SHOCK OF THE NEU: Fujiya & Miyagi, Johnny Brenda’s, Last Night
BY JONATHAN VALANIA FOR THE INQUIRER Melody, lyrics, chord patterns — these building blocks of pop music composition are constantly being updated, re-invented or re-contextualized. Great leaps forward in rhythm, however, are fewer and farther between. The Bo Diddly beat and, say, the collected R&B works of James Brown, and for that matter, the entire genre of hip-hop, are prime examples of giant steps in rhythmic innovation. In the early ’70s a group of experimental German musicians, the so-called “Kraut-rockers,” which includes the bands Neu and Kraftwerk, moved beat science a few steps forward, utilizing a distinctive and utterly propulsive 4/4 beat that would later become known as motorik, the German word meaning “motor skills.” The motorik beat, it was said, mimicked the feel and flow of cruising Germany’s famed Autobahn, the state of the art highway where speed knows no limits. By way of example, understand that bulk of the early recorded works of Stereolab utilizes the the motorik beat.
The British electronica outfit Fujiya & Miyagi, current darlings of the indie scene thanks to the recent stateside release of Transparent Things, are the latest proponents of the motorik beat — combining it with clean, jangling guitar lines, rutting bass, chilled-out synth textures and whispery incantatory vocals to create state of the art indie-dance music. The group’s performance before a packed house at Johnny Brenda’s on Saturday night made a few things clear: First, Fujiya & Miyagi, are neither Japanese nor, for that matter, a duo and are in fact three thirty-something caucasians from Brighton in droopy T-shirts and vintage Adidas shell toes. Second, for guys that look more at home dispensing sodden jeers from the cheap seats of a football match than on the dance floor, they are certifiably funky homo sapiens — like a Gang of Four that’s more interested in the politics of dancing than the dance of politics. Third, they make it look so easy. Live, F&M is a three-piece comprised of a bassist Matt Hainsby, guitarist/lead singer David Best and DJ Steve Lewis, who triggered the drum loops and heady miscellaneous sonic filigree of the recordings. Opening with the trundling “Ankle Injuries” and closing with the evocatively-titled “Electro Karaoke In The Negative Style,” F&M proved that, if nothing else, the motorik beat is in good hands.
[photo by JONATHAN VALANIA]