Fujiya & Miyagi – a four-piece, with purr-voiced deadpanner David Best and electronic wizard Steve Lewis the ever-presents from their formation – are arch self-deprecators, averse to grand statements. Tonight, as always, they arrive to the minimum of fanfare, beyond the noise from an audience who know what to expect.
These soundtrackers of sleek discos don’t play their home city too often nowadays: you’d have been more likely to see them if you lived in France or the US over the last few years, and their only appearance in Brighton since they played The Haunt two-and-a-half years ago was as a highlight of the memorably experimentation-packed Drill Festival in 2014. But they have always been justly appreciated here: ‘Transparent Things’ was named album of the year by Rounder Records in 2006.
On the outstanding ‘Extended Dance Mix’ – one of many highlights tonight, rising to an emphatic, groovy crescendo – Best dryly implies that their stock has fallen since then, if social media is to be believed. The point is debatable partly because of the records they proceeded to release: among them, 2008’s ‘Lightbulbs’ was crammed with instant winners like ‘Knickerbocker’, which becomes a slower, more prowling piece of brooding dance here, honed by years of tight gigging. The vocals between Best and Lewis depend on little inflections, rolls and growls, as instrumental as the bass which is the backbone of the set.
Best has named MF Doom, Lou Reed, Brian Eno and Captain Beefheart as some of his influences – no surprise, then, to find the rhymes remaining brilliantly surreal. ‘Knickerbocker’ will always be the only song to collectively namecheck tragic child star Lena Zavaroni, revered filmmaker Emeric Pressburger, a selection of ice-cream flavours and rows of alternating lightbulbs, but then Best has always been about visions and things, from same-coloured rucksacks (on the lilting funk of ‘Transparent Things’) to the letters of the alphabet on the coyly sensual ‘Uh’.
This is a band who seem to further distil and enlarge their art every time they resurface. When they poke fun at themselves, as they are wont to on the recently-released second part of their new EP trilogy, it doesn’t produce the kind of horribly naff indulgence traditionally accompanying self-referential lyrics. At times, when it intervenes over the pounding dance and electro between which their music finds the overlap, it sounds more like deftly-selected beat or cut-up poetry.
The last ten years, Best matter-of-factly sings to a crowd too busy dancing to reflect on a decade of fine tuning, have been a career exercise in “pumping electric current through the leg of a dead frog.” It’s a hilariously moribund summary – and couldn’t be less accurate about a band whose vital inventiveness is more evident than it’s ever been.
The Haunt, Friday November 11th 2016
Words by Ben Miller
Photo by Jon Southcoasting