Sunday, 11 March 2012

The Legend of Laito Lychee

People were talking about the band's live shows for years afterwards. That is, the lucky few who got to witness them. A couple of band members went on to greater things, the others are still active underground, but even though you get about 4,440 results when you google the least known band member's name, not a single musical note by Laito Lychee is available all over the Internet, or in record stores for that matter. Hey, remember record stores?

The few words on the band you'll find by googling are either brief references of the "before that, she used to be in a short-lived band called Laito Lychee" variety, or enthusiastic dithyrambs by an American music journalist, Douglas Wolk. Well, Mr. Wolk is right: Laito Lychee
was probably the best band that you have never heard of.

Laito Lychee was only around for a few months. Hell, this was a band so obscure that not even the people in the band knew the band's name: On her personal website the drummer spells it "Laito Lychee" the same way it appeared on concert flyers and in 90's magazines (including SPIN, once), while a couple of other band members spell it "Leitoh Lychee" the same way it appeared on the track listing of their only official release.

They played in public maybe 5, no more than 10 times. They recorded a total of two songs (combined running time, 1 minute 40 seconds) that were included in a compilation CD titled "Pop Goes the Weasel 1", which was released in 1994 by Japanese label K.O.G.A. Records and is impossible to find. You could catch a glimpse of them on the 1997 VHS video documentary "Riot Grrrl New York City" if you could find one of the few existing copies, all of them archived at remote public libraries in North America. So, when I say they were the best band ever, I guess you'll just have to take my word for it.

It was on January 5, 1994, that I fell in love with Laito Lychee, on my first ever visit to New York City while on new year's break from Syracuse U. I had a free pass for that night's four-band showcase at the Knitting Factory on East Houston Street:

Spanish Fly
The Figgs
Laito Lychee
Fat Jesus Ensemble featuring John Zorn

If memory serves me right I had bluffed my way to a free pass
, penniless grad student that I was, via the Figgs' publicist or something, even though as an aspiring future NYC hipster my real motivation to attend the show was, of course, John Zorn. It goes without saying that I had no clue who or what Laito Lychee was.

So. I remember the feeling of awe upon entering the Knitting Factory, that temple of NYC avant garde, for the first time. On the other hand I don't remember a single thing about Spanish Fly, I hazily remember the Figgs, and my most vivid memory of
John Zorn is that he had a didgeridoo player on stage with him. Really. But the moment Laito Lychee hit the stage, I will never in my life forget.

First of all, it was what they looked like: It's not just that four of the five band members were girls, I'd seen plenty of shows by girl bands before. But they had two singers, one intellectual-looking and the other a babyfaced Japanese chick who also played violin, and another skinny Japanese girl on guitar. The fourth girl, on drums, was really scary but in a sexy sort of way. The only guy in the band played bass and before the band even plugged in I had already started fantasizing about taking his place.

And then they started playing their songs. And it was glorious. It was noisy and chaotic and beautiful and great fun, the intellectual-looking girl doing a lot of spoken word stuff over monstrous hardcore punk riffs and it was sort of like a teenage
Patti Smith fronting the Boredoms or the Stooges or something, and then the babyfaced Japanese violin player opened her mouth, this small, cuddly, cute as a button girl opened her mouth and started SCREAMING LIKE A DEMON FROM THE DARKEST PITS OF HELL. I didn't know if I wanted to dance, mosh, laugh, jump on stage and hug a Japanese girl or all of the above, but it was the most fun I've ever had with my clothes on. After that show I was convinced that Laito Lychee would release the album of the decade, but then they broke up. Who knows why, perhaps they couldn't agree on whether the band should be called Laito Lychee or Leitoh Lychee.

Miho Hatori
and Yuka Honda, the two Japanese girls, formed Cibo Matto and started hanging out with Yoko Ono and Sean Lennon and that drummer dude from the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and other famous people, Miho even sang on the first Gorillaz album. Shayla Hason, the intellectual, is still doing interesting intellectual artsy stuff and is a professional photographer in Portland. Laura Cromwell, the sexy scary drummer, has played with about 100 of the coolest bands in New York, my favorite one being Golem. Rick Lee, the guy, went on to play in another great cult NY band, Skeleton Key, as well as in the Miho/Yuka side project Butter 08. I love all that stuff, but none of it ever came close to Laito Lychee at the Knitting Factory. None.


  1. I am honored that we made such an impact. We were signed to John Zorn's label, but broke up before the album was finished (thus absolving us from having to decide how to officially spell our name).

    Thanks for placing us in your pantheon, from the intellectual one (who wasn't old enough to go to the Knitting Factory when she played those shows).

    1. Hi Shayla, the honor is mine that you took the time to read this.
      (I was secretly hoping you would, that's why I wrote it in English and not in my native Greek).
      I mean every word of it, I still vividly remember that evening! And, hey, if you have any LL recordings you can share, I'd love to hear them!

  2. Somewhere I have Shayla's sharpie written setlist of the final LL show. I should find that and upload it somewhere. Those were good days.