Tracing influences in Japanese underground music can sometimes be tricky because there may not be anything obvious in contemporary pop culture that seems to relate to it. Music rarely springs from nowhere though, and in cases where there is no obvious influence, the influence is probably something less obvious but no less powerful. University band circles create their own closed circle (the clue’s in the name) of influence with older, more senior bands often exerting a lot of influence on their younger protégés. Once out of college, musicians often fall into similar if less clearly defined circles of influence, with key senior bands in a particular scene intentionally or otherwise being influential focal points for younger musicians. There’s not necessarily anything intrinsically unhealthy about this in that all it really does is replace one set of influences with another for those who want them. It can even be positive in that it propagates underground ideas where otherwise people might have to look to the charts (yikes!) or the music press (shudder!) for guidance, but the mark of a band’s growth remains their ability to outgrow their seniors and develop a sound of their own.
In the case of Kyu-shoku, they emerged from a band circle at Meiji Gakuin University with a particularly punk-orientated mindset. Junk guitar noise duo Gagakirise were well-regarded alumni, as was the organiser, occasional musician and general pseudonymous subculture scene face Choshu Chikara. It was through Choshu that I met his juniors Saba, and through Saba that I met Kyu-shoku. Through Kyu-shoku I met their own club juniors Ykiki Beat and DYGL. The university band circle’s loosely punk ethos (not all bands follow this pattern, and Ykiki Beat and DYGL are testament to this) is one thing that informs Kyu-shoku’s harsh, loud, heavy sound.
As I say, step outside of the small world of university clubs, and there is another ecosystem for bands to interact with, and it’s not uncommon for young bands to latch onto the sound of certain scene figures not necessarily because they’re popular but just through the sheer respect they command. Again, not necessarily a bad thing as generally speaking, this respect is usually more or less deserved. In the current Tokyo alternative scene, it’s easy to hear the influence of local scene curators Bossston Cruizing Mania and the more minimal dub funk shapes of 54-71 on the increasingly hotly tipped Triple Fire, and part of the key to their growing popularity is how they’ve gradually managed to carve out an identity for themselves beyond that.
You can hear the influence of Bossston Cruizing Mania on Kyu-shoku as well, with the mixture of spiky postpunk and dub, not to mention the half-rap, half-rant vocals. The shadow of another group of influential underground scene curators Groundcover. also hangs over Dub Attack of the Avenge, especially in the sheer heaviness with which the dub elements are delivered. All three tracks on the EP are shot through with growling, dirty riffs that grind slowly and forcefully onwards over otherwise minimal drums and sparsely deployed guitar embroidery that ensures the band always have another gear they can step into any moment they need a flurry of feedback and noise.
Now I’ve talked a lot about the possible influences and musical context of Kyu-shoku here, but I think what Dub Attack of the Avenge makes clear is that they’re at the stage of moving past their strongest early influences and are now identifiable as a discrete entity who have carved a place for themselves. Part of a particular underground tradition certainly, but getting beyond the stage of surfing anyone else’s artistic coat tails. The title track opens with a crash of noise as a warning of what’s to come, before dropping out and letting the drums, riff and vocals carry the song for a while. It then holds off for several minutes before answering its earlier promise and letting the thunder roll. Of the three tracks, Void most clearly retains the group’s punk roots, with its scratchy guitars drifting between stabbing out a reggae off-beat and skittering off into postpunk dugga. Again though, the big crashing riffs are always waiting to come in. The album’s closing track, the eight-minute Fūten, is really everything that’s just happened and then a little extra on top. In all tracks the contrast between the underlying minimalism and Kyu-shoku’s propensity for juddering heavy riffage is a key part of what is coming to define their musical identity.
Kyu-shoku are still rough-edged, and the recording still doesn’t really do justice to the sonic immensity their live shows can reach, but Dub Attack of the Avenge shows they’ve taken an important step in defining themselves and have chosen a particularly loud and satisfying way of doing it.