Fishmans

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About Fishmans

Japanese group Fishmans developed a distinctive, dreamy sound rooted in reggae and dub, while also incorporating a wide range of other styles, including trip-hop, psychedelia, pop, and ambient. The band formed in the late 1980s and initially played a fairly conventional brand of rocksteady before branching out and exploring different sounds, but constant elements of the group's music included primary songwriter Shinji Sato's haunting, androgynous vocals, Kin-Ichi Motegi's steady yet flexible drumming and sample-based rhythms, and Yuzuru Kashiwabara's deep, dubby bass lines. Evolving from the group's reggae roots, they shifted into more of a dream pop sound with later releases such as Kuchu Camp and the experimental epic Long Season, both released in 1996. Sato's unexpected death from heart failure brought Fishmans' original incarnation to an end in 1999, but the surviving members and their regular collaborators have since performed several reunion concerts and tributes. While Fishmans achieved minor commercial success in their home country during Sato's lifetime, they have earned a fervent cult following mainly due to word-of-mouth discussion on various online forums, and their international popularity has continued to grow exponentially. Shinji Sato, Kin-Ichi Motegi, and guitarist/vocalist Kensuke Ojima, then students at Meiji Gakuin University in Tokyo, formed Fishmans in 1987, having previously met as members of a songwriting collective called Song Lights. Hisamatsu briefly played bass for the group before Yuzuru Kashiwabara replaced him in 1988, and the band made their recorded debut on a 1989 ska compilation called Panic Paradise. Keyboardist Hakase-Sun came on board in 1990, and following Fishmans' first headlining concerts, the band signed to Virgin Records Japan in late 1990. Working with producer Kazufumi Kodama, of influential Japanese dub group Mute Beat, Fishmans recorded Chappie Don't Cry, their most straightforward reggae album, which appeared in May of 1991. Later in the year, Fishmans released the self-produced Corduroy's Mood EP, which was much closer to the popular shibuya-kei sound than their debut. After recording the theme song to the television series 90 Days Tottenham Pub in early 1992, the band recorded their second album with producer Haruo Kubota. King Master George, a playful, eclectic effort hopscotching from dub to ska-punk to jazz-rock to sunshine pop, appeared in October. Jaunty single "Walkin'," released in early 1993, was the first Fishmans recording to be produced by live collaborator ZAK (Kazuyuki Matsumura), who would greatly help shape the band's sound over the coming years. Their next single, "Ikareta Baby," received significant airplay on Japanese pop radio, and the group released their third album, Neo Yankees' Holiday, a bubbly fusion of dub and pop. The more funk-influenced single "Go Go Round This World!" appeared in early 1994, preceding Orange, the band's first full-length without founding member Ojima (Buffalo Daughter guitarist SuGar Yoshinaga performed on the album, and Shinya Kogure would play guitar with the group on most of their subsequent recordings). Oh! Mountain, Fishmans' first "studio live" album (recorded on tour but heavily mixed/treated in-studio), was released in March 1995, and the band embarked on a brief tour of the same name. Right after the group signed to Polydor, Hakase-Sun left the band, and Honzi became their support keyboardist. The group also began recording their music at a private recording studio called Waikiki Beach. The dreamy single "Night Cruising" was released in November 1995, and eventually became Fishmans' most recognizable song. Kuchu Camp ("Aerial Camp," or "Something in the Air"), released in early 1996, was the band's most successful album, reaching number 88 on the Oricon Albums Chart. The group then recorded their most experimental work, Long Season, a continuous 35-minute piece divided into five movements. The composition became a staple of the band's concerts, where they would perform it in its entirety, consistently adding new elements so that it would never be performed the same way twice. Uchu Nippon Setagaya ("Space Japan Setagaya") appeared in 1997, but the album's creation was plagued with internal conflicts, as Sato's home demos sounded nearly complete, and the rest of the contributors felt disenfranchised with their roles in the group. ZAK decided to stop producing the band, and Waikiki Beach closed for good shortly after the album's release. 8 Gatsu no Genjo, a second "studio live" album, was released in August 1998, and an expansive 13-minute single titled Yurameki in the Air ("Flickering in the Air") followed in December. Bassist Kashiwabara decided to leave the band, so they went on a five-date tour to send him off. Motegi and Sato intended to continue Fishmans as a duo, potentially moving back towards concise pop songs rather than the sprawling, spacy epics they had become known for. However, on March 15, 1999, Sato unexpectedly passed away at the age of 33, due to heart failure. Two already-planned compilations, 1991–1994 Singles & More and the video The Three Birds & More Feelings, were released two days later. Aloha Polydor, compiling highlights of the band's later releases and including a previously unreleased demo of the song "It's Just a Feeling," appeared in June, and past members of the group reconvened for a trio of tribute concerts in July. 98.12.28 Otokotachi no Wakare, a recording of Fishmans' emotionally charged final concert, was issued in September of 1999, subsequently becoming one of the band's most celebrated releases. Motegi formed the pop group MariMari Rhythmkiller Machinegun and started performing with Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra, eventually becoming a full-time member, and Kashiwabara founded Polaris, who played a dub/dream pop fusion similar to that of Fishmans. The tribute album Sweet Dreams for Fishmans was released in 2004, with contributors including OOIOO, Bonobos, and Clammbon. Motegi and Kashiwabara later formed indie rock trio So Many Tears with Takashi Kato (Losalios, Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra). Fishmans' legacy grew over time, as the band became a favorite on several music websites and message boards, and they gradually reached a much larger audience than they had known during their heyday. Motegi continued to organize concerts featuring former Fishmans members and associates in the lineup, and the group frequently released live recordings, videos, and compilations. Tribute collective Fishmans+ formed in 2011, and the project's 2012 release A Piece of Future included several interpretations of Sato's final, unfinished composition, including mixes by Ryuichi Sakamoto and Takkyu Ishino. During the reunion tour Long Season 2016, Fishmans issued a cassette EP titled I Dub Fish, and the archival release Long Season '96~7 96.12.26 Akasaka Blitz appeared soon afterwards. Fishmans' catalog became widely available on streaming services in 2018, furthering the band's global popularity. An updated ZAK mix of the group's signature song was included on the brief vinyl compilation Night Cruising 2018. Production for the official documentary The Fishmans Movie began in 2019. ~ Paul Simpson

HOMETOWN
Tokyo, Japan
FORMED
1987