Most people picture watermelons, lemonade, strollers, golden retrievers, grass stains, kite flying and Kool-Aid when they think of picnics.
After seeing, listening to and partying with the band Picnic Kibun, I see things a bit differently.
Their songs lock you onboard a junky rock, hip-hop spaceship for a dance party flight that bounces from galaxy to galaxy in a strobe of Japanese anthems, Spanish ravings and English wails.
There are no seatbacks, tray tables or peanuts on this flight and though the crew keeps the craft at full throttle, with maximum volume and constant turbulence, the passengers feed off the frenzy as the light years zoom by in fearless streaks of electronic plaid, neon blue and pink punk rock.
"I don’t know what you do at your picnics, but that’s exactly what I want to happen at my picnics," bassist Juan Necochea said. "It’s that whole feeling of a blast."
(picnic-02.jpg Photo courtesy Pablo Necochea)
When the ship docks, the crew is exposed and Picnic Kibun peels back another layer. The team is lead singer Harvey Togawa Jones, a half-Japanese Kentucky native who is working on a masters degree in ecology; Chilean-born Necochea, who works in psychology and spent significant chunks of his life in Kenya, Brazil and England; and Cristobal "Koren" Korenblit and Eduardo Vila, two Chileans who study dentistry and civil engineering, respectively, and man the control panel of synthesizers and turntables that blast the party through dimensions far beyond the final frontier.
And we’re just getting started.
“Kibun” is Japanese for “feeling” or “sensation.” A couple years ago, the guys were about to play their first gig and still hadn’t decided on a name. At the time a song from a video game was stuck in their heads, which had the lyrics, “Picnic kibun feels so good.” Picnic Kibun stuck.
“Yeah, some of us are still video game nerds,” Jones said, hinting at Koren. “I am not. I quit because I wanted to get laid.”
The band formed, like most bands do, from a group of friends with varied musical backgrounds.
“We were just making music in Koren’s garage and all of a sudden it skyrocketed,” Necochea said.
(picnic-03.jpg Photo courtesy Pablo Necochea)
Jones started out playing guitar, listening to folk songs and dabbling in hip hop. Koren and Vila were into synthesizers, turntables, electronic effects and modulation and gave Jones beats to put lyrics to. Necochea came later as the “plug-in” bassist, or “the icing on the cake.” After a successful high school and college tenure in a jazz/rock band that toured internationally with acts like Ben Harper and Erika Badu, Necochea took a three-year hiatus from music before he joined the Picnic.
“I was empty,” Necochea said. “These guys brought the light back into my life.”
The diversity doesn’t stop with the instruments. Jones, who is fluent in English, Spanish and Japanese, goes wild on the lyrical canvas and dips into all three languages' buckets.
“We’re not playing with primary colors,” Necochea said. “We start out with an untraditional drumbeat and then we all come in with these untraditional mixtures of music, grabbing these awkward shapes that we are, and come out with songs that we all want to be danceable and poppy.”
While this diversity expands the reach of their songs and gives them a crazy and signature sound, it also puts off a sometimes apprehensive, apathetic and xenophobic public.
“People in Chile are very proud of their language,” Jones said. “It’s definitely a mixed reception. Some say, ‘F**k this, this is in English,’ or, ‘Hey, this is the same thing I see in Japan. To me it doesn’t f***ing matter one bit. The differences in cultures and languages are something to embrace when it comes to music. It has a lot of poetic potential.”
Chilean newspaper El Mercurio categorized Picnic Kibun as one of the latest and coolest hype bands with an alternative gringo approach to their music. Though the label increased their popularity and notoriety, it also brought criticism.
“It definitely alienates you from the group of bands that become buddies, that are making the Chilean Latin rock punk or hip hop culture,” Necochea said. “We kind of don’t fit in so much to that.”
“We don’t really have band friends,” Koren added.
Like voyagers searching for the right planet, Picnic Kibun is now looking for upbeat bands that can complement that picnic feeling. So who do they want to play with? Gepe, Niña con Frenillos, Miss Garrison, CHC, Los Tetas and Geoslide, to name a few.
(picnic-05.jpg Photo courtesy Pablo Necochea)
The musicians also aren’t afraid of letting other artists access, sample and play with their songs, something that is all too rare in this era of proprietary shackling. The band even posts a cappella versions of songs on its website to make it easier for musicians across the world to make remixes of Picnic Kibun songs. No competitive vibes, no defensiveness, no fear.
Picnic Kibun’s first album will come out later this year, and if it’s anything like their demo or concerts, then clear the calendar for liftoff. Tracks like "Mawashite," "Pink and Blue," "Oh Gran Señor," "Amused to be Used," "Besos Not Bombs" and "Fosforito Chino" are as diverse as the band itself.
The tunes range from light, poppy beach dancing songs to rapid-fire seizure strobe anthems, without being intimidating or leading the audience astray. The CD emits a smooth, undiscriminating shift in styles, from Sublime to Outkast to Kanye to electro, that begs you to join in.
As Hunter S. Thompson said, “Buy the ticket, take the ride.”
Bands like Picnic Kibun don’t come around that often.