order a copy for myself from the venerable Velted Regnub distribution.
Much like when Gauze released their 5th album, the reactions I’ve seen online have been mixed. Lots of people are excited about this new chapter in Gauze’s legacy, but there are always haters. I’m not sure what people could be looking for in a Gauze album that they don’t hear here, but I love the record. I’ve seen several people say that the first song on the record is whack but the rest of it is good, but when I listen to the record, I can’t for the life of me figure out what’s so different about the first track. Maybe I’m missing something?
The word I keep coming back to when people ask me my thoughts on this album is “anthemic.” The anthemic qualities of Gauze’s music have always been cut off to me as someone who doesn’t speak Japanese, but I can tell by the way their fans sing along when I watch videos of their shows that their songs have always been anthemic. However, this new album seems to give the vocals more of a spotlight than previous records, with even a sung a capella part. Unexpected, but brilliant as always, if you ask me.
While I’m still formulating my thoughts on the record, I thought it might be interesting to reflect on what makes Gauze so great. Those of us who love Gauze revere them, which probably confuses people who have little context for their music. If I didn’t know better, I’d chalk up my passion for Gauze to the way I encountered them. I mail ordered a copy of their 7” on Prank Records when I was in high school, intrigued by the crisp graphic design and the fact that the band was from Japan. A year or so later at a show in Richmond, I complimented Jay from Hardcore Holocaust on his Gauze t-shirt and he encouraged me to buy a bootleg of GISM’s Detestation that had just come out. That record melted my brain as thoroughly as Gauze did, and a lifelong obsession with Japanese punk was born. I remember when I discovered eBay around 1998, one of the first things I did was search for Gauze records, and I ordered a very expensive import copy of their fourth album. As more information about Japanese punk hit the internet, I devoured everything I could and continued to expand my knowledge of the scene.
Back to Gauze. Even for those of us with a particular interest in Japanese punk, Gauze stands head and shoulders above other bands. Why? Here are four things I think contribute to Gauze’s legendary status:
Having released their first recordings on 1982’s City Rockers compilation, Gauze is one of Japan’s longest-running punk bands. Their first album, 1985’s Fuck Heads, came out on the legendary ADK label, which was run by Tam from the Stalin. Their 1986 and 1991 albums came out on the equally legendary Selfish Records, the label that released much of the seminal music that shapes people’s understanding of Japanese hardcore to this day. Thus, Gauze is a throughline connecting almost the entire history of Japanese punk. Gauze’s longevity may mean even more for Japanese hardcore than it does for other scenes, given the deferential and courteous nature of Japanese culture and language. Also, while plenty of bands from the initial explosions of punk and hardcore are still going in some capacity, Gauze is one of the few who have done so with minimal changes in lineup and sound. Gauze has never put out a pop record, never made a video for MTV, and never deviated from hardcore’s narrow path. In other words, Gauze has never sucked.
To put it simply, no band has ever sounded like Gauze. This is particularly true of everything they recorded after their landmark second album, 1986’s Equalizing Distort. When you drop the needle on a Gauze record, you know it is them instantly and without question. Further, while every semi-famous punk band has its imitators and acolytes, I’m not aware of any band that has cracked the code for how to write a song that sounds like Gauze. Plenty of people imitate Death Side or Bastard or Judgement with some success, but it appears Gauze is the only band that can make Gauze songs.
Speaking of Death Side, Bastard, and Judgement, while all those bands have played reunion shows and even played in the US, Gauze remains indifferent to whatever the West might offer. Gauze toured the UK in 1989 (a live set performed in Scotland appeared as the b-side of their 3rd album) and played three US shows in 1996 (on this tour they recorded the Prank 7” that introduced me to the band). However, those trips seem to have satisfied Gauze’s international ambitions. While Prank wrangled a US release for their 5th album in 2007, finding physical copies of Gauze’s releases or seeing the band live has entailed meeting them on their turf. Even in Japan they seem to exist as a scene unto themselves, playing the same clubs again and again with seemingly no aim to expand their passionately devoted core audience. Press both in and out of Japan has been minimal, with the few Gauze interviews I’ve seen eliciting only curt and enigmatic responses from the band. In the absence of reliable info, legends about Gauze have proliferated in the rumor mill. My favorite of these is that Gauze practices consist of the band playing every song they have ever written without stopping, a feat of near-superhuman strength. Which brings me to my final point.
Perhaps this could fly over your head if you aren’t a musician, but Gauze’s mind-boggling technical skill as players is a huge part of their appeal. Part of the distinctiveness of their sound is that few bands can play with anything close to their power and precision, which is more impressive since, at their gigs, they perform their songs in rapid-fire succession with no stopping in between. I’ve seen very few bands have the gumption to cover Gauze, and nearly all of those make it apparent why they shouldn’t have tried. While Gauze’s songwriting isn’t flashy in an Eddie Van Halen / Yngwie Malmsteen kind of way, they are mazes of sharp and dramatic changes in rhythm. Even remembering these changes must be a struggle, much less performing them with Gauze’s airtight level of precision. Not every hardcore band aspires to tightness, but if you have ever played in a hardcore band with that goal, Gauze is the unequivocal gold standard.
I’m sure other Gauze fanatics have their own relationship with the band, but those are some reasons the band remains so special to me. If you are lucky enough to be discovering Gauze for the first time, jump into their discography at whatever point you find most convenient. As I said, they have never sucked. Whether your jumping-on point is the rhythmic mazes of their fourth or fifth LPs, the classics Fuck Heads and Equalizing Distort, their punkier tracks on the City Rocker compilation, or something else, you’re going to get a taste of what makes this band so legendary.