Exposé Online banner

While Sweden has taken off as a hot spot in recent years, with new young bands like Anekdoten and Änglagård which have rightfully found a lot of attention and praise from prog fans worldwide, there has been an even more vital resurgence of prog bands cropping up on the other side of the world, namely in Japan. While the new Swedish bands are heavy on the classic sounds of the 70s and are largely focused on revitalizing that approach, the most recent outbreak of Japanese talent have pursued the loftier goal of creating new, fresh, and avant-garde forms of progressive rock that combines a multitude of influences into something completely revolutionary, something completely exciting.

by Dan Casey, Published 1995-07-01

Il Berlione coverThe first evidence of this new wave of music appeared as early as 1992, with the release of the first album by Il Berlione. Along with their second release, as well as recent works by Ars Nova, Tipographica, and Lacrymosa, the Japanese scene is stronger and more alive than ever. And yet during all of that time a band by the name of Happy Family already had worked up an impressive array of songs so thrilling that multiple bootlegs of their performances at the famed Silver Elephant club in Tokyo were in heavy circulation amongst those in the know. As one of the pioneers of the whole movement, it seems almost tragic that nothing by this fabulous four-piece ensemble has found its way to official release on CD. Yet, that is — Cuneiform Records wisely pounced on the chance to get this band into a studio and out on CD for an official debut release.

The roots of Happy Family go back to their freshman days at Meiji University. Originally a five-piece of keys, guitars, bass, drums and sax, the band's repertoire included many covers by such influences as King Crimson, Yes, and PFM. Shortly after their formation both the drummer and the saxophonist left to pursue other interests. After a short stint with a female sax player in 1989, the band came to a major turning point in their history with the entry of drum wizard Keiichi Nagase, giving a solid birth to the four-piece line-up that would endure throughout the recording of their first studio album in late 1994. The remainder of this line-up includes Kenichi Morimoto on keyboards and synths, Shige Makino on guitars, and Tatsuya Miyano on bass.

Happy Family

The bulk of the songwriting is adeptly handled by keyboardist Morimoto, but the other members have been known to contribute on a semi-regular basis. His influences are the most obvious on the sound of Happy Family, and range from Magma, Area, Univers Zero, and Henry Cow to other avant forms of jazz-rock and chamber-rock. In particular, the UZ and Magma influence will be most apparent to the first-time listener, and yet Happy Family takes it to a new level with the addition of heavy guitar chords and solos on top of the familiar and very satisfying Paganotti-like bass fury of Tatsuya Miyano. Furthermore, while synth solos have traditionally been non-existent in this form of rock, Morimoto sets new standards with his razor-tight chops and monstrous licks up and down the ivories. Those with a yearning for fine musicianship, technique, and execution will find no better example in the modern Japanese scene (and for that matter the modern prog scene as a whole) than Happy Family.

Happy Family - Flying Spirit Dance Live cover

As an aside, Tatsuya Miyano also plays bass in a Magma tribute band called Mekanik Kommandoh along with the band leader from Ruins, Tatsuya Yoshida. Another confirmed rumor is that guitarist Shige Makino left the band at the end of last year (after the recording of the new album) in favor of more metal-type music. He has already been replaced by Takahiro Izutani, another player of equal competence, who has been gigging with the band for several months now.

Collectors are already familiar with the five or six bootlegs that stem from shows between '90 and '94, but for reference tape traders should keep their eyes peeled for tapes from 12/9/90, 3/3/91, 8/23/92, 5/10/92, 12/13/92, 7/18/93, and the "official" tape release of a live show from 4/16/94 called "Flying Spirit Dance" Live, which features a live version of Daniel Denis' "Bulgarian Flying Spirit Dance" from Les Eaux Troubles. A studio version of their interpretation of this track will appear on Cuneiform's sampler of their artists covering label-mates titled Unsettled Scores later this year (approximately early fall). One other notable cover is Area's "Cometa Rossa" from Caution Radiation Area on the 12/13/92 tape (without the vocal section, of course).

Happy Family - Happy Family coverThe band's debut album is slated for release by May 10th — it will be out by the time you read this — and will include seven tracks: "Rock and Young," "Shige et Osanna," "Partei," "Rolling the Law Court," "Kaiten (Ningen Gyorai)," "Naked King," and "Drums Whisper Spacy," most of which have appeared on one or more of the live tapes, with songs going back to as early as 1992. This self-titled effort promises to be one of the year's best releases, and it is clearly long overdue.

Happy Family ranks right up there with Il Berlione and Tipographica as one of the strongest bands in one of the field's most open and musically adventurous nations today, Japan. May the pending release of their first album be just the beginning... If nothing else, one of the best-kept secrets of recent years is about to be told.


Filed under: Profiles, Issue 7

Related artist(s): Happy Family

Latest news

2020-01-21
Gong Announces UK Tour for 2020 – Having spent the last few years touring the world, including dates in Japan with psych legend Steve Hillage, multiple headline European tours and festivals, America’s Cruise to the Edge festival, a South America headline tour, and a headline performance at Tomorrow Festival in China, the band have won the hearts of both traditional and modern Gong fanbases. During this live journey, Gong has delved further into the truly psychedelic, exploratory, and mind-expanding side of the music. » Read more

2020-01-15
Carlos Alvarado RIP – Carlos Alvarado, pioneering composer, multi-instrumentalist and pioneer of progressive rock and electronic experimental music in Mexico, passed away January 14th, 2020 at age 68 after a two year battle with cancer.  » Read more

2020-01-12
Wolfgang Dauner RIP – Pianist Wolfgang Dauner, one of the pioneers of both European free jazz and jazz rock, has died at the age of 84. With his own groups and with the United Jazz+Rock Ensemble, his playing and compositions were a prominent presence in European jazz from the mid-60s until just recently. » Read more

2020-01-12
Michael Allison RIP – Michael Allison, who since 1997 has been recording as Darshan Ambient, passed away on January 9th after a long and brave battle with cancer. He has been at at the forefront of the new ambient/electronic music scene, with over eighteen releases to his credit. » Read more

2020-01-10
Neil Peart RIP – One of rock music's defining drummers has died at the age of 67. Neil Peart's work with Rush provided one of the templates for percussion in rock, and he certainly ranks in the top ten most influential drummers of the 20th Century. Peart retired from playing in 2015 due to health issues, and succumbed to brain cancer on January 7, 2020. » Read more


Previously in Exposé...

Steve Roach - Sigh of Ages – Sigh of Ages is Steve Roach's fourth release of 2010. Six continuous tracks totaling 74 minutes take you on a journey that is deep, dark and hypnotic for its duration. You either really like this type...  (2011) » Read more

Da Capo - Da Capo – Da Capo were a German band from Fürth in mid-Franconia who released one LP in 1972 that became one of the most sought-after German rock records. They recorded their seven-track album in two days and...  (2011) » Read more

Zauber - Il Sogno (AKA Zauber) – Here is another rarity from the vaults. Zauber was a five-piece who produced only this single album in the late seventies, until their recent reformation (see Mike's New Italian article in issue...  (1995) » Read more

Magma - Theusz Hamtaahk - Premier Mouvement – This unauthorized release contains the first half of a live concert from March 1976. The band's lineup is identical to that of the Theatre du Taur show, but the performance reveals, among other...  (1995) » Read more

Tisaris - What's Beyond – If the balance of the album were as smokin' hot as the seven-minute instrumental "Animae" that opens it, this might be one of the best releases on the PRW label; sadly, that's not...  (1997) » Read more