“This band has no originality.” This is the short sentence that was written to describe the music of the newly founded Tokyo four piece Tenkiame.
Surprisingly, however, the words – which appear in boldface at the top of their online ballot to appear at this year’s Rock In Japan Festival – were written by the band’s members themselves. To many music fans, and perhaps even more so to musicians, that sort of statement can be viewed as negative and not something to boast, let alone use to introduce a band’s biography. However, it’s something that the band stands by as it continues to grow in the massive Tokyo indie scene.
Tenkiame is an indie super group of sorts, with its members also involved in local acts like For Tracy Hyde, Boyish, Batman Winks, and Art Theater Guild. The band formed earlier this year and in the span of a month or so released its first two demo tracks and a debut EP, “So Sad About Us”. From the first listen, it is perfectly clear that they are heavily influenced by Art School, with frontman Azusa Suga doing his best Riki Kinoshita impersonation. Add to that the “Candy” bassline that is straight out of “20th Century Boy” and the heavy influence drawn from any number of shoegaze bands, and the list of influences at the bottom of their Bandcamp page, and you have a band that certainly appears to lack originality. Guilty as charged.
But is that a bad thing? Look all around the Japanese music scene and you will see a ton of bands trying way too hard to be unique. Sometimes it works, and that’s great – this is by no means an attack on originality. A lot of times it doesn’t work though and what you get is overcomplicated and ultimately uninteresting music, or a band that simply ends up looking like a desperate copy of its contemporaries (you know who you are). This is a problem with a lot of Japanese music, and particularly within the Japanese shoegaze scene. Bands are so focused on their gimmick and how to be unique when sometimes it’s simply better to just shut the fuck up and make music.
It does seem a bit peculiar to use such a blunt, self-deprecating preface to a biography in the first place, especially when said biography is being used to encourage people to vote them onto the bill of one of Japan’s largest music festivals. It’s clearly Tenkiame’s motto though, and it surely makes more sense than a band crying in every interview about not wanting to be associated with shoegaze and then essentially just being a shoegaze band. The honesty of Tenkiame’s approach to music is the band’s most appealing quality. The biggest victory, should they make it to Rock In Japan, would be a band who admits to having no originality likely being among the best on the entire card.
Tenkiame’s debut EP is simple and straightforward. Not coincidentally these are the same reasons I loved Art School’s music (up until right around the release of “Illmatic Baby” at least). It’s a combination of the aforementioned Kinoshita-esque vocals, fuzzed-out bass, and loud-as-hell guitars. Without trying too hard, Tenkiame has released one of the better EPs of the year so far and they’ve done so by doing what they know and letting it flow naturally.