SXSW 2016: Wagakki Band drives the crowd berserk & gets demands for an encore

Although I didn’t make it to half the Japanese shows I wanted to at SXSW 2016, March 18 could very well be remembered for the Japanese acts I did end up catching. Aside from seeing Yoshiki, another artist out of Japan who upped the ante this year was Wagakki Band. The eight-piece ensemble tore SXSW a new one at the De Moines Embassy on Friday, as they closed out the venue’s lineup in epic fashion.

Before the members of Wagakki Band made their way to the stage, some people in the audience were quick to point out its size. The stage wasn’t very accommodating considering the artillery Wagakki Band perform with. Yet, like at many of the shows at SXSW, the band’s crew was miraculously able to squeeze everything — from member Kurona‘s Wadaiko to Kiyoshi‘s Koto (a Japanese harp) — into an insanely confined space.

Watching each of the members walk to their marks was intensely gratifying. It’s not every day that I see an intricately stitched kimono flutter inches in front of me. Front woman Suzuhana Yuko lead the band into their opening number, “Ikusa“, turning the literal tent we were in into a complete spectacle. The crowd went absolutely berserk. For many in the audience, Wagakki Band was a band they went there to see — a man in front of me traveled and waited many hours just for these guys — but I can’t imagine what was going through the heads of SXSW spectators who crawled into the show out of intrigue.

It was an astonishing set that was pleasant to watch, but even greater of a show to listen to. Wagakki Band brought the sounds of traditional Japan fused with metal to the hearts of rock fans with a powerful performance of the heavily experimental “Senbonzakura“. Even the partly subdued “Akatsukino Ito” provided an enriching experience with its focus on the Shakuhachi, a Japanese flute played by member Daisuke.

One of the night’s shining moments came at the end of Wagakki Band’s show. As the band wrapped up their set and made their exit, fans weren’t quite ready to part ways, leading everyone inside the venue to chant for “one more song” in unison. It didn’t take long for the pleas to resonate, and after a couple minutes of set up, Wagakki Band was back to deliver one last hurrah with “Hanafurumai”. It was unexpected and the only encore I was a part of all week, but it was a fantastic way to cap off the night of showcases at SXSW.

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