Frank Chickens





THE STRANGEST SIGHT currently brightening up the live scene must be Kazuko and Kazumi, the two girls who comprise Frank Chickens. On stage they sing over Koraoke backing tapes – tapes of songs with no vocals, which are very common in Japan.

Over the last two years Frank Chickens – the name comes from a Japanese pencil – have evolved a totally unique and highly attractive range of dances and movements to physically illustrate the songs. In between they further charm the audience by telling jokes in their outrageously oriental accents.

They met at an etching class in London, both having moved to England to escape the restrictive roles which Japanese women are expected to fill in their homeland. Their first single was called 'We Are Ninja', a self-penned tale of the ancient Japanese secret spy force. More recent has been 'Blue Canary' and their first LP, 'We Are Frank Chickens'.

We sit down to a version of the famous Japanese tea ceremony which, in Kazuko's house in North London, means Typhoo tea bags and digestive biscuits.

I imagine you must do a lot of strenuous rehearsing?

"Oh no," squeals Kazumi, aghast at the thought of hard work, "usually only just before a gig."

Kazuko: "We only do intensive rehearsals for new songs."

Kazumi: "But 'intensive' means two afternoons. We change what we do in each routine and improvise sometimes. The movements come from the music, it's on emotional thing which is hard to explain."

Kazuko: In 'Shellfish Bamboo', which is about street selling, we think about what street sellers do and adapt our movements. In 'Tokyo Boogie' we wanted to show something of Japan but not a clichéd thing. So we did the eel-catching dance which is a very folky dance from Japan and connected it to Western movements."

But did they catch any eels?

Kazuko stares blankly then giggles. "Oh, that is joke, Ha ha."

Kazumi. "We also use ideas from martial arts but some parts don't actually mean anything, just robot-type movements. Like our break dancing!"

Kazuko: 'We saw the Ninja movements in a comic. We try to make a story in the music but not always everybody understands it. We want to make the movements themselves interesting but if it become too explicit it would be boring."

At least it must keep you fit?

Kazumi: 'We use up lots of energy. Sometimes when it's been hot I've thought I was going to die."

Kazuko: "The dancing really makes you fit. It's good, we can earn money and exercise, it's just the audience that have to suffer."

She giggles again. There is indeed a great sense of fun and adventure about the pair and while their act does hove its serious side – the examination of Japanese culture and Western expectations of it – there is no danger of them becoming overly serious or clinically professional.

Kazuko: "People have said we are like little girls who are excited, We don't want to lose that and be professional and adult and look like we know more than the audience. We'd rather appear like little girls who are enjoying the stage. It's closer to the truth."

Kazumi: "We do enjoy the stage."

The Frank ones have just returned from appearing in Europe and America and are hoping to tour Japan soon. Both have only been back once to visit since they left some six years ago. On that occasion Kazumi's parents thought she'd become "a tramp or something."

Kazuko: It will be good to play there. Just to show people that they can do what they decide to do. We started Frank Chickens by going on stage with a backing tape but then got on radio and TV, made records and had lots of fun. But Japanese people don't think of that. If we play they might think we are really bad but just doing it would be really good".

Obviously the Chicken talents would admirably lend themselves to video. But the twosome are sitting on the pause button until they find a way of participating in the creative process rather than merely appearing in the finished article.

They do, however. harbour a secret ambition to appear on a Japanese TV New Years Eve show.

Kazuko: "They have a programme which is really popular and lasts about three hours where male and female singers are divided into two teams. It's very prestigious – if you're on it your fee goes up! It's a government TV station and they spend a lot of money on it, there are revolving stages, snow coming down and every song has a different special effect."

Kazumi: "It's watched by about fifty per cent of the population. It's a ritual to finish the year."

Kazuko: "You con even see it here if you get tickets from the Japanese consul. I saw it two years ago at a cinema in Leicester Square. It was a Sunday morning and there were thousands of Japanese people in Leicester Square, someone said it was the third world war.

"Karaoke music is very popular on TV too, They play the music and the lyrics come up at the bottom of the screen so you con singalong. One supermarket even had a competition where people brought in their Karaoke tapes and song their favourite song on TV.

"When I was back last year I saw Michael Jackson's 'Thriller' video on TV but that is unusual."

Kazumi: "There is one channel (out of 12) which shows Western music but a lot of it is middle-of-the-road music from America."

The LP differs from the stage set by containing nine original tracks and only one cover. The music too is provided by Englishmen Steve Beresford and David Toop.

Kazuko: "There was a copyright problem anyway but we didn't want to make covers of Japanese songs with English musicians as was suggested to us. If we did that we would want to work with Japanese musicians. We are lucky that we have a certain amount of freedom in choosing the songs we want to do. There are no other Japanese women around in bands so there is no competition and we're nor forced to compromise because we are so unusual. I don't mean unusually talented but just face the fact that we exist."

I wonder what people who have never seen you perform will think of the LP?

Kazumi: "They will think that we have very strong Japanese accents!"

And they'd be right!


© mick sinclair

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