Far East Movement: Getting down with Asian persuasion

By Scott Kara

West Coast hip-hop party crew Far East Movement say their music reflects their attitude to life and their roots, writes Scott Kara

Hip hop dance band Far East Movement.
Hip hop dance band Far East Movement.

Calling someone by their hip-hop inspired alias can sometimes be a little odd in an interview. Take Kev Nish, from American hip-hop, dance and pop group Far East Movement. It has to be said he's a happy and forthcoming chap, but it's not like his nickname has the same effortless ring to it as Snoop or Jay (as in Mr Z).

I could always call him Kevin, I suppose, since his real name is Kevin Nishimura. But Kevin doesn't quite have the star quality he deserves. So Kev Nish it is, and it's what the half Chinese, half Japanese, but self-admitted all-American boy has been called ever since Far East Movement - also made up of Prohgress (James Roh), J-Splif (Jae Choung), and DJ Virman (Virman Coquia) - formed in the early 2000s.

Since then they've released four albums and supported everyone from hip-hop hard nut Lil Wayne to oddball chart-toppers LMFAO. And in the past three years they've had some big songs, especially in New Zealand, most notably the house-music-meets-rousing-pop of Rocketeer and the more stealth- and beat-driven Like a G6, off 2010's Free Wired.

Last year's Live My Life, their collaboration with Justin Bieber, and Turn Up the Love from the album Dirty Bass were both top 10 hits.

Kev Nish says they knew they had a large following in New Zealand mostly because of the contact they had with fans through Facebook and Twitter, which is why they are looking forward to playing here for the first time on Wednesday at the Studio in Auckland.

"From Free Wired, and even until now with Turn Up the Love and Live My Life, we have really felt the love and presence [of Kiwi fans], and that's why we are more excited to be coming down there than most other places we go, just because we've been connected with the fans and been in touch.

"It's kind of like a girl you met online and you finally get the chance to meet her," he says with a laugh on the phone from Los Angeles.

The Movementality Tour takes its name from a concept that goes back to the band's years as an aspiring group in Los Angeles.

"Movementality was a community organised event to introduce Far East Movement and to bring live music to Koreatown, our neighbourhood. And we wanted to bring that state of mind back for this tour, because we didn't want it to be about one album or a specific song, we wanted to bring that idea of community and reintroduce Far East Movement."

Although they are proud of their Asian roots - Prohgress and J-Splif were born in Korea, Virman is of Filipino descent - they were all raised in Los Angeles and Kev Nish believes their cultural heritage doesn't directly influence their music. And he laughs when he talks about the first time they went to Japan, China and Korea on tour - it was a culture shock for all of them.

"LA is a really diverse city. Not only were we surrounded by Asian-Americans, there was a heavy Latino, African-American and Caucasian influence too.

"So growing up in LA, you grow up with what you hear on the radio and what you see on TV. And our parents were all very Americanised as well, so the amount of Asian culture you get in the house was limited to a taste of tradition on New Year, and maybe on Monday and Tuesday you get a homemade dish for dinner. But mum's also making steak and spaghetti."

They met at high school ("Some people were in gangs, some people have chess club, but we just used to love sitting round the lunch table talking about music. That was our club, and it became our career path.") and they spent many years giving out free CDs of their music.

"From the day we started we took it seriously, but it was a long, long road. We sacrificed our full-time jobs and we did everything we could for the dream. But the turning point, when we realised it could happen for us, was the song Girls on the Dancefloor."

That was in 2007 and with that song they also hit on the musical formula they would use to make an even bigger splash on the charts with Rocketeer and Like a G6.

"We went on tour, everywhere from Brazil to Amsterdam, and soaked up the dance culture. When we got back to LA we knew we had to start rapping over these electro tracks," he says of Girls on the Dancefloor.

Radio and TV picked up the song, and it piqued the interest of Interscope Records who would eventually sign the band in 2010. The irony was that Kev Nish and his bandmates had all done internships at Interscope to learn about the record business.

"We were making coffee, doing all sorts of other work and so it was crazy when we got a call from the label we had interned for. When we walked in there they were like, 'Oh my God, it's y'all'. But hey, it was a dream come true."

And ultimately, says Kev Nish, their music reflects how they're feeling and their way of life.

"We grew up in the [dance] clubs and sometimes there are deeper songs like Rocketeer, but at the end of the day we love to have fun. We're a fun group of dudes. You can hear us laughing a mile away."

Who: Far East Movement
What: Asian American hip-hop pop dance outfit, made up of Kev Nish (Kevin Nishimura), Prohgress (James Roh), J-Splif (Jae Choung), and DJ Virman (Virman Coquia).
Where & when: Movementality Tour, The Studio, Auckland, July 17
Albums: Free Wired (2010); Dirty Bass (2012)

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