INTERVIEW: Heavy Punk Bank ChicKNUP – When Hunter Becomes Hunted

Credit: ChicKNUP
Why you need to know

A striking music video featuring a lesbian couple by self-described ‘heavy punk’ band ChiKNUP puts viewers in a minority’s shoes.

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Jayko (小摳) is a striking platinum-headed figure among a sea of long-haired black metal band tee-wearing concertgoers crowded around the entrance of Little Place for Performances (小地方展演空間), a tiny concert venue off the corner of Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall in Taipei's Zhongzheng district. She is joined by just one other band member, Cubic (兔王) – a stocky male. Together they form ChicKNUP.

It is an unlikely location for a live house – floating amidst government buildings, memorials, and the cold urban sprawl that surrounds Taipei Main Station.

The concert is organized by Raven Skull, a young black metal band, and the lineup includes a variety of genres. The air is thick with cigarette smoke despite the recent air pollution warnings, and Jayko leads us to the side, by a Louisa Coffee outlet.

“Is it alright here?” Jayko asks, “We are kind of in their entrance.” but there isn’t anywhere else to settle and we continue unassailed.

I was initially drawn to the band while perusing Facebook for new music recommendations. Female-fronted groups are still a rare, though rapidly multiplying, breed in heavy music, and after watching the music video for Rainbow Forest, the tragic story of a lesbian couple who are curiously hunted down by a marksman in a gas mask, I knew I had to find out more.

TNL: Please introduce yourselves.

ChicKNUP: We are Jayko and Cubic. Jayko takes care of most of the lyrics and content writing, and Cubic is the other vocalist. We are a husband and wife team.

TNL: How would you describe your sound to someone that hasn’t heard the band before.

ChicKNUP: It’s most similar to [Japanese band] ONE OK ROCK. I feel like in Japan everyone listens to a lot of different kinds of music and the musicians are capable of a variety of different genres, but they decide on a particular style to focus on.

We used to say we are punk, but we aren’t like Green Day or Blink182; they are more pure punk. We might add some metalcore or funk in our music, so actually it is difficult to say, but we feel like punk and metal elements are featured the most.

Nowadays we say heavy punk, it’s our own made-up genre. We can’t help it! If we say punk, then punk bands are like “…” but if we say metal then metal bands are like “...” So we decided to call it "heavy punk."

TNL: How did the band form?

ChicKNUP: Originally it was me and the former guitarist. After I started working I got my current husband involved. We are currently looking for a new guitarist, the friends we brought in for the session this time have been rehearsing with us and everyone seems to be getting along alright.

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Credit: ChicKNUP

TNL: What inspired the music video for Rainbow Forest?

ChicKNUP: Initially it was a movie, and there is a scene in it which I really love: The protagonist, Hummingbird, is helping to protect these people who are being massacred and she says, “From this day forth we will rebel. We might not have a lot of strength now, and maybe I will die myself, too. But if we burn, you will burn with us.” I love that line! It is so inspiring.

I think that is true for everyone. Everyone has some weaknesses. You aren’t always going to be high and mighty on your throne.

The idea is that the hunter can also become the hunted, the majority might become a minority one day. Just because you are in power now doesn’t mean that one day, you might be the weak one. Actually there are a lot of sci-fi movies that focus on this theme, like robots replacing humans or something like that.

When we were discussing the story for the music video we wanted to have helpless animals, like two rabbits, or kittens, or something to that effect, something without a lot of defensive abilities. Then to show them constantly running, and having the humans always chasing after them, but in the end we discovered that actually these two rabbits were humans. That’s the feeling that we had.

The idea we wanted to convey is that these two animals are actually human: that humans can be both hunter and hunted.

To me a rainbow represents something that is insubstantial but beautiful. – Jayko

Everything you have right now might not always be there. If you one day found yourself in the position of the hunter, or the weaker one, have you considered what that might be like? This theme is actually very broad, so when we were discussing it we decided to focus on a topic that everyone might be more easily able to grasp.

When I wrote the song originally it was called "Rainbow Forest" since most people when they hear 'rainbow' will think of like the rainbow flag or gay and lesbian rights. But to me a rainbow represents something that is insubstantial but beautiful. It is wonderful, but you can’t own it. Nobody can own it. Because people always have this idea that this is mine and you can’t have it.

This is in the lyrics, too: the forest is insubstantial, and we are constantly running. But no matter how far we run, or how many people are chasing us, as long as you are by my side we can make it through this dark night.

Before, during the Pride Parade they had a image that said, “Before I arrive at happiness, I won’t back down.”

I was really inspired by that. I feel like most people when you talk to them about weakness, they will say, “No I’m not,” or like, “I’m not gay, this doesn’t apply to me,” or something like that. But that is only because you and the way you are in this current time and space happens to fit into the majority. We are really interested in this idea of minority, and why is it that minorities must be eliminated, that sort of feeling. So we decided on this concept that is easily understood by most people.

And in the movie, the hunter wears a gas mask. We hadn’t specifically discussed this with the director, but I think after the fact it conveys the idea that he doesn’t want to be seen, like you know how people when they hide behind their computer screens and are ruthless on the internet? That kind of feeling.

Another interpretation we had was that he is so repulsed he doesn’t want to breathe the same air as them. You know? Like some people are so opposed to certain groups they don’t even want to be in the same space.

TNL: Many of your songs focus on emotions, how do you find inspiration for the music?

ChicKNUP: In terms of lyrics, Jayko takes care of everything, and for the music she and our previous guitarist would write the music together. He’s had to take time off because of work, so now we are looking for another guitarist, so our guitarists today are two other friends we asked to play this session with us.

The way we used to write is more freestyle. A lot of our songs just come up while jamming, and then we will go home and write it down. So in terms of melody, that’s how it’s created. As for the content no one really cares what I (Jayko) do.

In terms of concept it is a bit scattered, but our three recent EP’s have a theme; it is a set of three stories based on the homophonous yu yan. The first yu yan 欲言 is desire, the second yu yan 寓言 is a story, or fable, and the last yu yan 預言 means prophecy. “Rainbow Forest” is the first of the three. The second is “Split”, and the last one is “Welcome To My World”.

TNL: What are you plans for the band?

ChicKNUP: Two years ago we had a meeting and asked, if we could one day do this full time, would we? And everyone agreed we would. So that is our goal, but it’s difficult in the Taiwan market.

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