Every month, Memories of Shibuya will be taking a look at a different artist or group, with featured songs – one per week – highlighting the peaks of their musical career.
Are Cibo Matto Shibuya-kei? Not particularly. Are they Japanese? Only in a sense. Has their music influenced multiple generations of musicians in Japan and the West both, have they transcended humble beginnings in a little-known noise-rock group to reach international semi-celebrity, and did they pave the way for other Shibuya-kei artists even if their own status as “Shibuya-kei” is questionable? Yes to all. Ladies and gentlemen, give it up for everyone’s favourite sort-of-Japanese, sort-of-punk girl group from the ’90s!
First appearing on their raucous, incredibly alienating debut EP, “Know Your Chicken” was an easy choice for first highlighted song for this month’s spotlight. While most are more familiar with its remade version on their Viva! La Woman album, I’ve chosen to stick with the original – although the music video for the Viva! version deserves a link, so here you go. Cibo Matto burst on to the scene in the wake of a “Japanoise” boom – you can hear echoes of the depressingly awful “everyone wants to be Boredoms” trend in their self-titled first EP’s lamentable final track (resurrected on their second EP for some completely unknown reason) – but unlike most of the bands that sprung out of that sad chapter of musical history, Cibo Matto had a hook that actually worked. Made up of two Japanese expatriates living in NYC (who would later be joined by other musicians to form what Free Kitten would condescendingly refer to as a “proper band”), Miho Hattori and Yuka Honda, they took a grimy, punk-inspired approach to making incredibly unconventional pop music that borrowed the Japanoise artists’ penchant for eclectic genre-melding and nonsense vocals, while abandoning the stabs of amplifier feedback that are probably the reason for the ringing you have in your ears to this day. Finding an approach to vocals that sat somewhere between punk and rap without sounding too much like the Beastie Boys (although Miho would later collaborate with the Beasties), their bratty shtick struck a chord with American audiences – and, to a lesser extent, Japanese ones as well. Their music was at once profane, obnoxious, cute and infectiously silly, and while “Know Your Chicken” may not be the best example of their early sound – as it is certainly the least abrasive thing on that debut EP – it’s also probably the best song on the album. Certainly isn’t the French-language cover of “Black Hole Sun” – that one doesn’t even get a YouTube link.