Few bands will ever experience a first show like San Jose’s Sunami.
In the video from October 26, 2019 (now with upwards of 100,000 views on Youtube), a huge crowd packs the Peace and Justice Center downtown. Due to it being the weekend of Halloween, many audience members are in costume. Cookie Monster stands next to a rainbow afro’d clown; a pirate in a bicorn hat leans in a doorway. From the first downbeat of opener “Sunami Style,” the motley crowd erupts into a wide and chaotic moshpit.
“We let 150 people in the show and I think there were another 200 people outside just hanging out,” says the band’s singer Josef Alonso. “I knew it would be fun because it’s all my friends’ bands, but there were a lot of random people there too. It was really cool to see. We did not expect that at all.”
The next time Sunami played, the crowd was significantly larger: a group of roughly 2,000 people gathered in an industrial parking lot for the now legendary underground hardcore show RBS.
Last month, Sunami released their 2022 Promo Tape EP, the first set of new songs from the band since their 2021 split with Gulch and a hint of their upcoming full-length on Triple B Records. Recorded at Panda Studios by Charles Toshio, the brisk and brutalizing EP marks a first for the young group: the first time a full-band Sunami has been heard on record.
“Everything until the promo that we just did has all been fake drums,” Alonso says. “[Toshio]’s programmed and written all of those drum parts. Without him, musically, I don’t think this would have happened at all.”
Sunami originally began as a side-project for members of the bands Field of Flames (Alonso) and Hands of God (guitarist Mike Durt and bassist Theo Domingues). The group’s first demo began with its guitarist riffing along with producer Toshio’s live-programmed drum parts, Alonso contributing his intense vocal parts on top after.
“It was a real stupid and simple process,” he says. “Toshio just wrote drums on the spot, right over the music. They scratched whatever parts they didn’t like, but they saved most of it.”
The novel recording technique continued on the band’s 2020 self-titled release and last year’s split. But now that Sunami has outpaced its members’ other bands, the group is approaching things differently.
“We know we don’t want to do fake drums,” Alonso says. “We want to write as a band, a legit band.”
Despite the deathly serious nature of their genre, Sunami’s particular charm lies in their playful approach to hardcore. Not only their name, but their slogan contain purposeful misspellings, a joking nod to the subgenre of “ignorant” hardcore; their all-caps tweets read like a parody of hardcore machismo and they take hometown pride to absurd lengths, including a contract in their first 7” which states the owner must leave the record behind if they move out of the Bay Area.
“It’s kind of weird to say it’s a joke band now, because it’s definitely one of the more successful bands that we’re all a part of,” Alonso says, “but we’re just having fun as much as possible. In terms of the music that we write, we take it super seriously. We knew that sonically, no matter what, we wanted it to be as good as possible, because we do really like aggressive music like that.”
The 2022 Promotional Tape begins with “Six,” a heavy, chugging pit-opener propelled forward by rapidfire double bass drum and punctuated by guitarist Mike Durt’s shimmering, squealing artificial harmonics. The manic “I Don’t Care” follows, flying by in 36 seconds flat before the third and final track, a cover of the Bay Area band Animosity. It’s quick, brutal and begs for a second spin.
Without a doubt, San Jose hardcore is having a moment right now, and Sunami is right there in the eye of the storm. Still, even from inside of it, Alonso admits he can’t exactly identify why it’s happening now of all times.
“Honestly, I think about that all the time,” he says. “It’s really hard to pinpoint. It’s cool to see, because I always felt that San Jose has been looked over. But I do have to say that San Jose is struggling with venues, unfortunately. I would love a 500-capacity all-ages venue here.”
So would we.