When we think about Bristol, there are a number of very obvious bands associated with the city that spring to mind. The spotlight shone upon bands such as these has covered the city in the monochrome hue of pristine production sonic experimentation. But if we scrape beneath the polished veneer created by the Portisheads and Massive Attacks of the area, there’s an explosive, blindingly bright, technicolour undercurrent to be found running through the city’s streets, and leading the thrillingly chaotic charge is Zun Zun Egui.
It’s been with great excitement and anticipation that their debut full length release has been awaited, following up a series of EPs released by the band over the past few years. That album has finally arrived in the shape of Katang, a record with a sleeve as vivid, as colourful and as provocative as the music it holds within. Many adjectives have been thrown around throughout the band’s career in a quest to pin down exactly what kind of music it is that Zun Zun Egui creates, with words such as ‘angular’, ‘spiky’ and ‘tribal’ making regular appearances.
Their music is, and since the creation of the band, has always been the well crafted result of a melting pot of ideas, rhythms and cultures. “We’re all quite different” comments keyboard player, vocalist and artist, Yoshino Shigihara of her band’s musical influences. “Kushal is from Mauritius and he grew up listening to lots of different things… but then he went to Nottingham, and he was involved with quite heavy music. His first band was really noisy and crazy. So he is into metal and all sorts of music. I think Luke is broad, he’s a guitar teacher as well, and he’s into jazz and good rock music. And Matt , the drummer – he’s played in lots of jazz bands so he likes that, and he played in some African bands too. Myself, I’m from Japan – I like different music. A big influence is underground Japanese music and some really good British pop music as well. It’s always different.”
This mass of influences is noticeable throughout the album, be that in the language chosen for the lyrics – from French right through to Japanese – or the vast array of rhythms and structures employed. “We don’t think about songs like ‘OK, let’s write a song influenced by this!’… We don’t really do that… it’s quite natural” Yoshino comments. “The influence might come somehow in the music. Maybe sometimes we say, ‘let’s do this kind of African rhythm’ or something but I don’t think we thought about the influences first, that comes after we’ve made the music.”
Prominent figures in the UK’s DIY music scene, Zun Zun Egui have already made an impressive name for themselves thanks to their explosive live performances and acclaimed EPs. “The very first EP, we recorded in a house that I shared with Kush and other people” explains Yoshino of the band’s first ventures into record making. “We had a kind of basement room as a studio where we recorded in a completely DIY style with a friend as the sound guy. The next two EPs were in the studio we’ve got in Bristol, which we also recorded ourselves and with our soundman Norris, who is our touring soundman – the fifth member! And Ollie who is an engineer - we work with those two people and do it ourselves.”
For their first full length album, Zun Zun Egui decided to relocate from their usual recording spot in Bristol. “We went to Wales,” comments Yoshino, “to this studio called Bryn Derwen. Simon from Bella Union recommended us to record there because some other artists from Bella Union had recorded there as well. We worked with David Wrench who is a sound engineer and he was really great, he recorded a lot of really good bands’ albums, like Caribou and Everything Everything, so it was amazing. He was really great and we were very happy to record there as well.”
“I personally enjoyed it a lot because we’re used to having day time jobs, and it was amazing to have 2 weeks away in the middle of nowhere – there’s really nothing around there. So we just concentrated on the music, and for me… I want to have a life like that, just making music. I think everyone really enjoyed it. Of course it was intense, because 2 weeks is quite short to record all of our songs. We were running out of time, and there were some intense moments but I think everyone was really happy.”
Katang is released through Bella Union, with whom the group recently signed. “I think Simon found us somewhere and the first thing I knew was that he contacted us through MySpace. Then it was at SXSW where we met him for the first time in person.”
“It’s really great” says Yoshino of being a part of the Bella Union family. “We all really like Simon, he’s a great person. And a good record label person, because he’s an artist as well so he knows about what it’s like to be a musician, and he understands the things that can be tough for us. So I think he’s a really good person to work with. All of the people at Bella Union are really great too, so we’re so happy about it.”
Katang is an extremely vibrant album, with a sense of considered chaos underlying the arrangements, and a bouncing energy creeping out of every corner. The powerful, rich and fascinating voice of lead singer Kushal Gaya leads the way as intricate guitar lines and rhythms set the tone, creating much of the energy for which this band have become so well known. Their live shows are events to behold, as swaying, bobbing crowds watch the Zun Zun Egui experience exude from the stage, and we’d challenge anyone to not at least tap a toe to the stupendously catchy leading single, ‘Fandango Fresh’.
“It’s great, because we’re playing all of our songs this summer” says Yoshino of the live show. “A couple of the tunes, we haven’t played that much because we felt that there was a little bit we needed to change or something. But we tried to catch up, to be able to play all of the songs from the album. But it’s been great, we played in Roskilde in Denmark and we had our biggest audience, there were 2,000 people there dancing and moving their hands like we do – copying our movements. That was really good, I felt really connected to the audience. All of the shows have been really great.”
Having become stalwarts of the Bristol scene over the last few years, to the music fan in the know, Zun Zun Egui’s name has become synonymous with the current Bristol music movement, and the club night that they host, How Come…, being talked about not just in Bristol, but the news spreading to the capital too.
“It’s a very creative place” comments Yoshino, “I think Bristol has some really attractive places. There are a lot of people from different countries, and a particular part of the town called Montpellier is where lots of artists and musicians live. There’s so much street art, so many studios and venues with people making it, and it’s not commercial. There’s an independent cinema called The Cube where they show films and put on gigs. Originally when I met Kush, it was in The Cube at an improvisation night, where anyone could come and play any instrument – good things happen there and you meet different kinds of artists really easily and become friends really easily. I think it’s a really unique, interesting place.”
The artwork has always been uncannily reflective of the tone and vigour of Zun Zun Egui, so it’s no surprise to learn that it’s created by the fair hands of one of their own members. “When I paint or draw for our artwork, I always play our music and draw it” says Yoshino. “When I play music, it’s always improvised so when I draw it’s always improvised as well, so I don’t have any concept in my head or anything. I might have some words, but I just listen to the music and then just paint. That’s my way of making artwork and it’s totally inspired from the music. For me it’s perfect, being in this band is a first experience for me. I was always doing restoration and animation in my life, and I always played the piano but never in a band. So for me it’s very natural to draw and paint, but making music is much newer. I’m enjoying mixing both now.”
After a bit of a wait, followed by a furiously fast recording period, Katang is finally available and the Zun Zun Egui experience is now able to be heard through headphones and speakers up and down the country. “I think everyone has a different favourite , but for me personally it’s ‘Katang’” says Yoshino of the song that exemplifies the spirit of the album. “‘Katang’ is the first song on the album, it’s unique with explosive energy and for me, I really enjoy playing it and singing it. I think it’s a great, fast song from a fast album.”
Katang is available now through Bella Union.