Your teenage years are about wanting something of your own, something to hold onto, something that defines. Urusei Yatsura were my band. Known by a handful, and perhaps loved by even less, their defiantly difficult, yet gloriously poppy sound, which spoke of Japanese youth culture and struck a form of artful rebellion through mangled Fender Jaguars, drum sticks rammed under guitar strings and a set of tunings straight out of the Sonic Youth school of everything in F#. Barrelling out of Glasgow with buzz saw tunefulness, skinny fit t-shirts and a genuine DIY ethic which meant that when their debut appeared in 1996, my 15 year old self felt like I had found a calling, as ‘Siamese’, the opener of their debut album, 1996’s ‘We Are Urusei Yatsura’ demanded ‘take a stand, make a plan, form a gang, a lo-fi band.’ Blissful abandonment and what’s more, it was mine and only a select few other’s alone.
While all three albums released are works of brilliance in their own right, with 2000’s much delayed ‘Everybody Loves Urusei Yatsura’ completing the trio of proper album releases, it was their second album which I lived in and took solace from, knowing there was little danger of being discovered. ‘Glo Starz’ blasted through with thrilling mangling, as dual singers and principal songwriters Fergus Lawrie and Graham Kemp chanted ‘Atari’ over and over again; both ludicrous, wilfully niche and magnificently joyous. They managed to record a song about gradually losing your grip called ‘No.1 Cheesecake’ and not appear like ridiculous. They unleashed furious noise which maintained its pop sensibility on ‘Exidor’, without disappearing into pretentious Sonic Youth noodling or preposterous Dinosaur Jr soloing self-indulgence. It was everything that those bands reached at their accessible peaks, but compacted and immediate.
For a band named after a Japanese Anime series, they were lyrically indebted and forever focused across the other side of the world, with a wistful longing for an alien culture that provided stark, neon and almost futuristic contrast to the mundanity of these shores. ‘No No Girl’ looked across the Pacific at tales of unobtainable romance, while the gloriously drawling ‘Slain By Elf’ spat out with outsider vengeance, and the melancholic ‘Fake Fur’ sang of ‘transfer tattoos’ and of daring failed romance. In retrospect, it may not seem to be glamorous but that a group of outsiders from Glasgow, not outsiders in a trite or contrived punk sense of the word, had managed to evoke both an exotic alternate life across in Japan, as well as the manic thrills of your bands, your own chosen obscurity, your own wonderful desire to be different, will forever keep them as the best band you’ve never heard of.
Rather inexplicably, the album also spawned commercial success when the Peel and Lamacq championed ‘Hello Tiger’, a noisy burst celebrating a tiger fur clad startlet, reached the dizzying heights of number 40 in the proper UK hit parade after the band had completed, of all things, a tour of Virgin Megastores in broad daylight. The ‘gigs’ consisted of playing to 30 people a time while hopeless geeks, freaks and girls with hairslides and Hello Kitty bags nodded devotedly along, while the lunchtime shoppers looked baffled in their quest for whichever album of music made for people who don’t like music was currently topping the charts. It felt like a small victory; a victory against what I still couldn’t tell you, but a victory nonetheless; like seeing a school friend make a fleeting substitute appearance for a local lower league football team, there was a part of your small town in the Sunday papers.
There will be no great retrospective for Urusei Yatsura. There will be no great stream of bands plastered across the NME proclaiming that without their influence, they would never have headlined festivals, won awards or simply been feted by critics everywhere. They are not their generation’s Velvet Underground and everyone who saw them didn’t go on to form a band. But at the end of decade which limped to a bloated post-Britpop close, while many of the great early 90s US bands made a mess of their legacy, there were a few glorious years of fun from Urusei Yatsura. I inadvertently saw what turned out to be their final gig at the Camden Underworld in 2001 when in town for something entirely different. Burned in my memory is Fergus in the crowd thrashing away as Graham stormed through ‘Our Shining Path’. The end of a teenage era, but one never forgotten by the few who were there.