sokoninaru at The Lounge, London

live report - 04.02.2019 20:01

Osaka alt-rockers sokoninaru impress on their UK debut.

The alt-rock outfit sokoninaru have built themselves a decent following since their formation in Osaka in 2011. They’ve attracted some international attention too with their Tenohira de Odoru music video, which has racked up an impressive one and a half million views, but they’re still not that widely known outside of Japan. Aside from a 2015 appearance in Taiwan, The Japanese Riff Explosion tour is their first major international adventure and it’s a brave move to head out on a six-country, 14-date European road trip, given their current profile and the marginal finances for an independent label band touring overseas.

The venue for the band’s UK show is The Lounge in Camden – what you might call an intimate setting. The Lounge’s stage, if it’s worth the name at all, is a small platform raised about six inches. It has barely enough space for the drums and amps and certainly no room for anything else, particularly guitarist Juko Suzuki’s enormous effects pedal board. The stage doesn’t even have a backstage. The band members emerge from a door behind the venue’s bar and make their way through the waiting audience to take up their instruments. Guitarist Juko Suzuki, dressed all in black and eyes hidden behind his bleached grey hair, is joined by Misaki Fujiwara. Her smart, yet feminine, white blouse and black skirt may not look very rock ‘n’ roll but make no mistake; she’s serious business with that bass once the show gets going.

While sokoninaru perform live as a trio, Suzuki and Fujiwara are the only permanent band members. They’ve operated with various support drummers since their original drummer departed abruptly back in 2016. On duty with the sticks for this tour is regular guest Shinya.

It’s fair to say it’s not a big crowd tonight, but the cosy venue makes for a different kind of gig. Rather than three individuals spread out on a large stage, the members are all practically within touching distance of each other, and the audience too, focusing them together as a unit. Fittingly for a venue called The Lounge, it feels like sokoninaru have come all the way from Japan to perform in somebody’s living room.

The audience forms an arc around the band, separated only by the monitors and mic stands between them. Suzuki peels off a blast of intricate guitar noodling, including his trademark tapping, to give a hint of what we’re in for tonight, some top notch musicianship. The crazy intro is for pirorthytm stabilizer, one of their older tracks, and it gets the show off to a flying start.

sokoninaru’s recorded music is cleverly constructed, full of cuts and edits that sharpen up the math rock stop-starts and switches in technique, so it’s a question as to how they can translate that razor sharp precision to a live show. re:program, one of their more extreme ‘mathy’ songs, shows that they’re the real deal and the production is just there to polish their work. The song’s changing gears and shifting rhythms are deftly handled as Suzuki flits through a startling sequence of styles and techniques at lightning speed and Fujiwara and Shinya are giving as good as they get too. Live, sokoninaru are a tight outfit, absolutely together and able to stop on a dime. It’s a bit of a surprise though that with a new mini-album, Issen, due for release in a matter of weeks, this is the only track from that forthcoming record.

There’s a pause for breath and Misaki greets everybody in slightly nervous English, “Hello, konbanwa. We are sokoninaru from Japan. Please enjoy.” before getting underway again. Juko gently strums the opening bars of UTSUNOMIYA, a slight change of pace from the intense opening, though the song still has its moments with Suzuki’s quickfire tapping and some ferocious drumming from Shinya. For all their clever, technical guitar work and stop-start math-style rhythms, the complementing male and female vocals have strong, clear melodies that give their songs, like UTSUNOMIYA, memorable hooks.

Rokugatsu no Sensou is a real highlight. The trio duel back and forth between themselves, trading tricky guitar riffs, intricate bass lines and furious high-speed drumming. It’s a rare treat to see such accomplished musicians at work at these close quarters. On several occasions through the night, Juko and Misaki get even closer, stepping out from behind their monitors to play right in the middle of the audience, back to back, guitars gleefully held aloft.

Their music is an intriguing combination of indie, prog and math rock, lightened with catchy, almost ‘anisong’-style vocals. It’s a sound that seems readymade for an action-adventure anime theme tune and Shinsekaiyori and Break Out!!! are perfect examples. Both these songs are from the Metallin EP, which saw a dose of heavy metal added to sokoninaru’s already complex mix.

There’s a quick ad break between these two tracks for Misaki to offer the band’s hellos and thank yous and show off their tour t-shirts, urging the audience “You must buy!” Suzuki pitches in, giving the shirts a guitar fanfare. Shinya looks like he could use the break, sweating away after spending the evening battering an incredible noise out of what is really the most basic of drum kits.

The final section of the show is led off with their best known track, Tenohira de Odoru, which goes down well, before they round out the hour long set with Less Than Zero and Emerald Green. sokoninaru accept the enthusiastic applause before heading off.

The hardy band of musical adventurers who took a chance on a band they’d barely heard of have been well rewarded tonight. sokoninaru have impressed and pretty much everybody in the place is happy to obey Misaki’s command, forming a queue to pick up a t-shirt or cd and have a chat with the bass player.

sokoninaru would certainly have wanted a bigger turnout tonight, but that’s the risk of running without a local support act to bring in additional numbers. There’s scarcely a band in Japan that didn’t start out in a live house the size of The Lounge though and hopefully they’re not discouraged from coming back to the UK soon. This is a splendid debut to build on and their decision to take their chances internationally deserves success. Fortune favours the brave.

Set list

01 Pirorhythm stabilizer
02 self connection
03 re:program
04 Saraba Ukiyo Utsushie no Gotoku
05 UTSUNOMIYA
06 Rokugatsu no Sensou
07 Natsu no Otoshimono
08 Shoujo no Neiro ni Michibikare
09 Shinsekaiyori
10 Break out!!!
11 Tenohira de Odoru
12 Less Than Zero
13 Emerald Green

sokoninaru’s English language website: http://sokoninaru.com/en/enbio.html
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