|Are You Waiting For A Bus?|
Updated on 31 Aug
Listen. CHIKINKI are here. And they sound like nothing else on earth.
Let's be frank. Most rock bands are trapped in an endless Groundhog Day of retro pastiche or slavish imitation. Electronic acts drift increasingly towards the cosy cop-out of chin-stroking good taste. Fortunately, Bristol five-piece Chikinki are fusing guitars, electronics and cocksure rock'n'roll swagger into a bold and sexy new future-glam hybrid sound born from the fizzing chemistry of one of Britain's most innovative musical cities. This is fast-forward pop, playful and passionate, music that dares to dream.
Ambition is not a dirty word to Chikinki, but nor is fun. They write high-voltage anthems of lust, despair, excess, paranoia and euphoria. Achingly sad alt-folk ballads and body-popping beatbox grooves. Squelchy robot dreams half-drunk on headstrong hedonism. Big, burly, bouncy tunes that throw their arms around you and squeeze you in inappropriate places. Resistance is useless.
All in their mid-twenties, Chikinki came together from wildly different roots. Singer Rupert Browne spent his teens in London, witnessing first hand the peak years of Britpop, drum'n'bass and techno at an age "when I was too young to be doing it." Meanwhile, Steve Bond gave up a career in Formula One race-car design to drum for the band, and guitarist Ed East left behind a military upbringing.
Chikinki also have two keyboard players, who add scrambled rhythms and space-rock dynamics to the band's already crowded musical melting pot. "People who mix guitars and electronics tend to use the electronics to polish up their sound," explains Trevor Wensley, "which is the complete opposite of the way we do it." Trevor's fellow synth abuser Boris Exton is no stranger to show business - he once auditioned to be the Milky Bar Kid, only to be cruelly rejected at the last hurdle. "I met the first ever Milky Bar Kid and he was very old," Boris shrugs. "I became jaded after that."
Chikinki's first album for their new label, Island, is called 'Lick Your Ticket'. A triple-decker Scooby Snack of infectious cheek, raw emotion and electrifying innovation, it was recorded in Bath in spring 2003 with renowned producer Steve Osborne (U2/New Order), then mixed in London by the equally respected Alan Moulder (Depeche Mode/Smashing Pumpkins). The first single from the album, *Hate TV*, is a darkly romantic electro-glam stomp of majestically wasted beauty. "It's about a girl who doesn't get on with technology," explains Rupert. "It's about your reaction to that, whether you can deal with it these days when everything is TV and computers."
Among the album's twisted sexual traumas, soundclash confessionals and beat-mashing party anthems, *Scissors Paper Stone* stands out as an expansive rock epic inspired by Chikinki's stadium-sized self-belief during their early wilderness years. "It's about just being really stubborn about what we were doing," nods Rupert. "When family and friends are expecting you to do other things, and it feels like a stupid game that you're playing, gambling your life away."
According to Boris, the song also commemorates Chikinki's novel form of internal democracy. "It's the way we make all major decisions in the band. Really, we have whole fucking tournaments sometimes."
And so it has been since chance and destiny threw all five members of Chikinki together at University in Bristol in the late 1990s. They arrived in the West Country pop Mecca from the scattered corners of Britain, and ended up sharing a house in the city's Bedminster district. A future candidate for blue plaque status, Chikinki Heights remains the band's nerve centre, home base and DIY recording studio. "It's by the shops," says Rupert, "so you can make as much noise as you like."
It was in Chikinki Heights that the band recorded their self-funded debut EP *Telephone Heroes* in 2000. These were Chikinki's chaotic beginnings, exploding with ideas from their Bedminster bunker. When not making music they soaked up the sounds of Squarepusher, Nick Drake, the Beta Band, Primal Scream, Beck, Bjork, Aphex Twin, Miles Davis, Bert Jansch and a million more stars in the cosmos.
But pinpointing actual influences is a much more slippery barrel of dancing worms. For Chikinki, it was the apocalyptic buzz-blast of the short-lived but glorious elektro-punks Add N To (X) who really rocked their foundations. "When we heard that, it was like: fuck everything that's gone before," admits Rupert. "Let's play synths like guitars! And let's start trying to make music that doesn't sound like anything else!"
And so the full-blooded Chikinki sound was born, in a blaze of inspiration and experimentation. With all five members writing songs, their early output was so prolific that when the much feted Bristol indie label Sink & Stove offered them a deal on the strength of *Telephone Heroes*, they already had an album almost complete. Released in 2001, *Experiment With Mother* blew away critics with its diversity, energy and confidence. "One of the best and most assured debut albums we've heard in years," wrote Bristol's listings weekly Venue. "Brimming with character and growing better with each listen, this latest progeny of the Bristol scene certainly commands the attention," gushed Q magazine.
'Experiment With Mother' was also shot through with a deep streak of that trademark Bristol attitude - loose, eclectic, anarchic - which still fuels Chikinki's creative muse. The album placed them at the hub of the city's thriving network of underground labels, offbeat bands and left-field club nights where they remain today.
"There are all these people doing really cool stuff in Bristol," says Steve. "It's not really a scene because there's electronic acts, bands doing what we do, bands playing really hard rock. But all these bands know each other because of this DIY collective attitude, helping each other out. It's got nothing to do with the Bristol Sound, it's a step on from that. That was very much bands who had something in common, but this is about bands getting excited because they are all doing something different."
Bristol, says Rupert, is the perfect backdrop to Chikinki's anything-goes enthusiasm. "Whenever anything goes on here, it's an event, people get excited about it," he says. "Which is really cool."
Chikinki shows are certainly events. Early stage outings became legendary for their shambolic spectacle, outlandish costumes and madcap facial hair.
Around this time the NME dubbed them "a preposterous collision of Super Furries, the Stooges and Add N To (X). Robo-punks playing glam-racket electroclash krautrock while wearing space-age sunglasses... fucking great!" Rupert shrugs off the compliment. "That was our moustaches period," he says. "It was definitely when we weren't very good."
But whatever their early shortcomings, Chikinki have evolved into a monstrously good live act and a roaringly confident studio band. Of their January 2003 show at the ICA in London, Careless Talk Cost Lives declared "the machine has a soul and a sense of humour... this is what life after the mushroom cloud should be like." Drowned In Sound declared the same show "almost unbelievably fantastic."
Believe it. Chikinki have arrived to stop the rot in British rock, reinvent the future, trash the party and sex up the dossier. And with 'Lick Your Ticket', they have produced the super-eclectic, hyper-kinetic, boundlessly inventive debut album of the year.
"This is our Going Out record," explain Boris. "The last one was our Staying In record."
"It's a lot more in your face," grins Rupert.
Chikinki are here. Look upon their works, ye mighty, and despair.