Here’s a brief history of Teengenerate, as told by Masao Nakagami of Target Earth Records, and translated by yours truly. Enjoy!
What kind of band was Teengenerate? I think you’ll get a pretty good idea if you watch the documentary, but I thought I’d write my own story of the band to supplement the film.
Teengenerate was far from the first Japanese band to put out records and tour overseas. So what makes them so special?
For one thing, they had their own idea of what rock and roll and punk rock meant. This was an era when there were a lot of bands putting out records and putting on tours DIY-style and they were part of that. Also during this time, lots of connections were being made between like-minded bands, so some of it was purely good timing. You can see that all of that in the movie.
Brothers Fifi and Fink started their first band in Tokyo in the late 80s. They thought Tokyo was a mecca for rock and roll and figured if they moved there and started a band, they’d find other rock and roll
fanatics like them. But that wasn’t the case at all and they ended up not hooking up with anybody, at least not at first.
They started the American Soul Spiders in 1987. The band took its name from a Flamin’ Groovies song title. They put out a single on 1+2 and writer Hiroshi Sekiguchi used this single to get them a deal with US west coast label Sympathy for the Record Industry.
They were ecstatic about this because they loved simple, straight-ahead punk rock from the US and UK, and they didn’t feel like they fit in with the Tokyo scene and its restrictive quota system.
So, if their record was going to come out on an American label, why not go to the US? Fifi, Fink and Sammy decided to make the trip. They brought their instruments, but it wasn’t exactly a tour. They really just went to see shows and buy records.
They came back to Japan and began putting out releases like ‘Anyway Anygirl,’ and ‘Lazy Cowgirls.’ With their own stuff now out, they headed back to the States, this time to play. They did pretty well and this set the groundwork for going back again. The trip also managed to get Supersnazz, who went with them, a record deal with Sub Pop, which later put out their first album. There were lots of new things going on for the band during this tour, like Sekiguchi chronicling the tour for music magazines and playing as Jeff Dahl’s backing band.
American Soul Spiders’ music was pretty solidly hard rock with a little dose of darkness. The tour went well but singer Dezaki announced at the end that he was staying in New York, so the band effectively split up. Suck also left the band but they’d gotten an offer to put out something on Heresy’s In Your Face label who they were introduced to by Koenji record shop Boy’s Erika Bekku, so he played drums for the recording of the record, ‘Maximum Overdrive.’ Around 1991 when it was released the band was pretty much finished.
Fink was deeply impressed by seeing the Devil Dogs play. He wanted to play simple, straight-ahead rock and roll like that but didn’t think the American Soul Spiders could do it. So, with Dezaki gone, he started Teengenerate with the remaining members. This was in 1993. He took the name from the Dictators song.
The band’s first show was at Shinjuku Jam on February 21st, 1993. There was no scene to speak of and they played with some lame bands that were nothing like them, but it just so happened that the Young Fresh Fellows, who were in Japan at the time, came to see the show.
Their next show was put on by Mangrove Label. American Soul Spiders had a track on Mangrove’s first release, a Dead Boys tribute album, so Teengnerate had a connection with the label.
In May, a college friend of Fink’s named Warabi started Wallabies Records and the ‘Get Me Back’ single was its first release. Armed with the single, Teengenerate set off on its first American tour, the first stop of which was massive garage festival Garage Shock. Their appearance at Garage Shock was really valuable for the band. It led to offers from a number of different labels.
During this trip, Jim from Young Fresh Fellows set up recording sessions for what would be their first album, ‘Audio Recording.’ The album was mostly covers. Teengenerate was a band that chose good covers, so it was quite a collection.
Back then, before the internet, it was hard for kids to hear rare punk rock. We take it for granted today. You can listen to rare stuff on YouTube all day long. Back then, you couldn’t, so when bands like Teengenerate covered rare punk, it spread the music to kids who had never heard it before.
The documentary really focuses on Teengenerate’s original songs, but actually they were more about playing covers. Their live sets only started focusing more on originals after the release of their second album, ‘Savage.’
Due to some differences of opinion that emerged during the US tour, drummer Suck quit the band and they started looking for a replacement. Sammy’s baseball friend Shoe filled in and ended up becoming the permanent drummer. Shoe was the last element that turned Teengenerate into the raging speedball of garage/punk that it was. His simple but fast and ferocious drumming (‘It’s all I can play,’ he always said) pushed the band’s pace into the recklessly high-speed region inhabited by bands like the New Bomb Turks.
The garage scene at that time was really wide-ranging, everything from 50s or 60s type rock and roll, to surf, punk rock, power pop and scum rock. It was all called ‘garage.’ Teengenerate could hang in the garage, punk rock or hardcore scene, or to put it another way, they had a style that had points of contact with all of these genres.
If you could sum up the 90s garage punk scene with one word, it would be ‘raw.’ The word started to show up in Japan in places like Sekuguchi’s writing in Doll Magazine. At first, they used the word seikou (crude, unpolished). Another word that began appearing to describe the sound was lo-fi, not to be confused with the lo-fi movement in indie rock, which was also going on at the time.
With their raw and course sound, Teengenerate fit both of those terms – raw and lo-fi. That’s why they fit so well into the 90s garage scene. Nobody really put all of this together until Eric Davidson’s book We Never Learn, which tells the story of 90s garage. I highly recommend it and Teengenerate makes an appearance in one chapter.
Teengenerate never felt like they belonged in the Tokyo scene. But during the time when American Soul Spiders were playing, there were some people who started to gravitate toward them. These were people like rock writer Hiroshi Sekiguchi and Mangrove Label’s Iijima and Kobayashi. A scene started to form around event organizer Daddy-O-Nov, with bands like Guitar Wolf, the 5,6,7,8’s, Jackie & the Cedrics and Texaco Leatherman. Also through Samantha’s Favorite, Teengenerate connected with melodic hardcore bands like Slimefisher and flagship melodic hardcore label Snuffy Smile, which would become part of the K.O.G.A. Records scene.
This is around the time that I met Teengenerate. Everything was all jumbled and chaotic, but a scene was starting to emerge. It was really different from Japanese punk up until that time. Kids in Japan had always known about what was going on overseas, but they just imported it. This wasn’t just Japanese kids importing stuff from overseas. It was like both sides were influencing each other. We were all part of this generation, regardless of where we were.
Teengenerate had never liked the quota system Japanese rock clubs used. This is a system where the band basically has to buy and sell the tickets and if they don’t, they have to pay back the club. One night, they bumped into Shimokitazawa Shelter manager Hirano at a Tokyo drinking hole and they convinced him in his inebriated state to let them have shows without a quota. So, the Shelter became Teengenerate’s home base, and thus the home of garage punk in Tokyo.
Around this time, they also met the Registrators, a like-minded band that would also have a huge influence on the Tokyo scene.
At the beginning of 1994, the band’s singles were coming out nearly every month and kids were checking import bins at record stores. Teengenerate put out records on nearly every cool garage label of the 90s like Estrus, Sympathy for the Record Industry, Dionysus, Crypt, Au-Go-Go, Dog Meat, etc. So their popularity grew. Kids who checked out import bins discovered that there was a band like this in Japan, and more and more kids came to their shows.
It wasn’t easy to find their stuff in Japan. Their only Japan release was the Wallabies record. They put out records, so you could only find them at shops that sold vinyl. This was the time when the major labels were making the shift to CDs and most chain record stores didn’t carry vinyl. The big stores only started carrying their music from ‘Get Action’ on. That’s probably one reason they didn’t get more popular in Japan. Only a small segment of the Tokyo scene knew about them.
Around this time, the Red Cloth (which was at a different location than it is now), was holding a DJ event twice a month hosted by Hiroshi Sekiguchi. I also DJ’d there and little by little a scene started taking shape around this event as well.
With all of the music and stuff that was going on in the scene now, I was going to shows, photographing bands and writing a lot. That was my daily existence and it led to me starting Target Earth. I was burning with this feeling like, ‘What can I do to contribute?’ I loved hanging out with Fink and Fifi at after-show parties and elsewhere, drinking, talking records and listening to their stories of touring overseas. More than musicians, they’re incredible music fans. I loved their perspectives and knowledge of music and I’m sure it rubbed off on other people who were around them a great deal as well. That tradition lives on at Fifi’s bar Poor Cow today.
In May 1994, they went to the US for a half-month 16-date tour that included a second appearance at Garage Shock. But this time it was different. Garage was getting bigger. Even hardcore punk rag Maximum Rock ‘n’ Roll had started shifting some of its focus to garage rock. This time around, Teengenerate were quite well known in the US, even though the Japanese media pretty much ignored them.
They came back to Japan and kept playing shows. In August, the Rip-Offs came to Japan. The idea was to bring a band Teengenerate had played with in the States to Japan. Teengenerate weren’t the first band to bypass promoters and sell tickets cheap themselves, but from this time on it happened more and more often. Other bands like Guitar Wolf, Supersnazz and Registrators were putting out records and touring overseas too. There was a real feeling that things were happening.
Around this time, Teengenerate put out the ‘Savage’ 10-inch. This album, with jacket artwork done by Rockin’ Jelly Bean of Jackie & the Cedrics, is considered by Fink to be the band’s actual first album, and not the pretty much spontaneously recorded ‘Audio Recording.’ ‘My GTO,’ written by Andy from the Devil Dogs, became a standard at shows.
In October, the band went on a long European tour. The tour was for the last two months of 1994 and included 43 dates, the first half of which were with Gaunt and the New Bomb Turks, and the second half with just the Turks. Through this tour Teengenerate’s popularity went beyond the US to Europe as well.
During the tour, Crypt put out what would become the band’s punk rock manifesto, ‘Get Action.’ The album was originally recorded at Seattle’s Egg Studios, but the final recording was rejected by Crypt owner Tim Warren for being too hi-fi and not sounding like Teengenerate. The band re-recorded on their own in Tokyo and the original Egg recordings were released on Crypt in 2013 as ‘Get More Action.’
Along with New Bomb Turks’ ‘Destroy Oh Boy!,’ ‘Get Action’ wasn’t punk, garage or any other genre. It was just simple, raw rock and roll. It got pretty big and even charted on CMJ. Etimates say it sold around 200,000 copies, but no one except label owner Tim Warren knows for sure…
Teengenerate played the release show for Tokyo garage punk comp ‘Tokyo Trashville’ at the beginning of 1995, but by this time the band had slowed down to about a show a month. They played with the Woggles in Japan in March 1995. Pretty soon afterward, Teengenerate played at the second Chloroform punk rock show with the Registrators and others. The event kind of foreshadowed the eventual breakup of the band, but we’ll get to that later.
In May, the band’s tour mates the New Bomb Turks came to Japan. Every show was packed and it really felt like the peak of the garage punk scene. It was a great feeling, because it was not just Japanese bands or overseas bands playing. It didn’t matter because we were all into the raw energy of rock and roll. After that, Guitar Wolf brought the Oblivians to Japan and a steady stream of other great bands followed.
Teengenerate played a lot throughout the year and in the second half of October, set off once again on a US tour. This time, it was about two months with 37 dates and about half the tour was with the New Bomb Turks.
At the close of the ’95 tour, a rumor was going around that the band would be splitting up at the end of the year. The reason was partly that the scene was changing. With the Registrators and the Chloroform event, you could see that there was a growing split dividing the scene between garage and 70s punk. As people were getting more into the original 70s punk, they were starting to define it as ‘punk’ and reject garage as not being ‘punk rock.’ The cohesiveness based around a shared love of raw rock and roll was fading fast.
People were discovering the punk legends of the 70s and Fifi and Otsuki from the Registrators were at the forefront of this movement. Of course, Fink liked punk rock. But Fifi’s playing style and looks were going way into a strictly punk direction and with things like his refusal to play shows outside of Chloroform shows, there was conflict within the band (although Fifi’s punk direction probably earned the band new fans as well).
There were surely other reasons as well, but that shift in the scene toward 70s punk that divided the punk rockers from the garage rockers pushed the band to break up.
Nobody knows whether they decided to split up before the tour or during, but it was probably before. An issue of Doll that came out on December 1st 1995 while they were still on tour dubbed the tour ‘Break Up! Final Action!’ The rumor had spread around Tokyo while they were in the US. When they came back to Japan, their shows were especially packed. It was like, ‘We better see them before they’re gone.’
Incidentally, Sammy and Shoe had no idea they were breaking up until they came back to Japan from the tour.
In December, the band played two shows at Shelter and one show at Jam. I had no idea about the Jam show, so I wasn’t there. Warabi recorded the 12/23 Shelter show for posterity. Later, I got it from him and released it as ‘Live At Shelter.’
The last show was on New Year’s Eve, 1995 at the Shelter. It was so packed over capacity that fans and members of the other bands were up on stage with the band dancing and shouting along with their songs. I’ve heard that it was the most people who have ever been at Shelter since it started. It definitely felt like that.
I was up on the side of the stage to take pictures but once the show started, everything got too crazy. People were stage-diving, knocking over the microphones, etc. The camera lens clouded over and as soon as I wiped it, it clouded over again.
I gave up taking pictures halfway through and just enjoyed the show. As usual, Teengenerate’s performance was like a blast of hot wind and then it was over. There was an encore I think and that was over just as fast. It was the moment when a 3-year torrent of raw rock and roll energy was finished.
After they broke up, Teengenerate got back together to play several times. They played a benefit show to support Estrus in 1997, whose warehouse had caught fire. They had already become something of a legend and lots of people were there to see them, and a power outage right when things were heating up added a little drama.
The band played again in 2005 at a memorial show for Billy from Guitar Wolf, who had passed away unexpectedly. The same year they played in New York and New Jersey with Azumi from the Youngones on bass and Jimbo from Firestarter and Titans on drums. They reformed the next year to play in Australia.
Finally, to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the band along with the documentary, they got back together to play two shows in 2013. One was at the Rock-ichi Rock-za event at Shindaita Fever. The other was the Funtastic Dracula Carnival garage festival in Spain in November. Teengenerate headlined both events and both sold out, so you know that people were waiting to see them. There were people from back in the day who came to see them, as well as kids who had grown up only knowing the legend. There were a number of people like Steve, who appears in the movie and first saw the band as a teenager. As he says in the film, that’s the whole reason he ended up in Japan. The same is true of Greg, drummer for the band’s 20th anniversary reunion shows, who saw them play as a teenager in Missouri.
This is just a brief history of Teengenerate. The 90s garage explosion that Teengenerate spawned bands like the White Stripes and the Hives, who took raw lo-fi rock and roll to the bank and made garage rock mainstream. This only adds to the Teengenerate legend.
Of course, there are lots of people who want them to get back together and play again, but now Fink has the Raydios, and Fifi and Sammy have Firestarter. The sound and genius behind Teengenerate lives on in these bands. If you don’t know the Raydios or Firestarter, check them out. You can discover some of what the band Teengenerate was by listening to them.