*until forevermore (itsumademo) is a reference to a line in the song ”Last Day”
*Mushroom Empire is the literal translation of Kinoko Teikoku
When news broke out a couple of weeks ago about Kinoko Teikoku’s sudden (at least for a good majority of fans) decision to halt any and all of their music related activities as a group, I was hit with a wave of an all too familiar melancholy. I’ve long since come to know that whenever bands put out or Tweet out the words “Important Announcement” linking to their official site with nothing else to follow, it almost always means that they’re announcing their disbandment. I’ve already seen it a couple of times over with other groups which is why I can say as much. So when I saw that vocalist Sato Chiaki made the very same dreaded Tweet made one fateful morning, my heart immediately sank.
As their home page began loading up before my eyes I had hoped it was just some sort of live show announcement (or, anything at all really, so long as it wasn’t what I thought it was gonnna be) despite evidence to the contrary. And yet, well, there it was. After more than ten years of activity (having had their 10-year anniversary back in 2017), Kinoko Teikoku have, on the 27th of May in the year 2019, officially announced their indefinite hiatus as a band.
Now, while having it not totally be a band break-up does leave hope for a potential return in the future (which the members do allude to in their parting messages for the fans), the peculiar circumstances that surround this hiatus is a little bittersweet. It has since come to light that bassist Taniguchi Shigeaki had approached the members of the band at the start of the year, and informed them about his intention to step away from the music scene, following his decision to take up ownership of his family’s temple. Guitarist “A-chan” (who was Taniguchi’s friend from college first and foremost) also revealed that he even took up a degree for that very purpose. The band, out of respect for their friend and his aspirations, collectively thought it best to put an end to their run (as opposed to looking for a new bassist).
While I was gutted at first (after having learned about the disbandment but not much else as to why), it wasn’t until I read through Kinoko Teikoku’s comments on the matter that I came to terms with it all. Likewise, it wasn’t until then that I’d decided on what exactly I wanted this post to be as. This isn’t going to be a detailed history of the band through their decade-long existence (MusoJapan has a beautiful account on the matter already) nor will this be a pseudo Round-Up post in the vein of SCANDALous September (as much as I would have wanted it to be, some Kinoko Teikoku songs are region restricted anyways /more on that later).
Instead, I wanted to talk about something that in my opinion both fueled and plagued Kinoko Teikoku throughout their career, and how it might possibly tie up with their situation now. Today (or, tonight, or what have you) I’ll be talking about expectations. To be exact, I will be talking about the expectations and assumptions that came about in the context of Kinoko Teikoku’s claim to fame, with the Japanese music industry as our primary backdrop. There’s quite a bit to unpack in that last sentence there, but rest assured, it’ll all make sense (xD)
See, much of Kinoko Teikoku’s early success stemmed from their unique brand of Shoegaze Japanese Rock that swept the hearts of fans, not just in Japan, but the world over. This would be accentuated further by them being invited twice to the Canada-based tour ‘Next Music from Tokyo’ during their early years (2013 and 2014 to be exact). NMFT is a well reknowned one-man operation dedicated to finding the best that Japanese indie music has to offer (do consider going to one of their shows if you’re in the Montreal/Vancoucer area). For a time, and because of the exposure they had, Kinoko Teikoku was that; the best Japanese indie Rock band that seemingly hearkened to iconic Western acts such as My Bloody Valentine and Mazzy Star.
“Shoegaze” is a subgenre of Alternative Rock defined mostly by the creation a grainy, distorted, and ambient sound usually accompanied by obfuscated (or ‘muddy’) and echoic vocals. Widely considered a mixture of Noise Rock and Dream Pop, Shoegaze (or the term ‘shoegazing’) came about as a way to describe the performers of this unique sound, who are all seemingly stuck in a trance ‘gazing at their own shoes’ to the tune of their own psychedelic creation. The genre was, for the most part, largely a Western movement that saw very little progenation (owing to its pretentious nature) outside of the West. A niche that somehow or another found its way into Japan, and subsequently to the four-piece that would be known far and wide as Kinoko Teikoku.
Kinoko Teikoku’s Shoegaze resonated with droves of fans during their tours out in Canada, which then snowballed into a near-cult notoriety amongst Japanese indie music fans all over the world (a community that, unbeknownst to some, is actually quite large). It was a wholly different sound than most people were used to hearing from a Rock band, more so a J-Rock band at an indie level. It was haunting, it was ethereal, and more than anything; it was good. Of course, as with anything good, people were left wanting more. More Shoegaze from this fresh, new Shoegaze band in the East, as is to be expected. I mean, it’s safe to assume as much, right? Well, here lies the crux of our discussion, or at least a good chunk of it.
In the years that span their trips outside of Japan, the band had since released (to the general public) a mini-album (“Uzu ni Naru”, 2012), an EP (“Long Good Bye”, 2013), and one studio album (“eureka” 2013). These, collectively (and almost ironically enough) would be the last time that Kinoko Teikoku would put out anything close to a Shoegaze sound. That is to say, following their landslide acclaim from the West as one of Japanese indie’s fast rising Shoegaze acts, the band would then “fail” to meet their expectations after the fact, opting instead to transition to a more mainstream-oritented sound in the years that followed their touring success. Their releases since then had always been subject to heavy scrutiny by Western fans who would then (slowly but surely) began to clamor on about this change in styles, and pled in earnest for the band to go back to their roots as a Shoegaze band. Something that, in hindsight, never came to be.
The sudden change in sound coincides well enough with Kinoko Teikoku being signed to EMI records under the Universal Music banner at the start of 2015, with the band’s last indie release “Fake World Wonderland” (2014) setting the tone with its more Pop and radio-friendly sound overall. Bands and artists changing their styles to fit a certain mold once they get signed to a major record label is a very common phenomenon in the Japanese music industry. I mean, of course, from a business standpoint it makes sense to cater to what the general audience wants and, for the most part, are willing to pay for.
The thing is, while Kinoko Teikoku did indeed amass a massive following in the West (and arguably worldwide), an important thing to note here is that did not (and for all intents and purpoes would not) necessarily translate to nationwide fame — something that the band had only really started enjoying right around late-2016 with the release of their fourth studio album “Ai no Yukue”, which breached the Oricon music charts’ Top 20, peaking at #19 in the four weeks that it was on there. The album that followed that one would be their last (“Time Lapse”, 2018) and would then also subsequently be their highest peaking album in the charts, coming in at #14.
I guess the closest equivalent that the West would have is the Billboard Charts (which does also have a Japan category, lol). A quick look at the Oricon rankings would be enough for anyone (or at least anyone who has the least bit of exposure to Japanese music) to tell that almost half of the Top spots in all categories are mostly taken up by already-established Pop sensations, breakout acts, and idol music (with idol groups, both male and female,handedly dominating the the ‘Singles’ category). Placing at Oricon is laregely determined by CD sales, and while I do trust that a lot of Western fans bought their albums in the hopes to support Kinoko Teikoku in whatever way they can, it would (and was) surely not equate to support from a local fanbase. In addition, the Japanese market in general is very much centralized to Japan following a self-sustaining model that doesn’t need to rely on foreign involvement anyways (hence why copyright for PVs at times do not extend to the US for example)
Not to say that Kinoko Teikoku didn’t have a Japanese fanbase (which they most certainly did) but that fanbase is more than likely to be a collective aggregate (as opposed to them being fans that are solely dedicated to just Kinoko Teikoku and no one else) for bands of the same ilk, of which there are no shortage. I would think it’s fair to say that the Rock band scene in Japan is very much over-saturated at this point with new three/four-piece groups popping up almost every month or so (and that’s just the ones we know of because they managed to get a PV out on YouTube). In that respect, to go against the grain is very risky. I mean, “being different” conventionally is what makes one stand out, that much is true, but standing out doesn’t always guarantee success – more so for the “change-resistant” and “risk-averse” Japan (to borrow a couple of terminologies).
I illustrated all this because I wanted to put into perpective the expectations that the West had for Kinoko Teikoku, and how they ultimately misaligned with the means through which the band would progress. Expectations that had been born from an assumption of what Kinoko Teikoku was going to be. Expectations that the band shouldered and would have continued to shoulder with each and every release. Expectations that, after a time, turned into a longing for something lost in the hopes that it would return.
Of course, we already established early on that a fall from grace isn’t the reason as to why Kinoko Teikoku are caling it quits, and it eases my mind knowing that Kinoko Teikoku aren’t going their separate ways because of “creative differences” and dispute regarding the future direction of their band. It wouldn’t be hard too believe that the band was currently at an upswing coming off of their (arguably) most well-received album to date. And yet, we’re still seeing a member step away from it all, right at the height of their musical careers to pursue his dream (or, at the very least, that’s what their messages make it out to be).
Whether or not their fans’ expectations weighed on them for all their years of performing will probably remain unanswered (for the better I’d assume), but I thought it to be an interesting topic to bring up for this post specifically, with Kinoko Teikoku being a band that many fell out of love from because of the aforementioned change in style from before they crossed over to the mainstream. On the whole, their situation seemed to me as a good example of how our understanding of what’s popular and what’s good to us fans looking in can be wholly different from the general reception of the more immediate market, which in this case would be the centralized Japanese market which thrives on conventionality and media convergence (or “media mix” rather… but that’s a topic for another day I suppose xD).
It is unclear at the moment whether there will be a resumption of activities from the members down the line (I know vocalist Sato Chiaki will go on as a solo artist moving forward), but if their words are to be believed, they are all still very much open to making music again in the future.
But for now, we say ‘until forevermore’ to Kinoko Teikoku. Their music will surely continue to live on even in their absence, as they themselves wanted.
‘good bye, thank you, and be happy’ (a line from the song, “Long Good Bye”)