Slightly misleading title actually, because Toshio Nakanishi isn’t exactly obscure. He’s a fairly pivotal, boundary-hopping figure on the Japanese music and art (with the Basquiat steez) scenes whose been at the helm of some acts that hardly became household names to westerners, but certainly enjoyed cultdom on these shores.Plus he worked alongside Hiroshi Fujiwara at a time when you, yes you, had no idea who he was I still think he deserves extra props, even if its just for the Major Force involvement.
To put things in perspective, growing up I’d see the Major Force name dropped in the music press via characters I looked up to like Bomb The Bass’s Tim Simenon, and that incredible logo cropped up on t-shirts on the torsos of the extremely connected. But I had no idea what Major Force actually did. Except be Japanese and hard-to-find. Like Trax, 2-Tone, UR, Def Jam, Rawkus and Mo’ Wax buy-on-sight when the logo showed itself on the racks seemed to be the attitude, at costly import prices (the far east made those steep US shipments seem bargainous by comparison). Later, I’d learn a little more about Major Force’s genesis, and Mr. Nakanishi’s history in particular, is significant.
First, there’s The Plastics – the arty, catchy post-punkers, who supported Talking Heads and had the patronage of David Byrne. To$h had a great deal of input vocally, on guitar and on percussion, and their earliest work was released by the fledgling Rough Trade label. The artwork seemed to be strong during the three years they released recordings (though they were together as a group for five), especially on the debut 7″, Copy/Robot.
After The Plastics split, recording from Melon (with a similar group called Water Melon appearing the following decade), the next project, appeared with a mix of new wave, funk (going so far as to collaborate with Funkadelic’s Bernie Worrell), jazz fusion, group sounds (on which Julian Cope’s ‘Japanrocksampler’ gives a greater insight) and best of all, Hawaiian exotica sounds. There was plenty of electro in the mix too, and the K.U.D.O. (Masayuki Kudo) hookup seems to lead neatly to the Major Force era of the late ’80s. For convenience I’m omitting a plethora of side projects here – artistically, this is a man who stays busy.
Major Force was a defining moment in Japanese hip-hop culture, seemingly comprised of the generation deeply inspired by the 1983 promotional visit from the ‘Wild Style’ cast and crew. A collective and label that included Kudo, Fujiwara, Simply Red drummer Gota Yashiki and Tagaki Kan (who recently worked with Hiroshi on a bike project, but might be more familiar for his bars on De La Soul’s ‘Long Island Wildin’ from ‘Buhloone Mind State’). Mostly remembered overseas for the oft-revisited ‘Return Of The Original Artform’ 1988 cut & paste masterpiece from Hiroshi, K.U.D.O. and all the way from Bristol, the legendary DJ Milo of the Wild Bunch, who evidently inspired the Major Force approach.
Tycoon To$h (Toshio’s hip-hop moniker) and the Terminator Troops’ ‘Get Happy’ is another cut-up classic from the same year. Tiny Panx/TPO’s (aka. Hiroshi and Tagagi Kan) ‘Last Orgy’ on File Records is influential too, though I can’t testify as to how much influence it had on the Jun/Nigo clothing empires and their debut line of the same name. Then there were the excursions into dancier, soulful and downtempo territories that preempted later acid jazz and ambient sounds, using skills picked up in Tosh’s earlier incarnations.
I’ll defend James Lavelle against a number of criticisms, but on the basis of the beautifully packaged Major Force Posse boxset, ‘The Original Artform’ from 1997 released through Mo’ Wax, he gets props for life. After seeing extortionately priced CDs and hearing just how good these recordings were, to hear them mastered and tracklisted correctly down to Kiss promos and SDP tracks was a beautiful thing. 1997/8 is also relevant as the point when Major Force came to a close. Hiroshi, Tagaki and Gota were long-gone, pursuing other projects, but as Toshio (still affiliated with Kudo, who deserves his own blog post too) came to London, where he currently splits his time, for several years, he bumped into Lavelle at Honest Jon’s in 1992 leading to Mo’ Wax affiliations and the formation of Major Force West.
Major Force West/Major Force London Unit seemed even looser than the previous incarnation, even hazier and scattershot than the spirit of ’88, there’s an instrumental here, a remix or re-edit there for the likes of Bomb The Bass, and things seem more abstract in line with Mo’ Wax, Pussyfoot and Massive Attack’s output. Visitors to the old Mo’ Wax website might recall being assailed with To$h’s ‘May The Force Be With You’. I was actually unaware that Major Force had switched to Major Force West until 1998’s ‘Major Force West 93-97′ compilation. Then again, I was very, very drunk around that time. Not to mention stoned, and To$h, James and company offered the perfect soundtrack. Speaking of blunted, it’s best we don’t forget the overlooked Skylab project with Howie B, Matt Ducasse and K.U.D.O. with a ton of tracks, best of all, the ”Skylab#1’ album from 1994. It’s aged well.
I’m still holding out for Major Force 3.0, seeing as all the practitioners are very much active. In the meantime, check out ashadedview‘s video interviews with Toshio from earlier this year. His websites are worth visiting too. He even shares recipes on his Sonic Force label site.
While we’re on topic, who can resist a spot of hip-hop in its heyday, Tokyo style? Here’s Tagago Kan rocking a crowd in a video labelled ’88 that looks like it’s from ’89/’90. Plus as a bonus feature, I’ve embedded the ’89 ‘Learn To DJ’ video (that came with two 12″s), with Hiroshi in denim shirt and Stussy cap mode alongside Kudo and more. After a strange opening for the video where they sit and munch pizza in conversation with a besuited man, they proceed to show you how to rock a crowd on the Technics. Part six shows you the ‘Hiroshi Fujiwara Style’ – it’s entertaining viewing and a great document of DJ Culture.