Depending on your point of view, Half Japanese is either a celebration of the pure, amateurish, do-it-yourself rock & roll spirit or a pretentious, highly irritating example of noisy, self-conscious experimental rock at its most extreme. Formed by Jad and David Fair in 1977, the group started bashing out music in their parents’ basement in Maryland, recording their debut EP by themselves. By the time Half Japanese recorded their debut album, the three-record box set 1/2 Gentlemen/Not Beasts, they had acquired a full-time drummer plus a saxophonist, yet their music was no less noisy and primitive; if anything, it was more atonal and difficult than before.
For the rest of their career, the band has proudly displayed nothing approaching instrumental virtuosity. David Fair left the band after their third record, rejoining briefly for 1988’s Charmed Life. Throughout the years, the lineup has changed frequently – at times it has included Velvet Underground drummer Maureen Tucker and guitarist Don Fleming, as well as occasional contributions from Fred Frith and John Zorn – but Jad Fair has remained. That doesn’t necessarily mean the music hasn’t changed; their later records are slightly more musically varied and accessible, yet no less challenging. Fair has released a few solo albums that are stranger (believe it or not) than the typical Half Japanese release.