Qujaku @ The Sunflower Lounge, 13th May, 2017

Qujaku appearing at The Sunflower Lounge brings me to what is possibly the smallest venue in Birmingham that I’ve ever been in. (or maybe upstairs at The Foundry to go back a few years). I like it immediately. It is maybe my new favourite local venue. I speak briefly to the very amiable Tom from Birmingham Promoters, who I recently lauded in another review for bringing to Brum some of the more interesting artists that I’ve recently seen. He tells me that the main support tonight will appeal if I like The Fall.

Well, that sounds promising because local band The Courtesy Group are the band that I was particularly looking forward to. A little research had me expecting a cross between Gallon Drunk and James Chance and the Contortions so I was feeling more than a little excited.

Right from the off these guys offer a plethora of potential influences. A dual bass line up give a rumbling layer of sound with off kilter bass lines over the top. Lyrically, and delivery ,thereof is a cross between Mark E. Smith and Jello Biafra, from the amphetamine like mime movements of the latter to the laconic and random lyrics of the former.

Vocalist, Al Hutchins, brother to his slightly more famous sibling, Fyfe Dangerfield (Guillemots), is a busy man, spending more time singing from the crowd, halfway up the stairs and finally behind the bar than he does on stage. I can imagine it a little unsettling for those that haven’t witnessed something like this before; an imposing man looking somewhat wired, marching with an unknown purpose through a small but packed venue. There’s also something about them of that other localish left field band, Redditch’s Cravats. It’s a combination that means the watcher cannot look away.

There is a regional feel to them too. The Fall are indisputably Mancunian and as The Courtesy Group nod lyrically to Dudley Port and an infamous Alum Rock boozer in the song “In the Rock on the Rock”, they prove that they are indisputably Brummage . There is more proof of this when, an offering later in the set, “The New Beef” with it’s Captain Beefheart like spoken word opening, morphs into a song that reminds vaguely of those masters of musical provincialism, Half Man Half Biscuit. Solid musicianship, an imposing front man and intriguing songs mean that these guys are on my CD to buy list. I can go home a happy reviewer now.

I do not know what to expect from Japan’s Qujaku (formerly The Piqnic). I’d done a little research on YouTube and didn’t find them at all ‘psychedelic rock’ as I’d seen them described. To be honest they sounded lo-fi, rambling and uninspiring from what I’d seen and heard so I was prepared for an open minded but shoulder shrugging, casual lean against the wall for forty minutes or so.

The band open to a slow number… painfully slow with the same high pitched phrase line repeated over and over at dirge like pace. Ethereal sounding but essentially with the feeling of going nowhere. It almost reminds of the truly paint-drying experience that was watching Earth several years ago. It takes as much, if not more skill to keep time at such a pace than it does at 150bpm but about eight minutes of Earth’s first track was all I could take then. These guys are positively racing compared with that so I will persevere.

Track forward to song three after what seems the longest two songs ever and I have an apology to make to this band. They are superb. My heart already feels like it has been knocked backwards out of my body by the bass and I am mesmerised.

The fourth song is something special. A long intro sees one guitar replaced by a floor tom and the drummer and guitarist play call and reply on their respective floor toms. A Japanese Taiko drum duel that has me wondering how ridiculously fit these guys are. A break in the song however, sees the black clad guitarist look like he’s ready to drop, such is the physical effort he puts in.

It’s difficult to convey the tension in the songs and the hypnotic rhythms that accompany them in a review, let alone explain how that tension resolves itself in me to a feeling of content positivity. It does though. A Shamanistic like sound builds throughout every song and you can feel the taut nature of the song as it stretches. You know it’s going to snap like an over tightened guitar string; a release of energy. You know it’s going to happen but you just don’t know when and then… the band raise their head stocks and the drumsticks to sustained feedback and…. Snap. That energy explodes.

The set flies by whilst every song seems to go on for an eternity, not in a bad way by any measure,
and just when the set seems done and curfew approaches, we get an encore. To be honest I doubt they would have gotten out of the door without doing one.

Qujaku see out the show with a song I recognise, “Keiren”, with it’s train beat drums that propel the listener throughout the song in a headlong rush as guitar and bass provide repetition of an industrial sounding nature. Imagine a cross between Ministry and Spacemen 3!!! It’s a behemoth of a song to end on and as they finish to rapturous applause they final let the shackles of the musical tension fall and look as happy as we do.

When you aren’t expecting something special then that is when you usually get it. The smallest venue and the biggest surprise. Probably the best gigs so far this year for me.

Truly amazing.

Review: Mark Veitch

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3 thoughts on “Qujaku @ The Sunflower Lounge, 13th May, 2017

    1. My fault. I am unaware of the bands songs, couldn’t grab a set list and failed to check online afterwards. A rare slip. Apologies.

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