Psychedelia has been a cultural endeavour throughout humanity’s timeline, dating back to pre-historic carvings detailing the other-worldly experiences of those who experimented with cacti and mushroom ingestion.
Its transition into modern music took place in the mid 1960s, where a buoyant wave of shoegazy, colour-rich and heady rock splashed over a monochrome scene inspired by a liberated youth movement and a rise in the use of psychedelic drugs.
The Beach Boys released Pet Sounds, a record that would go on to merge psychedelic rock with pop, thus opening the door for psych to flow into the mainstream.
What followed was a wave of iconic releases in this vain, from Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club to The Dark Side of The Moon, psychedelic rock had arrived and it had no plans of leaving.
With psychedelic drugs acting as an initial inspiration rather than a vital ingredient, what these works really shared was a penchant for heavy reverb, bold electronic keys, elongated instrumentals, ethereal lyrics and oftentimes the use of Eastern instruments.
The sound and aesthetic of this movement soon migrated to Japan and other parts of eastern Asia, leaving behind the more original cultural aspects of the movement. Bands such as Harumi and Flower Travellin’ Band flew the flag in the 60s.
Fast forward to post-modern times, sitting centre-stage are Japanese psychedelic rock titans Kikagaku Moyo. The band formed in 2012 in Tokyo, a 5-piece group consisting of three guitarists, a drummer and a sitarist.
Since their spawning, the group have propelled to significant heights, regularly touring internationally, receiving critical acclaim and high listenership on their output and even starting their own Asian psych rock label.
We sat down with the band to talk through their journey and the science behind running an imprint.
Hi Go & Tomo, how’s it going?
Hi this is Go answering! We are doing good!
GuruGuru Brain relocated to Amsterdam in 2016. Why did you make this move? Have the first 4 years of running a label turned out as you expected?
Actually we relocated in 2017 because we realised the importance of having a base in Europe for our artists from Asia. In the first few years, we ran the label from Tokyo, we had so much fun packing records in a tiny living room in a house where we all used to live together.
Is there anything that defines the Japan Psych sound compared to other Asian countries? Do you think Psych music is still a response to its surrounding environments like it was in the 60s?
I don’t think it’s anything like in the 60s. There has always been a certain amount of people in Japan who have been obsessed with psychedelic culture since the 60s. We are one of them.
Are you seeing more electronic production elements involved as the years go by? What are your thoughts on how Psych is evolving with the times?
It might be, as we don’t know how the band format can exist after this corona thing.
Solo or duo artist might have more presence as they don’t require much space. What we like about Psychedelic music is you can use the element and make it evolve in any genre.
What are you looking for when building your roster for GuruGuru Brain? What is your discovery process of finding new music?
It depends! Some bands we discovered through friends, some bands we discover online and contacted the band.
How much involvement do you have as a label in the output of your artists? Do you develop the artists’ sounds with them or simply give them the platform to release their raw music?
This also depends, we usually share our opinion about the music and also artwork, but the most important thing is the artists/band have the final say. We know the importance of communicating with artists as a label, since we are also playing in the band.
Psych Rock has a strong drug culture at its roots. What role do drugs play in psych music today for you?
I am certain that psychedelic drugs may make music sound more “psychedelic”—especially since they’ve generally always made everything more psychedelic anyway! However, we feel that today everyone has their own way to enjoy or experience psychedelic music because it is a very personal sound for many.
We believe people can have psychedelic experiences through this musical genre without necessarily any use of drugs, which is amazing. As a psychedelic rock band, our ultimate goal is to give listeners that same experience through sound alone.
If you went on a trip to space, what 3 albums would be your soundtrack?
1: African Skies by Phil Cohran & Legacy
2: Super Record by Magical Power Mako
3: The Pavilion of the Dream by Harold Budd
picked by Tomo
Your next release, Mystery by Mong Tong 夢東, is forthcoming on June 19. The group have said that they are inspired by Taiwanese occult-inspired art and imagery, trying to channel it through their music. How much do visual art and sound overlap in the music you release?
We understand the record artwork is a part of the artists’ expression and a way to tell their feelings along with music. If they ask our advice, we will give them advice, but we as a label have no say for the final decision for the art.
Your single ‘Ouchi Time’ released via Mexican Summer’s Looking Glass project on May 1. You made the track remotely — was the production of this track more challenging than usual? Was there a difference in your sound as a result of not being together as a band?
Not be able to see their faces but leaving a bit for each of us to come up with parts were challenging but it was a new way of collaboration.
You’ve transitioned from busking on the streets in 2012 to being a leading global band in Psychedelic rock & heading your own label. What’s next for Kikagaku Moyo and GuruGuru Brain?
That’s what we are thinking everyday. What’s next?! As far as the band, we have a handful of demo ideas that we want to try jam.