EPeak Daily

Meet CHAI, the band placing punk into kawaii

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I’m ready to satisfy CHAI at Los Angeles’ Japanese Village Plaza – a surreal, Little Tokyo mini-mall the place pastel-laden signage and Sanrio-branded plush toys reign supreme – when it happens to me that my suggestion for a gathering spot might sound unusual to a rock band hailing from Nagoya. However when the band – drummer Yuna, vocalist Mana and guitarist Kana (bassist Yuki was feeling unwell) – flip up, pastel windbreakers zipped up and cross-body baggage askew, I can see that they’re fascinated by the midwestern vacationers and lunching girls occupying this Americanised interpretation of their residence. One girl, who sees them wanting, waves again. “They love America,” the band’s translator explains as we stroll in direction of a barbecue restaurant within the rear of the plaza. “Everybody loves them right here.”

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‘Cute’ is just not usually a phrase related to transgression, however CHAI wield it as their weapon of selection. With their synchronised on- stage head bops and chant-filled songs that shout with self-affirmation, the band advocates for a brand new type of Japanese musical outfit – one thing that was apparent from their hyperactive sold-out present in LA the evening earlier than. Oscillating between shoulder-shimmying dance tracks and fizzy punk-funk, CHAI’s energetic set completely captured the hyperkinetic spirit of their movies. The clip for his or her final single, “CHOOSE GO!”, nodded to the band’s recognition overseas with a twisted tackle high-school film tropes, together with a chaotic American Soccer squad: assume Friday Night time Lights at ten occasions the pace.

“As a result of we grew up having these insecurities, it was the right approach for us to bond over this (concept) that our complexes are literally a superb factor. It’s what makes us us” – Mana 

CHAI’s creative sound lends itself nicely to this projection. Greatest described as an infectiously upbeat amalgam of bubblegum pop and new wave synth-rock, CHAI’s music is topped off with an unquestionably punk perspective, as propelled ahead by Mana’s love of a punchy, exclamatory lyric. It’s a dynamic mirrored in individual, with the singer extra talkative than her twin sister, Kana. Mana is mid-bite right into a dumpling when she explains why they’ve referred to as their newest studio album PUNK: “To me, punk (means) changing into who I need to be. (Changing into) that one that you’ve at all times needed to be.”

“We bought collectively as a result of we have been mates,” Mana explains of CHAI’s beginnings of their residence metropolis of Nagoya. “My twin sister Kana, Yuna and I all went to the identical highschool and we have been in the identical music membership collectively – I assume right here it could be, like, glee membership or one thing!” At school, the twins met bassist Yuki. “We would have liked a bassist and we thought, ‘Oh, why not embody Yuki?’ I used to be the one who truly mentioned, ‘ what, let’s make a band, let’s do that for actual.’”

Although, they’ve solely been a band for 4 years, CHAI have skilled a fast rise within the UK and US – one thing that every one three clarify makes them “really feel like we gained, in a bizarre approach”. In spite of everything, as Mana explains, most file corporations in Japan “don’t strive one thing new” exterior of the usual J-pop formulation, which tends to place a premium on syrupy-sweet vocal hooks and idol-level beauty. However to them, the actual fact they’ve been “in a position to break down that first door” with their distinctive fashion is proof that perhaps issues are slowly altering at residence. Or, no less than, pivoting away from the one-size-fits-all J-pop aesthetic which they themselves by no means felt snug embodying.

“(We used to) try to modify ourselves to this commonplace that we might by no means stay as much as,” says Mana, explaining that kawaii – the cult of ‘cute’ that has change into a multi-billion-dollar business in Japan – focuses on a magnificence embodied by thinness, honest pores and skin, huge eyes, a sharp nostril and adherence to a sure fashion of costume. “(What we’re) saying is that simply because you’ll be able to’t match into these requirements doesn’t imply you’ll be able to’t be cute. You’re nonetheless cute; you’re only a new cute. A special cute.”

For CHAI and lots of different younger Japanese girls, the cultural obsession with kawaii impacts practically each facet of day-to-day life. Whether or not mirrored of their mannerisms or mode of costume, the need to be kawaii is a deeply entrenched social norm that requires adherence to a hyper-specific kind of conduct – and finally ends up facilitating poisonous, unattainable beliefs. To CHAI, reassuring girls that “everyone’s particular” (as they sing on “I’m Me”) is a deeply private aim, as all 4 bear in mind being referred to as ‘ugly’ by male classmates who deemed them insufficiently kawaii. It was this negativity that in the end led them to ask why precisely these boys bought to resolve who or what was enticing.

“Rising up you at all times noticed these folks on TV – everybody regarded the identical, had the identical fashion, similar face,” says Yuna. “You naturally modify your self to it, since you assume it’s regular. However these feedback from guys in center college and highschool fuelled me to be like, ‘What’s going on right here? Why am I adjusting myself?’” This thought course of led in flip to the band’s ‘neo-kawaii’ idea, a core tenet of which, says Mana, is that “your complexes and your insecurities are literally your allure”. “Your artwork is what makes you distinctive; there’s something particular about you,” she explains. “And since we grew up having these insecurities, it was the right approach for us to bond over this (concept) that our complexes are literally a superb factor. It’s whatmakes us us.

“We would like (Japanese girls) to look at us and be like, ‘Take a look at these ladies, they weren’t that assured in themselves (earlier than), however look how assured they’re on stage’” – Yuna

Sadly, CHAI have to date discovered it troublesome to match their success abroad at residence, hampered by a Japanese music business that prefers musical kinds and faces which don’t drastically deviate from the marketable idol norm. “In case you’re not enticing, that’s an enormous factor so far as J-pop goes,” says Mana, earlier than stressing that CHAI would by no means examine their music to J-pop. “We attempt to keep away from that sound as a result of it’s not what we like, and (it’s not) what we symbolize.”

Past their residence music business, CHAI are trustworthy concerning the arbitrary stereotyping they’ve skilled on tour. Being east Asian girls with a big white, male, Japanese culture-obsessed fanbase has its pitfalls, with some followers idolising the band for his or her heritage quite than their technical capacity. “So long as it’s not everyone,” Mana says of their fetishisation. “Generally we will’t assist it, as a result of lots of people which are obsessive about Japan simply find yourself going to every part Japanese.”

In a single latest instance, the group have been rubbed the flawed approach by an interviewer sporting merch from a “completely completely different” Japanese band. Understandably, they don’t need to be put in the identical field as different bands just because they’re Japanese. “We need to improve the people who find themselves right here for our sound,” says Mana.“ CHAI followers, extra than simply kawaii or J-culture followers.”

Exterior of their residence nation, the band’s empowerment-focused rhetoric has been an enormous think about propelling their music to wider acclaim. However CHAI acknowledge that this kind of discourse has been slower to catch on in Japan, the place the press tends to strengthen the concept that there’s just one solution to look. “The media hasn’t been writing (about us, and after they do the) evaluations have been blended,” says Kana. “(Some are) type of like, ‘Oh yeah, these ladies are rejecting the usual and pushing the tradition ahead,’ and others are like, ‘Yeah, the ugly ladies who’re…’”

Mainstream media perceptions of the band matter much less to CHAI than the precise suggestions they’ve obtained from followers on their philosophy. To them, persevering with the legacy of different transgressive Japanese feminine artists is a precedence, they usually namecheck plus-size mannequin Naomi Watanabe and Superorganism’s Orono Noguchi as private heroines of theirs.

As girls who spent the vast majority of their adolescence feeling like outsiders, it is smart that CHAI need to rip aside the constraints that pissed off them for therefore lengthy – within the course of, they may simply free a brand new technology of Japanese girls to be kinder to themselves. “We would like them to look at us and be like, ‘Take a look at these ladies, they weren’t that assured in themselves (earlier than), however look how assured they’re on stage,” says Yuna with a smile. “They see how imperfect we’re, but additionally how laborious we try to how laborious we push – how assured we at the moment are, in comparison with the place we got here from.” 

CHAI are on tour within the UK and Europe this autumn

Hair Takuya Baba at SEPT, make-up Nobuko Maekawa utilizing Sisley, styling assistants Maki Kimura, Yuichiro Hara, hair assistant Kanae Sami, make-up assistant Irie Okamoto, manufacturing
Taka Arakawa, particular thanks SHIBUHOUSE

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