This is the history of Zymotics, written by Masao Nakagami and published in 2005 in Shaky City. He talks about them in the present tense but they’ve since broken up. They were a pretty unique band that I never actually saw but I know them from their singles and comp tracks.
One band that really stands out among the bands on Needle Records is Nagoya’s Zymotics. They blow me away every time I see them live. The gut-wrenching punk rock that bursts out of these three surly individuals is the coolest.
Zymotics have been together for ten years but still haven’t put out a full-length. They’ve just put out singles and appeared on comps. The recordings don’t quite do them justice. You have to see them live to get what they’re really about. Originally called Boso Nezumi, they started out playing in more of a garage punk style, but they changed their name to Zymotics and took on a snottier punk rock style, and have since passed even that, moving into a new wave sort of territory that’s all their own.
For this history, I got most of my information from front man Toru, mostly through texting because I only ever see them when they play here in Tokyo or when I’m in Nagoya and we don’t get much chance to talk. I also talked to Nakamura from Answer, a Nagoya label that put out some of their releases to fill in the gaps. The band seems pretty vague about its own history and of course I am too, so if there are any mistakes, somebody please let me know.
In the late 80s, Toru and Zymotics’ current guitarist Ryo were playing in a band called Breakspeaker. Toru was 19 and Ryo was 17. Toru says, “Everybody huffed paint thinner. We were young and innocent.” According to Fink, whose then band American Soul Spiders (pre-Teengenerate) played with the band, they were a cool punk rock band reminiscent of early Howard Devoto-era Buzzcocks. Nakamura said they were like the Pop Rivets. Their repertoire included a lot of 70s punk covers.
At that time, the bands around them were mostly psychobilly and mixture bands. He became friendly with these bands and they often played shows together. They also had a nodding acquaintance with hardcore bands, and they said they spent more time going to clubs than rock shows. (Mixture is a Japanese genre of lame rap-rock from the 90s –ed.)
Breakspeaker broke up and Toru wanted to do something more punk rock. Along with guitarist Dai and Aki, who often came to Breakspeaker’s shows, they formed Bousou Nezumi. At some point, the band apparently also called itself Not Funnys. (Bousou Nezumi means something like ‘runaway rat’ –ed.)
Talking about his punk rock influences, Toru says, “I heard Buzzcocks ‘Spiral Scratch’ and thought holy fuck this is cool, and I heard Somechicken’s ‘Newreligion’ and thought what the hell is this? The Queers tracks on ‘Feel Lucky Punk’ had a huge impact on me. And then there was lots of other stuff.” All three members shared a common love of the “Feel Lucky Punk” comp which had Killed By Death-esque bands like Mad and Nervous Eaters.
In ’96 Nakamura, who had just started his own record store and label Answer, approached Bousou Nezumi about putting out a record. Toru says, “We’d just started and didn’t know what the hell we were doing, but we knew Nakamura from before and knew he had good taste and loved punk rock, so we said yeah.”
Toru was a regular at the import record shop where Nakamura had worked before starting Answer and they were on good terms. “Nakamura dated a friend of mine,” Toru says, “and we went to clubs a lot where he would DJ.” He says that Nakamura would play new garage punk 7-inches that were just coming out, as well as comps of older stuff reissued.
This was a time when more and more bands were popping up in Nagoya but nobody sounded quite like Bousou Nezumi. He says it was a funny era where punk and garage rock bands would play places like the 1,000 capacity Diamond Hall for a couple dozen friends.
I bought a Bousou Nezumi record around this time. I didn’t know them. I just bought it because it looked like the Rip-Offs or something like that. I wasn’t disappointed. Their 5-song 7-inch “Rat Bag” was pretty popular among people who liked early 90s raw garage rock or 70s punk. It made more of a stir overseas than here in Japan and later they were on a comp on Phantom Surfer Mike Lucas’ label. Nakamura says he was getting emails saying, “What the hell is this Bousou Nezumi?”
Around this time, Bousou Nezumi was invited by Fifi (Firestarter) to play a show in Tokyo organized by Chloroform. I saw this show and I remember the band having more of a garage punk feeling than the other 70s punk-influenced bands on the bill. Of that show, Toru says, “We just loved the Rip Offs and tried to look like their record covers.”
Later, there show was at the Shelter for the release of the first Chloroform comp. This was right when the 70s punk thing was just coming together and it was an intense show. It was one of those situations where everybody felt like it was the beginning of some kind of worldwide movement and there was a lot of meaning for a lot of people.
Toru and Aki watched the other bands with bored, glazed expressions, but actually it had a huge impact on them. They went back to Nagoya and told Dai, “We gotta do something.” They dove headfirst into a much more punk rock sound and, embarrassed by their name, took inspiration from a word related to fermentation and rechristened themselves Zymotics.
Toru says he doesn’t remember when the band changed its name from Bousou Nezumi to Zymotics, but using the recording of the single and other things as benchmarks, it seems to have been around ’97. The Chloroform event, which Tokyo’s Registrators presided over, was a big moment for the band. At the show they met lots of Tokyo people. He said that whereas before, the band toiled on its own in Nagoya to try to figure out what punk rock meant to them, now they had a deeper sense of its meaning. Naturally, this led to a change in sound, not only in name.
Zymotics’ first single followed the Bousou Nezumi single on Answer. According to Nakamura, the band played a lot of shows in Tokyo and other areas with a lot of different bands, which toughened them up. They also seemed to digest the influence of all of the bands they saw and played with. This confirms what Toru said earlier about the influence of the Chloroform scene on the band.
They recorded the single at the same place as the Bousou Nezumi single, Live House Huck Finn in Nagoya’s Imaiki. It was recorded by Koyama, who was working at Huck Finn at the time. The recording and mixing followed the band’s whims. They tried things like placing the guitar amp in the restroom. Nobody remembers what records they were influenced by.
The single was recorded in January 1998 and finally released in 1999. Its three songs, “(Eddie’s) Random Bombing,” “I’m A Plastic,” and “Break the Radio,” show a departure from Bousou Nezumi’s garage style and a move straight into a more 70s punk sound. With its jerky sound, Toru’s fed-up spit-out vocals, and Aki’s cacophonic high-pitched backing vocals, it was clear that more than just the name ad changed. It was a sound that made you take notice, but Toru says he doesn’t much care for it now.
“I don’t feel great about it. It was like we were pressed for time and just, fuck it, it’s done. It was rushed. Plus, it took a long time to finish the jacket, so it was about a year before it came out.” Toru may not have cared for it, but this single deepened the connection between this obscure Nagoya band and the growing Chloroform scene and it would lead to bigger and better things.
One thing it led to was Zymotics’ inclusion on the Ad Vice comp put out by Mangrove in 2000. This comp showcased Chloroform’s 70s punk sound with bands like Firestarter, Intimate Fags, Radio Shanghai, Zymotics and Private Ways. Mangrove’s Iijima called up Aki, who said they had new songs ready to go. Zymotics contributed three songs, “(Oh My) Tic,” “Dirty Punk Man,” and “I Wanna Go To Play School.” These 3 songs featured the band’s updated sound and showed how they had grown since recording the single.
From this time on, the band had their friend Chikara handle their recordings. Each time, they recorded at a practice studio with Chikara’s gear and their ideas, and the recordings were mixed at Toru’s house. By “ideas,” the band mostly had images. For example, on the recording of “(Oh My) Tic,” Toru told Chikara, “Make it like a hospital in the middle of the night,” to which Chikara would say, “Okay, got it.”
Right after the comp came out, I saw Zymotics at the Shelter. The sound was so intense I couldn’t believe it was the same people who were in Bousou Nezumi. It was the same snotty punk that was on the single and comp, but their on-stage demeanor was as cold as ice. What really left an impression on me was guitarist Dai. He had long hair and looked like Chris Bailey from the Saints. He was wearing a coat and just stood in place, strumming the guitar violently with a scowl on his face like he just wanted to be left the fuck alone. The picture here was taken at that show in the Shelter’s bathroom.
They didn’t play in Tokyo so much but they played in Nagoya a lot with all kinds of bands, not just punk bands. After a while, guitarist Dai quit the band. The reason, he said, was that he couldn’t stand the other members anymore.
“It wasn’t that we had disagreements about the music or anything like,” Toru said. “Me and Dai have been playing together since junior high school and I always gave him a hard time. Me and Aki treated him like shit. Aki was getting crazy with speed and everything and I think finally he just didn’t want to have anything to do with us. He just didn’t come to practice and then he called us, saying, ‘I’m can’t do it anymore.'”
Ryo, who played in pre-Bousou Nezumi band Breakspeaker with Toru, had taken a break from punk rock, but around 1998, he started playing again and he’d been meeting with Toru.
When Dai quit and the band was wondering what to do, Ryo said he’d fill in on guitar until they found a replacement. His guitar style had a major effect on the band’s sound and he’s still playing with them today. Also, his association with the band led to the release on Needle.
Ryo went back a long way with Toru. But while Toru remained firmly rooted in punk rock, Ryo had gone in another direction. He was hanging out with crazy bisexual speedheads who turned him on to electronic music like Two Lone Swordsmen. At the same time he discovered King Tubby and Can, and spent endless hours scouring record stores for more.
In 1998, Ryo got back into punk rock and began seeing a bit more of Toru again. He would take some speed over to Toru’s place and play along on guitar for hours to the punk rock records Toru played for him, the two of them talking in a language Aki wouldn’t understand. Then he would go home and play his guitar along with electronica, techno and dub. He also rediscovered David Bowie and brought his records over to Toru’s.
It was after this that Dai quit Zymotics. Wondering what to do, Toru asked Ryo if he’d play guitar in the interim and Ryo joined the band, and he’s still the guitarist today. (in 2005 – ed.)
Toru said that sometime after 2000, Ryo made the biggest discovery yet – Joy Division. He says that Masa, who at that time hadn’t started the label, gave Ryo a copy of “Warsaw” on CD and from then, he became obsessed with what people call ‘post punk.’ Toru also, who was increasingly widening his tastes beyond punk, got into Warsaw and P.I.L., and the two spent many a day afterwards rummaging through record stores for more music like that.
This change in members led to a whole new sound for Zymotics. Nakamura says, “They were kindred spirits from playing in previous bands together and their sound made some bold changes. More than just raw and primitive, they were solid.”
I saw them countless times after this. There were times when he played with ear-piercing treble and times when he would make the guitar blip and bleep. Sometimes there were shows where they seemed to be experimenting.
This new direction led them to their second single release on Needle. Toru went back a long way with the folks at Needle, having first met them at the Chloroform record release show. This was probably around 1997. Bousou Nesumi’s first Tokyo show was at Shimokitazawa’s Yaneura where they played with Needle band Cockscratch.
Sometime after Ryo joined the band at a Tokyo show, Masa from Needle approached them saying that he’d started a label and after seeing them that night, he wanted to put out something by them. He said something like, “It’s a punk label and you guys are punk.” They discussed and it was decided he’d put something out.
Toru says this was the first time Ryo had exchanged words with the Needle folks. At the time that the Ad Vice comp came out, Ryo was heavily into modern art like Marcel Duchamp and he liked the record’s word play and the jacket art. Toru says that they left all of the artwork up to Needle and were very excited to see what the label would come up with.
What they came up with was the single “Watch That Worm.” It showed a drastically changed sound from the other releases. The trebly guitar played like a rhythm instrument made it sound like a new kind of dance music. It was a sound that would come to define the style of punk rock put out by Needle. With jacket artwork that went really well with the music, it was very well put together. This single was widely talked about and it established Zymotics as an important band.
But even after the release of this single, the band kept changing. Ryo was blown away by the new Two Lone Swordsmen album, which Toru called the “No. 1 album of the year.” Then, they were blown away by Paris DJ unit Black Strobe, which they considered just as cool as Joy Division or PIL. Toru declared it “No.1 album of the year” and they went hunting at record stores for electronic music. Hints of dance music began creeping into their sound. Still, the band’s sound was solidly post punk.
Of being called post punk, Toru says, “We never said ‘let’s go for a post punk or new wave sound.’ Quite a while ago we did talk about playing techno with the band’s current lineup. We sometimes get comparisons to Joy Division or Wire. I think Joy Division is incredible. I loved Wire since my teens. Since even before we were on Ad Vice, I started to veer away from Killed By Death style punk and got really into David Bowie. Through John Lydon I got into Can and Neu!, and also dub by King Tubby. I love DAF. Lately I’m really into electro stuff like Two Lone Swordsmen and Blackstrobe. So, I think Zymotics are definitely creating something new.”
The band’s sound is a wild mix of the influences Toru mentions above. Zymotics make a big impression with their fast and furious 15-minute sets. Although they have similarities to the recent new wave revival bands, they have a totally unique sound that’s all their own.