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Few bands in visual kei history have polarized fan opinion so decisively as Sug. Adored and loathed in equal measure, this Tokyo quintet with their cute, garishly colorful look and striking dayglo melange of pop, punk, and electro first smashed into the charts in their homeland in 2007 and were soon gaining young fans across the rest of the world, especially in Europe.
Sug — a romanized approximation of the Japanese pronunciation of the English word "thug" — was formed in October 2006 by three former members of the band Travel, vocalist Takeru and guitarists Masato and Yuji. They were completed with the addition of drummer Mitsuru and bassist Shouta, the latter of whom they poached from the band Amentia, but who left a few months later due to ill health; he was replaced by Chiyu. The band started gigging around Tokyo, promoting themselves with the slogan "heavy positive rock." On the strength of just one compilation track, they were signed to the then newly formed indie PSC label, part of the influential PS Company. Their first releases were a pair of singles, "Scheat" and "Alterna," which stormed the charts, swiftly sold out, and went on to become collector's items. After this came a mini-album, I Scream Party, and in early 2008, their debut full-length, Noiz Star. Their debut overseas appearance, at the J-Rock Invasion festival in Köln, Germany, was a resounding success, and the band began to attract the attention of European fans.
At this time Takeru, who had previously worked as an actor and regularly made magazine appearances as a model and fashion pundit, made a cameo appearance in the live action movie adaptation of Aquarian Age, a fantasy action franchise based on a trading card game. The film was popular, and his heartthrob status served to further boost the standing of the band.
Their next release was a mini-album, Punkitsch. With this release and the five singles that followed it, the band started to polarize their audience by adopting elements of hip-hop and so-called "chiptune" music, along with a raw, ragged punk sound. Some critics loved their new style because it was so different from everything else in the sometimes generic VK scene, while others dismissed it as wilfully amateurish — but despite the obloquy, their popularity continued to grow.
In May 2009, drummer Mitsuru left the band, citing musical differences, and was replaced by Shinpei. Later that year, Sug made one of the scene's swiftest ever transitions to the big league when they signed a major-label contract with the improbably named Pony Canyon, and in early 2010, they issued their sophomore full-length album, Tokyo Muzical Hotel. It featured a wildly eclectic blend of styles, including metal and drum'n'bass, which served to further divide fan opinion. Eventually, however, it received largely positive reviews, ironically enough on the strength of several tracks which saw them return to a much more typical VK sound. Maintaining the prodigious workrate expected of Japanese acts, in 2011 they followed up with the album Thrill Ride Pirates and, in 2012, Lollipop Kingdom, their heaviest, most eclectic release to date. ~ John D. Buchanan, Rovi
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