If I was a betting man I would definitely stick a few bob on Yonaka becoming a force to be reckoned with in the next few years. They have self-proclaimed their genre as being ‘dark pop’. Indeed, their sound is fuelled by guttural beats, dark atmospheric guitar and the sheer vocal presence of lead singer Theresa Jarvis. The pop sensibilities come into it with some memorable riffs and melodies, as well as a certain fashion of joie de vivre.
My first exposure to Yonaka was at the back end of 2015, on my first article for SCAN. They were supporting EKKAH at a tiny little venue called Sound Control in Manchester and it’s safe to say they made a lasting impression, as I’ve been forcing people to listen to them ever since.
George Edwards (lead guitarist): “Oh god yeah Sound Control, I think that was our first ever show in Manchester. On our first proper tour actually. I mean I say ‘tour’, it lasted for 3 days [laughs]. We wondered how anyone kept going on tours after that ‘cause we were knackered to be honest”.
A lot has happened in the years since that show for Yonaka. They’ve supported The Libertines, featured on the front cover of NME, released their first EP Heavy, as well as going on the odd proper tour. Which is definitely an understatement by the way, they’re “proper tour” veterans at this stage.
More recently Yonaka have signed with a lovely little label, Atlantic Records, though it has been a long road to get to this point.
Theresa: “We’ve all known each other for about 7 years, probably 8 years now actually…you’ve just got keep going, keep playing but it can be hard sometimes”.
George: “Yeah it can feel like you’ve hit a wall at times, like you’re not really getting anywhere”.
But a few years later the group have graduated from the ‘cosy’ trappings of Sound Control to one of Manchester’s most well-known venues, the Academy, whilst on their most recent tour with Don Broco.
Although it’s only February [at the time of writing], this isn’t even their first tour of 2018. They’ve just finished a tour with The Amazons, including a triumphant hometown show in Brighton. Theresa also joined the The Amazons on-stage to perform their track ‘In My Mind’, which has gone down a storm with fans.
Theresa: “They just asked us if we wanted to do it… we were quite nervous though because we weren’t sure if the fans would want us on stage for that but it’s actually been received really well”.
Their reputation within the indie scene is becoming more and more established as they move forward. In their list of essential acts to listen to in 2018, NME listed Yonaka alongside the likes of Dream Wife and Tash Sultana. They also attended this year’s NME Awards show.
Theresa: “It was pretty messy, we were smashed, George ran into Liam Gallagher actually”.
George: “Yeah I was waiting at a bar and he came up as well, I asked if I could get a picture and he just said, ‘absolutely not’ [laughs]”.
Despite the positive trajectory Yonaka have found themselves on, they’re also keen to play the long game.
Theresa: “We’re not releasing an album this year. There’ll be new music obviously but not an album… It’s all about timing babe”.
So fans will have to wait for an album, for now at least. Their newly minted mates at Atlantic have got everything mapped out apparently. Hopefully…
Still, we did get a taste of things to come in Yonaka’s set supporting Don Broco. The setlist consisted of fan favourites such as Bubblegum and Gods & Lovers but a cheeky little sprinkling of A WHOLE NEW SONG was also afforded some of the spotlight.
F***ing with the Boss is the title, and bucket fulls of attitude it has. It’s a little more light-hearted than some of their previous tunes and leans more into the ‘pop’ side of their ‘dark pop’ description. It’s a sign that the group are playing around with their sound a bit more. Indeed, a recent cover of Post Malone’s I Fall Apart is also an indicator that they are becoming increasingly confident with some experimentation, whilst maintaining that classic Yonaka sound.
To tie things off nicely, I brought a friend with me to see Yonaka’s support set. He’s the same age I was when I first saw them and he too had never of them before. His reaction? “These guys are going places”. Granted, neither of us are bonafide critics and we don’t work for Rolling Stone but there is some substance to that sort of reaction to a support act.
It was great to see Yonaka again after a few years and the signs of development and progress are all there to see. Their look is more refined, with each member having a distinct style, reflecting their musical identities as well. Each element of their sound is easily distinguishable but works smoothly when combined.
The stage presence is also much more noticeable, granted, there wasn’t much of a stage at Sound Control, but you get the point. This is where the years of grinding pay off. You can just tell that they’re exuding confidence, in an environment where not a lot of the crowd have any reason to care.
You could see the odd fan dotted about but this was largely a campaign to win the masses over and Yonaka did exactly that. Every song they played was given a great reception and the numbers drawn towards the stage grew substantially, even in their 7:30pm slot.
It’s a privilege to have followed this development and I’m really excited for what the future holds for these guys. I don’t know if you’re a betting person, but you know where I stand if you are.
The Heavy EP is out now, via Atlantic Records.