Asobi Seksu overcomes genre stereotypes, immigration laws to play in Vancouver November 16, 2008

My friend leans over to me and says “I’m scared”. We are standing in front of the stage at the Media Club. Asobi Seksu is set to take the stage shortly. It’s dimly lit as usual and we are sipping at pints of lager. There is a man sitting behind the drum kit tapping out beats and fixing the arrangement to his liking. The conversation around us is muted and casual. The crowd is mostly 20-something hipsters and 40-something Japanese ex-pats, and the piped-in music is mostly mellow. So I mostly can’t figure out why he would be scared.

“Because,” he says, “I think that drummer going to knock us flat.”


Chuck Klostermann once made a joke about rock critics complaining about how no one ever shows up to Comets On Fire concerts. I would lump Asobi Seksu into that same lamentable category, and their last full length album, Citrus, certainly merits more attention than they get. It’s their Blue Cathedral, their Blonde on Blonde, or their Slanted & Enchanted, to complete the idiom. 

This might have something to do with their prior inability to get past Canadian border security, but that is hardly an excuse.

Asobi Seksu (colloquial Japanese for “playful sex”), the brainchild of frontwoman/vocalist/keyboardist/closet drummer Yuki Chikudate and guitarist James Hanna, play to a certain kind of sound. Between crushing drum fills, glassy-eyed riffs and hooks and covers of The Crystals’ “And Then He Kissed Me”, it’s not hard not to see why they are often described as “shoegaze” rock, with all the My Bloody Valentine and Lush comparisons that inevitably accompany such designations. But with expert pop structures and an astonishingly unique level of emotion, Asobi Seksu carve out a niche that sets them apart from standard New York City indie fare.

Chikudate writes the lyrics in both Japanese and English, and whatever end of the translation spectrum you fall on, the result stays the same. Her lyrics wrap you up, sometimes seductively and sometimes with a platonic warmth that seems contrary to their Manhattan scenester cred.


The band took the stage and ripped through Citrus standouts “New Year”, “Thursday” and “Strawberries”, as well as older favorites such as “I’m Happy But You Don’t Like Me” and a new track entitled “Gliss”, all testaments to full bodied walls of broad guitar and tight, sharp drumming. They closed out the night with “Red Sea”, and the departure of drummer Larry Gorman to the green room let Chikudate beat on the drums for the rest of the outro, making her resemble a petite, Asian Vinnie Paul, with the headbanging and hair flips to match. It was a departure from the rest of the night, where I stood three feet away from this pixie making love to the microphone, pulling us in with an understated enthusiasm, her eyes closed in concentration and ecstasy.
When she did open them, there were no shoes involved. They were trained wholly on the adoring – if somewhat docile – crowd.

Or the back wall. It was hard to tell.

My friend ended up having to leave the front of the crowd. He was so wholly blown away, so utterly floored by a drummer that was as intimidating as expected and a band that was as talented as billed, he needed to get away from the dancing throngs to be able to concentrate on the epic unfolding in front of him.

“I had no idea.” he said. “I was totally unprepared for that amount of awesome.”

At the end of the set, the unique layout of the Media Club stage had Chikudate feeling her way along the wall for a way offstage. She couldn’t find the door.

After the performance I had just seen, I was unsure I would be able to either.