It’s been the year of CHAI, the stellar new wave 4-piece from Nagoya, Japan. Forming only in 2016 and across a small span of 12 months, the band has released two 7” inch singles, two EPs, a full-length album, with appearances at SXSW and Fuji Rock.
Their latest single N.E.O, taken off their debut album Pink, encapsulates the band’s persona – “New Excite Onna Band”, with Onna meaning ‘Girl’. The track is an almost 3-minute flurry of disco beats and funk lines, driven by a punk aesthetic that’s at once rock steady and simultaneously straddling the brink of collapse. At times Chai feels aligned to Blondie, but with twin sisters Mana and Kana at the vocal helm, their piercing voices ditches the sultry overtones of Debbie Harry in favour of a more minimal tribalism that harks towards avant-garde contemporaries like OOIOO. This style choice on the foundations of upbeat pop/rock makes it easy to throw the band into the “kawaii” category, but perhaps that’s exactly what the quartet want.
In their music video for N.E.O, they seemingly take the inescapable parts of their self, their bodies, and stake a claim on what exactly defines ‘cute’. If the singular trope of beauty is clean, archetypal and boring, then the emancipation from it is already found in the unique bodies and personalities that we have, with the chorus declaring “You are so cute/Nice face/Come on yeah!/We are so cute/Nice face/Come on yeah!” To be ‘cute’ and ‘girl’ doesn’t carry with it inferiority for Chai, but instead, it’s the new excite onna power they’ll use to take on the world in 2018.
Chai’s debut album PINK is self-released through their record label Otemoyan Records. The easiest way for English-language peeps to order it is via CDJapan.
And check out Chai playing it live on YouTube Music Sessions: