Cheatahs upcoming EP 紫 (Murasaki) and Blur‘s The Magic Whip are just the latest examples in western musicians on going explorations of the culture of the far east. Not that it’s just musicians of course, though perhaps it’s starting to wain, the western world has long been fascinated by the food, films, fashion and general culture of the far east.
Pop music is particularly guilty of being partly interested and largely patronising. You only need to look at the likes of Robyn’s woeful Konichiwa Bitches, Avril Lavigne’s basically offensive Hello Kitty, or going back a bit, the essentially a little bit racist, Japanese Boy by Aneka, to see that when pop goes Far-Eastern it tends to come back with the most tacky, uninspiring and stereotypical vision imaginable. Even the usually brilliant Gwen Stefani seemed to be missing the point on the Love Angel Music Baby misstep Harajuku Girls.
Alternative music has tended to be a bit kinder and more interesting in it’s exploration, although it’s hard to condone Hong Kong Garden by Siouxie & The Banshees, a song that’s about a takeaway restaurant and includes the line “leave your yens on the counter please” somewhat missing the point that Japan and Hong Kong are in fact different countries and that the plural of Yen is Yen; not your best effort Siouxie! Much better was Big In Japan, originally by Alphaville and later covered memorably by Tom Waits. In fact Mr Waits is a pretty good starting point for the Far East in general, the man Tom kept an eye on while questioning what he was building “used to have a consulting business in Indonesia.” He set sail for Singapore on 1985’s Raindogs, met the Eyeball Kid in a Saigon Jail, whilst on Get Behind The Mule he was “digging all the way to china with a silver spoon, while the hangman fumbles with the noose.”
Nick Cave famously noted “I don’t think there’s much call for me in Japan”, but in reality big western bands have often found the Japanese market very forgiving, whilst the likes of Blur, Radiohead and Oasis all unsurprisingly found success, more surprising were the wild scenes that greeted, the excellent but always underrated Reading band The Cooper Temple Clause, on a Japanese tour as covered by the NME back in the early noughties, at that point it seemed Western-Rock bands could do no wrong, though the recent failure of the likes of Queens Of The Stone Age and The Vaccines to break through suggest that the bubble has burst, and like most of the world the Japanese market is increasingly becoming dominated by pop-music in all its reality TV, music meets celebrity glory/nonsense.
It is perhaps unsurprising in a world that’s undergoing a great deal of globalisation, that the Far-East which once seemed so exotic and alien to western musicians is increasingly becoming common place and there’s been a gradual cross-pollination of our music scenes, which goes a long way to explain Avril Lavigne and that god awful Hello Kitty song, but also perhaps goes a long way to explaining why the western world isn’t quite so fascinated by the far-east as it once was.
Cheatahs are vocalist Nathan Hewitt, guitarist James Wignall, bassist Declan Reid and drummer Mark Raue.
Over the course of a number of EP’s and an excellent debut album, Cheatahs have honed a sound that superbly combines rapid, heavy drumming, reverb heavy guitars, stacks of vocal melodies and layers of keyboards and electronics into a cohesive whole described by UNCUT as “yearning melodies over driving rhythms, all swaddled in comforting layers of fuzz.” Which is a pretty fine description to our ears!
Well, where are they not from might be a better question, Nathan is from Edmonton in Canada, James is from Leicester via Leeds, Mark is from Dresden and Dean is from San Diego in California. Dean is American Japanese which goes a long way to explaining the bands latest EP’s explorations into Japanese culture. They’re now London based, though they seem to spend most of their lives on tour!
Cheatahs formed in 2009, releasing their debut single, Warrior on Young and Lost Club that same year. The Coared EP followed in 2012 on Marshall Teller Records. Along the way they caught the eye of the legendary Wichita Recordings. They released their first EP for the label in 2012, entitled Sans and finally got around to releasing a full, self-titled long-player last year. They’ve continued down the highly prolific route releasing the Sunne EP in February and are currently plotting the release of 紫 which is pronounced Murasaki, and translates as either a purple or violet colour, a type of plant called a gromwell or Soy Sauce! The EP is out May 4th, again via Wichita.
On new EP, 紫 (Murasaki) Cheatahs have never sounded a more confident, unique or adventurous band. Over the 4-tracks they showcase an array of sounds, notably they seem to have stepped away from the walls of reverb that were previously their calling card. The songs are vastly more dynamic, blending distorted vocals, an array of electronic bleeps and beats, and some almost punk-leaning drum blasts.
3D Milk with it’s heavy, drum-machine intro, gently morphs into a hazy, dense blend of processed vocals, repetitive guitar phrases, and electronics that are perhaps best described as odd noises! It recalls the heroin-fuelled miserablism of Blur’s masterpiece, 13. Indeed the twin influences of Blur and Animal Collective run throughout the EP; the lo-fi guitar thrashing at the start of Wash Out certainly tips its cap to Graham Coxon, whilst the experimentation and hyperactivity on show throughout, as well as the experimental treatment of the vocals is very much in the vein of the more accessible, and better, moments of the Animal Collective back catalogue.
These new sonic adventures suit Cheatahs, stretching their wings and finding new ways to expand on their back catalogue. The title track might look back and explore similar territory to previous recordings, combining rapid fire drums, washes of feedback and distant buried vocals, and giving the band their trademark shoegaze meets punk sound; but this EP is the sound of a band experimenting without forgetting what made them such a breath of fresh air in the first place, the finest release of their career to date.
A minor squabble here but for an album that claims to be influenced by ‘The Tale Of The Genji’ a novel by acclaimed Japanese novelist Murasaki Shikibu, an author who wrote novels despite being born into 11th-century Japanese aristocracy, where women were strongly discouraged from learning to read and write, the lyrics sure do seem to be inaudible! That said in a world of largely uninformative press releases, this was at least an interesting read!
‘紫'(Murasaki) EP is out via Wichita Recordings on May 4th. Cheatahs start a co-headline tour of the UK with No Joy on May 10th