Fujiya & Miyagi are a bit of a cult Brighton success, having formed here around university friends at the very beginning of the 00s. They rose to prominence from around 2003 onward as releases started getting positive coverage in the music press and their songs started getting picked up for advertising and synchronised to TV shows. 'Collarbone' appeared in a couple of adverts and now, a decade on, it has over four million streams on Spotify. It's a method of exposure that has become more and more common in a shifting music industry – where once selling-out to advertisers was seen as a cred-killer it's now a legitimate, quite common way for independent bands to establish themselves at the same time as pocketing some much needed seed money. I remember seeing them live in the now defunct Pressure Point (in fact it may still have been called The Richmond at this point) when I was at college, thinking they were extremely cool with their cover of Talking Heads 'Psycho Killer' performed in their signature style: heavily kraut-influenced electro, with David Best's whispered vocals – the sound of being let in on a well-kept secret.
Their return in 2016, a couple of years on from the Artificial Sweeteners album, which saw one of AK/DK's dual drummers Ed Chivers join the ranks, seems perfectly suited to their aesthetics. They've decided to spread the releasing and production of an album’s worth of material across a year-and-a-half via three EPs, released in modular vinyl packaging. Once all three are available, the sleeves will join together, like a set of transformer toys from the 80s, into one triple disc set. It seems to me the perfect format for a band who channel the sound of the late 70s/early 80s electronic music, which tried its best to sound like a vision of the future. So there's the sound of tomorrow as imagined yesterday: reconditioned analogue synths beefed up with modern digital recording techniques. There's always been a hint of the absurd about their work – dressing quite unusual, often mundane, subject matter in ice-cool synths, kraut beats and precise guitar lines.
EP2 just came out and it contains some really strong material. ‘Outstripping (The Speed Of Light)’ is a great song, and obvious single, but in a sense it’s too obvious – singing about the speed of light, days bleeding into night – it’s all a bit too genuinely cool, although this is somewhat rescued by the effortlessness of the piece. metronomic drums, bass and guitars with floating synth pads and wailing heavily effected guitar notes in the choruses. ‘R.S.I.’ is more like it, in my opinion. While the dark moody-synths wouldn’t sound out of place on a Ninja Tune-influenced electronic Radiohead track and the wob-wob-wob auto-bass wouldn’t sound out of place on a Georgio Moroder cut, those vocals are unmistakably Fujiya & Miyagi – who else would treat the subject of repetitive strain injury with such reverence? Musically, when the track kicks back in towards the end for another couple of minutes at double the heaviness, it’s sublime.
‘Swoon’ is a vibey, spaced-out piece with a lyric that’s a little more nonesensical; “Does your whole body swoon / to uninterupted views / of electric blue / drained swimming pools”, seemingly putting an emphasis on the sound and texture of the words. ‘Extended Dance Mix’ is probably my favourite piece of the whole collection so far, again it’s seeped in Moroder, but it’s the spoken-word lyric and resigned delivery that really nail this one to the wall. The discussion is about Fujiya & Miyagi’s story up to now, comparing the last ten years of their music career to the twitching of a dead frogs leg, when you apply electric current to it. He talks about the band’s faltered career trajectory, “too electronic to be rock and too rock to be electronic it’s weird/ if you drew a Venn diagram you’d find an overlap between those too spheres”. The confessional approach, openly discussing the worry that as one gets older you become less physically capable and, in terms of the band, potentially further and further from relevance, is really quite refreshing. And what’s surprising – and I know I’m overusing this – is how cool it all sounds! Never has the anxiety of a burgeoning midlife crisis been so danceable, except, perhaps, Phil Daniels verses on Blur’s ‘Parklife’, although that was a cooked up fantasy and this is self-analysis.
EP1 was released back in May, when we had our heads firmly wrapped in Great Escape territory. It begins with ‘Serotonin Rushes’, which sounds like there’s a hint of Lipps Inc’s ‘Funky Town’ embedded in the mix, although that may just give you a sense of the sound of the record. “You take the minuses and leave me with the pluses/ my sweet serotonin rushes”, whispers Best, perhaps an ode to the chemical highs that have kept people up and dancing in dingy clubs for many years. There’s a fantastic instrumental passage in this one, with some wild sounding guitar – or synth, it’s actually quite hard to tell the difference! ‘To The Last Beat Of My Heart’ is more of a mellow, moody number, it’s got some pretty saccharine lyrics about loving someone endlessly, but delivered in such a way, with this sombre backing track, it sounds almost sinister: like a threat.
‘Freudian Slips’ steps things up again, about Best’s assertion that psychoanalysis does more damage than it fixes: “you got to get over it”, he sings, which seems fair enough until he starts developing this to the point of absurdity again: get over it, or under it, or through it, or move it! It’s hard to tell at times, throughout the two EPs, if you’re listening to a band that wants to be taken seriously or would like you to laugh, but that’s not a problem for me. I find myself as likely to be reminded of Neu or Can as I am of Flight of the Conchords – but I come away thinking Fujiya & Miyagi would like you to dance primarily, besides which I suspect they’d hate to have to take anything too seriously. In a world where the electronic music scene is increasingly po-faced it’s a welcome relief to find Fujiya & Miyagi are still producing music of such high quality. Still maybe it’s just that my interests intersect perfectly with the overlap between the rock and electronic spheres of their imaginary Venn diagram! I’ll be looking forward to spring next year for chapter three in this modular record release: the future is here and it’s yesterday.