March 30, 2004


Referred to by their Japanese fans as just "Mad", The Mad Capsule Markets (on older albums it's "Market's") have been churning out albums in Japan since 1990. Although they started out playing punk, over the course of 11 albums they've turned to a uniquely poppy, catchy industrial/hard core mix.

The band actually had their start as Berrie, the high school garage band of vocalist Kyono and ex-guitarist Shin, in 1985. A year later bassist Takeshi joined them, and they took part in a few band contests. In 1990, four months after making waves opening for the Red Hot Chili Peppers, they switched drummers (I'm not sure if the drummer left or was asked to leave) from Seto to Motokatsu, and changed their name to The Mad Capsule Market's. Perhaps their name was influence by RHCP, at least in length?

That year they self-released their first album, Humanity, on their own label Insect Noise. Afterward, their guitarist Shin left the band [see the Discography>Contributions page for post-Mad discographies of former members] , and they replaced him with Ishigaki, who had been a roadie back in their Berrie days. POP, their premier with major label Victor (JVC) Japan, contained several new songs, plus some rerecorded, sped up songs off of Humanity. Their next effort was an EP, Capsule Soup. In it they started to use more samples, and took a step away from the straight-forward punk of their first two albums. Speak! and Mix-ism, which was recorded in England, seemed to continue the trend of experimentation with the punk sound.

Park was the last album with any semblance of their old sound. CraY (this was also the last album on which he used this pseudonym; after this he is known as Takeshi "Y" Ueda, and finally just by his real name) focused on demonstrating that they had legitimate ability as artists, and could play more than just punk. Songs like Hi-Side and Parasite indicated the hard core leanings which would explode in 4 Plugs, while there were some songs that were totally devoid of their normal hard edge, and some that were an obvious continuation of their sound on Mix-ism and the Eject-Out single.

Recorded and produced in the US, their 1996 album 4 Plugs took off from the hard core leanings demonstrated in Park. The mixing focused on the talent of song writer Takeshi and his popping bass. This was the genesis of their new sound. Some of the songs could easily have been on a later album if Motokatsu just had a drum machine accompanying him. Much of the album, though, was somehow much darker than anything before or after. Perhaps it was the lack of Osc-Dis and 010's bells and whistles that made it seem this way. Maybe the guitars were toned way down, or it could be that recording and production can really affect a band's sound this much. Kyono was grunting screaming pissed, CraY was laying down sub-sonic explosions with his bass, and Motokatsu's drums sounded like a butcher forcing his meat cleaver through a chicken on the cutting board in fast forward. I imagine many of their long-time fans had trouble digesting this monster: gone was the wistful relaxed rock of Park, and the ironic, introspective punk before. Ishigaki's influence only seemed to poke through on "Normal Life".. maybe the new path of the band led him to leaving after the self-titled release? Another change on this album was the emphasis on English lyrics. From here on, only about a third of their songs were in Japanese.

After 4 Plugs they released a self-titled album of rerecordings and new remixes of their most popular songs. They brought in a variety of remixers, and wrote English lyrics for some of their old songs. This was the final appearance of Ishigaki, who went on to join the band of former Boowy (huge rock band in Japan in the 80's) guitarist Hotei Tomoyasu. He has never been replaced by an official member, but TORUxxx has played guitar in both studio and tour since this time.

Digidogheadlock was a strong progression from 4 Plugs, and Mad was able to get the attention of Germany's Alec Empire (Atari Teenage Riot), eliciting remixes from him on their Creature and Crash Pow singles. They also were invited to the CMJ music festival in New York, releasing a promo in the US at around the same time. In general it seemed as if they got a good massage after 4 Plugs. On Asphalt Beach and Do Justice To Yourself, the bass didn't rumble quite as much, Takeshi was back to doing his back-up vocals (I've heard them called cute), and Kyono wasn't always trying to frighten everyone. Their catchy guitar hooks and choruses were back some of the time. The majority of this was still meant for dark winter nights though, like the slow, grinding single Creature or the testosterone-laced Freak Is Born, What!, and Have No Fear. Perhaps the rhythm of Systematic is most revealing of what potential there was for Osc-Dis, though foreign reviewers of the international releases looked more towards the Alec Empire remixes as the future of the Mad sound. Some guitar work on Digidogheadlock was done by TORUxxx, and some by Takeshi; they still had not decided on a replacement for Ishigaki.

On their 1999 release Osc-Dis it seemed obvious that they took alot away from their work with Alec Empire, although this may be more attributable to influence from their recording engineers at Kurid. They started to focus more on the mixing and production phase of recording, and put to full use all of the looping and synth work that was in the background since Capsule Soup. Apparently they began using Pro Tools as a crutch when they ran out of studio time, and found that they enjoyed it more than being in the studio. Takeshi half-jokingly said that he felt like he finally understood recording for the first time in his 10-year career. The difference between Digidogheadlock and Osc-Dis was huge. The first track, Tribe, started out with a blooping computer loop, which relaxed the whole song. When the bass came in, it was still low and heavy, but it had the edge distorted off. Kyono's vocals seemed more insistent than angry or fed-up. Motokatsu might as well have been jacked in like some Gibson character: while he played drums physically, his mind triggered a series of computerized loops. Takeshi accompanied him on the Pro Tools (that's an instrument now, right?) while simultaneously driving on with his bass. From their bass and vocals, songs like Multiplies could have been just like another song on Digidogheadlock; however, given some cute bloops, an "ooo-ooo" chorus, and a razor guitar riff, it ended up.. what? Poppy? Not that simple. It just didn't seem to be so abrasive, so cold, so overwhelming.

010, published in 2001, was a refinement of the discoveries of Osc-Dis. They got better with Pro Tools, and they laid on more electronic layers of drums and distortion. The first track, Introduction 010 made it clear something was up. It sounded like this was a cover of a Kraftwerk song from their later, non-existant hardcore era. The next three songs, Come, Chaos Step, and Gaga Life, were all improvements on the formulas of Osc-Dis, right up until the chorus of Gaga Life broke in halfway through. This humble writer said to himself "By god, this is a pop song, isn't it?" No wonder it did so well on the Japanese pop charts. How subversive! Pop sensibilities met head on with an aggressive rhythm section like some killer Totoro; definitely a highlight on the album... will this sing-a-long rip up the American charts when 010 finally makes it over here? Jam! continued from Gaga Life, with a slow, rolling, head-bobbing flow of drum, bass, guitar, and rap/rock lyrics.. until just when the listener relaxed, bam! Soft fade out to Kumo, an airy, calming exploration... until just when the listener relaxed, bam! They moved on to a strong cover of Killing Joke's Wardance to keep the juices flowing. How could XXX Can of This have been any more silly or light hearted?: it couldn't. Bit Crusherrr returned to the formulae of Osc-Dis again, with the gimmick a digitized, repeating "r". This is Mad Style was.. wait it ended! Was that a surf guitar in Good Day; suddenly at the end the city and society tried to ruin Kyono's Good Day, but he fought through it. By the sound of the next song, apparently one member was listening to ELO, one to Pitchshifter: the beats overlapped, their eyes met, there was a nod of recognition, and Fly High was recorded. No Food Drink, or Smoking contained a nice, gradual build up with a robotic voice repeating the song title. The final track, RDMC, was a return to Gaga Life... pop plus industrial hardcore makes what? What is this called fercrissakes??? Oh right, it's Betaphenethylamine.

With the release of 010, They perfected the 'omake' (freebies) with custom mousepads, mice, or t-shirts with copies of the album, LEGO-like toy figures with the first two singles, and limited-edition packaging. Also there was a mail order only set of toy figures, very cute but also quite pricey; the first run sold out in the first minute they were available, and they were forced to apologize and make a second run after rabid fans swamped them with hate mail. To get their fans even more worked up, they made a life-size White Crusher (the Stormtrooper-looking Mad trooper) and had it follow them at Tower Records stores around Japan as they went on tour. To make their long-time fans happy they had a guest appearance by founding member Shin on one track (he was uncredited, but actually did most of the left channel work on the album as well). Even before most of this hype, the first two singles from 010, "Chaos Step" and "Gaga Life" debuted in the OriCon Top 10, the Japanese equivalent of the Billboard charts. The contrast between them and the other bands in the top 10 was pretty shocking. Imagine Ministry or Slipknot played next to Brittney Spears and N' Sync.

Mad has a huge following in Japan - their tour dates sell out in hours. They've opened for Rage Against the Machine, Helmet, Korn, Pitchshifter, and Fear Factory. Although the quality of English lyrics depends on the album, the music quality has been pretty steady. Unfortunately the cute kitsch of Pizzicato Five doesn't work with their style of music, though, so some potential fans could be scared off by their friends laughing at some lyrics. Then again, maybe the comic factor will work. As you can see from my translation page, most of their Japanese lyrics have not been bad, and some quite good (I especially like IC City, GMJP, and most of the songs off of Park). Considering that you can't understand most native speaking hard core bands either, I don't know if the lyrics really matter to most music fans. I'm not sure what they need to do to get well-known. Maybe the avalanche of marketing that Palm is doing will help. Maybe they just need to tour small clubs for a while to establish a following, like an American act would. Getting lucky and having a high profile journalist or band take interest in them could help too. Who knows. I don't mind buying imports, but I'd sure like to finally see them live.

They have made several efforts to expand overseas. Park was the first album released in the US, about two years after its Japan release. Digidogheadlock was also released in the US, in October of 1998 (which contains the Crash Pow Alec Empire remix as a bonus track), and is still available through some online resellers. It was released in Europe as well, with two additional remix bonus tracks. The US releases were through a small label with little to no attempt at marketing the band, but the Europe release was through JVC Europe (now defunct). Both Park and Digidogheadlock had tiny tiny pressings with zero marketing, however. A promo disk was released for their CMJ 97 performance containing a few Digidogheadlock tracks, and can still be found at some stores around New York. In 2000, the Pulse single was released in Korea, marking a new horizon for them.

After being signed to Palm Pictures for America and Europe in 2001, Osc-Dis was released in in both regions in September of 2001. It got great reviews in both spots, but in England they turned the staff of Kerrrang! magazine into die-hard fans. Kerrrang! brought Mad over for a short tour, for Ozzfest, and for a longer UK tour. Meanwhile, Mad did a brief US tour in 2002. 010 was released in Europe in 2003 with a slightly altered level mix. This continued to grow the ranks of fans in the UK, and brought more accolades from music reviewers.

In March of 2004, Mad released their latest album, CiSTm K0nFliQT, in Japan. In it the add more substance back into their lyrics, and musically iterate on the concepts of Osc-Dis and 010. Mad try to sow seeds in the listener's mind that we have headed down the wrong path of world relations. "Tell me now, why are we killing and dying; America, Europe, Asia, Middle East; Religion, History, Greed" (my translation). Because of the political nature of their lyrics, perhaps, the album is less poppy than 010, back to Osc-Dis levels.

Later that year Mad was signed to Gut Records in the UK, no longer working for Palm Pictures. In October of 2004 CiSTm K0nFliQT was released in the UK on Gut, with several vinyl and CD singles accompanying it. Mad supported with a November UK tour.

At about the same time, two "best of" CDs spanning their entire 14 year career were released in Japan, with all new mixing and sound production. These were followed up in March of 2005 with two "best of" DVDs with music videos.

What does the future hold for Mad? Will they depart on another music detour, developing a new sound? Will they pare their sound back down to early minimalist punk? Will they tackle new lyrical topics? Will they relocate to the UK?

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Posted on March 30, 2004 8:45 PM
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