For the past six months, three women have been stampeding around Australia, the UK and Europe almost non-stop. Dressed in mismatched boiler suits and occasionally sporting elaborate masks, you might have seen them in your city rampaging across a club stage or blowing the roof of a festival tent. Soundtracked by a mix of brash house, high energy hip hop and a mutation of riot grrrl previously unheard this side of the Atlantic, Bea Lewis, Claire Nakazawa and her sister Mie, aka Haiku Hands, have proven themselves one of the biggest musical revelations of 2018.
Hailing from Australia - Bea is based Melbourne, while Claire and Mie live in Marrickville, a suburb in West Sydney - Haiku Hands’ journey to become international party starters began in earnest in 2015, when a mutual friend and member of the extended Haiku Hands family (more on them later), Joelistics brought Bea and Claire together at a writing session. The result was ‘Jupiter’, Haiku Hands’ first single and a jolt of staccato guitars, disco energy and gang-chanted vocals that recalled everything from Tings Tings era British indie to Daft Punk.
“That session went really well,” says Claire, sat in the green room at Corsica Studios, where the group are set to perform later that night. “So, we organised another, and because we live in different states, we put five or ten days aside, and we’d write every day.” It was in those sessions that Haiku Hands, and most of the songs they’ve released so far, were born. “It was really cool at the start,” Bea enthuses “because pretty much everything we wrote has been made into songs. There was a great dynamic; it blew me away.” Enlisting Mie into the group not long after, Haiku Hands set about releasing their first tracks and before long had found themselves in possession of a bona fide hit.
“Once ‘Not About You’ went out, we got swamped,” laughs Claire. Released in the summer of 2017, ‘Not About You’ took the sharp bratty aesthetics of ‘Jupiter’ and amplified them. All bouncing bass, in your face vocals and punk spirit, the track blew up immediately and launched Haiku Hands head- first into one of the most full-on years of any group’s lives. “We didn’t even have a live show when it happened,” Claire continues. “We spent a good six months meeting people and sifting through emails trying to stay on top of everything.”
If it took Bea, Claire and Mie a minute to find their groove, once they settled into it they proved themselves near unstoppable. When I meet them, they’re on their second European tour this year and have lost count of how many shows they’ve played. At one-point Bea estimates its “something like sixty… since September.”
The sheer number of shows they’ve played this year betrays the hard work that goes into what Haiku Hands make look like effortless fun. It’s not just the three of them that pitch in either. Back in Australia Haiku Hands consider themselves a collective, working with Joelisticks and producer Angus Augusto on most of their releases as well as occasional fourth Haiku Hand, Mataya Young, who performs with the group when they’re on home turf. “I guess we’re a collective because there’s so many people involved in the creative side and the delivery side as well,” muses Claire “they’re as much a part of it [as us]”.
Mie chimes in, an artist and printmaker by trade, she’s the newest of the trio to the music world and is revelling in the chance to collaborate. “Visual arts is so solitary, and music is the opposite,” she says “you can work with so many people in so many different ways. That’s something I’m fully keen for, everyone’s skills coming together in different ways.”
As well as creative help, Haiku Hands collective way of working gives the project an energy that shines throughout their records and especially live. On stage at Corsica they prove why their live show is so in demand; despite only having a handful of tracks to their name, Haiku Hands have no problem filling a show. There are dance breaks, streamers, moments of audience participation and a seemingly never-ending stream of energy pouring from all three women.
For Haiku Hands it’s as much a part of the group’s oeuvre as the music itself. “The first gig we ever did was pretty hilarious,” says Mie of the group’s live show “It was so fun because I’d never performed before and we were just looking at each other like ‘what the fuck are we doing?’ We wore fat suits. We wanted a visual difference, so we’re not just standing in a line on the stage” she reveals, cracking up laughing at the memory. “I like taking the piss out of myself on stage so the audience can get involved too.”
It's no secret that the worlds Haiku Hands draw inspiration from- punk, hip hop and dance music - can be a little self-serious. This is not a problem the Australian trio suffer from. Across their work they strike a delicate balance between surreal humour and considered lyricism, musing on topics technological advancement and social isolation in between lines like “you look like a tortoise / your issues are enormous.” Their latest track ‘Squat’, a collaboration with fellow countrymen True Vibenation, is a call for everyone to remember “no-one gives a fuck about what you look like”.
Inspired by the likes of Die Antwoord, Haiku Hands embrace the power humour and absurdism have to tackle more serious issues. “People think of party music as superficial, but I think you can make smart party music,” says Mie of the group’s approach. In their currently brief discography, the group have certainly strived to make that point, balancing tongue in cheek bars with more serious statements of intent. However backstage at Corsica life on tour has the three of them in a less serious mood and there’s barely a beat before Bea interjects with the suggestion that they call it “smarty music”, prompting groans from the Nakazawa sisters across the sofa.
For Claire, what it comes down to is that humour is often the simplest way to present an idea. Song lyrics aren’t the most extensive forum so if the group can convey a mood or concept in a joke then why not embrace it? It’s a philosophy that runs throughout the project, embracing the talents and opportunities around them to further Haiku Hands as a project bigger than any one member. If you look closely it’s right there in the name.
“The ‘Hands’ is referring to the collaborative nature of the project” explains Claire, “and haiku is about words and poetry but also about nature and simplicity, finding the essence of the idea in the purest way possible. They represent the project well.”
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Words: Mike Vinti
Photography: Laurine Payet
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