THUMP Investigates Japanese Electronica, Part 3: Japan's Influence On Western Music
The third and final chapter of THUMP Investigates Japanese electronica series.
Nostalgia is one of the most powerful forces in music and it seems for a generation that grew up on Pokemon, Tamagotchis and Nintendo, we're once again experiencing a fascination with Japanese culture. In the early 2000s when Gen Y was in their formative years, R&B was in vogue, as was anime. Kitsch was fashionable, and Japan had a lot to give. More than a decade later Gen Y is now producing music rather than just consuming it and, like deja vu, R&B music has experienced a revival and the music world is beginning to look to Japan for inspiration once again.
Electronic music's constantly evolving state means that it's often the first genre to display new trends. There are two trends that are emerging fast within the genre and that is the mesh of electronic music with early 2000s R&B stylings and the reference of both Japanese music and culture. According to a 2013 IFPI Digital Music report, Japan is on its way to becoming the most profitable music market overseas and a continuing infiltration into Western culture can only help that.
Two current producers that are explicitly influenced by Japanese producers and the surrounding aesthetic is Ryan Hemsworth and Porter Robinson. You only have to glance at Canadian producer Hemsworth's instagram profile to see that Japan's strong kawaii culture has had an influence on him. He regularly uses the peace symbol, posts Nintendo characters and has a growing Pokemon collection. His visual references are only part of his self-confessed obsession with Japan with the producer openly admitting its influence on his music.
This year, he told THUMP, "I'm just stuck on Japan for some reason". On his debut album, Guilt Trips, he had a song named after anime character Yaeko Mitamura and earlier this year released a track with Japanese producer, Qrion that saw Hemsworth's atmospheric, RnB production meet a world of smiling synths and video-game beats, courtesy of the Japanese native. Despite not working with any Japanese producers, his debut album melded together the bouncing beats and fast-paced, video-game-like tempos just like Japanese producers AZUPubSchool and Cornelius.
The defining mark of Japanese electronica right now is the way its producers effortlessly combine the kitsch with the contemporary while borrowing elements from every genre. Hemsworth also does that. "Ryan Must Be Destroyed" harks back to late '90s Nintendo games both with its title and its sound but it also has a hip-hop stature and cascading beats that have become the norm in contemporary electronica.
J-Pop phenomenon Kyary Pamyu Pamyu is fast becoming one of the most influential figures for Western electronic producers. Her latest album, Pika Pika Fantajin, is the first to be given a local release in a number of countries other than Japan, including Australia and many, including Hemsworth, are dropping her name as one the most innovative figures in music right now.
Another Pamyu Pamyu champion, American producer Porter Robinson, whose latest release, Worlds, is heavily influenced by Japan. Robinson recently told THUMP that his fascination with Japanese dance music stems from growing up with Dance Dance Revolution. "It was the first electronic music I ever heard", he said. "I realise that the music that holds the greatest significance to me is the stuff that makes me feel nostalgic", he continues.
Japanese dance music, as explored in part one, combines the video game-like soundscapes with j-pop references and anime visual references and Porter Robinson has done the same on Worlds. On Flicker he lays down a robotic, Japanese vocal sample on top of a sprawling game-inspired soundscape which compliments in with a colourful, distorted video clip that blurs the lines of reality. Japan has always been remarkably inspired by worlds created by technology and as we move into an age where the majority of people grew up with the internet, the rest of the planet is beginning to resonate with that concept.
While Hemsworth and Robinson are two of the most vocal endorsers of Japan, there are a number of labels releasing music inspired by both Japanese culture and its burgeoning producers. Below are three of them:
While this other-worldly label's introduction to the music world has been met with slight confusion, it seems that the Japanese are the most equipped to handle the candy-flavoured tunes of PC Music on their palette. Like Japanese dance music, the label's releases are born in a world of hyper-reality. Their visuals are bright and computer-generated and the music runs at a manic-pace, inspired by the world as seen through the lens of the internet and nostalgia. A.G. Cook's bizarre, rave cuts draw similarities to Pa's Lam System's I'm Coming and a number of other releases of influential Japanese label, Maltine. Both labels are releasing music that seem detached of human soul but are able to connect by the sheer fact that many music consumers spend more time connected to the internet than experiencing the world without it.
Glasgow label Numbers churns out a diverse range of electronic music, but much of its current output has harked back to that hyperreality formed by Japanese producers. The most explicit example to use is enigmatic British producer, SOPHIE, who is making music that sounds like an audible Candy Crush with bubblegum beats and sporadic synths that bleed colour. SOPHIE's music is as kawaii as they come, mixing J-pop's strange feel for melody with sudden bursts or rave music as if sampled directly from Dance Dance Revolution. Images of Hello Kitty are immediately recalled as is the multi-coloured world created by Kyary Pamyu Pamyu. The producer is even writing music for the Japanese queen of kawaii currently.
Moving Castle is a kawaii/future-bass collective founded by producers AO Beats, Manilla Killa, Hunt for the Breeze and Robokid. They've released two compilations on SoundCloud which fuse together R&B with cascading beats and trap flavours. It's then peppered with high-pitch vocals and smoothed-out, bubblegum instrumentation which induces that kuwaii feel. Hunt for the Breeze and Manilla Killa's remix of Mariah Carey's "You're Mine" imagines an anime landscape with beats that bubble and pop and cascading beats that speed up the tempo. A similar sound is channelled on Robokid's remix of Timashe's "2 On", where he manipulates the vocal into chipmunk territory, combining the cute with the sexy and the kitsch with the sophisticated. By combining R&B music and Japanese culture, Moving Castle is showing it's acutely aware of the arising musical climate.