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Meet KURROCK, the First Vietnamese Rock Band in Japan

In KURROCK’s songs, one can appreciate a pronounced fusion of two seemingly detached music scenes that are 4,000 kilometers apart.

The first Vietnamese band in Japan

KURROCK is a rock band based in Tokyo, Japan with five Vietnamese and one Japanese members. Before the release of their debut single ‘Vượt’ in February 2022 to rapturous reception from local fans, the band was known in the Vietnamese community in Japan through cover tracks like ‘Pretender,’ ‘Neko’ and ‘Điều Nhỏ Nhoi,’ played at live houses. A live house (ライブハウス) is a Japanese term referring to live music venues. Even as a foreign group in the East Asian country, KURROCK’s bilingual songs have left a mark in the local nightlife.

KURROCK has two main vocalists, Heather and Trok, each with their own timbre. If Heather is delicate and mellow in her delivery, Trok has an intensity that complements her perfectly. The dynamic brings a multi-faceted quality and depth to their performances.

From left to right: Daisuke (drums), Sang (bass), Heather (vocals), Trok (vocals), Danna (guitar, arrangement), KJO (guitar, band leader). Photo by Ning Jinyan.

“Rock gives me a conducive environment to express my feelings and experience more in my music,” KJO, the band’s leader, says of the group’s genre. Rock has an intensity and sharp edges both in the lyrics and stage presence, something KURROCK is pursuing — “a music group hoping to channel the rock spirit, and not just a rock style.”

Most members of KURROCK work in different fields unrelated to music, except for Danna, who plays guitar and does their music arrangement. Still, it’s obvious that they share an enthusiasm for music. Heather, the only female member and one of the vocalists, reminisces about how they came together: “We met for the first time at the [Vietnamese] embassy and sang together a few times. After several hangouts, KJO brought up the idea to form a band, and we said yes soon after.”

In their early days, KURROCK often performed cover versions of Vietnamese and Japanese songs at live houses.

“Operating a band in Japan turns out to be much more challenging than we previously thought,” KJO said of their initial hardships. Beside existing concerns of living in a foreign land, time was a tricky factor. At that time, the members lived far away from one another, so commuting was a major time sink, though now these issues are gradually clearing up. “To make band practice easier, we have moved into the same building,” Heather shares.

The first single, ‘Vượt,’ and the shift from covering to writing

Though they formed in 2020, it wasn't until 2021 that KURROCK unveiled their first track. At first, forming a band was just a way for members to actualize their aspirations. Eventually, just singing covers wasn’t enough anymore for them to wholeheartedly showcase their feelings and personal voice. So, they decided to capitalize on their unique characteristic — the amalgam of Vietnamese and Japanese cultures — to forge their own style of music incorporating elements from both sides.

Recalling the very first live shows together, Danna explains: “At the time, we didn’t care too much about being professional or anything and just thought of it [the band] as a great opportunity to play music and do things that excite us. But, I saw that the audience was very accepting, both Vietnamese and Japanese, so I realized that we could be so much more than that.”

Lyrics in two languages are a unique feature to KURROCK. Photo by Phương Trần.

Vietnamese songs with English words or sentences thrown in are not a novelty in local music anymore, but the Japanese language is a rare treat that comes for the first time in ‘Vượt.’ KURROCK once shared on their social media that they hope to “use music to connect the two countries.” It might sound like an ambitious target, but judging by the mix of languages in the comment section, the dual-country production (‘Vượt’’s has a Japanese director and a Vietnamese sound team), they are very serious about the goal.

On this collaboration, Heather says: “When we write lyrics in two languages, our main purpose is to pique the interest of fans in the other country. For example, in Vietnamese stanzas, Japanese listeners will not understand the content, but if they feel fascinated by our language, it might compel them to explore Vietnamese music more, and vice versa.”

Despite having lived and worked in Japan for years, KURROCK still had to seek help from native speakers in the creative industry when writing their lyrics. It might sound like a straight-forward solution, but too many cooks spoil the broth, and the meaning behind the lyrics ended up being changed too much. It took KURROCK a considerable amount of time to make adjustments to balance the feedback and their initial meaning.

Being able to do what they love doing is the foremost priority for KURROCK. Photo by Yến Nhi Nguyễn Võ.

Danna shares the process behind the song’s musical arrangement: “For the harmony, I took the influence from Japan and blended in Vietnam’s style of melodic development. I also found inspiration in Japan’s robust beats and V-Rock’s style. The most crucial thing is making the song sound as natural as possible, not shoehorning it in, while ensuring that the track has a Japanese flair and Vietnamese melody.”

The music video for 'Vượt.'

To be able to do what they like without the pressure of being bankable is how KURROCK pursues their craft, so the musicians have always been grateful for listeners of the band. When asked about an unforgettable milestone in the band’s history, Sang, the bassist, shares a memory: “Prior to this, usually there were only 10 people in the audience, but that show had 25 people supporting us, both Japanese and Vietnamese people from many places. I was very touched and saw it as a sign for me to keep doing this.”

This year, KURROCK will present their debut album, comprising 10 songs. The production is 70% complete and every track is bilingual like ‘Vượt’ — true to the group’s motto: “We want to form a unique style that only a Vietnamese band in Japan can showcase.”

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