Witnessed by Jason Guest
Qujaku are an entity all to themselves. I know. That’s a phrase that’s thrown around quite a lot when a musical ensemble do something different. But watch and/or listen to any Qujaku performance somewhere/anywhere on that international strange space known as the internet and, regardless of any individual tastes, it cannot be denied that what this Japanese quartet do with sound is as compelling as it is enigmatic. Dark, heavy psychedelia laced with distortion and feedback and driven by hypnotic grooves, it’s not long before the listener finds themselves subsumed into the music’s ambient depths and lush atmospherics. But, as enthralling as Qujaku are by themselves, the prospect of combining their music with the elaborate and enthralling visual creations of production duo IMPATV promises something very special.
And so it is that we find ourselves at a midweek gig in Kings Heath’s Hare & Hounds, the resulting union, entitled Ensō Sone, delivering much more than this unique alliance could possibly promise. It’s perhaps all-too-common that when a band incorporates a visual element into their stage show, it’s usually in the form of one, occasionally two, maybe even three screens suspended above the band so that the band members can still be illuminated for all to see. As an audience, it seems that we need to be reminded that there are people on stage and though they’ve put all this effort into the visual aspect, we must be able to see them at all times. Not so much for Qujaku. While there is minimal lighting on the band members – who we see mainly in silhouette throughout the show – above them is a large circular screen and in front of the stage are two high screens positioned left and right for the projections.
With Qujaku taking to the stage in darkness, when the music begins, it’s readily apparent that this to be an immersive experience akin to the kind of installations that one finds in an art gallery, the experience of which is enough to rattle one’s cage just enough to leave a deep and lasting impression. The music comes out of nowhere, slowly building and moving its way through evocative and enchanting passages in such a way that, while it would appear that nothing of any significance is happening, the music is slowly finding its shape in a subtle yet mesmerising way. It may be a drone, a chord, a throbbing bass note, or a wordless vocal that seems to be taking the lead, but there is much more happening and before you know it, we are absorbed into a full-blown tsunami of beats, growls, all-consuming guitar chords and wave on wave of synthesised sounds that move and shape and shift consciousness into spheres untold. And with images of time and tide, of earth and moss, of cities and space merging with the aural, everyone in attendance are captivated, slaves almost, to this unique experience. There isn’t anyone here that isn’t part of this experience. Qujaku may be producing the sounds, IMPATV may have produced the visuals, but the room and what can only be described as an encounter belongs to everyone here.