Sakurai and Issay, “Aesthetic” and “Aesthetic”
“Decadence,” “Moratorium,” “Aesthetics,” “Corruption,” and “Escape”— A conversation spanning all these various keywords with Sakurai Atsushi and Issay from Der Zibet, “aesthetic brothers.”

Ongaku to Hito May 1994
Translated by Cayce

Note: For what it’s worth, the interviewer is male.

Issay, of the band Der Zibet, who debuted in 1985 and pioneered the revival of Japanese aesthetic rock, is a man who enjoys the romantic image of “spinning around and around down a blind alley at one’s wits’ end.” Sakurai Atsushi, of BUCK-TICK, who debuted in 1987 and was the first Japanese aesthetic rock band to conquer the whole country, likes the image of “self denial and utter madness.” This is the first interview with both of them at once. Before we knew it, the Japanese rock scene had begun to overflow with visual kei—bands who wear makeup and take care with image—in a movement towards Japanese-style decadence. It has been analyzed from many points of view, but if we were to sum it up in one word, we’d have to say that at the center of this movement is “a great escapist desire.” It’s too hard to look directly at reality, so instead, the visual rockers look somewhere else, not here, and search for a place of rest, completely hiding their inner selves inside. Born from peacetime Japan, a breeding ground for “moratorium,” they’re the hippies of the age, and without a doubt, Der Zibet and BUCK-TICK pointed them in this direction. We’re going to talk with the kings of hedonism—and hedonism looks good on them.

INTERVIEWER: This is an interview I’ve been wanting to do the whole time I’ve worked for this magazine, but now that it comes down to it, I’m feeling a little nervous…

ISSAY: Hahahaha

INTERVIEWER: Shall we start with a formal question?

ISSAY: Like the details of the formation of BUCK-TICK and Der Zibet?

SAKURAI: Hahahaha

INTERVIEWER: We’ve heard those stories enough already, I’m sure.

ISSAY: Well then, how about Sakurai’s and my musical meeting? (laughter)

INTERVIEWER: (ignores) So, Sakurai, when did you first encounter Der Zibet?

SAKURAI: It was when I was about nineteen or twenty. I moved to Tokyo and rented a place with my friend, and while we were living together, I borrowed a Der Zibet tape from someone and listened to it. I thought “wow, this is nice.” And then on time I went past Shibuya EGGMAN and it was written there, “Der Zibet, Live.” I thought, “I wonder what they’re like live, this would be a good chance to find out,” so that’s when I first went to see them.

INTERVIEWER: And that was Der Zibet’s era of perfect decadence…

ISSAY: Yes, people were telling me, “Everyone loves you!” (laughter)

SAKURAI: Yes, and as I remember, Mr. Issay would hold a mask while singing.

ISSAY: Wait, really? …that’s terrible! (laughter)

INTERVIEWER: Hahaha, was it really that kind of a live show?

ISSAY: I don’t think I was still doing the pantomime thing by that time.

INTERVIEWER: What kind of hairstyle did you have?

SAKURAI: The same as he’s got now…yeah, something like that.

ISSAY: You mean it was black? I think it was probably red. Red or green or something…

INTERVIEWER: (laughter) Was he crazy?

SAKURAI: No…I thought he was really cool…

ISSAY: That makes me so happy! (laughter)

INTERVIEWER: Hahaha. Did you listen to Der Zibet after that as well?

SAKURAI: After that…well BUCK-TICK was still amateur and I hadn’t become the vocalist yet…

INTERVIEWER: Ah, that was the era of the legendary “Sakurai Atsushi on drums.”

ISSAY: Wait, you were a drummer!?

SAKURAI: Yes.

ISSAY: I had no idea (laughter.)

SAKURAI: After that, during BUCK-TICK’s indies era, we were touring and I saw a video of Der Zibet live at Nagoya ELL, and I thought again, “They’re so cool.” When we got back from our tour, there was one of our very few fans who also liked Der Zibet, and that fan gave me the Der Zibet video. I watched it again and again!

ISSAY: Don’t keep watching it! (laughter)

INTERVIEWER: What did you particularly like about Der Zibet, Sakurai? Don’t worry about being polite, just tell us what you think.

SAKURAI: Well, I thought it was great how they acted out the vocals, and I thought Mr. Issay was very cool.

ISSAY: Well now…(laughter)

SAKURAI: Well, I mean, it wasn’t just the singing, how should I put it…acting out “plus alpha” on stage was so impressive.

ISSAY: Oh yeah, I did that, didn’t I. I would sit on top of a stepladder and sing, or I would hold a huge clock in my arms…

INTERVIEWER: (laughter) You came out on stage holding candles and things.

ISSAY: No, not candles, a torch! All four of us wore black coats and came onstage holding torches.

INTERVIEWER: You were bordering on “underground” style.

ISSAY: I think I was thinking of it as “Japanese Gothic.”

SAKURAI: Hahaha!

INTERVIEWER: Is this man feeling awkward?

ISSAY: No no no! (laughter) No, I’m not really embarrassed about the stuff I’ve acted on stage. But when people talk to me about it to my face, I feel kind of…like when someone says something like, “hey, this is from when we went on a picnic together that time,” and shows you a picture of yourself in high school, you feel kind of embarrassed, right? It’s that kind of embarrassment.

INTERVIEWER: And Mr. Sakurai, you felt that you had something in common with Der Zibet, didn’t you.

SAKURAI: Well, not exactly….how should I say it…it was sort of like a boy’s poem. Like there’s a boy who has his own world, and there’s a girl who admires it, it was that kind of feeling. Maybe it was sort of a feminine appreciation. Or a father complex or something.

INTERVIEWER: And come to think of it, that’s a complex that’s missing from the world you express in your work.

SAKURAI: Well, it’s either something I haven’t been able to put into words yet, or something that I haven’t arrived at yet, and with someone like Issay sitting right here…

INTERVIEWER: So you admire him like a young woman, and you also respect him as a father? Issay, you’re one hell of a person!

SAKURAI: Yes, I’m jealous of him.

INTERVIEWER: So Issay, the first time you saw BUCK-TICK was in London in 1988. Der Zibet was working on “GARDEN,” and BUCK-TICK was working on “TABOO,” and both of you went abroad to record…

ISSAY: Yes, that was when I saw BUCK-TICK live.

SAKURAI: Oh yes, that’s right.

INTERVIEWER: I wonder if our younger readers don’t know this story.

ISSAY: Well, the first time I met Sakurai was in Meguro when they were recording a TV broadcast at the Rokkumeikan. Zion and Der Zibet and BUCK-TICK were being filmed on the same day, and when we went backstage they were there, so we got to know each other a little.

SAKURAI: (shy smile) Yes, that’s right.

INTERVIEWER: Oh really? Was that around the time BUCK-TICK made their major debut?

SAKURAI: Yes, we had just made our debut.

INTERVIEWER: So you went backstage, and there were these young men with their hair sticking straight up…

ISSAY: Yes yes. They were great kids! (laughter) Atsushi and Imai were quiet and reserved, but the rhythm section (Yagami and Higuchi) were really friendly and came right over and said ‘Hi we’re BUCK-TICK, how are you!’ and stuff like that (laughter).

INTERVIEWER: Sakurai didn’t talk?

ISSAY: He said, ‘I went to one of your lives once.’

SAKURAI: (shy smile) I did?

INTERVIEWER: In those days, Sakurai didn’t talk at all! Right after BUCK-TICK’s debut I went to interview them for the first time, and Sakurai and Hoshino were like the Army of Silence. Even though their hair was sticking up (laughter.)

SAKURAI: (laughter) Oh no, we were such useless losers!

ISSAY: But Imai was even quieter! (hysterical laughter)

INTERVIEWER: So Issay, you actually attended BUCK-TICK’s live in London!

ISSAY: Well I got a message on my phone from Atsushi, who said something like ‘I heard we’re going to be in London at the same time. If you’re free to meet, let’s meet.’

INTERVIEWER: Sakurai, why do you look so embarrassed?

SAKURAI: No no no, I’m not (laughter)

INTERVIEWER: You’re blushing, just like a girl. (laughter)

SAKURAI: …………………(laughter)

ISSAY: Hahaha, well, I found out BUCK-TICK was playing a live there, so I thought “Okay, I’ll go,” and the other members of Der Zibet and I all went together.

INTERVIEWER: Maybe it’s okay to ask this now, but it was hard to do a live in London, wasn’t it?

SAKURAI: Yes, it was hard. But we just did it and thought it was great and then we came home. But at the time, I thought I couldn’t do it if I were sober, so I don’t really remember it now. (laughter)

INTERVIEWER: You just drank as much as possible before you went onstage.

SAKURAI: Yes, I did.

INTERVIEWER: I wonder if you were feeling desperate? Were Der Zibet the only Japanese people in the audience?

SAKURAI: Well, I think some international students came as well.

INTERVIEWER: Weren’t you more nervous because there were Japanese people there?

SAKURAI: Yes, we were, and they were right in the front.

ISSAY: Yeah, that’s right, I wondered if those people had come all the way from Japan just to see BUCK-TICK…I thought, ‘Wow!’ (laughter)

INTERVIEWER: What were your impressions of the live?

ISSAY: They really persevered. They have such a fighting spirit. Especially the end was really great, like they were really making their instruments scream. I thought ‘Oh wow, they’re really going at it.’ (laughter)

SAKURAI: It sounds like you’re describing a sporting event! (laughter)

ISSAY: It was like ‘Hey, listen to these bastards play!’ (laughter)

SAKURAI: I think maybe we were badly behaved. (laughter)

ISSAY: No, it wasn’t a bad vibe at all, you smiled the whole time you did the MC bits. Even though halfway through I think you got sick of speaking English and switch to Japanese…(laughter)

INTERVIEWER: What? A band that can’t manage to say anything during MC segments in Japan couldn’t possibly talk more overseas!

ISSAY: Hahahahaha

SAKURAI: Yes, I think it’s impossible.

INTERVIEWER: But this is a very nostalgic story!

ISSAY: Yeah, well I actually remember that event pretty well.

SAKURAI: I remember, too. I was so happy you came backstage afterwards.

INTERVIEWER: And come to think of it, that’s the only time that either BUCK-TICK or Der Zibet have ever recorded overseas.

ISSAY: Well, we went there in order to make something dark. (laughter) “GARDEN” was heavily criticized for being too dark and heavy, but over there, that kind of sound is just normal. No one thought it was dark at all.

SAKURAI: Yes, it really is that way isn’t it. Our album “TABOO” was criticized as well.

INTERVIEWER: But you were surprised when you went to London, weren’t you? Artists really have to have tough egos.

ISSAY: It really fit with my personality. It was really easy for me to be in London. Didn’t you feel the same way, Sakurai?

SAKURAI: Yes, it was definitely very easy on the soul.

INTERVIEWER: But Sakurai, you’ve also gone to Hawaii on vacation!

SAKURAI: That was much harder! (laughter) I had this compulsion where I felt like if I didn’t go outside I was wasting my time….(laughter)

ISSAY: Oh, I know what you mean! (laughter) So, did you go out?

SAKURAI: Yes, I did.

ISSAY: Did you go to the beach?

SAKURAI: I did (laughter)

ISSAY: Why are you complaining if you went to the beach...? (laughter)

SAKURAI: Hahahaha

ISSAY: Let’s go again sometime, it will be fun. Let’s go let’s go! (laughter) Because I went to the ocean last summer after fifteen years! (laughter)

SAKURAI: I wonder what kind of “fun” it would be?

INTERVIEWER: “Decadence on the beach…” (laughter)

ISSAY: I wonder how many times we’ve accidentally passed by each other over the years. We were about to return home from a tour stop in Nagoya, and we stopped on the highway to get some gas, and these guys with long hair came over. First, the bassist Higuchi came over and I thought ‘Hey! I feel like I’ve seen them somewhere before!’ And then he said, ‘Hey, it’s BUCK-TICK!’ And then Atsushi comes over with this really awkward expression… (laughter)

INTERVIEWER: Hahahahaha

ISSAY: I thought, ‘Oh man, it’s Atsushi!’ (laughter) And we ran into each other again outside Nakano Samplers when Peter Murphy was there.

SAKURAI: You really remember well.

INTERVIEWER: Maybe because, like a retired grandfather, so few things happen to you! (laughter)

ISSAY: That’s definitely it. Not a lot happens to me that really moves my heart. But when I meet Atsushi, my heart definitely moves, I think, ‘Oh my god it’s Atsushi~~!’

SAKURAI: Hahahahahaha

ISSAY: And Atsushi, you usually stay at home, don’t you?

SAKURAI: Well I live in the city, so it’s not a problem to get out, but I always go out in the car. But before I actually manage to leave, it’s hard.

INTERVIEWER: Yes, you seem so happy to just stay in your room (laughter) so then you’re just lazy.

SAKURAI: Well, there are no foreign enemies in my house. (laughter)

INTERVIEWER: “Foreign enemies” (laughs)

ISSAY: It’s so tiring to go out, isn’t it?

SAKURAI: Yes, it is. (sarcastic) I wonder why?

ISSAY: Because there are people other than you outside! (laughter)

INTERVIEWER: Hahahahahaha

SAKURAI: Hahaha. Full marks! (laughter)

ISSAY: Thank you very much! (laughter)

SAKURAI: Well, even at this age, I’m still embarrassed or afraid to go out. For instance, I want to go to Tokyu Hands but I can’t really go anymore. (laughter) [Tokyu Hands is a quirky department store in Shibuya.]

ISSAY: I can’t go either (laughter)

INTERVIEWER: Why did you want to go to Tokyu Hands, Sakurai?

SAKURAI: Well, my light bulb burnt out so I wanted to go get a new one. It’s a special kind. But eventually, I just got someone to go buy it for me.

ISSAY: Yeah, yeah! I always do the same thing!

INTERVIEWER: These guys are impossible! (laughter)

ISSAY: I wanted a takoyaki maker, so I got the manager to go and buy it for me!

SAKURAI: Oh, I got one of those, too! The ones at Tokyu Hands, right? (laughter)

ISSAY: Oh really? Let’s have a takoyaki party sometime, just the two of us! (laughter)

SAKURAI: Yes yes, let’s do it! (laughter)

ISSAY: A takoyaki party of decadence and darkness! (laughter)

INTERVIEWER: While listening to the Sisters of Mercy.

SAKURAI: Hahahaha

INTERVIEWER: I want to go to that, too. Anyway, the first time you recorded together was for the song “Masquerade” on Der Zibet’s “Shishunki II” album, where you did a sort of “decadent student and teacher duet.”

ISSAY: I wonder if I was planning to have Atsushi sing from the beginning. But it was really, really fun. (laughter) And it was fun once it was finished, too.

INTERVIEWER: Because your voices sound very similar.

ISSAY: Don’t they? Even I have trouble telling a lot of the time whether it’s me or Atsushi singing.

SAKURAI: Everyone tells me that!

ISSAY: I was really surprised. But it’s different from your normal singing, isn’t it, Atsushi? I guess we just get hung up on acting the same roles…right?

INTERVIEWER: By the way, Issay, what do you think of BUCK-TICK’s stage performance?

ISSAY: Well I haven’t by any means seen all BUCK-TICK’s lives, so I don’t really know, but I think it’s great. It’s kind of weird, isn’t it? Mostly, major label bands don’t do stuff like that, so it makes me really happy. And people appreciate it, too. I think that’s a great thing. As soon as they were able to, they went major, and made it big. Even though they act out pretty dark stuff.

INTERVIEWER: Well, this is putting it very bluntly, but I really wonder why it is that BUCK-TICK has sold so well up till now?

SAKURAI: How can you be so rude? (laughter)

ISSAY: Well, I think I understand why. Because the melodies really stick with you. That’s a big factor. They don’t have to push hard or anything; there’s a lot of their music that’s just really easy for the audience to take in. The lyrics are very convoluted, and they do wear their hair up, but the melodies are snappy and lively. That’s what I was thinking about, when they got really popular.

INTERVIEWER: Maybe if Der Zibet had debuted four years later, you would have sold well.

ISSAY: Hahahaha, I wonder, wouldn’t we have? (laughter)

INTERVIEWER: Well, I think BUCK-TICK has made a large contribution to making this aesthetic, visual, British-inspired “strange sounding” rock movement really accepted in Japan. Especially when you think of how popular it’s gotten now.

ISSAY: Yeah, I thought that, too. You’re a big deal, Atsushi.

SAKURAI: (laughter) No no, only when you’re not sitting next to me.

INTERVIEWER: You two are uncanny. But lately, these lovable “aesthetic fools” have been getting rarer.

SAKURAI: It has to do with the changes in fashion.

INTERVIEWER: Well in the 80’s there were definitely fantastic underground-scene aesthetic fools all over the center of Shinjuku.

ISSAY: Yes, yes there were. I wonder if Genet is doing okay? [Genet, a member of the Japanese Goth band AUTO-MOD, is a good friend of Issay and BUCK-TICK.]

INTERVIEWER: Well, major labels don’t think there are any bands like that that are worth spending production and advertising money on, because they don’t think they’ll sell.

ISSAY: Yes, that’s true. But the underground style has power.

INTERVIEWER: It’s too bad that historically, underground music has been appreciated not for its quality, but simply because it holds values different from those of the mainstream.

ISSAY: But isn’t that the way the world works?

INTERVIEWER: Well, Der Zibet is so diverse, and the “running around in circles down a blind alley aesthetic” really stands out, so your music is a real treasure.

ISSAY: Yeah, but it’s weird. (laughter) But, we were really hit hard in those days. When we started out, we really wanted to do rock ballads. But as soon as we made a melodious song, that’s the only way people thought of us.

SAKURAI: I’ve felt that way, too.

INTERVIEWER: But now there are no fools anymore. I think that’s too bad. Because rock was created by the fools. For personal expression.

ISSAY: Yes, but well…

INTERVIEWER: You are both just hoping you can survive, is that it?

ISSAY: Yes, that’s right (laughter)

SAKURAI: Hahahahaha

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