When I saw IQU open for …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead a little while ago, it was a very strange experience. There I was at a rock show (and not just any rock show mind you) when these two young Japanese musicians walked on stage and began conducting some sweet, ethereal space pop. I checked my ticket stub to make sure I was in the right place. This was the Trail of Dead, man. You know, tumbling drum kits, airborne beverages, audience members playing the odd tom-tom. I had expected some Trail of Dead-lite to open for them (see Stills/Interpol tour), so when the beats began, I was in disbelief. The crowd was as equally shocked as I was…not just by the presence of this completely un-Trail of Dead electronic duo, but also because the music was good. Really good.
IQU (formally Icu) is Olympia based duo Kento Oiwa and Michiko Swiggs. Their bio says that after meeting in college they became fast friends, but one line in particular (“it wasn’t until attending a noise rave in Osaka that the duo decided to start making music together”) describes perfectly the type of bond that forged the IQU we know today. Since 1998 and leading up to this years Sun Q, the band has released two just ok EPs and only one proper album, 1998’s Chotto Matte a Moment !. It’s taken more than a little time for IQU to follow that record, but now that it’s finally arrived, one thing has remained true about the band; these kids love playing with sound. The time in between these releases has served the band well too, as they have developed a somewhat buzz worthy live performance. This is for good reason; Oiwa’s theremin playing is one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen in concert. Shit, even Trail of Dead stopped whatever it was they were doing and stood by the side of the stage to watch the bands set. Here was this electronic act capturing the attention of drunken hard rock/punk fans, as well as the so-hip-it-hurts, imported beer drinking cool guys. One would think this nothing new due to the abundance of quality electronica enthusiasts are exposed to, but IQU posses a cutesy funk about them that is refreshing in its honesty. Alternating almost jap-pop melodies with slow jams that feature a poignant, weeping theremin, IQU connect with the little pop-oriented (oriental) space boy in us all. Hands down, the best tracks on Sun Q are opener “Under the Cherry Blossom,” “Loving You” (both instrumental pieces), and the albums lovely title track. The noisier, driving pulses of the electronic numbers also stand out as one of IQU’s strengths. The only thing that really puts a damper on this album is that some songs sound almost too close for comfort to those cheesy, mid-late 90’s electronic party beats that do not age very well, as time has shown. Had IQU cut the weaker tracks, like the totally uninteresting, TV commercial music of “The 9th Line,” and added a couple more bitch’n almost-rave like beats or wonderful theremin solos, Sun Q’s consistency would have benefited greatly.
The concert went on to become my second favorite concert, right behind seeing Trail of Dead for the first time a year and a half before. This time around though, another band had added to my grin of satisfaction after the show. Being surprised by a cool opening act that also refreshes (mostly) a musical genre does not happen very often, and seeing IQU live was a pure delight in this sense. If nothing else, seeing a guy with greasy hair, ripped jeans and a Black Flag t-shirt nodding his head and swaying his hips to these kinds of beats should be evidence enough of IQU’s potential.
/dec 1st 2004/