"I think we brought out every individual in the scene!" Turnstile drummer Daniel Fang is talking about the band's headlining gig at Tokyo's Bloodaxe Festival in September. "I didn't know a show that big could exist. So that was really cool and really shocking and a really magical experience … For us, I think it was an extra-special experience because literally every friend that we've met in Japan every time we've gone over the past few years was all in one room, and with all their bands playing. It was just a very magical vibe."
It's been a magical year for Turnstile, a group that specializes in bringing people together. The infectious energy and unfiltered joy in their music — as heard on February's exuberant Time & Space LP — and, even more so, in the band's live show cuts across all genders, races and creeds, encouraging everyone and anyone to join the party in an organic, unselfconscious way. Go see them in any city, and you will find fans of all ages and backgrounds dancing, stage-diving and singing along — a level of diversity you won't see for many other bands in hardcore. That reach has helped Turnstile step into new lanes entirely, becoming the one rock group to play 2018's Camp Flog Gnaw Carnival, curated by Tyler, the Creator, and one of only a handful of heavy acts on the bill of Jay-Z's Made in America fest this summer. It's also helped them to win devoted fan bases in places far from their Baltimore, Maryland, hometown — places such as Japan.
Turnstile played their inaugural shows in the country in 2015, supporting their debut album, Nonstop Feeling. Despite it being the first time many of the band members had been to Japan, each person involved in hardcore that they encountered treated them like they were a part of the local scene. "[Hardcore as a scene] is kind of small," says frontman Brendan Yates. "You travel somewhere and you make some friends and now those friends are aware of you and your friends, and it builds this kind of relationship that you don't get if you're going to a show that you're not really connected with, [when] you're only going to watch this one band and leave."
With these bonds firmly in place, when Turnstile returned to headline Bloodaxe Festival this year, it felt more like a homecoming away from home, than a visit to a foreign land. Which isn't to say that hardcore doesn't mean something different for Japanese fans than it does for those in America.
"I imagine the day-to-day pressure is [a lot in Japan]," says Fang. "Maybe you have some crazy dyed hair or perhaps you have a tattoo or you dress in a weird way. I would imagine that riding on the subway or walking through the street, going to school, being at work, if you're Japanese and you have those things and you feel that you belong to [a] subculture, you experience a lot more pressure on a daily basis. You have a lot of old ladies giving you the death stare and people avoiding you and stuff. Or just thinking you're weird and therefore bad because you're breaking some, you know, traditional norms."
From those traditional norms to the underground world of hardcore, Turnstile try to explore it all when they're in Japan, going with the flow and leaving themselves largely at the mercy of their friends and hosts there. "We're pretty content just going wherever 'cause the entire time we're over there, we're just like, 'This is awesome.' It kind of works out," Yates explains. "[The Japanese are] probably the best hosts out of anywhere I've ever traveled 'cause they're just so caring about everyone feeling content at every moment. They're just checking in, like, 'Are you good? Are you guys hungry? Do you guys want to go here?' [Our trip was] kind of a mix of all kinds of stuff."
Indeed, it was. From visiting hot springs and shopping in anime stores to stumbling on a random truck festival and dropping $70 trying to win a single Pokémon plush at a claw machine, Yates, Fang and bassist-vocalist Franz Lyons shared highlights of their recent trip with us.
BRENDAN YATES There are so many temples. You'll be walking in the busiest part of Tokyo, it'll seem like New York City, and then a block over there's this temple that's thousands of years old and it's super colorful and people are praying. It's so cool to see that preserved in the city. That kind of stuff will never not blow my mind: seeing a giant Buddha statue that looks bigger than the Statue of Liberty, quiet ponds surrounded by different animals. Definitely a super-special place.
YATES We eat at these convenience-store kind of places. There's a Family Mart, there's a 7-Eleven, there's another one called Lawson. In the States you would go into something like that for a quick little snack, but I find myself in these Family Marts getting all these full prepared meals, and it's pretty affordable. There's another place called Coco. It's like a Japanese curry chain. You get a white rice, you'll get a curry. I'd get the vegetable curry from Coco. I probably got it, like, five times on this last trip and I was only there for eight days. It's just so good.
DANIEL FANG We're about to cross a crosswalk in Harajuku, and there was this guy in an inflated Godzilla suit just playing air guitar. And there's a guy with a microphone behind him, screaming. I don't know if he's advertising something or just hyping people up. But [our merch guy] Brandon just squared it up with him. He immediately squared it up back, and they started circling each other.
YATES We rented a dog. They have a service over there [and] you walk in and there's a room with a bunch of dogs and they have a menu, kind of. They have each dog's profile, like, their name and their stats and you can just take one out. You just pay for the time that you take it out. We got one. We had a day with this cute, little dog, brought it to the park, hung out with it. It was awesome. [His name was] Otochan.
FANG I think we spent, collectively, like, $70 trying to get this miniature Pokémon plush at a claw machine — and we still didn't get it. But somehow it was one of the greatest nights of our trip. Lots of screaming in the claw-machine arcades. Japanese culture is a lot quieter and reserved than our own. I kept forgetting that, and the employees would come over and try to help me win the plush so that I would get out of there. Eventually, the dude just opened the machine and gave me the plush and was like, "Shhh!"
YATES Usually [our Japanese friends] take us to a lot of vintage stores selling old band shirts and all kind of crazy old clothing. There's just so much of that in Japan. There's entire streets dedicated to these vintage clothing shops and it's all stuff that's kind of pricey 'cause it's all been hand-selected. You go into the store and you see hundreds of shirts that you want, but they're like 300 bucks sometimes. But it's still cool to go.
FRANZ LYONS Hell yeah we did some karaoke. I usually don't like karaoke, but when you're there and everyone's fired up … Some of the places it comes with a drink and they don't have alcoholic beverages. So you have a Coke float and you're just singing. Brendan and Pat [McCrory, Turnstile guitarist] did a cover of the song "Jaded" [by Aerosmith] and it was the most amazing thing I've ever seen. Brendan was singing the first verse, Pat was doing the harmony. I'm so bad at it, I only did a song because they forced me. I think I did [Otis Redding's] "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay," which was the only song at my confidence level and vocal range."
FANG I'm, I think by far, the worst singer in Turnstile. I'm just, like, horrifically atonal and can't sing along to anything. Pat and I were searching for the band Asian Kung-Fu Generation. Their song "Rewrite" has gotta be one of my favorite songs ever. [When it came on] I don't think I've ever been more excited. Even at, like, a show where an actual band is playing. I was more excited at karaoke with them, finding "Rewrite."
YATES This guy Senta, he sings in the band Numb. They're like a legendary Japanese hardcore band. They've been around for a long time.
FANG Senta is the king. He's so nice, so sweet. Last time Turnstile was there, in 2015, he let us stay at this really small studio space that he owns. It also happened to be his, like, vault where he had a ton of OG Eighties and Nineties hardcore shirts: an '88 Youth of Today Break Down the Walls, '86 Bad Brain tour shirt, all this crazy stuff. When he came to pick us up on the last day we stayed there, he was like, "Hey, you guys want any of this stuff?" And all of us are like, "Uh, that's so unconscionable. Of course, we want every single thing here!" He ended up giving us so much stuff. He'd take out a Bad Brains shirt, look at Brendan, and throw it at him. Take down the Youth of Today, Break Down the Walls shirt, look at me, throw it at me. Literally showering us in gifts. I never felt so surprised at someone's generosity, but also so guilty. I don't know what we did to deserve this. I don't know how we're going to gift him back.
LYONS Senta, he's sick. He gave me a Bad Brains shirt off of their Rise record. Straight-up my favorite shirt. I've worn it a few times, and I don't think I'll ever wear it again because it's so delicate and means so much.
YATES Usually when I go over there I'm pretty jetlagged. I go to bed pretty early. I'll wake up at four in the morning — wide awake. That's how it was the entire trip for me. I think my favorite part is, I would get up at four in the morning and get on my skateboard and just cruise around. Nothing would really be open — just [me] enjoying the quiet, peacefulness and serenity of the city at four or five in the morning. It's the coolest thing for me.