Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Guernica - Kaigenrei

While finishing my tax, I've been listening to the 80's Japanese band Guernica. They did strange but often compelling stuff: avant-garde and often atonal cabaret/electronica with Jun Togawa as vocalist, all with retro 1920s-1930s styling reflecting the Westernised element of the pre-WW2 Japanese imperial era.

At the moment my favourite piece is the one embedded above and below in two versions: 戒厳令 (Kaigenrei in Romaji), whose title appears on the web variously as Martial Law in English or Belagerungszustand in German. The chorus section from 0:55 to 1:38 recalls early 20th century totalitarian or patriotic anthems - I think it's a brilliant tune. But although it seems very familiar, I can't find it on Musipedia. The version below is a powerful slower-tempo arrangement for conventional orchestra, sung in German with a lot of Sturm and Drang.

This seemed a strange conceit until I realised that Guernica's lyricist Keiichi Ohta wrote the lyrics in German originally. The song is about the repression and fear of living under totalitarian rule, with strong allusions to Nazism, judging by these lyrics I found (the German is a little fractured in places):

Die Autobahn in der Nacht
Durchfaehrt im heftigen Regen
Der Asphalt wird das schwarze Plastik
Den Tropfen der Frontscheibe
Warnt das Autoradio vor Kreis
Die Belagerungszustand reisst die Nacht.
Ach, Ach, Belagerungszustand
Ploezlich erscheint das schwarze Beiwagenmaschine.
Der schwere Ton des Offizerscheibes
Hilfeschrei eines reinen Maedchens
hoert man hinter "Gesperrt" hevor.
Die Belagerungszustand reisst die Nacht,
Ach, Ach, Belagerungszustand

Die Sirene heult jetzt in der ganzen Stadt.
Wie Mantel Totenengels
Der Regen Faelt auf den roten Backstein,
Wie die traurige Traene deren,
die nach Hoelle gewhen. Wie traurige Traene.
Die Voegel singen die Fried und die Freiheit, aber
klingt es leider hoffnunglos.
Das Gebeht der Frauen zum heiligen Kreuze
weckselt ja mit dem Fluch ueber schwarze den Teufel.

- lyrics from this Guernica fan page

There's another video here - Martial law - Belagerungszustand / Guernica - which brings out a powerful irony to the song by juxtaposing the pageantry of Nazism to these downbeat lyrics that portray its dark side. I don't know if the anthem section is a genuine Nazi tune - if not, it's a superb pastiche of one. But if it is, its upbeat and disturbingly inspirational flavour is completely subverted by Belagerungszustand's lyrics. Loose partial translation:

The siren now wails over the whole city
Like the mantle of the Angel of Death
The birds sing of peace and freedom, but
the sound is sadly hopeless.
The homage of women to the holy cross
becomes the curse of the black devil.

If you read Japanese, the official Guernica site is here. If you do, I'd be delighted if you could feed back any information on the background to Kaigenrei if you see any. What was its inspiration? Why did a Japanese songwriter choose to write a song in German? Is that compelling catchy anthem a real Nazi tune or a pastiche?

Addendum I like this one too: Denrisou karano Manazashi (which means something like "Gaze from the Ionosphere") I haven't the least idea what the lyrics are about, but it has a Weill-like urgency and atonality to it.

- Ray


  1. But conducive to submission? I went with Al Bowlly's thoughts of what might have been.

  2. Thanks! I'd totally forgotten an incredibly apposite video with Al Bowlly music I saw last year. See next post.