The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website

Reviews

WaqWaq Kingdom
Essaka Hoisa Antonio Poscic , January 16th, 2020 10:14

Beneath an anarchic exterior of gabberised enka, Waqwaq Kingdom's Essaka Hoisa bears a mournful inner core, finds Antonio Poscic

Glitched synths and frenzied pads burgeon into dancehall grooves. Ceremonial rings reminiscent of Shinto music intensify and crest with white noise. Wild, undulating rhythms wash ashore in waves of gabberised enka. All the while, massive and curiously slinky beats appear from infinite sources to possess each note. At first glance, the opening few tunes on Essaka Hoisa might seem like an autotelic expression of the genre-jumping, frantic style of chiptune master Shigeru Ishihara (DJ Scotch Egg). And on a sonic level, cuts like ‘Doggy Bag’ and ‘Itakadimasu’ are just that – continuous explosions of pure musical revelry. Cradled within them, Kiki Hitomi layers, whispers, and harmonises her vocal lines. She gets lost and finds herself again in Ishihara’s backdrops, moving from the solemn delivery of her work with King Midas Sound to the light footed, helium-infused jubilation of sacred invocations.

But beneath the surface, hidden between the disco claps and backbreaking rhythms of the duo’s self-coined “minyo footwork” (which wouldn’t feel out of place in Nyege Nyege Tapes’ roster), something darker lurks. Like Mamoru Hosoda’s similarly (and deceptively) vibrant film Summer Wars, there exists a grief fuelling the joyful art. A sombre reflection makes glee out of necessity. A diffusion of folklore and personal heritage let loose in surreal post-digital vistas. And like Summer Wars, WaqWaq Kingdom place these elements at the core of their high energy, era-crossing audiovisual aesthetic to meditate on existence, spirituality, estrangement, and the inevitable ecological crisis.

Having recently lost her mother and father, Hitomi projects their voices to express these thoughts. On the serpentine ‘Mum Tells Me’, she expands her mother’s sageness into universal messages. “Don’t live in the past neither in the future / Live moment / Respect to the nature”, she (en)chants, condemning the anthropogenic destruction of nature, tracing it to misuses of technology, and making these warnings into constant undercurrents. Later, she devotes the gagaku-inspired instrumental ‘Gaga Qu’ to her father, while sirening synths and thunderous clashes carry her voiceless runes.

As the album sinks in, the gravity of the themes overshadows and recontextualises the quirky music. The electrifying electronic effects, vagabond rhythms, and trance-like movements of the muted club banger ‘3rd Eye’ suddenly make a strong case against egoism in the name of empathy. Elsewhere, the aggressive jungle of ‘Warg’ welcomes animal noises into its wilderness, concretises them into dub and trap heaviness, and allows Hitomi’s auto tuned voice to hauntingly roar about the Fukushima disaster.

However strange these small doses of wisdom might be, ‘Medicine Man’ transcends them all. The closing track is an epic ten minute Zeuhl/Magma-like assemblage that comes into life as shy percussive ambience, organic synths, and subtle vocal experiments, only to grow up into exhilarating apices carried on the shoulders of heavy piano chords and soaring saxophones. It is a fittingly grandiose ending for a record teeming with meaning and emotion. One that, for all its cartoonish colourfulness (manifested also by Hitomi’s wonderful cover) and bombastic lushness akin to naive post-internet art, never forgets the pain that exists in the world. “Essaka hoisa”, shout WaqWaq Kingdom, and carry on.

If you love our features, news and reviews, please support what we do with a one-off or regular donation. Year-on-year, our corporate advertising is down by around 90% - a figure that threatens to sink The Quietus. Hit this link to find out more and keep on Black Sky Thinking.