Overell, Rosemary. 2014. Affective Intensities in Extreme Music Scenes: Cases from Australia and Japan. London: Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 978-1-13740-676-7 (hbk). 211 pp.

Reviewed by: Dexter L. Thomas, Jr., Cornell University

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Keywords: ethnic studies; music culture; Japan; punk; youth culture

This book is a study of participants in the grindcore (a sub-genre of hardcore punk music) scenes of Japan and Australia consisting largely of interview material, and it is here that the work’s primary strength lies. Because the author has presented so much of her own source material, readers are able to judge for themselves the value of the analysis. Some areas, such as the dissection of Australian ‘bogan’ culture, are illuminating for those unfamiliar with the topic. However, the study is not as helpful when the author makes observations about Japanese people.

When Overell describes white Australians, the words are straightforward and academic. But when she speaks of Japanese or Japan, there is a constant sprinkling of italicized words. These are almost always unnecessary—such as using English loanword gaido where ‘guide’ would have been less confusing, or kaisha where its direct translation, ‘company’, would have served better. Several of these generic keywords are ascribed to some complicated or essentially ‘Japanese’ characteristic. But more often than not, these words are not insider jargon. Instead, they seem only serve to alienate and fetishize Japanese subjects, and to display a mastery of Japanese. The latter is particularly troubling, given the book’s repeated misuse of the language.

In a glossary at the end of the book, Overell describes senpai and kohai as ‘male hierarchical system[s]’, even though there is nothing strictly ‘male’ about a junior/senior relationship in Japan. Several simple loanwords, such as ‘impact’, are spelled correctly in Romanized lettering, but incorrectly in Japanese kana, suggesting an unfamiliarity with written Japanese. If the author is unfamiliar with the vocabulary needed to conduct her study, how trustworthy can the work be?

This question becomes important when Overell analyzes Japanese culture. For example, she regularly attributes various difficulties she encounters in Japan—such as a handful of band members not wanting to talk to her—to the fact that she is a woman, and white. But, given the above, it seems more reasonable to assume that her difficulties stem from an inability to communicate with her subjects. It is not hard to imagine a rock musician being a bit impatient with an interloper who is only able to communicate via an interpreter.

That being said, the work is to be commended for its transparency. Overell admits that she was unable to conduct any serious interviews in Japanese, and relied almost exclusively on after-the-fact translations of captured audio recordings, or English-speaking interviewees, for most of her fieldwork in Japan. But she may have underestimated the effect that this would have on the quality of her work. In fact, the disregard for non-white subjects (a common feature of Western academic studies) is a running theme in the study.

At one point, Overell criticizes Japan’s anti-black racism (no such criticism is made of Australians), pointing out that Japanese people are generally unable to tell Africans from African Americans. However, in the next sentence, she commits this same error, when she mentions ‘Bobby Ologun, a Nigerian-born enka tarento (enka pop star)’. She is actually mixing up two people—Bobby Ologun, a comedian who was indeed born in Nigeria, and Jero, who is a Philadelphia-born enka singer. The two do not look alike, nor do they perform similar entertainment. Their only similarity is that they are both black.

As an analysis of Japanese music subculture, or non-Western culture in general, the study is limited. Further, it is limited as a study of grindcore culture: many of the observations made about the misogyny or cliqueishness of the scene are broadly applicable to other genres as well, and have been made in music publications such as New Music Express or Pitchfork. For those who are deeply familiar with both Japanese culture and grindcore, the study has some value. But newcomers to either field must judge for themselves if they are confident enough to discover these scattered insights on their own.