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THUMP Investigates Japanese Electronica, Part 1: Producers

Part One in a THUMP series on Japanese Electronic Music and its Global Reach.
August 27, 2014, 6:30pm

If you've lived in Japan, heard about Japan, or live on planet Earth and are engaged with life outside your own head you're aware that Japan is a culturally rich nation. Sure there's Nintento, sushi, vending machines that sell virtually everything, and Pokemon, but look slightly deeper and you find a prolific, productive, and inventive electronic music scene. This is the first part in a series looking at Japanese electronic music, its evolution and its global impact.

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There's no shortage of Japanese music fans, and two of the most vocal in recent times are producers themselves - Canadian beatmaker Ryan Hemsworth and EDM heavyweight Porter Robinson. Pokemon revivalist and champion of all things Japanese, Hemsworth, has been spruiking the scene for a while now, releasing tracks with Sapporo producer, Qrion and earning an official remix from Tokyo's Taquwami. He told Thump in June that he is "pretty in love with most things Japan", adding that "The music is so strange and the cinema is so strange."

This love definitely extends to JPop singer Kyary Pamyu Pamyu. While Kyary Pamyu Pamyu is not an electronic artist, she's had a significant part in taking Japanese music outside of the country. The Japanese megastar has amassed almost 65 million YouTube views, however, she is relatively unknown here. Her latest album, Pika Pika Fantajin is the first to be picked up by Western media, including Vice who labelled her "the weird future this genre [JPop] desperately needs". The reason the rise of Kyary Pamyu Pamyu is significant for Japanese electronic music is that, in the case of many Japanese producers, pop and electronica form some kind of bizarre relationship.

Producers like AZUpubschool and Tofubeats make stylistic references to JPop both visually and sonically, treading the thin line between tastefully kitsch and tacky. Recently, enigmatic British producer SOPHIE announced a collaboration with Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, exemplifying how mainstream Japanese culture is being pulled into the alternative electronic scene of the West. It has also recently been showing parallels within the Western mainstream, with Avril Lavigne taking cues from the genre in her latest track Hello Kitty, but we'll strategically shy away from talking about that. Porter Robinson has also claimed to be obsessed with Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, adding her to a selfcurated Spotify Playlist last month. His Essential Mix for BBC was also full of Japanese producers including Avec Avec and fu_mou. With endorsement from producers like Porter, it's only a matter of time before promoters start yearning for Japanese producers to tour the country. Below are five producers covering the broad spectrum of electronic music in Japan right now:


QRION

Hailing from Japan's fourth largest city, Sapporo, Qrion is now probably most wellknown for featuring on Ryan Hemsworth's track, "Every Square Inch", released last month. There seems to be more of a backstory, however, with his SoundCloud packed with a steady slew of tracks released over the past two years, including remixes for TokiMonsta and Glitch. His latest release is an EP titled Sink, alluring for its warm, brooding synths and gentle guitarplucks. Japanese vocal samples run underneath, as per the title track, as if heralding back to traditional Geisha music. On Mizu he throws down a four-to-the-floor beat with deephouse keys, displaying a knowledge of what's currently in vogue in Western music while still maintaining distinctly Japanese stylings. The music is released via Sapporobased
record label, Sense, whose tightly curated homegrown roster is a poignant example of the strength of electronic music in the country.

AZUpubschool

AZUpubschool

is a producer from Kyoto who is churning out tunes that sound like Chicago House crossed with animeinspired synths. Classic house keys find themselves pulsating alongside glitchy and childlike synths with the tempo spiralling out of control; similar qualities to the stylings of a Japanese cartoon. Most of his tracks sit around the 140BPM mark and dazzle with highpitched vocal samples and relentless energy. It takes one listen of his latest EP,

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Angel Whim

, to start drawing comparisons to Australian producers like Wave Racer and LDRU in terms of the cascading percussion and Mario Landesque dreamscape. Interestingly, the enigmatic AZUpubschool released

Angel Whim

on independent Polish label Sequel One Records which signs predominantly Polish artists. He's also released music off Tokyo label, Maltine Records, which is fast becoming one of the country's most innovative outputs of electronic music.

Tofubeats

Another artist releasing music off Maltine Records is Tofubeats, who has recently been endorsed by Diplo. Earlier this month he provided an adventurous, JPop induced set for Diplo's BBC1Xtra show, Diplo and Friends. The Kobe based producer has a clear admiration for JPop as he oscillates between said genre and funk induced, skittering beats. Upon listening to his Soundcloud, you'd be forgiven for being slightly confused about his output. One minute he's remixing Parisian DJ Paraone with a smooth, R&B finesse and the next he's delivering a track titled, "God of Disco" which sounds like Japan's answer to Pharrell. It's energetic, bipolar music which exemplifies the very charm of Japan right now - a country that can tread a very fine, beautiful line between kitsch and cool.
Taquwami

Tokyo-based producer Taquwami is another beatsmith heralded by Ryan Hemsworth. Hemsworth is such a fan that he included his remix of "Perfectly" on his 2013 EP, Still Awake. In terms of style, Taquwami's production resonates best with Hemsworth's brand of sprawling, hip hop-inspired music. Unlike many Japanese producers, Taquwami is careful and subtle, often creating sparse
soundscapes with the occasional irregular noise. His latest track, "Kamakura", is exactly that. A bubbling synth sits atop an affecting yet irregular bass, creating a soundscape that's clearly intended to be listened to the way you would a producer like Flying Lotus, rather than being spun in a club. Think Lapalux and Nosaj Thing rather than JPop and anarchy.

Mii

Tokyo producer

Mii

has clearly caught wind of Porter Robinson's admiration for Japanese music. Her remix of his track "Sad Machine", from his forthcoming album

Worlds

, is her most played track, yet oddly she sounds the least like a Japanese producer of all the artists featured here. Her heavy assault of dubstep sounds sit somewhere between Knife Party and the Tekken soundtrack. Rather than drawing on references to Japanese anime and JPop, she rallies together the intensity of arcade shooting games alongside rowdy warehouse parties to craft a sound that's both thrilling and uncomfortable. She's just released a mini-album,

Textural Nightmare

, which is her heaviest output yet. Perhaps somewhat unsurprisingly, she's releasing music through an independent Tokyo label called Murder Channel.

Sam Murphy listens to music in multiple time-zones and is up to date in both hemispheres. He writes for The Interns, who are bringing us this ongoing series on Japanese Electronic Music