Writer Priscilla Totiyapungprasert
On stage, Yuki Chikudate’s energy threatens to overwhelm her petite frame. She tosses her head in a trancelike rapture, hands dancing on the keyboard. In another moment, Chikudate takes over the drums to bang away in a frantic fury.
Chikudate is the sprightly front woman and lead vocalist of Asobi Seksu, a New York noise-pop duo that also consists of guitarist and backup vocalist James Hanna. The band likes to play with contrasts, stacking Chikudate’s dreamy, bright vocals on textured instruments and synthetic sounds.
Currently signed to Polyvinyl Records, Asobi Seksu has come a long way since its early days in 2002 when the band, going by the name Sportfuck, hustled on the New York club circuit. In 2011, Asobi Seksu released its fourth studio album, Fluorescence, performed at South by Southwest and toured with Boris, a Japanese metal band.
As with the band’s previous albums, Chikudate sings in both Japanese and English on Fluorescence, creating a lyrical blend that fits the band’s style of mixing differences. This latest release carries Asobi Seksu’s trademark melodic hooks and distorted layers, but also pushes further with a blurring of sounds, offering something both noisier and edgier than the sweetness of the band’s earlier albums.
Asobi Seksu is currently taking a break from touring while Chikudate experiments with other projects. Hyphen had the opportunity to talk to Chikudate about her music style, influential concerts and her teenage days.
How did you come up with the name Asobi Seksu? What happened to Sportfuck?
We thought Sportfuck was really funny, but we were much younger then. We wanted to be tongue-in-cheek and push the envelope, but clubs told us, “You’ll never play with that name!”
So you switched to Japanese?
Asobi seksu roughly translates to playful, casual sex. Sex for fun. For some Japanese people, it’s too much and makes them uncomfortable. My mom wasn’t happy at first, but she’s learned to accept it.
What kind of music were you listening to while growing up? Have you seen any shows that really inspired you?
My cousin had a huge stack of records, so I listened to a lot of his music. There was a lot of classical music. In New York, I saw My Bloody Valentine three times. It was so amazing. I thought my ribs were going to collapse. I also saw Mogwai on the Rock Action tour and I could feel my organs move. It was the loudest show I’ve ever been to.
You moved from California to New York by yourself when you were only 16.
I was very stubborn, very willful at that age. Growing up [in California], I knew I wasn’t going to stay. I hated how sprawling Los Angeles was and wanted something more metropolitan. It was my dream to move to New York, so when I was 16, I packed my bags and made it happen. I didn’t even know I wanted to start a band yet.
What was it like to live alone in New York at as a teenager?
Moving to New York was a really hard transition. I would not advise any 16-year-old to do that. It’s not something I would do twice. Being that age was a very vulnerable time, and I didn’t think about what it would be like to be alone. I learned a lot from that experience.
What was one of the most significant things you learned?
You need people around you. Courage and guts can only get you so far. Nowadays, I’ve learned to let go of some of that stubbornness and willfulness. There is no shame in failing at something and saying you need help.
You and James have been releasing albums for the past seven years. How have you changed creatively?
I hope I’ve gotten better. We’re at a point where we’re very comfortable about what we want the band to sound like. It has a personality that’s all our own, a mix of psychedelic stuff, noisy aggressive guitars and sensitive feminine music. It feels very powerful to be a woman backed by all that aggressive sound, but done in a very beautiful way.
Priscilla Totiyapungprasert is a writer living in Austin, TX.