The G1 Climax got underway in Dallas last Saturday with the soundtrack of LOW IQ 01’s ‘Shine’, the official G1 Climax 29 theme song.
LOW IQ 01 (01 pronounced Ichi) is one of Japan’s premier singer songwriters, but he’s also been a pro wrestling fan since childhood. You might also be familiar with his tune ‘Takeover’: Katsuyori Shibata’s entrance music.
We sat down with LOW IQ 01 to chat about fandom, music and the G1 Climax!
–Your track ‘Shine’ was chosen as the official theme of the G1 Climax. How did you feel when the first discussions took place about this?
LOW: Honestly, it was a dream come true. Me getting into the music business, enjoying music in the first place, was all because of wrestling.
–You started as a wrestling fan before getting into music?
LOW: Right. Musicians get asked all the time: ‘what was the first record you ever bought?’ No joke, my first record was a wrestling album.
–Wrestling entrance themes? Was it a New Japan album?
LOW: No… this had all sorts of promotions on it. Foreign wrestlers, too.
–Like The Funks ‘Spinning Toe Hold’?
LOW: Yeah! I was an elementary school kid at the time. So I didn’t really get the concept of western music versus Japanese music, different genres.. all that came because of wrestling. Listening to entrance themes got me to ask ‘so who are these Led Zeppelin guys?
— Wrestling was the gateway for you.
LOW: The first music that got me really hyped up was wrestling music, for sure.
–Now here you are with ‘Shine’ as the official theme for the G1. You said on social media that you wished you could tell yourself as an elementary school kid about all this.
LOW: Right. When you graduate from elementary school, they usually get you to write your future dreams in the album, right? I was more a wrestling kid than a music kid then. I actually wanted to write ‘I want to be a pro wrestler’.
LOW: But at that point, I knew I couldn’t even be a junior heavyweight. I just wasn’t blessed with a wrestler’s body. So I actually wrote that I wanted to be a reporter for Tokyo Sports.
–So you wanted to be connected to wrestling in any way possible.
LOW: Absolutely! I thought the idea of watching wrestling events live and being able to write about them for a living would be so awesome. I actually re-read my album lately, and that was exactly what I’d written.
–So what wrestlers did you like as a kid?
LOW: I got into wrestling just before the original Tiger Mask debuted. It would have been when Tatsumi Fujinami had just moved from junior to heavyweight. By the early ’80s I was hooked. Which actually brings me to the one thing I really wanted to talk about today.
LOW: When I was on my way over here, I actually mentioned to one of my people that this was the first time I’d been here in ages. They were really taken aback, but it’s true; I’ve actually been here before, as a kid.
–In the offices?
LOW: Yeah. I was born in Tokyo, and one year on a school trip we were all on the bus. I remember seeing the banner for the New Japan office from the window. This big lion mark. I think probably back then the offices were in Aoyama? Obviously that wasn’t where the school trip was, but I remember saying to my friends what I’d seen and going ‘let’s totally go there tomorrow!’
LOW: So the next day we’re talking ‘ah, it was probably somewhere around here…’ and deciding we could get there on our bikes. We made it there, to the Aoyama office!
–A real adventure!
LOW: It wasn’t all that much of an expedition, in fact I was living fairly nearby. But we managed to find it and then we went in.
–You actually went in?
LOW: Yeah, me and about five friends.
–No appointments of course.
LOW: It was curiosity. I knew that the Dojo was in Setagaya, so we were thinking ‘what the heck is this place?’ and it turned out to be the office. I remember the first person we saw was Kotetsu Yamamoto.
— The late, great Yamamoto. He was a former wrestler and then a trainer in the Dojo. People called him the drill sergeant because he was so strict. That’s quite distinguished company.
LOW: I know, right? He came to us and asked ‘what the hell are you doing here’? I explained that we saw the billboard and went in. He said ‘you can’t do that! This is a company. You wouldn’t go to your dad’s office for no reason on a weekday would you?’
LOW: So we apologise and head out. As we’re going he stopped us and gave me a poster. ‘Take this with you’. I remember thinking, ‘hey the drill sergeant isn’t so mean’. Apart from that I remember peeking in and seeing (former NJPW executive) Hisashi Shinma. It was a big deal for my fandom.
–And now you’re back.
LOW: Right. It’s not as if anybody working here would know, but yes, this is my first time back in a few decades. I actually saw Tanahashi here earlier.
–Purely by chance, you met your old friend Tanahashi. When Tanahashi was in university he was in a clothes shop and heard a song ‘Do It Yourself’ by the band you were in at the time, Super Stupid. He said he decided then and there he wanted to use it as entrance music one day, and he actually did.
LOW: This was around the year 2000 I think. We had a common friend, who said to me once ‘there’s this wrestler, Tanahashi’. I said I knew him, and my friend goes on ‘he’s using Super Stupid for his entrance’. I was so stoked!
–It was what Tanahashi wanted, but it made you so happy.
LOW: Right. To get back to what we were talking about earlier, I was raised on wrestler entrance music. I realised earlier I could never be a wrestler myself, but to be a musician and have a wrestler use one of my songs, that was a dream come true.
–It took you right back to what you wanted as a school kid.
LOW: Yeah. So it was then that the wrestling fires started burning again with me. What made everything take off was Katsuyori (Shibata).
–Not many people are close enough to Shibata to call him by his first name!
LOW: Haha. He was really a kid when I first met him.
–He would have been in his early 20s.
LOW: Right. He was really new. The first thing i asked him was about if his dad was the referee, Katsuhisa. That was the era I grew up in.
— So to Shibata, you would have come across more like an uncle figure.
LOW: Yeah, right.
–You went on to create Shibata’s entrance theme ‘Takeover’. How did that all come together?
LOW: We had a mutual friend who connected us. This was around the time he left NJPW (in 2005). We went out to eat and have a few drinks and he asked me if I could write him some music. He wanted to really make a big change and wanted music to reflect that.
LOW: Katsuyori listened to my music and told me the kind of thing he had in mind. At first it was a lot harder in tone.
–A harsher sound?
LOW: More metal perhaps. He wanted me to change it up a little, told me the specific elements of my music he liked. I took that on, went back to the drawing board, and came back with ‘Takeover’.
–So Tanahashi had used music of yours before, but…
LOW: Shibata’s was written especially for him.
–Tanahashi’s such a huge fan of yours, he was quite jealous of Shibata because of that.
LOW: So I gather! And around that time they had the Tokyo Dome match, didn’t they? Katsuyori really beat down Tana in that one.
–This was January 4, 2006, when Shibata was on the card representing Big Mouth Loud (Watch on NJPW World).
LOW: Shibata used Takeover that night, but that was actually the night that Tana’s entrance music changed, to ‘High Energy’
–So your fates all intertwined!
LOW: It was this dramatic back story. They’re very different types of people, but there’s a lot of complex emotions going on there.
–Tanahashi wrote on his blog about you both being in the Dojo, and there was this big separation between the two of them, with Tanahashi being a Super Stupid fan and Shibata liking the band High Standard. The ‘Takeover’ situation was a big shock to him.
–The two of them get along now, and Tanahashi has grown to like ‘Takeover’. It’s crazy that you found yourself part of that drama with such key figures in NJPW.
LOW: For sure. But thinking back to myself as a schoolkid, to be even tangentially related to wrestling like this makes me really happy.
–You’re still a fan now. You come to quite a few events.
LOW: Yes, and on TV as well. Wrestling’s getting really hot I think, especially the junior heavyweights.
–You’re a fan of the juniors?
LOW: I think that the junior roster now, it’s on a level to where the division was when I was a kid. They’re awesome.
–Speaking of the junior heavyweights, I know you’re connected with YOH as well. You straddle the generations of NJPW wrestlers.
LOW: Heh. I think these days, social media, Instagram, things like that have really brought a lot of these guys within easy contact. It’s let the wrestling and music worlds have a closer connection.
–It’s happened fairly silently, but this connection has developed.
LOW: If you just look at it in broad terms, music hypes up athletes, gives them motivation. There’s a natural link there of music providing energy. And a lot of bands and musicians love wrestling.
–You said on social media that wrestling and music are intertwined. With that, and your connections to Shibata and Tanahashi, ‘Shine’s selection seems like destiny.
LOW: It does. I think when ‘Shine’ gets played in the buildings for the G1 it’ll get everybody appropriately hyped. Especially me. It’ll get me hyped (laughs).
–To get to the G1 itself, what’s your take on the tournament?
LOW: I guess the easy way to put it is it’s a festival of New Japan. A long time ago there was the IWGP league and such, correct?
–Yes, originally the IWGP was a league based tournament (WATCH: G1 history).
LOW: And it’s all connected to now. To have that legacy stretching back decades is really cool.
–What do you think of the lineup this year?
LOW: KENTA stands out to me…
–Have you interacted much with KENTA in the past?
LOW: A few times, when he was in that Shiba-KEN tag with Katsuyori. When Katsuyori introduced him (at Dominion) he came out to ‘Takeover’ so my ears pricked up (Watch on NJPW World).
–There’s a lot of variety to the lineup this year.
LOW: There’s so much character to it. This year’s really amazing. Especially SANADA, and Ospreay.
–I know you’re friendly with SANADA. You know so many people it’s probably hard for you to find someone to back.
LOW: I’m more of a wrestling fan rather than a fan of a particular wrestler. I’ll get behind anyone who can put on a great match that sticks in the memory.
–The G1 happens to coincide with festival season in the music business, but are you planning on being at the finals in the Budokan?
LOW: That’s the plan!
–We’re looking forward to having you. Can you talk a bit about ‘Shine’ itself?
LOW: I mean, with hindsight, it’s got a kind of energy that matches really well with wrestling. I know that it’s a guaranteed track to get the crowd fired up when I play it live.
–Having your music as the G1 theme is a real chance to connect the fan bases and broaden pro wrestling’s appeal.
LOW: It’d be great to see wrestling’s appeal get broader and broader. Speaking as someone who’s been watching since the ’80s though, I’m really surprised to see so many women in the venues now. I really think that wrestling’s taking on a whole new shape, and that’s cool.
–And your music is playing a big part in that.
LOW: Ah, I guess it is… I really can’t put it into words. It’s really quite an emotional thing. I’m just so happy for it to happen, and I’m stoked to hear ‘Shine’ play in the building for myself!