“Cool, no sweat funk.” – Those exact words are how the leaders of Japanese group EP-4 describe their music. Led by the imitable Kaoru Sato (vocalist) and Banana Kawashima (keyboardist/tape looper), EP-4 in a brief period in the early ’80s existed in its own playing field. Stylistically, and philosophically, more akin to dub-minded bands like The Pop Group, Die Krupps, or Liquid Liquid, than techno-pop minded YMO-aligned Japanese bands, EP-4 truly deserved far more notoriety than the little bit of history we do know. Although Lingua Franca-1 their proper debut full-length album points to an awesome, different take on mutant funk and post-punk, we’re still left with so much to dig through and little to actually find.
This is what I know. Once there was a band called R.N.A Organism that tried to trick Japanese music labels into thinking they were a foreign band by sending cassette tapes via air mail, in hopes of getting signed to a record deal. They managed to trick one label, Vanity Records, into releasing R.N.A.O. Meets Organism a mix of dubby noisey funk and scratchy drum machine electronics. Luckily for them, Vanity Records was one of the burgeoning Japanese indies looking to put music out there that wasn’t so tied to American-influenced radio. When their ties to that label fizzed out, R.N.A. Organism renamed themselves EP-4 and took their agitprop music style to the next level.
Somehow, hiding from both an indie label and a major label, that they would in fact be releasing the same album on both labels simultaneously, they took the audacious step of using impromptu shows and guerilla marketing to launch their debut. In Harajuku district of Shibuya, Tokyo EP-4 plastered huge, illegal billboards with their seal +—-+ letting people know to show up on a certain date for its release. On that date, they performed around four sets, in various locales, at really odd hours of the day, and announced the title of their debut: Lingua Franca-1 昭和崩御 (Death to the Emperor Showa). Those managed to get a copy found it stuffed full of cryptic poetry pointing at some dark, hidden Japanese ills. Fully pissing off everyone that didn’t bother to stick around and listen to the astounding furious decidedly Japanese future funk residing in it, EP-4 stuck around for two more years later before disbanding as a group, having said/done what they wanted to say/do.
More PiL than Talking Heads, EP-4 suffered no fools, and had music that showed a different side of Japan that many forgot existed during the 80’s market bubble. It’s all in their name: EP-4. Earth, wind, air, and fire. Four elements, a metric load of power. All I know is that if funk can mutate, this has got to be one of its illest propagations.