Live Review – Friendship and The Fawn June 21, 2010

The following originally appeared in Beatroute Magazine. I first saw these guys play ahead of an acoustic set by Asobi Seksu (I know, I know, I may as well change the name of this blog to Goodnight Asobi Seksu) and they blew my damn head open. I’ve seen crooners and folk pickers open for big bands at The Media Club before and there is usually a dull hum of conversation, half the room listening and the other half just there for the headliners. These guys struck the whole room dumb. Maybe that’s their game, play so quiet everyone has to shut the hell up to hear you (it’s what Teller did and does). Whatever was going on, it stuck with me and I seized an opportunity to hear them play again. So should you.

Article photo by Sarah Kloke. Additional photography from the Asobi Seksu show courtesy Rachel Hurst.

F & F

The way they play, you would think they’re scared to break their instruments. So careful is Friendship and the Fawn with the strings of a banjo and the keys of a xylophone, you almost wonder if the instrumentars are heirlooms on loan from an obsessive relative who will inspect them later for wear. The result is an incredibly quiet performance, even with the aid of microphones and speakers. The library whisper of their sound, however, is in no way a negative. Instead, it stands as the fragile trademark of one of Vancouver’s most compelling groups.


The project of Merida Anderson and Lindsey Hampton, Friendship and the Fawn played a candlelit show at the Little Mountain Gallery. The effect was arresting and onlookers were struck dumb – not for fear of drowning the band out, but just so they could drink in every precisely chosen note. Hypnotic doesn’t scratch the surface.


The duo’s minimalist folk sound relied heavily on the talented vocals from both members, with plinking banjo a staple of their sparse soundscapes. They juggled instrumentation, playing tambourines with their feet, and used mallets and violin bows interchangeably on xylophones. This display of virtuosity was balanced out by deep emotion and moody climaxes.


For a band that sometimes opts to hum instead of sing and manipulates silence like some bands wish they could use guitars, Friendship and the Fawn never become boring or stale. Yuki Chikudate of Asobi Seksu once described them as “hauntingly beautiful,” but that description doesn’t convey the group’s warmth. It’s as memorable as Vancouver music gets.


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Interview: Asobi Seksu January 6, 2010

Originally appearing in Beatroute Magazine.


Yuki Chikudate doesn’t think definition gets you anywhere. Or rather, attempting to define her band, Asobi Seksu – the New York-based shoegaze group – is a fool’s errand.

“This question of fitting into a genre or fitting into a specific sound, it’s always a question that people ask bands,” she says. “I never even really know if that clarifies anything or if anyone is every really satisfied.” Indeed, following the release of the band’s breakout album Citrus, there was an almost fevered attempt to define the band as one genre or another. “We have always agreed with the shoegaze thing; it’s definitely part of our sound,” she says, listing off current and prior influences that have been prescribed to the band almost since its inception. “Hopefully we are growing and evolving as a band with each record.”

Despite the collective effort of journalists attempting to define the band musically, Chikudate admits there are clearly other factors at play. “The fact that I look different, I’m an Asian female…it’s very confusing, I guess, for some people.” The questions arising out of their sound (fuzzed out guitars and lyrics lapsing into Japanese at will), ethnicity and the name of the group (Asobi Seksu means “playful sex” in Japanese) are surprising to Chikudate. “Maybe I’m being naive…I just don’t know where that desire (to define us) comes from.”

Just when audiences were getting a handle on the Asobi Seksu sound and talking in earnest about standout tracks off Citrus such as “New Years” and “Red Sea,” the band threw another curveball and released Hush, an album that leans very little on an established formula. The result is clear in songs like “Transparence” and “Gliss,” representing a side of the band more concerned with tight thesis statements than thick dissonance. “We toured with Citrus for about three years and…we kinda got tired.” She laughs and adds, “I think more than anything our ears got tired.” She says the evolution was a natural reaction to a fatigue with the successful sound on Citrus, and the result was a more “minimalist place…a stark place,” born out of keyboard and drum-centric songwriting. “We wanted to go with something a little more uncomfortable.”

Following Hush, Chikudate and co-mastermind James Hanna recorded a remix album of sorts called Rewolf. The album features re-imaginings and acoustic renditions of their songs, and, despite being another departure, ties together their material into a cohesive package where most bands at this stage would have merely put out a token EP. The record was the product of a short recording stint at Olympic Records, the legendary London studio where they competed for studio time with U2. The studio closed its doors shortly after Rewolf had wrapped, so a history coloured with everyone from the Beatles to Björk is capped with Asobi Seksu. “You look at the list and it’s legends, and then there’s us. It’s kind of comical. We were honoured.”

Despite all the hand wringing and questions about the band, it’s clear Asobi Seksu has enough problems worth solving to remain intriguing. Chikudate is able to internalize the conflict. “I take it as a compliment, that people are left with more questions than answers.” She adds, “I guess it’s not a bad thing, being difficult to define.”

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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.

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