The frontman of the prestigious hardcore band STRUGGLE FOR PRIDE, Imazato talks about skateboarding and Violent Grind. We take a look into the deep place in skate culture, as the sport side of it is gaining more attention.
[ JAPANESE / ENGLISH ]
Photos: Nobuo Iseki, Special thanks: bar moonshine
VHSMAG (V)： How did you start skating in the first place?
Imazato (I)： I was in the third or fourth grade in elementary school. There was a random board that we got from someone at the house. I was hanging out with these kids from St. Mary's International School and they were skating. So that's how I started skating. It was just like kids playing soccer and baseball. For me, it just happened to be skateboarding.
V： That was in the mid '80s, right? I read somewhere that you were skating in Kamata back then.
I： Yes. There was this surf shop called The Surf and I used to go there to get boards. It takes two months but we could custom order Vans shoes too. You can choose from the soles to upper parts however you like. Back then we would all go there to order Vans.
V： Were you sponsored or anything?
I： I was just a little kid so I couldn't buy boards that often, you know. So the people who were hanging out at the shop used to give me used boards. So it wasn't like a sponsorship but they treated me really well.
V： I also heard that you used to bring jump ramp to Kamata by train.
I： We used to bring jump ramp to Zushi Marina too (laughs). It was like the Animal Chin video, we'd put it on our board and bring it into the train station... There use to be a line where you could take the train from Meguro to Kamata so we'd take that. I guess the station staff let us do it because we were just some little kids (laughs).
V： That's pretty insane (laughs). There used to be a skatepark near your house called Marby's, right?
I： Yes, that used to be a gas station. The register room was the skateshop and there was a mini ramp outside. I was looking for the place with my St. Mary's friends on ring road No. 8 and this guy name Masazumi Hoshino spotted us and yelled out, "Hey hey, Do you know Marby's?" We were like, "Actually we're looking for it," then he's like, "Let's go there together!" So he took us there. They didn't have mini ramp yet and we helped them build one. I still remember, when we built it we tried to make it a concrete ramp. We'd put concrete on the wooden surface... Of course it's not going to work, you know. We were like, "Oh, this is not working (laughs)."
V： Who were your influences back then?
I： Bill Danforth and Ricky Barnes, those two.
V： Then when did you start going to Violent Grind in Shimokitazawa?
I： I became friends with Hoshino-kun at Marby's and he was the kind of person who would take you everywhere. He was a really good skater and used to hand me down boards too. Back then Skate Rock series just got started at Thrasher and they used to release cassette tapes. They also had a VHS video called "A Blast From the Past and Present" and Thrasher's photographer MoFo's band Drunk Injuns was in it. Hoshino-kun was wearing their T-shirt. I never thought that kind of thing existed so I asked him, "What's that!?" He told me that he got it at Violent Grind. He took me there and that was my first time going there. It was around the time when they just got started.
V： So that should be around '87.
I： Maybe... I know the exact date when they opened though. It's my birthday (laughs).
V： What was the shop like? I know Naoto from SOB used to run Violent Grind in Osaka too but I never had the chance to go there...
I： Actually it had a distinct atmosphere. It was a record shop that carried skate gear. They had all these things that you can't find anywhere else. People hanging out at the shop were very distinct too (laughs).
V： Back then skating wasn't accepted like today and I assume it was kind of scary to go to a core skateshop...
I： To be honest, it was scary at first (laughs). It was on the second floor and the window on the door was filled with sticker so you can't see inside. When I was there they had register at the back and decks and records on the left. They had Converse All Star for like ¥1,000 and decks for ¥6,000~7,000. The owner Kuro-san would go and get them in the US so I think he was selling things cheap with not much profit. Of course no one would say hi or anything and band people and skaters are hanging out. One year age difference was huge back then. I had something I wanted so I just had to go there. You open the door and really tense while you're in there. You buy what you want and just get out right away (laughs).
V： How did they welcomed you in as one of the crew?
I： Hoshino-kun was friends with Kuro-san. I went there alone in December of the year when I got in high school and he recognized me. He was like, "You're the one that come here with Hoshino, right? You wanna work here?" I started working on that very day... (laughs).
V： That's super quick... (laughs). I heard SK8Thing used to work there too.
I： He worked there before me. I'm not sure but I think he quit and I took his place or something.
V： How was your lifestyle like back then?
I： I was the kind of kid who never went back home so I was staying at friends' houses. It was definitely different from the lifestyle of a normal 16-year-old. I'd work at Violent Grind until 8pm, hang out with Kuro-san until morning, sleep at the shop and start working again (laughs). So I was able to nurture the sense of value there. I think I was very fortunate. Maybe it was because I was a kid, but I don't remember paying for anything back then. People around me took care of me in every way (laughs).
V： In every way from good and... bad, I assume (laughs). Sorry to ask you about all these rumors, but I heard there used to be a punishing room for shoplifters.
I： Ah, maybe you're right. I don't know. I don't think I can say anything about that (laughs).
V： What was the thing that you learned from spending time at Violent Grind?
I： The people who were hanging out at Violent Grind before I started working there were all very cool. Ishiguro-kun from hip-hop unit Kimidori and Yamashita-kun from a hardcore band called Dread Yankees... There were all these types of people in music and skating, all mixed in one place. We were all in the same generation but they were shining in my eyes, you know. I've always wanted to be like them and I still feel the same. I was admiring them and wanted to be a part of the crew. There weren't many of them which makes them a minority, not mainstream. I'm not saying mainstream is bad, but being at Violent Grind made me feel it's okay to be the minority... I started to think like, "Numbers don't mean shit."
V： Your sense of value was established there.
I： That's right. For example, whenever you get mixed in a trouble Kuro-san had our backs. When I turned the age of Kuro-san when he was running Violent Grind, I realized I could never do the same and take care of the young ones. He welcomed a random kid like me to work at his shop and took care of all of us. Everyone taught me a lot of things. Violent Grind was a home and school. My sense of value was established at Violent Grind for sure.
V： How did you get into music?
I： My older brother was into music even he only listened to hit songs. I guess that was my initial influence but one day, one of the St. Mary's kids came to our skate spot with half of his head shaved, wearing burnt flannel shirt and holding a boombox on his shoulder (laughs). Like, "This is the thing in America." So everyone became punk all of the sudden (laughs), but we didn't know what to listen. So we'd ask friends to get whatever was on Thrasher's music page when they had a chance to go to the US, and had them copy whatever tape they had. And one day, we found out this small record shop had punk music so we started to go there with friends.
V： You start getting into music and fashion with friends' influence when you're a kid.
I： Yeah, there was this decisive moment when I started listening to music in the first year of junior high school. When we were hangin out at Marby's, a bunch of older skin head gang from St. Mary's were there. There was this guy name Seth, he was wearing MA-1 and he was totally a skin head. And there was a message written with a marker on the MA-1 saying, "AGAINST RACISM." I'd never seen something like that and I got super blown away...
V： And eventually you start the hardcore band STRUGGLE FOR PRIDE in the early '90s. Is it true that the reason for starting the band was because you were bored after doing all the fun things you could think of?
I： Yes, you're totally right. I had done everything and it was getting too hard... So it was like, "We don't have anything to do. You wanna start a bad?" It wasn't like "We love music! Let's become someone!" Nothing like that. It was just a choice to kill time (laughs).
V： Do you think there's similarity between skating and music?
I： I don't think so. People saying that, they just want to think so (laughs).
V： (Laughs). You say you started to kill time but you gained a place in the scene. How was it like back then?
I： I started the band with two of my friends I grew up with and they were already playing in other bands. We'd have live shows and a lot of friends came but also there was an incident we didn't expect. It was fun and happy but we came to the conclusion that this is not the thing we really wanted to do. Things were getting too hard. We had three shows and eight years of hiatus after that. We were playing in studio but we didn't have a goal in the first place. In a way, our goal was to just get together and play. Just continuing to have friends around and have fun time... From the days I was at Violent Grind, I'd alway think to myself, "I hope this will never end." So the goal was achieved... no, I should say that people around me let me achieve the goal... I'm grateful for that.
V： "YOU BARK WE BITE," "CUT YOUR THROAT," and "WE STRUGGLE FOR ALL OUR PRIDE." You've released two albums and one EP, and Kahimi Karie is featured in all of them. Street culture doesn't really link with her in my head... How did she come to play in your records?
I： She's really street actually (laughs). She's really rough and she really cover wide range of things. She's awesome.
V： You met her through playing music?
I： We were at the same club at one point. We were the different type so we didn't have much connection but we had mutual friends. So I just offered her when we came to make the album.
V： You went all the way to NY to record her sing, right? I can feel the sense of integrity there...
I： No, I just wanted to see her. I can't really say that was from the sense of integrity... (laughs).
V： Aside from hardcore punk, you're also a reggae DJ and have deep understanding in other street cultures as well. Also in the new album "WE STRUGGLE FOR ALL OUR PRIDE.," all these different genres of music are intertwined. Did that style come from the experiences at Violent Grind?
I： I just can't separate the things I like. I'm all about the things I love or hate, interested or not.
V： I see. You've based yourself in Tokyo for all these years. What are the things that you feel is lost today compare to then? How about the thing that evolved?
I： I alway have the sense of keep losing something important. At a personal level, the loss of someone I love... This will continue from here on. For example, Otaki-kun passed away two years ago. To tell you the truth, the reason why I started going to The Surf is because of him. One day I was at Yoyogi station and saw Otaki-kun on the other side of the platform with his board. He was wearing multi-colored Vans high top, soles and sides of the upper parts all different. One of the soles were check pattern. I still remember this, he was also wearing Levi's 501 and had top side of his hair long. It looked so cool looking from the other side of the platform. I can remember it clearly... That's how much I admired him. We never hung out and it was just a hi kind of thing here and there, but I feel a lot have changed after he passed. Two days after his death, him and Kuro-san were supposed to have a flea market at Violent Grind OG Niikura-kun's cafe called nico in Komazawa. People I love from the older generation was just about to reunite and start something new... Obviously it never happened... So this is what I feel is lost. As for evolution, I've always felt "Fuck age difference," and there will always be a certain amount of people who feel the same. So new things always comes to the picture inevitably.
V： Otaki-san's loss was a big one for us.
I： I think he was the bridge for a lot of things and people. I don't fully live in the skate community so I can't really say, but... There was this OG skin head skater in Tokyo name Wood from a band called Shuffle, and people in his generation all had distinct style. When I was working at Violent Grind, there was a message written by the OG Yuichiro in a notebook, "YOU CAN BUY FASHION BUT YOU CAN'T BUY STYLE." Otaki-kun was the epitome of that.
V： What would you say is the best thing about skating?
I： I'm feeling happy recently so not so more but I'd go bomb a hill alone late at night whenever I felt stifled. You can switch your mood, you know? That kind of thing with skating is so special (laughs). Maybe I shouldn't compare it with other things, but... do you surf?
V： No, I've never snowboarded too.
I： Exactly. Same with me. I grew up in the city environment so I need to be surrounded with concrete (laughs).
V： It's been 30 years since you started going to Violent Grind and you're bringing it back. How did it come about?
I： Well, the shop that we were hanging out closed and there was a new location close by, but this random drug addict that Kuro-san save off the street stole money and he had to close it again... He reopened the shop and he had to get rid of it in a month. After that, he moved location to Hatsudai then Koenji but eventually it vanished. I felt so sad... I'd been feeling like this for decades and Kuro-san was saying in an interview that he wants to open a bar where he can listen to favorite records some day. I was a rowdy kid and he took me under his wing. I was supposed to open new Violent Grind on December 29th, which is his birthday. The location was right next to the original store and when you look out the window you can see the same scenery as before. I wanted to make it a gift for Kuro-san but for complicated reasons I couldn't rent the place. I got bummed and was walking in Shimokitazawa and this older friend was there randomly in the street. I told him what happened and he said that I could rent a location that he had. He had a shop in Shindaita and he had to close it. That's how I decided to reopen Violent Grind there.
V： That's a miraculous timing.
I： I need to give back to all the things Kuro-san had done for me. I'd been taking too much from him.
V： Is there anything set for Violent Grind?
I： We'll have a T-shirt designed by Daikon-kun, and Kenji Kumeda will be on the team. I want Wataru Nagashima and Tetsuya Nakamura on the team too. Eventually I want to release Hoshino-kun's board as well.
V： I'm sure memories from the original Violent Grind is burnt in your brain. What kind of atmosphere do you want it to be?
I： As I said before, it was a place where you could find something special, a record shop carrying skate gear. I want to keep the integrity but I want it to be a place where people can be inspired to start something new. I don't want to make a museum with things from the past because I was never into it. So I want to keep that attitude. But Violent Grind is by any means Kuro-san's place. I just want to have a place I can hang out at (laughs).
The frontman of a hardcore band STRUGGLE FOR PRIDE based in Tokyo. He has deep knowledge in various street culture such as skating and music. He's released "WE STRUGGLE FOR ALL OUR PRIDE." last year and looking to reopen the legendary Violent Grind soon.