One of Brighton's best kept secrets, Fujiya & Miyagi's fusion of expansive, experimental and multi-faceted krautrock, electro-pop, Italo-disco, and post-punk music has seen them find fanbases around the globe, particularly in Europe and America. Formed in the late 90s by David Best and Steve Lewis, it wasn't until they released their first record in 2002 that people started to hear about them. Since then they have released five albums, and are currently in the middle of releasing a set of three EPs, which will be put on one record in the spring of 2017. The founder members and core of Fujiya & Miyagi are Steve Lewis and David Best.
The vinyl packaging for the first EP is a custom made triple gatefold sleeve, so that the other two EPs can be slotted in. And in March of next year, the EPs will be released as one, for CD and download.
Steve: The third EP will be out about March, along with the album. At the moment the EPs are only on vinyl, and can be streamed. Not CD or downloading.
David: The idea was to encourage people to collect the records and have all three together, on vinyl, which we both love.
Steve: Similar things are happening in the music technology world that I love. Synthesisers went digital, went VST in computers. There's loads of them. They're all really great. But now loads of manufacturers are doing hardware synths again, doing newer versions of what there was in the 70s. Everyone wants those, because they are tactile. It's the same as vinyl.
David: It makes things a little bit wonky sometimes. You don't want everything to be too precise.
Over the years Fujiya & Miyagi have combined work with being in a band (Steve is a Northbrook College Music Tutor), releasing well-received albums on a variety of labels including Full Time Hobby and Yep Roc. They are also doing dates around the globe including a home town gig at The Haunt. How do they work F&M songs up?
David: It used to be me and Steve sat in a room, but now because time and life is getting in the way (kids etc) we often work independently and send each other ideas. With the first EP (Serotonin Rushes) we did it ourselves. The second (Outstripping) was more collaborative; we played the songs as a band. What tends to happen is someone has a good idea and then we fill in the blanks.
Steve: I am quite electronic.
Dave: When I write a song it tends to be on guitar or bass and then I do a crude, shakey demo version and give it to Steve.
Steve: I've just done a song where I use midi bass. It sounds awful. But the bass player is coming down today!
I think we've always been about a combination of live, traditional instruments, and synthetic synths. One album, Ventriloquizzism, we tried to react against the midi sequence thing. We did it live. I think it worked. But now, I'm not precious about it. We'll do both, whatever works. I like doing both: playing live, and electronic studio-based stuff.
David: I think we're pretty good live now, from what people tell me, although I've never seen us. But we're a lot better now than we've ever been. It's nice to get that on the record.
Steve: You just need to get that confidence, when you've been playing the songs so long.
David: For me it's about getting over any self-consciousness. I don't think we're the most naturally out-going people, but after 15 or so years you kind of know what you're doing.
Steve: It has been longer than that from the start, maybe 20 years. We were producers at the beginning. About 15 years ago we started to become a band.
In 2002, Fujiya & Miyagi released their debut, the vinyl 7" only of ‘Electric Karaoke’, a record that properly kick-started the band. It was released on the tiny and short-lived Brighton label Massive Advance, and immediately told the world what the band were about, the motorik rhythms of krautrock at its heart, a groovy and danceable beat the foundation.
Steve: We started in the late 90s but we were fumbling around just working out what we wanted to do.
David: We started in '97 and it took us three years to do one and a half songs, and I can't believe why we kept going. It obviously wasn't working. It was at that time when we liked Can, Warp Records. But we also liked Tortoise and all the post-rock stuff that was happening . We thought we would just be instrumental. I never wanted to be a singer even though I enjoyed writing words. It was suggested one day that I whisper on something.
Steve: I don't think we were very good then. I wasn't very good at programming. It took me a long time, where it would take me just minutes now. Technology was also a bit more tricky in those days. I was finding my way in getting the sound I wanted.
David: We weren't trained up. If you're trained how to do music, it all sounds the same, formulaic. I'm kinda against that. All the interesting bands either did it themselves or were from an art school background. Going back to The Kinks, people like that.
Steve: The art school bands are talked about quite a lot. Their approach was coming very much from the art.
David: It's also about not being careerist. I think a lot of the kids are being taught the same thing, and being promised they will be on Jools Holland when they're 21, and all that rubbish. What happens when they're 22 and no one wants them anymore? I'd rather make the music that you like. I know that's a cliche.
Steve: I know it's important that a band gets their sound, and that takes time. It's tricky. I work with students and I see it happening. We made the same mistakes. Whatever is fashionable at the time or whatever scene you're in, there's that temptation to follow that to be accepted. We took risks. A lot of people thought we were shit at the beginning. I was very aware of that, but we just stubbornly kept going and all of a sudden people were talking about us. And it felt nice when people did start listening to it. Thank fuck for that!
David: Often you have to have a modicum of success for people to think you are OK, especially if you're local. It wasn't until we were selling out shows in New York, and we hadn't been able to do that in Brighton. That was a weird time. 'Oh, maybe they are OK!' People need to have some justification that what they are listening to is proper, not just mucking about.
Steve: We don't do that well in England. I mean, we do OK.
David: We've always done better in France and America.
David: Also, some of our infuences, like Serge Gainsborough, our bass player is from Belguim. We are a European band, despite Brexit! We're not a traditional English band, and we don't want to be.
There is always the music of course, but behind every band and artist there's that veritable someone who is there to help you, open doors, make things happen. In Fujiya & Miyagi their biggest helper was former manager and Sussex-based Martine McDonagh (who is now an author of fiction):
Steve: She had all the experience that we didn't have. She'd been to America before with James (the band, whom she had previously managed). That was instrumental. She knew how to deal with it. Pitchfork gave us a really good review, and she knew how to deal with it and get us out over there and tour.
David: She also gave us the blueprint in how to manage ourselves now.
Steve: She taught us effectively.
And also, thanks to Martine – she made us do it – we worked really hard. We had to tour, you can't just release a record.
David: I think we've been there 12 times. We used to stay in the hotels where you imagine they would do drug deals.
Steve: Gun shots going off. One place, I think they were doing crack or something. The toilets were all burnt. 'Oh, this is nice!' We were working to tight budgets. If you came out even after a trip to America you were doing well. You got to think of the bigger people. We were on Breaking Bad and that really helped.
Why do you think your music was embraced in a place like New York?
David: In New York, they've got that history of minimal, awkward, funk things. Talking Heads, Devo. The Fall are really big there.
Steve: It's interesting to see what bands do well in America. Those kind of laddish 90s Britpop bands never did that well. We're quite pleasant. I don't know if that helps.
David: Most people don't even see us. They don't know what we look like. It has to be the music. There are bands like ESG from the Bronx. We were really indebted to them, when we did 'Collarbone' and 'Transparent Things'. They are ESG songs in our form, really. Maybe there's a connection there with that post-funk, punk funk thing. Who knows. San Francisco is also really good. Seattle. Each city in the US is very different in terms of its feel and what it's in to.
But krautrock is the root of most things Fujiya & Miyagi. Interestingly, it was a German band Kraftwerk that was one of the main inspirations behind the early Detroit techno scene. And so, krautrock in general has been a major influence on F&M throughout their career to the point where the band can sound like a homage to 'Kosmiche pop'. Indeed, they have played with former Can vocalist Damo Suzuki on a number of occasions.
David: Can is my favourite group. We supported Damo Suzuki in Rennes. Steve drove us all to a restaurant before the show with Damo sandwiched in the back between myself and Matt who used to play bass. Steve momentarily forgot he was in France and drove on the wrong side of the road towards a truck coming the other way. Damo looked alarmed and screamed like Macaulay Culkin from Home Alone doing his Edward Munch and The Scream impersonation. Damo Suzuki is kind of like my hero.
David: It's minimal, it's to the point and not showing off if you compare it to the stuff – obviousy we were too young at the time – but if you compare it to a lot of stuff that was popular in England in the early 70s, overblown cape music. I like my capes, but on superheroes and not on keyboardists. The thing with the German bands is that they are so different from one another. Like Kraftwerk were very concise, almost harking back to Bavarian folk melodies. Guru Guru and Ash Ra Tempel are anarchic.
Steve: Neu have had such a major influence.
Dave: We've met Michael (Rother) quite a lot, he came and saw us play. He was really lovely. 'Your music has so much space'. The funniest thing was Damo Suzuki watching our soundcheck. Me whispering, trying to be Damo Suzuki, while he's rolling his fags with his Christmas jumper on. It couldn't be more awkward.
Steve: We have a Japanese name as well.
David: He didn't understand it. It doesn't make any sense to a Japanese person or an English person.
So, I know you get bored being asked this annoying question, but where does the name come from and what does it mean?
David: Fujiya is a record player; Miyagi is from The Karate Kid. Because there were just the two of us to start off with, and at the time everyone was into Japanese stuff. We thought we would never have our picture taken, or do a show.
Steve: We were going to be producers at the beginning, like Kruder & Dorfmeister.
David: I regret it. If I had the time again I would choose something else.
Steve: People can never remember the name. I wonder if it was commercial suicide.
David: The contrariness in me enjoys it, that you can't easily search for us on the internet. If I did another band I would call it Rah or Zip.
14 years after the release of their debut single, Fujiya & Miyagi continue to make great music, a mixture of escapist dance-floor aesthetic, along with meaningful observations on life. The first two EPs of the three-part series display their continuing love affair with German space rock, disco, post-rock and funk. It's summed up by 'Serotonin Rushes', the lead track off their first EP, and an apt description of the music that they are capable of making. With a minor steal from Girgio Moroder's 'I Feel Love' opus, those quintessential pulsing synth waves that have had millions, literally, in ecstasy ever since it was re-energised as a bona fide dancefloor smash in the house music revolution. But it's also epitomised by the first song on the second EP, ‘Outstripping (The Speed of Light)’, released back in the summer, a track that deals with advances in technology making people idle and undeserving.
Dave: We increasingly behave more and more like a dog giving itself a biscuit for the simple art of shitting.
Steve: This is the sixth album coming up. We did another album for the Nike running series (Different Blades From The Same Pair Of Scissors). It's about 40 minutes. We did that after Lightbulbs.
David: We should release it. It's quite good, it's quite interesting. It was released, but minimally. Not much behind it. We've got our own label now, maybe we could release it. On vinyl. But then we would need to split it up into two.
The label is called Impossible Objects of Desire. It's the most pompous, pretentious title. What it was is I really like Italian disco and I was searching online for more and there was this forum called 'Impossible Objects of Desire', people trying to find these disco records. I thought it was a great name for a label. Like when you're in a record shop and you find it: 'Ah, impossible object of desire! It's mine!'
I've always wanted to have our own record label. We're at the right stage to do it and we can work at our own pace, do exactly what we want. When we first started I had no interest in the inner workings. But now I quite like it, knowing where everything is going and how everything works. I like the independent label being 50/50 in everything.
Steve: There's lots of negativity about Spotify. But I think where we're at now is really good. It's convenient. You can do playlists easily.
David: It's pointless to argue. It's just how it is. Just deal with what's in front of you.
Steve: Of course Spotify could pay better. But YouTube suck. Spotify are the best of a bad bunch. The biggest thing you will hear is the artist complaining that they get no money. If you signed a shit deal with a record label over the last few years often it would have been 80/20 in the label's favour. Rather than slagging off Spotify you want to be slagging off your record label. 'You assholes, it should be a 50/50 split'!
Seen or heard any great music recently?
David: I went to see Parquet Courts at The Old Market. I went right to the front. It's such a middle aged thing to stand at the back. It was great to see how people physically react to things. People were going mental. It was brilliant. I've always liked Pavement, and going back in time to Modern Lovers and Velvet Underground. Parquet Courts seem to be the next in line of that lineage.
Steve: Our bass player put me onto some African music, the Analog Africa label. Space Echoes (The Mystery Behind the Cosmic Sound of Cabo Verde Finally Revealed!).
David: Since he died, I've just been listening to David Bowie. Since I was 20, 21, I've loved Bowie. I'm stuck in a Bowie wormhole and I don't want to get out. Especially Station to Station, Low, Heroes, Lodger. Everything really. Even his later stuff. There's always good songs if you can get past the production. I think his last record (Blackstar) is incredible. It's in his top five albums. It reveals itself the more you play it. It's beautiful.
Read our review of EP1 & EP2 here: brightonsfinest.com/html/index.php/12-music/1926-fujiya-miyagi-ep1-ep2