This article appeared as the cover feature article of the February 2002 issue of Japan Zine. 


        Osaka Burning Men


        Anybody who stayed at home new yearfs eve this year might have found themselves, along with half of the country, watching the Kohaku singing contest, at the same time probably coming to conclusions about the dim state of affairs in the Japanese music industry.  But what a lot of people probably donft realize is that underneath the skin there are some J-pop bands that are actually quite.  And if you were to sink a knife deep into the soft white underbelly of the mammoth industry youfd find a vibrant grassroots D.I.Y. music industry shaking it all up, the heart of which is in one of Japanfs gutsiest cities Osaka. 

        The Osaka sound is generally characterized by two scenes, the first being of buzzing guitars represented by scene-obsasans Shonen Knife and centering around Juso live house Fandango as a kind of Whiskey-A-Go-Go supporting small rock and punk acts until they make their way to larger marketc or obscurity.  The second sound is the experimental noise scene, a strange world of avant-garde fantasy led by noise patriarchs such as music anarchists the Boredoms and king of noise Masonna.  This scene centers around the CBGB of the scene, Bears, where the best acts work their way up into the obscurity of having very small legions of devoted otaku fans in Japan and overseas. 

        The current rising star of the scene is 3.6 Milk, a fun pop power punk ska outfit already well-loved in Kansai for their energetic songs, infectious friendliness and stage presence, audience rapport, and all-around good grooves.  Made up of three kids who met in CATO Technical College after high school and started a band in 1996, skinny guitarist Teppei, skinny bass player Satoshi, and burly drummer XXX have already toured the country several times as an indies band on the Strawberry Maze label where they had two CD releases.  Now signed to the Sony label, where they are small and gutsy enough to be allowed to mostly manage themselves, they have a big year ahead of them: a mini-CD to be released on February 3rd with a seven-date tour, then a full-length release in the summer with a 50 date tour that will take them all over Japan, the the United States and Canada, and possibly Europe. 


        Getting to know the guys


        Japanzine caught up with 3.6 Milk before their appearance at the Osaka Burning 2 event in Shinsaibashi in January and took them to the Dotonbori Ebisubashi bridge, favorite place for buskers and amateur artists, for a photo shoot and to conduct a short interview. 

        gWhatfs the real story behind your name?h 

        gWell, you know 3.5 milk that you can buy in the stores?  Well, wefre 3.6.h 

        gOne louder, I guess.  I heard something about March 6th, 3-6, you always had gigs at some place and thatfs how you got your name.h 

        gWell, that was Rockets.  And March 6th is e3.6 Milk Day.f  But this year wefll be playing at Osaka Bayside Jennyfs instead.  Gotta change some time.  Oh yeah, in our name also there is the 6, in Japanese eroku.f  It sounds like erock,f so we think itfs a good name.h 

        gSure.  What are your musical influences?h 

        gSublime, 311, Very Micro, Full Mary, Long Beach Dub All-Stars.h 

        gWhat major band would you like to open up for?h 

        gLong Beach Dub All-Stars.h 

        gWhatfs in your walkman?h 

        gA mixed tape.  But it has Long Beach Dub All-Stars on it.h 

        gWhat are the best Kansai bands?h 

        gThe bands wefre playing with tonight, Knuckles and Burl and Pet are great.  There are lots of great bands in Kansai!h 


        Wild Underground Event in the Naked City


        The show later on was a wild, fun event.  The crowd were young and excited, the air filled with a good, strong vibe.  Leather and hair product galore, pins and patches, metal queens in spandex and spikes, and not a few well-coiffed damsels in heels and trendy winter coats to add some color.  The crowd was friendly, with kids gathering in groups to hang out, without any of the too-cool-for-school posing that haunts the techno and hip-hop scenes, as well as many of the live music scenes back home.  A large part of the audience were probably in bands themselves.  

        A slick intro on a large movie screen opened up Osaka Burning 2 and set up the bands.  First up were Knuckles, a tense punk group that flirted with jazz and pop and calypso styles, oi oi oi, then the second band Burl with an intense, nasty hardcore assault.  Raging glam mobsters Pet were introduced by that clip from Pulp Fiction (gI love you honey bunnyh), whence they proceeded to pump up the mood with their infectious, raunchy, blistering party attack.  Finally, the crowd was warmed up enough for 3.6 Milk, who came out shirtless and hit the audience with everything they had.  Wiry bass player Satoshi had shaved his head since the afternoon and his smoothe pate bobbed with the music as his whole body contorted and bounced around.  Deep into the music, into working together, and into reaching the audience, 3.6 Milk are a world apart from the bands you see on TV that seem to be too busy thinking about their upcoming solo careers to notice anyone else around them.  Good time ska and good guitar punk kept the set lively, the group then changed things up when they introduced their recent collaborator Barry Micron, a legendary reggae singer from Jamaica who now lives in Japan.  Larger than life with hat and shades and long long dreads and beard, in a cool green Jamaica suit, Barry delivered a fast reggae rap to give the punky ska a brilliant crossover feel.  Viva lfinternazionalization musicale!  To round out the evening after the 3.6 Milk set, the members of the four bands came onstage to sing a big group version of the Sex Pistolsf gFrigginf In The Rigging.h  It felt like an Osaka LiveAid.  Or maybe hearinf aid! 

        There are plenty of chances to see 3.6 Milk and Barry Micron this year, starting with their upcoming mini-tour.  Check them out, at the same time catch the local opening bands theyfll be playing with: 

        2/9 Osaka Sun Hall

        2/15 Fukuoka Zepp

        2/15 Kobe Star Club

        2/22 Nagoya

        2/24 Tokyo

        3/3 Tokyo

        3/6 Osaka Bayside Jenny


        Gaijin arrives on the scene


        The Kansai music scene is not for the Japanese only, as the ever-growing number of foreigners making appearances attests.  Zines like Bananafish and Matt Exilefs Exile Osaka have been documenting the scene in print, websites have been doing the same electronically, and foreigners have started labels like Public Bath and Japan overseas, or maybe even married local musicians.  The list of foreigners who have gotten onstage themselves is even more extensive and could never be conclusive without leaving anyone out, but among the names to look for are Tripod Jimmy, Tim Olive, Roi Tan, Phillip Sanartzis, Jeff Bell and his many projects like Empty Orchestra and Live Evil, and others.  Keep your eyes open gaijin are involved in the creative process everywhere!  Barry Micron, once a member of the Garwood Brothers and a solo artist who has performed at Reggae Sunsplash in Japan and has hung out with Bob Marley, is surely one of the scene elder venerables.  Now living in Japan with his Japanese wife, he plays occasional reggae shows of his own as well, particularly at year end.  With the 3.6 Milk gaijin crew it is not only Barry whofs sharing the excitement local jack-of-all-trades Guido was on hand at the Osaka Burning 2 show with his film crew to shoot a video for the group with long-time band pal and songwriting collaborator Chris Howe.  Chris, who is also a sound engineer for Barry Micronfs reggae projects, brought him together with 3.6 Milk last summer and watched unexpected crossover magic happen.  Expect even more magic in the near future. 


        Exploring the Scene


        The Kansai music scene has already spread its feelers all over Japan, with the smallest bands sending their demo tapes to many of the smallest live houses, often touring without any CD releases or label tour support and practically paying to play.  Feel the devotion, experience the commitment to non-mainstream music alive and well even in Japan, see the fresh young faces that know they probably wonft become superstars and not really giving a ratfs ass since theyfre clearly having a ball just being onstage.  Information about musical events is best gathered from handbills left on racks in local music shops and sometimes other trendy/fashionable outlets, not to forget the clubs themselves.  Going out to shows is a great way to make local friends that are a part of the scene and making friends with people who have similar tastes and like to have a good time.