words: Pete Mella
pics: Chris Saunders
hair & make-up: Graham Pownall @ Studio P
In December, three besuited, bowler hated misfits took the stage at a packed Grapes and wowed the audience with a barrage of mix and match electronica that plundered pieces of pop history and assembled it into some kind of funky chimera.
This was the debut outing for Robin, Andy and Hannah, otherwise known as Yamaguchi, an eagerly awaited band quite unlike any other you'll see round these parts. And, as is fitting for such an eclectic band, pinning down exactly what their influences are is, even for them, a hard task, and the question provokes many thoughtful looks and ums and ahs.
"It's quite disparate to be honest," says Robin. "The inspiration is Sparks, Kraftwerk, and a healthy amount of Human League, but everyone seems to be doing that now…" "I think tunes like 'Normal', they just came out of whatever we were doing at the time," says Andy, "you can't pin an influence to any particular tune. 'Groove' has bits where you can say 'That's Phil Oakey', or 'That's Michael Jackson', but it's just little bits." "All it ever is when we're writing things is a stream of ideas," says Robin. "When it works it works really well… when it doesn't it sounds like bad techno."
Robin and Andy worked together in their previous band Dummy Head Stereo, until it disbanded just over a year ago. The band was the brainchild of Robin and his sister Dawn, who had worked together on various musical projects since childhood.
"We were going in a different direction," says Robin, "and I don't really think it was the direction Dawn wanted to go, it wasn't the direction I wanted it to go in, it wasn't a battle as such, it was just the interests were getting further and further apart. So Dawn decided to go off and do her own thing, a more pop songs thing. Me and Andy stuck together and this is where Yamaguchi comes into existence."
Seventeen-year-old guitarist Hannah completed the line-up.
"I had a phone call, and a giggling little voice at the end of the phone, 'me band wants to do some recording, and we've heard you're good and not too expensive.' And I kind of said, 'yes that's true', and she brought her band in, who were Focus [no, not that 70s band who had a hit with Hocus Pocus], and I thought she was really good, and I said to Andy, 'I think we've found the band's guitarist… do you think we can borrow her?'" "Like a library book!," says Andy. "Nah, we did steal her."
The main difference between the two bands is Robin's new role as fully-fledged frontman (he used to alternate vocal duties with his sister), and a more electronic sound, although they're not sure if this will be their final sound.
"I don't know if that's the direction we'll stay on, we tend to be pretty directionless anyway," says Robin.
Whatever they choose, it's probably they'll steer clear of anything run of the mill.
"I don't think a normal guitar band would suit us," says Robin "but I don't think a Fat Truckers style band, and all respect to them cos they're fucking excellent, would either. We couldn't continue to focus on just going down the electronica route, I think we'd run out ideas, being half electronic and part organic you've a lot a scope."
A bit like Robocop?
"Yes, we live on tins of baby food."
Long before their debut gig, the band were already a name being bandied around Sheffield on the basis of nothing more than a couple of tentatively distributed demos. One song, 'Groove', has become a firm favourite on the Grapes jukebox, and they've even had their music played at Bramall Lane when the band had only been going for two months.
"I'll never forget the day I switched on the TV," says Robin, "and blaring out in the background at the beginning of the football highlights, some bloke saying "and today on Midweek Sports Special…" or whatever it's called now, and can hear this song in the background, and I think, 'I know this song, what is it?' Fuck! That's my song!"
This kind of coverage obviously had an effect at their Grapes gig.
"The thing was there were some people down the front," explains Robin, "singing along and they knew all the words. That had never ever happened before…"
One other point that sets them apart from their peers is the level of thought behind their live shows, and that they flirt heavily with the idea of performance art.
"Performance art is one of those things where you do it and it looks really good," says Robin, "or on the other hand it just looks like cabaret.
"There's always a danger when you say you're "arty", "explains Andy, "that people presume you're up your own arse." "There's that instant equation that arty equals pretension, says Robin. "We are quite pretentious… actually no, enigmatic!"
"What we're there to do at the end of the day though is entertain," says Andy, "and if people go home and we've done that, that's enough. That's the idea, to make sure people get a good show."
Their debut gig proved that they've got this down to a tee. And with future plans including a possible release and the band putting on their own night, hopefully Yamaguchi will be doing a lot more entertaining as the year goes on.