Whoever thought when “Know Your Chicken” came out in the mid-90s it would make such a mark on the culture? We’re talking about a surrealist pastiche about magenta chickens set to boom-bap breakbeats and muted trumpet, rapped by a pair of grinning Japanese girls so obsessed with eating that they named every song on their first record after food. It doesn’t exactly spell commercial success, especially for a then-unknown avant-pop act from New York City who’s name is Italian for “Crazy Food.”
Self-produced over a two-year period by Miho Hatori and Yuka C. Honda, Hotel Valentine is their most impressive release to date as it finds them constructing a rich concept album, a love story amid the ghosts traversing the hallways of a hotel. Underneath the lush sonic palate, they have created the soundtrack to an invisible film as they’ve continued to refine their sound and remain fully committed to an ethic of fun.
Unlike most pretenders, Cibo Matto’s music is an entirely self-contained world, a look into the fantasy lives of Hatori and Honda. Both women were raised in Japan, but met in New York’s vivid 90s Lower East Side art scene that included John Zorn, Sean Lennon, the Beastie Boys, and Marc Ribot, a brief period of colorful experimentation at the outset of the Giuliani administration. Soon after they met, the pair formed a punk band called Leitoh Lychee (frozen lychee nut), which eventually morphed into the post-genre freakout that Cibo Matto would become. Within six months, David Byrne came to see them at a show and Warner Brothers picked them up off the strength of one self-released cassette tape.
This initiated one of the most colorful careers of the 90s. Cibo Matto exploded internationally, touring worldwide and releasing two classic records, 1996’s Viva! La Woman and 1999’s Stereo Type A. Their live shows and albums were marked by wild experimentation, incorporating hip-hop, Brazilian music, African and Latin jazz, and pop into their unclassifiable mix. They collaborated extensively with Yoko Ono, as well as the renowned French director Michel Gondry, who lent his visionary style to cement them in the budding consciousness of the MTV generation with his legendary video for “Sugar Water.” They sold over 100,000 of both of albums and graced seven magazine covers. Then, in a bizarre twist of fate, many fans discovered Cibo Matto performing in an infamous scene on an early episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Spin magazine included the debut album in their “100 Best Albums of the ‘90s” list, and Time magazine picked it in their list of the “Best Hip Hop Albums of All Time.” Their adoring fanbase grew until 2001, when the band announced an extended hiatus.
During that 10-year interval, both women worked on numerous interesting projects. Yuka Honda released three solo experimental albums on John Zorn’s Tzadik Records, recorded albums with jazz great Dave Douglas and Yoshimi (of the Boredoms), meanwhile producing a number of Japanese pop artists and acclaimed albums by Sean Lennon, Yoko Ono Plastic Ono Band and Martha Wainwright. Miho Hatori released a solo album, two Brazilian discs with Beck guitarist Smokey Hormel & percussionist Mauro Refosco, guested on three Beastie Boys songs, and sang the role of Noodle on the Gorillaz first album, including lead vocals on the hit “19-2000.”
Says Honda, “Having spent some time apart, we became more aware of our magical chemistry, our magnetic bond. We both realized we had unfinished business.”
On February 14, 2011 a Cibo Matto light bulb flickered and they struck upon the idea of an invisible film, a score without motion, an album called Hotel Valentine.
Hotel Valentine is a metaphor, a question, an answer, an idea, a feeling; A strange and vivid scene.
“Hotel Valentine is the cinematic bricolage of Yuka and me,” Says Hatori. “Our medium is music. For me, making an album is like raising a child. We don’t know what kind of person (story) they will end up to be.”
Buffalo Daughter is a three member group consisting of Sugar Yoshinaga, Yumiko Ohno and MoOoG Yamamoto, often augmented by a drummer and other guests. Their sound is heavily influenced by German progressive rock and techno pop, but also includes bits of dub, club, shoe gaze and post-rock influences. Given their mix and match style, and that they emerged in the mid-90s, they are often considered as part of the Shibuya-kei movement.
Before putting together Buffalo Daughter, Yoshinaga and Ohno played together in a band called Havanna Exotica. Buffalo Daughter’s 1994 debut EP Shaggy Head Dressers was released on the Cardinal label, a spin-off of the popular indies magazine Beikoku Ongaku.
When the American group Luscious Jackson were touring in Japan they met Buffalo Daughter, and favorably impressed with their music, passed samples along to the their label honchos at the Beastie Boys own Grand Royal Records. As a result Buffalo Daughter signed with Grand Royal in 1996, and released Captain Vapour Athletes internationally.
The band spend a good deal of 1996 in the States, first playing a few East Coast dates in March, then doing an extended tour with Butter 08 in September, and returning again for dates in November with Luscious Jackson. Their impressive live shows had a great deal to do with breaking the band both in Japan and internationally.
In 1997 Grand Royal followed with a remix EP, with Buffalo Daughters remixed by the likes of Alec Empire, Money Mark and U.N.K.L.E. Also in 1997 Buffalo Daughter played Grand Royal events in London and Paris with labelmates Ben Lee, BIS and Luscious Jackson.
In 1998 the band returned with the new studio album “New Rock”, and toured the US and Europe with Money Mark. They also performed at the Tibetan Freedom Festival in Washington DC in June 1998 along with the Beastie Boys, Radiohead, REM, Sonic Youth and Herbie Hancock. They returned again to the States in July and August to tour with Boys Against Girls. In 2001 Grand Royal suddenly shut down, and the band moved to LA based Emperor Norton, where they released “I”. Also in 2001 Buffalo Daughter played Japan’s top electronic music event Electraglide, on a bill with Fatboy Slim, Aphex Twin and Plaid.
In 2003 they released “Psychic” on V2 Records, and toured America with Blonde Redhead, and in 2006 released “Euphorica”. This versatile group has collaborated with a wide range of artists including the French ambient pop group Air, former member of techno-pop pioneers The Plastics, idol Ami Suzuki, veteran Mari Natsuki, Takako Minaka, Cornelius, Naoko Yamano of Shonen Knife and Cibo Matto. Sugar also sometimes plays in the side project band Metalchicks, and has toured the States and Europe with them.
They have also had their music used in ads for Listerine, Minute Maid, Minolta, Panasonic and 7-11’s Slurpies amongst others. In 2007 they played the Formosa Festival, their first live show in Taiwan.
In July 2010 Buffalo Daughter released “The Weapons of Math Destruction”, on their own Buffalo Ranch label, their first release in four years. They again collaborated with support drummer Atsushi Matsushita, who also plays with Zazen Boys, and with who played at Fuji Rock 2010 and did a national tour in November.