When you hear the name, “Harouki Zombi,” you might expect something that will feast on your brains. And in some ways Harouki Zombi, the geisha lovechild of Omaha’s Orenda Fink (Azure Ray, O+S, Art in Manilla) and friend Nina Barnes, does feast on your brains. Together, with Fink as the DJ and Barnes as the VJ, the duo creates a performance that is spontaneous, intense and visually stimulating, to say the least, even including live “blood-drenched” dancers.
But how does someone even come up with the idea for such an act? When Fink and Barnes (who also lends her talents to of Montreal) were living in Athens, Georgia, they had an epiphany the night before Fink and her husband, Todd (The Faint, Depressed Buttons, Goo), moved back to Omaha.
“We were watching Todd deejay and I just turned to her and said ‘Let’s be DJs!’ and she said ‘Yeah but let’s be geishas!’” Fink says. And thus, Harouki Zombi was born. “When I first told Todd, he was like ‘You have no idea what it takes to be a DJ,’ and I said ‘Good thing you’re here to teach me.’”
Neither Fink nor Barnes had ever deejayed before so there was work to be done. Besides learning the basics, they started recording some of their own songs to mix in with other artists in their sets.
“It was a lot of work to learn all the software of all the different programs,” Fink says. “There would be nights where I would deejay while Nina played [with] video.” But as far as band rehearsals go, the two basically decided to wing it come time for a live show.
“There wasn’t a lot of practice. We just threw ourselves into it,” Fink says. The duo especially felt thrown into it at their first show in Athens. “We had the performers come out at the beginning. We couldn’t get people to dance because they would be standing there with their mouths gaping open. We said to each other ‘No one’s dancing. Keep drinking!’” But eventually, the show was a hit. The girls decided that next time they’d wait for the dancers to come out halfway through. “People are still wondering what’s going on, but by then they’re already dancing.”
After learning a lot from their first few shows, Harouki Zombi has gotten down what they need to do pre-showtime. Unlike most acts that do rehearsals and practices, Fink and Barnes are running around town getting props, which can be an adventure in itself.
“There’s a lot of ‘We didn’t find this, but we found this.” The two will run everywhere from Walmart, to Mangelson’s, even broadcast requests on Facebook. “We just had to ask ‘Does anyone have any samurai swords? And three people did.”
Of course geishas need samurai swords for their set. But that leaves the question, why geishas?
“Nina has always been fascinated by Japanese culture and fashion,” Fink explains. “She wanted to take something she loves and combine it with something I love.” This explains the zombie part of Harouki Zombi. But Fink does not like the “Hollywood zombies.” She is more intrigued by the Haitian voodoo side of zombie culture. “Zombies add a touch of darkness. Yes, we’re wearing kimonos but our makeup is all smeared.”
Harouki Zombi even brought their act to Austin’s SXSW where they were a hit.
“It was a success. There were a ton of people.” Fink says. At first, Fink was a little worried that their show might go off with a few hitches. Known for creating a bit of a mess, Fink and Barnes had to decide, “Do we tell them what we’re doing or just spring this on them?” Luckily, all went smoothly. “I told the stage manager and he was like ‘That’s awesome! Bring it on!’”
Still fresh off the SXSW buzz, Harouki Zombi are back in Omaha to play at Goo at House of Loom this Friday, April 27th. If you have never seen or heard Harouki Zombi before, it might be a bit of a culture shock at first.
“Expect to dance and have fun,” Fink says. “Expect some visual interactions. And you might have some interactions with some fairy girls. And expect to get a little messy.” Harouki Zombi will be debuting four new songs in their DJ set along with visuals by Barnes. There will also be a set from Tilly and the Wall’s Kiana Alarid and her new project, Kikachina.
While right now Harouki Zombi is a gig to gig project, they plan on putting out their EP, Objep Petit A, sometime in the upcoming months. After that, Fink hopes to play the East Coast, especially New York.
“I think New York can really embrace it.”
Photos via Harouki Zombi’s Facebook page, used with permission.