It has been 35 years since Violent Grind started its shop in Shimokitazawa, Tokyo in 1987. We asked the founder Kuro to look back on the brand's history, which marked a major milestone.
[ JAPANESE / ENGLISH ]
VHSMAG (V)： First of all, tell us how you started Violent Grind (VG) in 1987. You started the shop in Shimokitazawa under a record store called Edison, right?
KURO (K)： Yeah. At first I was only interested in hardcore punk, but then I watched Bad Brains videos and stuff and the things were going toward skating. Anyway, there was a talk about starting a VG in Edison. They said they'd carry records involving skating, so we decided to crossover between hardcore and skating. At the time, there was a record and skate shop called Rene's in Melrose, LA, and the boss at Edison went there to check it out and thought, "This is it!"
V： Were shops selling records and skates rare back then?
K： I think so. After I started VG and settled down, I went to the US, and the only places like that were Rene's and Dogtown shop. I also went to Fogtown and Concrete Jungle in SF.
V： You've been to Concrete Jungle!?
K： I used to go there a lot back then. I borrowed the Final Solution hand plant design from Concrete Jungle for VG. At first, I'd go to the US to see Pushead. Pus was busy at the time, so I did my own research and went to Thrasher. I met Mofo, the photographer for Thrasher and vocalist for Drunk Injuns, and we became good friends. Then Pus was like, "Why are you hanging out with them? You wanted to get high or something?" Pus doesn't even drink.
V： You just went to Thrasher and suddenly became friends with Mofo?
K： Yeah. The president of Santa Cruz even called me JaMo, or Japanese Mofo (laughs). He's super punk rock, so when I went to his house, he was super welcoming. He was playing the Sex Pistols super loud. I asked him, "Why do you like the Sex Pistols?" Then he goes, "Look at that from this window. That's where the Sex Pistols last played. I wanted to show you that." He kept playing it at a volume that would've been reported in Japan. We got some really good XXX, got drunk, and took a Jacuzzi bath.
V： I didn't expect a story with Mofo (laughs). But Pushead came up with the name VG, right?
K： Exactly. But when I first heard the name, I thought, "That's pretty wack. Who can remember a name like this?" But later when it became my own, I thought he really thought it through.
V： How did you meet Pushead?
K： I used to hang out a lot with Jha Jha of Lip Cream at the time and he told me, "A guy named Pushead from Thrasher is coming, Let's go pick him up at the airport." So I met him at the airport. He told me, "Why are you dressed like that? Do you like Suicidal Tendencies?" I was wearing kung-fu shoes at the time, and the Suicidal gang wears kung-fu shoes. So when I went to Pus' house, the lady next door was like, "You brought a gang?"
V： How was the US back then?
K： There are people who are scared of things and who are not. For example, let's say you go to a dangerous place to pick up "something," the difference between Japan and the US is that if you do something wrong, you may get shot. That's all, right? I'm like, "Just give me the money. I'll go get it." I'm totally fine with it. My greed outweighs the danger. When I die, I die.
V： I can imagine you've gone through a lot.
K： I was just lucky. It could've gotten shot and ended just like that. But if I had been walking alone in downtown LA, I'd have been in trouble. I've seen a guy walking with a machine gun at the South Central station. I thought he was a cop, but he was a gangster. That was scary. Once a Cadillac crashed right in front of me. It was like something out of a movie. It wasn't even on the news (laughs).
V： Let's go back to your story in Japan. What was the position of Shimokitazawa at that time? For example, in the skate community, Harajuku is often mentioned in the media, and we often hear that the Shitamachi area was the counterpart. How was Shimokitazawa?
K： It was new. No one thought we'd do it in Shimokitazawa. And since VG was selling products at a low price at the time, I think the Japanese distributors thought we were out of their league or hostile to their business. I don't think we were part of the skate industry. Well, I didn't think about that when I was doing it. At that time, it was fun to have good skaters come to VG and shoot videos, but there were also guys who had boards for fashion and never put their tires on the ground. I think that's fine. I think that's totally okay. They can use their board as a weapon (Laughs). These people got together and created a trend at VG, but Kaoru Ohno was the older generation who brought something new to the scene.
V： I hear Kaoru Ohno's name from many people. What kind of person was he?
K： Kaoru-san was interesting. He was the one who brought in and sold Dogtown and Suicidal Tendencies at Betty's, but he was another person who was not a part of the Japanese skate industry in the same way that VG. I didn't get along with him at first. Betty's was the only place that sold Suicidal T-shirts. I didn't want to see the old man, so I sent my girlfriend to buy one for me (laughs). We became friends when Suicidal came to Club Citta or somewhere. We had met at various places before that, but Fine Magazine set up a party for us after that event. That's where I had drinks with Kaoru. We talked about surfing and I said, "You can still surf?" And he goes, "You son of a bitch, what did you say to me!?" He got really mad at me (laughs). We drank a lot together that day, and by the end we were so close that we could rub shoulders. Once he got really drunk at one of our events and got into a fight with my buddies, but he called me the next day and apologized. I thought he was a good person. I don't think I'd have liked him if he hadn't apologized. Also he and I were sampling for a friend's band. I think that was the last time we drank together and smiled. I never heard from him again, and I asked around how he's doing. And I found out that he's dead.
V： It seems to me that people had more character then than now.
K： I think everyone is trapped in the sensibilities of the times. I'm relatively the same way. I don't understand digital technology.
V： I'm sure there are many people who were hanging out at VG back then who are still active today.
K： Cibo Matto got pretty famous. We had dreads together at the time and had an "alliance that would never cut it" (laughs).
V： That's awesome (laughs). Who was on the team?
K： There is no team. I work until 8pm, and usually you want to hang out with your girl after work. At first I told the customers to go home at 8pm, but it became fun to go places with everyone (laughs). I don't have a driver's license, so I'd let someone else drive the Edison car to haunted places. That's all we did. I also took Miho from Cibo Matto to the Tsurukawa estate. We had a fireworks war in Honmoku and went skating at Hasunuma. In the morning, we'd go to Komazawa and shoot videos of Masazumi Hoshino and Takao Niikura skating a bank. Well, it was easy. All I had to do was drink (laughs).
V： I hear stories that people were scared to go to VG.
K： When I DJ at places, people come up to me and say, "I was scared to go to VG." There really are a lot of people like that. Then I'd say, "You're the 545th person to say that," and the guy believes me and gets surprised. There's no way I'm counting. I was having fun like that (laughs).
V： (laughs). I hear that kind of vibe was not only in Shimokitazawa, but also in Osaka, where Naoto, a former S.O.B. and RFTD member, ran a shop.
K： No, I don't know much about the other branches. Osaka just happened to be Naoto, and Kobe just happened to be Fujimoto (Shura). At that time, punk and skating crossed over in many places, and I remember Shin from GAUZE saying to me, "There's a skater who's blocking my walk. It's your fault, you bastard!" I was so happy to hear that Shin was that aware of skating. When I met Shin and told him about it at ANTIKNOCK in Shinjuku, he was like, "Don't talk about old things!" (laughs).
V： By the way, this may be an urban legend, but is it true that the VG in Shimokitazawa had a "punishment room" for shoplifters?
K： (laughs)! There was a guy named Koshiyama whom I knew at the time. He liked to draw pictures of anime and other things, and there was a punishment room called the "Dogitsu Punishment Room" for a character named Satan's Toenails from Go Nagai's "Kekko-Kamen." So I put up "Dogitsu Punishment Room" in the boss' room. So that was the boss' room (laughs).
V： So there really was one! Did you actually punish shoplifters?
K： I've caught a lot of shoplifters, but there's no fun in handing them over to the cops. I don't like cops. So I catch them and immerse myself in the role of an actor... There are times when I completely turn into Yusaku Matsuda. Most of the time, I can spot shoplifters. I catch them outside, bring them back to the shop and say, "You know, you can shoplift all you want. You steal ¥8,000 tires from my shop, and it gets deducted from my paycheck. Give me a break, man." Well, it's a lie. Anyway, I tell the shoplifter that, and he smirks. And at the right moment, I'd slam the desk and yell, "Are you listening to me, you son of a bitch?" And he starts crying. I just want to let them cry. Then I'd make him write down his name. From there, I go with the Yusaku Matsuda line. "Next time you want to steal something, do it in Harajuku." There is a movie like that. I'd play that scene in the movie.
V： That's hilarious!
K： If someone shoplifts, I lock the shop and chase after them because I know their escape route. The route is usually the same. I don't mind them shoplifting, but if they steal from me, it means they think "that guy sitting over there"...in other words, me. I'm annoyed that they think, "He's probably easy." Shoplifting itself doesn't piss me off. It's like, "Oh, he challenged me." Then I'm like, "I'm going to have to return the favor in various ways."
V： So it wasn't an urban legend after all.
K： No, I didn't put them in the "Punishment Room." I still remember the guy who dropped a pair of trucks on the floor while I was on the phone and tried to steal it by dragging it with his feet. It was funny. I caught him right outside and took him back to the shop. He apologized, but I'm like, "You can't do that, you've already stolen it. Are you playing soccer or something? You're good at dragging things with your feet." I'd make them laugh and smirk like that, but then I'd pound on the desk and start yelling and make them cry in the Yusaku Matsuda way. "Don't fuck with a grown up." Well, I'm pretty immature (laughs). But that kid from the American School really pissed me off, because he took so many boards at one time. So I caught him and told him to turn in his student book. I told him to get the girl with him to do the same. From there, I go into Yusaku Matsuda mode. I'd say, "Okay, I'll sell them to you, so bring me the money. If you don't bring me the money, I'll rape her." That's a line from a Yusaku Matsuda movie. Yusaku Matsuda would come down immediately (laughs).
V： (Laughs). And VG in Shimokitazawa would then relocate to Hatsudai or Koenji, right?
K： When I found out that the Shimokitazawa shop was going to be closed, I was told that if I could pay 15 million yen, I could continue at the location. But I didn't have that kind of money. I still had a duplicate key, so Sone (S-ONE THE GANGSTA), Imazato, and I went to see the shop. The place was empty. I still have a picture of the three of us there with deep emotion on our faces. I'm in the picture, so someone must have taken it because it was impossible to take a selfie back then.
V： Does this mean that the shop that moved to Hatsudai was no longer under the Edison umbrella?
K： It wasn't under Edison. There's a katakana logo for VG, and the person who worked on it was a friend of mine, Tomoyo Tanaka, who lives in New York and also designed for Boredoms. She contacted me and said that one of her classmates from school wanted to work in the clothing industry, so she asked me to meet with her. When I met him, he was a totally different type of person from me, a YAZAWA kind of guy. We got to know each other over drinks and ended up doing VG together in Hatsudai. We worked together for a few years, but he passed away at the age of 42... By then, Pus had sold me all his rare old stuff for $2 because he thought I might be in need of money. He and I said we were going to make it the property of the company, but it's all gone and now it's out there in the market. Someone sold it. I could find the bastard and catch him, but I don't want to do that either. I don't want to make money with old stuff. This year is VG's 35th anniversary.
V： The 35th anniversary is a major milestone.
K： Hiroshi Otaki passed away suddenly, a few years ago. Although we'd known each other for a long time, we'd been distant. But suddenly I got a call from him saying, "Advance Marketing made a H-Street board for their 30th anniversary and they want to send it to you." We had a small talk, and I told him, "You're like a god in this skate industry. If you invite me to the Olympics, we'll all get drunk and boo the contest." He said, "I'll do it too!" That was not the kind of thing that Otaki would normally say to me. And about a week later, he died. I felt like he was leaving me a message. I know that I have to be connected with various people to make things work, but I'm fine with being the outcast and being the toxic one.
V： People often use the word "legendary" to describe VG. What do you think about that?
K： People often write things like "legendary shop." I'm like, "Well, if you want to write that, go ahead." But I always say, "Don't say it like I'm dead. Legendary is a word you use for dead people." I don't care though. What the hell is a "living legend"? It sounds like the name of a metal band (laughs).
V： A few years ago, Imazato revived VG in Shindaita.
K： I really appreciate that. Well, I was just drinking. It was fun. But in the end, I'm glad it was only for a year. Covid happened just as we decided not to renew the lease. I thought we were still in luck. But even if there's a new chapter to come, whether it is bad or good, I can't calculate the future. All I can do is to roll with it.
V： Last question. What does VG mean to you?
K： That question sounds like an NHK program... Rather, I wonder what I'd be doing now if I hadn't started about VG. I wonder if I'd be doing music, or if I'd be running a regular pub without punk music at all for example. But I can think about that later when everything has happened. If I knew that I was going to be drinking and having a good time today, and then I had to skip the interview because of a sore foot, I would think, "I'm a dick!" But the opposite can also happen. If I was taken to McDonald's and you guys were like, "We'd like to take some pictures and talk with you around there," and I was given a cup of tea and you guys didn't know anything about me. I'd get bummed. In that case, I'd be like, "Oh... I should've just told them I had a sore foot and ditched the interview..." That's how it is with people (laughs).
Born in Kawasaki, Kanagawa. Kuro started Violent Grind, a fusion of record shop and skate shop in 1987. He's an important figure in the Tokyo street scene that crossovers hardcore punk and skate. Currently, Violent Grind is present as a brand rather than a physical shop.