Japanese culture has long since developed a fascination with the cute, the innocent, the throwaway; it’s termed ‘kawaii’, more of a cult than a concept, and it runs through the veins of incoming hyper-animated four-piece CHAI.
Hailing from Japan’s Nagoya region, the band formed around identical twins Mana and Kana, before close friends Yuna and Yuuki completed the line up. Imagine a world dominated by bright colours and squeaky clean plastic, where endless cartoons and guilt-free meal times combine to offer hymns to empowerment, and a rejection of the mundane. Imagine CHAI’s electrifying, hallucinatory, but wonderfully real debut mini-album ‘PINK’.
‘Hi Hi Baby’ opens with relentless percussion, a bunch of kids let loose in a drum store, before blurring into hi-speed, chirruping vocals. It sounds like a garage punk band fed into a malfunctioning Gameboy, replete with space age effects and more cowbell than you can handle; it’s the Ramones let loose in the year 3000AD and re-born as four teenage Japanese girls.
CHAI favour fake over real, plastic over organic, the internet over everything – but there’s meaning to their ecstasy. ‘N.E.O.’ rejects the ‘body beautiful’ myth, exploding beauty norms and accepting freakish abnormality, where the only thing unacceptable is the mundane. “Isn’t being ‘boring’ weird?” they cry, bound by rhythms so tight they’re almost like a techno record, using vocal spasms and ejaculations instead of choruses.
At a gigantic four minutes long ‘Boyz Seco Men’ is the lengthiest track on the record, simply affording CHAI more opportunity for their minimalist approach to burrow into your sub-conscious. It’s a mixture of childish burbles and Japanese slang, underlining the unsatisfactory confusion of modern dating: “If he’s stingy, unfair, or cheap…” they shriek: “Don’t go for it!”
CHAI demand the best from every situation, a kind of spoilt toddler infatuation given the cutest – there’s that word again – sheen. ‘Horechatta’ places rumbling basslines against ear-piercing vocals, gently intoning a tale of absolute infatuation with… gyoza dumplings.
‘Fried’ proves that self-care is the best care. CHAI demand the nourishment of cooking, comparing love to oil, and screeching “fried = soul”. It’s a heavy duty disco workout, but it’s also a rejection of waste, eating every last crumb on their plate in an absorption life’s every facet. The four-piece describe themselves as having “gained a little weight” but “It’s my pride! / …Want to love that version of me?”
Plugged in to pop culture on a 24/7 basis, CHAI practically have modems for stomachs and phone lines for veins. ‘PINK’ closer ‘She Is Kitty’ reflects the Hello Kitty cult while adopting the best guitar riff Nile Rodgers forgot to write; Chic glamour and a so-simple-it’s genius chant, this is child-like innocence meets information overload, with a chorus so sweet it’ll rot your molars within seconds.
Just the first glitter-strewn belch to eminate from CHAI, ‘PINK’ is the kind of guilt-free hyper-pop overdose you’ve waited your entire life to hear. It’s cute, but beneath the surface there’s a whole new world to explore.
Words – Robin Morris