This article was originally published in THUMP UK.
For a period of time, Japanese anime swept the world in the form of Pokémon. School kids saw their card collection as a reflection of their status in the playground, and Sunday mornings consisted of back to back episodes of watching the TV show. Japanese genius Hayao Miyazaki, whose films are eulogised in the recent canon of animation, is one of the better known exponents of global Japanese culture in the West, but the continued fascination with Japan has blossomed in recent years in electronic pop music too; the pique in producers' interest in the saccharine world of J-pop, a genre heavily binded within and manifested by the digital age.
One such producer is Ryan Hemsworth, who is open about his love for everything Japanese and digital, regularly tweeting laptop selfies and recently a photo of his Pokémon cuddly toys that he was going to take on tour with him. Following his Juno Award for Electronic Album of the Year, he's back in London to work with Trim in the studio for Oneman's upcoming Solitaire Vol. 3, and is set to perform at Field Day this Saturday.
THUMP: You have an open fascination with J-pop, recently remixing Hachioji P and including several tracks on your Cool Mix from earlier in the year. Where did your relationship with it begin?
Ryan Hemsworth: I'm pretty in love with most things Japan. I was put onto a lot of Japanese horror movies when I was 13 by my older cousin, and just got obsessed with that. To me, I'm fully romanticising that world, but it feels detached from everything that goes on in my life. The music is so strange and the cinema is so strange. I just find it fascinating. Also, around that time, I was really getting into finding weird shit on blogs, and digging on the internet. I don't know that much about J-pop, I'm just really obsessed with singers like Kyary Pamyu Pamyu.
She worked with SOPHIE recently didn't she?
Yeah, which is mind blowing for me.
As well as that, Timbaland and Nile Rogers have both been working with J-pop stars—what do you make of this culture blurring?
There's a lot of weird shit on SoundCloud where producers make their name out of Japanese characters and don't really know anything. I try to avoid that the best I can. I feel like I'm genuinely interested and try to be respectful of anything in Japan or Korea. There's definitely a lot of that going on. It's sort of a backlash of a lot of the weird SoundCloud trends with these bedroom producers making trap, like the Sadboys crew.
Are you fan of them?
I honestly like Yung Lean a lot, and Yung Gud one of his producers is one of my favourites, but it's just such a bold movement. It's like whoever's following that or trying to tag themselves onto it is not the best look.
Have you actually been to Japan then?
No, but I'm going there for the first time in October.
Are you scared that it might ruin all your preconceptions of what it's like?
No, I think it's going to be better than I'm imagining and I'm going to be depressed to come home. I'm prepared to show up and be completely lost in translation; not know what's going on, not know where to go or what to do, but that's also exciting to me as well—just to be completely amidst the chaos. But to me, I actually have a personal attachment because there are all of these producers that I've been talking with and working with, so I'm excited to follow them around and see what their lives are like.
J-pop has a very specific sound and aesthetic—something that is not really replicated in Western music. How do you relate to it on a personal level?
There's this label called Maltine Records, which is this huge database. They have over 100 free releases on it. That's the site I found a couple of years ago and got me really interested in finding all of these weird little producers who have full EPs of original music. Kids who are, in essence, the same as me: staying at home and making stuff, but sounds totally different. It's really refreshing. Some of the tracks use the Lex Luger trap sounds, but you can tell it's them not fully understanding the way America producers use it. Even when they're using the most over-used sounds, it still sounds refreshing.
Do you have the same interest in K-pop?
I'm trying to fully catch up with it all. I'm definitely just an outsider looking in, trying to digest it and understand. I'm just stuck on Japan for some reason. I haven't been introduced to much K-pop. I know G-Dragon is affiliated with K-pop, but I don't know if it's pop though. That's the weird thing. The pop music there has elements of metal and dubstep, and it's considered pop. America is kind of catching up to that, like how Katy Perry uses trap, but that's just an example of why it's so weird.
Your tour music strikes me as very much a product of the digital age—is it reductive to say that?
I make all my stuff on a laptop, although nowadays I'm trying to incorporate more live elements, but it's all still being processed through my computer. In my brain, I have all these references of different things I've listened to on my computer—or found on my computer.
That's what my sound has become elements of, I should throw in this thing that sounds like a Timbaland snare, or I should put this guitar in that sounds like a Strokes riff. To me, it's like all these different pieces coming together in a weird way. That's what I'm trying to do for my next EP. Trying to find that middle ground of electronic and indie rock that I grew up on, and R&B, and meld that in a non-awkward way.
Can you explain the concept behind your new Soundcloud channel Secret Songs?
The tracks up there at the moment are by people that I was aware of for a while. When I find music that I like, I reach out to the artist and I'm like, You're awesome, do you want to share music, and then after a long time of doing that, I realised that as much as I liked the feeling of putting the songs into my mixes, releasing them as exclusive tracks as a more direct way. It made sense. Everyone's really interested in being involved. It's come together really well so far.
Do you spend a lot of time trawling SoundCloud then?
Yeah, I totally love that. Just listening to one Soundcloud that you like, and then seeing who they follow and finding some random remix of another song that sounds amazing then you follow that person. Falling down that rabbit hole at 3AM is my favourite feeling.