On the 23rd of September, Sunway University Anime Club (SUAC) and Sunway Music Society (SMS) staged Sunway Za Rocku – a four-hour concert jam-packed with live performances of hit anime songs and underrated gems from the J-Rock scene. Featuring immensely talented homegrown bands, the concert was a stunning production from start to finish, leaving its audience exhilarated from grooving in their seats and singing along to the catchy songs. Sunway Za Rocku brought together anime and J-Rock fans and provided them with a platform for self-expression, with many people turning up in vibrant cosplays and leaving with brand-new friends.
The event was clearly a roaring success, but we were curious as to how two clubs that had never worked together before managed to pull off such a tremendous feat. So, we sat down with the event organisers themselves in an effort to learn more about what went down behind the scenes of ‘Sunway Za Rocku’ and shed some light on the intricacies of the event.
Caleb Fong (Event Manager for Sunway Za Rocku and Guitarist for Nasi Lemak Karaage): It was the SMS Musica concert last year – which only featured a sliver of J-Rock – that made me realise how much demand there is for the genre. Coupled with the unprecedented growth of the local J-Rock scene and anime breaking into the mainstream, it felt like the right time for an event like Sunway Za Rocku. So, during this February’s C&S carnival, I decided to shoot my shot, going up to the presidents of SMS and SUAC and asking them: What if the two clubs collaborated to hold a concert that celebrates J-Rock and anime music? And to my surprise, they said: You know what, that would be pretty cool.
Gabriel Koay (Public Relations Executive and Emcee for Sunway Za Rocku): First of all, we had no idea where to start. And, when you have committee members from two clubs coming together, you’re bound to face difficulties in figuring out how to best distribute tasks. Eventually, we managed to find our footing, with SUAC members taking the brunt of the design and marketing tasks while SMS took care of other aspects of the event.
Caleb: If I’m being completely honest, being in charge of the event was pretty overwhelming at times, especially since I’ve never been a part of any C&S committees before. Plus, the only experience SMS has had with planning an event of this scale was with the aforementioned Musica concert, which was frantically put together within three months whereas SUAC hasn’t held a large-scale event since 2019’s Animangaki due to lockdown. So, most of us were just going in blind, and in hindsight, I’ve got to admit that it was sheer luck that got us through this past couple of months, as things like sponsorships and ticket sales somehow worked themselves out towards the end.
Caleb: Despite the initial difficulties we faced, Sunway Za Rocku wouldn’t have been possible without both SMS and SUAC. It was really interesting to see how the two clubs complemented one another throughout the planning of the event, with SMS providing insights into the music side of things and SUAC helping them see things from the perspective of anime fans.
The concert was littered with references to popular anime shows, and while some were obvious even to casual anime fans, others were so subtle that they could only be caught by die-hard anime enthusiasts. Of course, the most obvious reference is probably the event name itself, inspired by the sleeper hit, ‘Bocchi The Rock!’. As the show features a group of high-school girls bonding over their shared love for music and having a blast playing for their band, the name couldn’t be more fitting.
Caleb: We came up with a lot of corny names before we landed on Sunway Za Rocku. Then it hit me, and I was like: Guys, why don’t we name it ‘Sunway…Za… Rocku…’? And, everyone’s immediate response was just: Oh NO! Isn’t this literally just a rip-off of the show?
Gabriel: I loved it. Why not ‘Sunway Za Rocku’? It made perfect sense since the show is so popular and the name is really versatile. I remember us being in the Sunway College foyer when everyone started warming up to the idea, and eventually embraced the name, screaming: “WE SHOULD NAME IT ‘Sunway Za Rocku’”, “BELIEVE”, “THIS IS THE ONE”.
The highlight of the concert was definitely the bands, who lit the stage up with their captivating performances and infectious energy. Thanks to the organisers’ laissez-faire approach to the setlist, where the bands were given the freedom to make the stage their own personal playground – which definitely paid off.
Caleb: We didn’t want to confine ourselves to a specific theme for Sunway Za Rocku. Instead, we felt that it was important for the spotlight to be on the bands. So, we gave them free rein to choose their own songs, regardless of which show it was from or which artist it was by. We also left it up to them to decide who they wanted to cosplay as and what they wanted to project on the screen. As a musician myself, I strongly believe that if you give bands the liberty to do what they want, they’re going to do it well.
Gabriel: To be honest, I think the theme was just to be as chaotic as possible. Choosing to just embrace the chaos instead of forcing order allowed the bands to thrive and lent the event a sense of authenticity that is often missing from concerts nowadays.
Caleb: We didn’t really have any specific requirements for the bands either – they just had to be good. Initially, we planned to recruit at least three bands from Sunway and bring in a few other guest bands that are already established in the J-Rock scene, so we held auditions on campus. Unfortunately, we severely overestimated the turnout as only two bands turned up for the auditions. As, for the guest performers, we really wanted to get Rina Hime – dubbed as the Malaysian LiSA by some – as she has a great voice and incredible showmanship, but those plans fell through too since she was fully booked. Yet, we eventually managed to secure some really incredible bands, so it all worked out in the end.
The first band to take the stage was the newly formed ‘Hayachi’, which consisted of students from Sunway University and the International College of Music (ICOM). Dressed in the maroon blazers, white shirts, and black neckties characteristic of the students of Kakegurui’s Hyakkaou Private Academy, the band kicked things off with the opening soundtrack of the show, ‘Deal with the Devil’. The upbeat instrumentals and mesmerising vocals had the audience nodding along and tapping their feet, transporting them to the high-stakes world of gambling.
They proceeded to take the energy to the next level with a rendition of ‘Easy Love’ from the show ‘Don’t Toy with Me, Miss Nagatoro’, perfectly capturing the playful vibe of the show in their performance. Then, they took things down a notch with a heartwarming performance of ‘Cinderella’ from the 2021 anime series ‘Komi Can’t Communicate’ while their version of Aimer’s ‘Ref: rain’ left everyone in the audience yearning for the love they’d lost. Hayachi then gave DAOKO and Kenshi Yonezu a run for their money with their heartfelt duet of ‘Fireworks’ before concluding their set with a medley of the Japanese duo, Yoasobi’s greatest hits such as ‘Racing Into the Night’, ‘Tracing That Dream’, and ‘’Gunjou’.
The next band, Clef Pickles consisted of talented students from Major Music, a local music academy that happened to be one of Sunway Za Rocku’s biggest sponsors. They injected a dose of energy into the crowd with their rendition of the opening song from the 2017 anime miniseries, ‘Erased’ before embracing their darker side in their performance of ‘This Fffire’ from ‘Cyberpunk: Edgerunners.
Dressed in a leather jacket, combat boots, and plaid skirt, while sporting a sleek bob and black choker reminiscent of Nana Osaki from the 2006 classic anime series, ‘Nana’, the main vocalist of the band told the audience that the show – and its music – were one of her favourites while growing up. Then, they paid homage to the show by performing its punk rock opening theme, ‘Rose’, before moving on to the more emotionally charged ‘Glamorous Sky’. Then, it was time for a melancholic ballad from 2004’s ‘Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad’, where everyone in the audience turned on their flashlights or thrust their lightsticks into the air, swaying to the nostalgic beat. Clef Pickles ended their set on a high note with another banger, ‘Crying for Rain’ from the miniseries ‘Domestic Girlfriend’.
Then it was time for the aptly named Nasi Lemak Karaage to take the stage. The band was only established last year but has already shown its prowess in local competitions. Despite the fact that only two original members have stuck around since its inception, and the rest of the band consists of college students who ‘can’t even drive’, the band was ready to rock the socks off the audience after countless late-night rehearsals. Since several of the band members were channeling ‘Kessoku Band’, it was only fitting that they kicked things off with ‘Ano Bando’ from the event namesake, ‘Bochhi The Rock!’.
Although there was a minor mishap during the guitar riff at the beginning, they had the audience humming along by the tail end of the song. Then, they launched into a rendition of ‘Idol’ by Yoasobi, where the main vocalist hyped the audience up with her magnetic stage presence before putting their own spin on the Vocaloid song ‘Roki’. During the band’s performance of the heavy metal song, ‘Mayday’ by coldrain and Ryo, the singer’s raspy vocals were front and center while their rendition of ‘Kyouran Hey Kids’ by The Oral Cigarettes had everyone on the edge of their seats. But, their set was far from over as the band still had one more surprise up its sleeve – a performance alongside one of the guest cosplayers, Ukino, who had people begging for an encore by the end.
Caleb: Around one month before the event day, one of the guest cosplayers we had booked reached out to us, asking if she could just sing one song. Initially, it was a no from us as it was too last minute, but then we just decided to go with it, letting her perform one of the songs from the audition. I’ll admit, we did have to coach her a little as she’s not a trained vocalist, and it was difficult to find the time for her to practise as she’s a working adult with kids. But, we managed to work it out in the end, and the audience loved her performance.
Up next was the band Grand Endeavour, which was founded around the same time as Nasi Lemak Karaage and just celebrated its one-year anniversary. The band is mostly comprised of students from Sunway University and is one of the up-and-comers in the local J-Rock scene. The band got the ball rolling with their cover of the catchy opening song from the 2014 anime series ‘No Game No Life’ before delving into their rendition of the inspiring ‘Ignite’ from ‘Sword Art Online II’.
But, they continued to outdo themselves with their electrifying performance of the high-energy and fast-paced ‘ADAMAS’ by none other than the iconic LiSA. When the band performed the uplifting ‘Louder’ from ‘BanG Dream! It’s MyGO!!!!!’, the crowd lost their minds, moving everything but their legs to the beat of the rhythm while simultaneously fighting the urge to get up from their seats. Grand Endeavour wrapped up their set with ‘Realise’ from ‘Re: Zero’, and even the addictive beat couldn’t hide the deeper meaning of the lyrics, which perfectly capture the struggles of its main character.
Last, but definitely not least, was Brightburn! The band has been performing at anime conventions for several years and is an established band in the J-Rock scene, so it’s no surprise that the crowd went nuts when they took the stage. Before diving into their first song, the band urged the concertgoers to come to the front, and some die-hard fans wasted no time, rushing to the front of JC 1 and creating a makeshift mosh pit, where they could move to the music freely. The band performed two of its original songs, ‘Throne’ and ‘Hayaku’, which had the crowd headbanging and screaming almost loud enough to drown the music.
Brightburn also treated the audience with a cover of the epic opening song, ‘Kizuna no Kiseki’ from ‘Demon Slayer’, which had everyone – sitting and standing- rocking out to the intense beat and powerful vocals. Brightburn was on a roll as they tackled ‘Crybaby’ by Hige Dandism and ‘Sugar Song and Bitter Step’ by Unison Square Garden, constantly engaging with the crowd and hyping them up. Finally, as the energy reached an all-time high, Brightburn concluded their set with an epic rendition of the nostalgia-ridden, ‘Unravel’ from ‘Tokyo Ghoul’. Finally, they thanked the audience for their unwavering enthusiasm throughout the concert and the organisers for their hard work these past few months, with a special shoutout to the man of the hour himself, Caleb.
Gabriel: I think that was the highlight of the event for me – watching a bunch of people rush to the front of the hall. That was completely unexpected, I had no idea Brightburn was going to do that, but I’m so glad they did as the energy on the floor was unmatched. Of course, I can’t forget the moment when Caleb cried too.
Caleb: When Brightburn was thanking the committee after their set, I have no idea why, but the whole crew kept shouting my name and it caught on until every single person in the hall was shouting my name.
Gabriel: Well, that’s why we did it! First of all, he’s our event manager, so obviously we’ve gotta give him a shoutout. And, because we’re SMS and SUAC, we had to give him a shoutout until he cried.
Caleb: So, when Brightburn said, ‘Thank you to both the clubs for organising this. Thank you, Caleb, for starting this’, I was like, ‘Oh no, not again.’ When everyone started chanting my name and lifted me up, it was one of those, ‘I can’t believe this is happening to me’ kind of moments that you only see in shows and movies. It was such a magical experience, with all those months of planning hitting me at once – the hard work, stress, and naggy parents. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
So, ‘Sunway Za Rocku’ was definitely one of the most exciting events of the year, but what was the best part about working on the event?
Gabriel: I got to meet so many people and make a lot of meaningful connections by working on the event. And, I have some incredible memories with the crew too, whether it’s staying back until 12 am on campus to watch the bands rehearse or driving to USJ 11 after a meeting just to get tacos and talk about literally anything but the event. Plus, as someone who gave up on music a long time ago, Sunway Za Rocku made me realise that I can do things that aren’t technically music-related, but adjacent to that world. For example, I recently became a drum tech for a concert, which I would’ve never done if not for Sunway Za Rocku. So, planning the event was just a great learning experience for me too.
Although that’s a wrap for Sunway Za Rocku, we can’t wait to see what the two clubs have in store for us next! And, to those who missed out on the event, here are Caleb and Gabriel’s parting words for you:
Gabriel: You missed out on something big. It could’ve been a step to something bigger, and you missed it. Next time, you better be there!
Caleb: It was a really magical experience that you missed out on, you had to be there to believe it!
Written By: Priyanka
Edited By: Ruby