Category Archives: Interview

TOQUIWA

“NOT TO BE MISSED,” DAVID GEDGE HAD SAID… IT’S SOMETHING OF A RARITY TO ENCOUNTER A SUPPORT BAND AND FIND ATTENTION COMPLETELY CAPTURED, HAIRS ON THE NECK BRISTLING AND POTENTIALLY PERMANENT GRIN VIRTUALLY TATTOOING ITS WAY ACROSS FACE.

But that’s exactly what happened recently when The Mouth Magazine encountered Toquiwa, during a two-date hook-up with The Wedding Present. The Japanese all-girl trio exploded onto the stage with an unapologetic gusto which initially seemed likely to do little more than cross the border into silly.
Petite singer Asuja, draped in the St George flag, foot on monitor and smile on mouth, looked the crowd right in the eyes with the same bravura Freddie Mercury had when once taking on a packed Wembley Stadium. Curio value aside, at this point it might have been understandable to have feared the worst – this was, after all, a wintry Monday night at The Duchess in York, not Wembley – but even reasonable doubt can prove to be misleading. It turned out that Toquiwa (previously Pinky Piglets) is no mere novelty act.

The Wedding Present’s frontman has been rather astute in his patronage of this Tokyo-based three-piece. “We were playing there, and our gig’s promoter invited us to go see them,” Gedge told The Mouth Magazine. “We initially expected just another girl group. But they were amazing. We were absolutely blown away. I knew I wanted to do something.” So much so, in fact, that he recently stoked up the pressing plant at Scopitones HQ and has issued the girls’ eponymously titled debut album, which features the earworming JAPANESE GIRL, all funked-up bassline and pulsing hook-laden lingo, and the amusingly trashy cheerleader bubblegum meets AC-DC riffing of GIVE ME A CHOCOLATE!!
Toquiwa is the first non Wedding Present-connected act to appear on Gedge’s label, he’s taken the band out on tour throughout 2012, and also gave up some of The Wedding Present’s allotted time during a recent BBC 6 Music Marc Riley radio session so that they could play too. “More-or-less adopted them,” Gedge laughed.

ToquiwaThe cartoon perk of the figures who had arrived on stage in York, and again the following evening at Sheffield Leadmill, sat apparently at odds with a forceful and precise J-Punk machine (underpinned by visceral drumming from helping-hands Cheeta, who returned to Japan following these gigs and was replaced by original member Seixo, flown in for the final week of the tour). But, despite the group’s catchy songs (and there were plenty of them) and their ground-up noise (and there was plenty of it), ultimately it was those glowing personalities and an endearingly earnest good-time nature which amplified the girls’ appeal – not so much peeling away layers of natural English reserve as skewering the heart. Within seconds of Toquiwa’s engines firing up and lifting off, and once jaw had been collected from floor, it proved nigh-on impossible to avoid being fried in their slipstream of inclusive fun. Mikko utterly controlled her guitar – even when slung behind her head – and Asuja engaged the gathering curious crowds with some charmingly broken English, encouraging all to sing along, dance or “fucking rock”.
In York she downed an entire bottle of lager in one go, shortly afterwards leaping offstage from a standing position on top of her keyboards, no less, to run around the venue collecting high-fives. In Sheffield she threw herself into the crowd to share the microphone for KENNEDY and to dance as spectator to her own band’s cheeky take on The Wedding Present classic. Perfect ambassador for the joyous spirit of Toquiwa, and putting one in mind of a young Björk in The Sugarcubes’ wildest days, she’s excitingly unpredictable – a radiatingly cute, magnetic and mesmerising whirlwind.

Toquiwa have now returned home following the conclusion of The Wedding Present tour and a one-off headlining slot at Pipeline’s Japanese Underground night in London, but their album is still available here.  Before the girls flew back to Tokyo – and with the generous help of Scopitones’ Translation Service – Asuja and The Mouth Magazine chatted briefly about the album and being on tour with The Wedding Present.

It’s been a while since I’ve seen a band explode with such unpredictable energy on stage. You took me completely by surprise both times I saw you on The Wedding Present tour. Did this reaction happen a lot?
It was interesting to see the way audiences reacted differently in each country we visited. At some venues we played there was a big gap between the stage and the audience at the beginning of the show. After some songs the audience moved towards the stage. Some people talked to us after the show and gave us compliments – although they stood far from us during the show… Interesting…

… Well, European people can actually be quite reserved, quite shy. You had a good go at making them come out of that shell. A friend I took along to see you said “THIS is what England needs”… 
It is one of our pleasures to become one with the audience. I love the moment that people come out of their shell and become one with us…

Do audiences here in the UK react differently to you than in Japan?
No, it is actually the same in Japan. They are shy too. But they soon open up to us.

How has the tour been for you?
We have come a long way on this tour… Touring with Wedding Present gave us a lot of inspiration. They are experienced. We learned many things from them in both their performance and their interaction with the audience. People talked to us friendly after the gig, and we like warm hospitality in the UK. Of course Wedding Present hospitality too. We never felt anxious about playing in the UK.

It’s been quite a long tour away from home for you. How have you managed to keep so fresh?
Eat well, drink beer, go shopping! That helps us… I like Houmous! (note from translator: Houmous is not popular food in Japan). Mikko changes her hair colour for refreshment.

You’ve actually been together for several years using different band names – firstly Minami Band, and then changing to Pinky Piglets… 
We formed the band in 1998, when we were in High School. We released five EPs and two albums as Pinky Piglets. We won third prize on Global Battle Of The Bands competition in the UK (2008). Then we have a greater opportunity to play abroad such as the US, Canada, Singapore and again the UK…

Has it been easy for you to remain motivated over those years?
Yes. Playing abroad has motivated us in addition to only playing in Japan… Since Seixo has become a mother it has been harder to adjust our schedule, though – but we do all want to stay together as a three piece.

Your songs combine energy, good tunes, great playing, and fantastic singing…
We are not trained. We are self-taught… When we write a song, it’s important to have a great melody as well as a hard sound – people can understand good tunes even if they don’t know the language. We respect Wedding Present because they make good tunes in this way…

The album has been released on The Wedding Present’s own label, Scopitones. You must be very proud of it…
Yes. Releasing the album in the UK, on our heroes Wedding Present’s label, was a big thing. It was a big pleasure for us… It was a real honour and it has energised us even more…

… but why did you change the band’s name again?
We changed band name (note: Japanese for “evergreen”) since we self-produced the album.

2012 has been a great year for you…
Sure! The highlight was releasing the album and touring in the UK…

… but what’s next?
We will be going back to Japan for a welcome-back gig. Of course, we’d like to come back and play here in the UK…

… and we’d love you to. “Arigato” for the fun, Asuja! 
Me too! Arigato!

Photos of Toquiwa live at York Duchess and Sheffield Leadmill courtesy of   John Marshall

Photo of Asuja from Toquiwa live at The Pipeline by Anthony Dent