There was an era in the 2nd half of the 70s and 1st half of the 80s right after punk hit that folks call “post punk” or “new wave.” To put it really basically, a slew of bands took that punk rock energy, creativity and anger, and busted out all kinds of unexpected sounds that flew in the face of what the mainstream media was telling us “punk” was supposed to be. Just when you think this is a bygone era and start getting a little nostalgic, up steps Kyoto’s Radio Shanghai. With their first album coming out on Loft Records, I had a chance to talk with self-appointed frontman Suzu.
This is the intro translated. I thought I couldn’t’a said it better myself, so I left it as-is. But FYI, actually Radio Shanghai isn’t around today, but its ex-members still fly the flag with their current bands Liquid Screen and Boys Order.
(Interview by Umezo Kato)
“We do it our own way”
Suzu: (Looking at the profile written by the label on the record): Hmmm… Okay, I see. I dunno, we’ve never had a profile like this written for us before.
UK: Here it says, “A sound that strikes straight to the heart of punk / new wave.”
S: Well, “punk” is a really broad term, it’s hard to say exactly what it means. I have really particular tastes. I really like that point where punk was just turning into new wave. The best representatives, I guess, would be XTC or Devo.
UK: A couple of years there was that “New Wave of New Wave” movement.
S: Yeah, but that’s over with.
UK: I feel like that stuff was trying too hard to be “new wave.” But with Radio Shanghai, it’s really natural. You guys just seem to be really influenced by new wave.
S: I think so. Because we love new wave so much, we do it our way.
UK: I remember when I was in my teens I was really into new wave.
S: New wave still has a lot left to offer.
UK: Right, and a lot of what makes it so great is its energy, its sense of newness.
S: And that’s why you have a lot of bands putting our one or two albums and then calling it quits. It’s hard to hang on to that.
UK: I feel like what you guys are doing isn’t just imitating the new wave bands of old to bring new listeners into it, but playing your music with that same energy and freshness. Like you got the fervor for doing something new from those bands.
S: I’m really happy to hear you say that.I don’t really know if we’re a young band or in the middle somewhere. I guess that means we have a long history. I don’t really know if we’re a younger band or in the middle somewhere. We have a lot of band history. I hope that some younger bands come along and take up the mantle of what we’re doing. We’re exhausted after playing about 10 songs.
UK: Oh no!
S: Nah, it’s okay. We’ll give it our best as long as somebody wants us to play.
UK: I wouldn’t worry about that. You guys have a twisted kind of UK sensibility, a little like Monochrome Set.
S: That’s a nice compliment. I like Monochrome Set. We have a little melancholy like them, or like Magazine.
UK: Like you guys don’t bother working up a sweat.
S: What? We sweat like pigs. I guess you’re thinking of the record. It’s kind of a refined version of what we do live. Live it’s rougher. Nothing but punk rock. We wear ourselves out.
“The anger of punk”
UK: Some people probably won’t like me saying this but I feel like there’s a kind of revival going on of styles from the past. But as far as a scene of early-80s post punk bands like you guys coming together, I don’t really see that happening so much. But I like how there’s a bit of everything in the scene.
S: Yeah, that’s definitely a good thing. Like, if let’s say ska-core becomes really popular and everybody goes ska-core, there’s no individuality. What a waste. Everybody’s buying instruments and paying for the studio all to do the same thing. Not naming any names here (laughs).
UK: Thanks for that (laughs)! But I feel like the whole point of New Wave is to not sound like everybody else.
S: Right, and another is the anger of punk rock. I feel like I’m writing headlines or something here.
UK: (Laughs) Are you influenced by any Japanese bands?
S: My first band was a cover band that did all Japanese stuff.
S: Like Star Club. Especially Early Star Club, with that feeling of frustration that you don’t know how to release. When I listen to that stuff now, it’s still pretty amazing.
UK: That’s some straight-up punk shit. Was there anything from the 90s on that influenced you?
S: No. Everything from the 90s on is a rehash. We’re influenced by some of the bands we play with, though.
UK: Like who?
S: Bands like Firestarter and Registrators, of course.
UK: Right… Sorry to change the subject but I just picked up the new record by Cornelius and I was impressed by how his sound is always changing. There’s a little bit of new wave to that, I was thinking. Maybe it’s only me that thinks that.
S: I think that guy really knows his new wave. Maybe that’s why you thought that.
UK: Well, I expect that out of Radio Shanghai as well. Not that it’s my place to dictate what you do or even any of my business or anything.
S: No, please go ahead and write that. That’s a great way to do an interview (laughs). Start with “Let’s ask Radio Shanghai ‘leader’ Suzu some questions” and finish up with “We expect the same thing from Radio Shanghai as Cornelius.” It’s a “new wave” interview that way (laughs).