Hanatarash Bulldozer by Gin Satoh

Hanatarash, or Hanatarashi, are a two-piece noise band from Osaka, Japan. Composed of vocalist, visual artist Yamantaka Eye and guitarist Mitsuru Tabata, the band focused on the obscure music genres of Japanoise, industrial, and advant-punk. Hanatarash was well known in the live music scene for their ridiculous and, quite frankly, dangerous live performances that have brought up the question, “Can a bulldozer be used as an instrument?”.

Yamantaka Eye and Mitsuru Tabata

Noise Music and Danger Music

Before I talk more about Hanatarash, it is important to understand the genres of music they made. Noise music, or Japanoise, is an experimental form of music first attributed to the group Ongaku, who, in the 1960s, recorded two tapes: Automatism and Object. These tapes were recorded using a mix of traditional instruments along with everyday items such as a vacuum cleaner, a set of dishes, and an oil drum. In addition, manipulation of the tape speed whilst recording created something unique to the time via atypical sounds. 

It wasn’t until the late 1970s that the genre would discernibly separate itself from the punk and rock genres that evolve the style into a more industrial type of music. With the use of drills, machinery, smashing glass, and other random materials laying around used to create sound, Hanatrash attracted an ardent following in Japan’s underground music scene. The use of acoustic and digitally created sound, non-musical vocal techniques, physical manipulation of the recording equipment, and an emphasis on high volume, lead too, and lengthy, continuous pieces. Often improvised, these soundscapes were meant to create a unique audio atmosphere that was seldom replicated.

Danger music has a separate history from Noise music, starting in the early 1960s by American artist, poet, and composer Dick Higgins. Higgins wanted to challenge the current composition structure with his unusual scores. His most notable composition called Danger Music #17 consists of Higgins screaming manically at an audience for around 10 minutes.

A large part of Danger music, and perhaps even people’s reasons to gravitate to this experimental artwork, is the high level of audience participation. The ability to participate in something so outrageous and be able to return to normality when the show ends can be quite an exhilarating experience.

Hanatarash live on stage

Hanatarash: Japan’s Most Dangerous Band

Yamantaka Eye and Mitsuru Tabata first met whilst both working as stage-hands for the German industrial Noise group Einstürzende Neubauten whilst touring in Osaka in 1984 and they formed the Hanatarashi, translating to “The Snot-nosed”. However, after their first album, the band shortened the name to just Hanatarash.

Both Yamantaka and Mitsuru were looking for a way to push Noise music further in terms of music and the visual art associated with the genre, turning their performances into raw, savage works of art as they throw beer bottles, oil drums, and other materials into the crowd while they smashing panes of glass across the stage, causing many injuries to the crowd. At one performance, Yamantaka brought a dead cat on stage he has supposedly found outside the venue and proceeded to mutilate it with a chainsaw. 

Things would become so extreme, audience members would have to sign a waiver to gain entry to the show. Even Yamantaka would be forced to sign one, stating he would not cause damage to the venue before the pair were even allowed to perform but this would rarely be honoured, leaving properties badly damaged after shows. 

In 1985, during a performance at the Tokyo Loft, Yamantaka Eye left the stage mid performance and drove and backhoe bulldozer through the venue, terrorizing the crowd. Luckily, he managed to be restrained in his rampage as he struggled to set light to the wreckage that would have certainly caused the building to catch light. When it was all over, Yamantaka had caused over 600,000 yen in damage to the building.

The aftermath of a live performance

Subsequently, Hantarash was not able to able to find anywhere that would let them perform, so Yamantaka went on to form the Noise rock group Boredoms, for which Yamantaka is more well-known as a vocalist and visual artist. This project would go on to much greater success and gain attention among American music fans, they were even asked to perform on the main stage at the 1994 Lollapalooza tour. Essentially, with Boredoms’ performances being a lot more contained and less dangerous Yamataka began to get more recognition for his musical talent.

After years of being on hiatus, Hanatarash started releasing material and performing around 1990 but without the on-stage mayhem, the band was originally notoriously associated. The band returned to hiatus in 1998 with no indication at this time that they will be returning.   

The band’s music itself is a disorientating mix of high-frequency feedback, unchecked levels, unorthodox time signatures (if any), and indecipherable lyrics, and is incredibly brutal in its delivery. Mixed with the incredible energy of the band’s live performance art is a true exhibition of individualism. With very few people documenting the scene at the time, there is very little footage of the band live but what was recorded captured the raw style of the genre and the intensity of Hanatarash’s art.

You may check out this brief clip of Hanatrash live to get an idea of the type of chaos on stage.

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