Catching up with tofubeats for Metropolis Magazine
Caught up with one of my favorite artists tofubeats for my first-ever magazine cover story, for Metropolis Magazine:
Yusuke Kawai grew up just outside of Kobe in a “new town,” the Japanese term for a planned community. Kawai, who records music under the name tofubeats, describes his government-developed hometown: “There’s no city center and no local shopping streets like in other towns. Every station has similarly designed shopping malls, just with different names.” They were ideal residential zones, with big-city vice swapped out for big-box chains and department stores. Kawai recalls the only cultural center of any sort being a music shop, rental store Tsutaya and second-hand shop Hard-Off.
“The new town was made from nothing, and so we didn’t really have any traditional festivals. To me, it was vacant. The new town didn’t really have its own uniqueness in Japan.”
Yet this space helped develop Kawai’s creativity and shaped his approach to music. As a teenager, he spent most of his time absorbing the CDs available at Tsutaya and used any other free time to hunt down new sounds on the internet. “I tried to find anything interesting around me, but there were always only ordinary things. And so I started to think that I have to remix what I had to make something new.” Kawai spliced up mainstream J-pop sounds and YouTube discoveries into a fidgety style, which helped him connect with like-minded people on message boards.
Writing about Nagoya’s industrial tourism for CNN
Over at CNN, wrote about Nagoya’s emerging industrial tourism sector:
Japan’s rise to global tech supremacy is legendary.
But few realize where the country’s important industrial sectors have some of their deepest roots.
That place is Aichi prefecture, west of Tokyo.
One of Aichi’s biggest claims is a key role in developing the Tokaido Shinkansen, the famed bullet train that changed Japanese business by making day trips across the country possible.
Writing about Toyomu and Ex Confusion for The Japan Times
Two new stories in The Japan Times this week. In the bigger of the two, I talked to electronic producer Toyomu about imagining Kanye West’s The Life Of Pablo and moving on from that.
American rapper Kanye West’s seventh album, “The Life Of Pablo,” felt inescapable when it emerged this past February. But that wasn’t the case in Japan. Streaming music service Tidal — which initially had exclusive rights to “Pablo” — isn’t available here.
This gave Toyomu Hayashi an idea. Unable to hear West’s latest, he decided to splice together his own version instead. The result was “Imagining ‘The Life Of Pablo,’ ” which the Kyoto trackmaker created based off a list of the samples used in West’s “Pablo,” by typing the rapper’s lyrics into his computer’s text-to-speech function, and by going on a gut feeling as to how West would’ve put it all together. He then uploaded his Frankenstein album onto his Bandcamp website, where it sat pretty much unnoticed for a month.
“Then one day I woke up and discovered I was featured on Complex, The Fader and Fact,” Hayashi, 26, says in his first in-person English interview. “I was going viral.”
I also talked to the ambient artist Ex Confusion, read that one here.
Writing about Yoshino Yoshikawa (and “kawaii” music”) for The Japan Times
For the Japan Times’ latest Sunday issue, I talked to electronic producer Yoshino Yoshikawa:
The Japanese word for cute, “kawaii,” has been popping up more and more in the English lexicon in recent years. From the popularity of Hello Kitty to singer Gwen Stefani’s new kawaii-filled cartoon “Kuu Kuu Harajuku,” being cute means making money, and it’s no different in the world of music.
Spurred by the global success of Harajuku model-turned-pop-star Kyary Pamyu Pamyu and the headbanging teens of Babymetal, Japanese acts that traffic in up-tempo beats and playful electronics can also expect to be labeled kawaii.
One such act is Tokyo-based producer Yoshino Yoshikawa. His songs are often described as cute by music critics and fellow creators (Canadian producer Ryan Hemsworth mashed-up a Yoshikawa track with one from rapper Danny Brown calling it “Kush Coma [Kawaii Yoshino Yoshikawa Version].”) And the label fits — some of Yoshikawa’s original works include “Kawaii Candy,” “Kawaii Macaron” and at least three cuts featuring the word “cat.”
Writing about Orange Milk Records and their Japanese artists for Bandcamp
Busy week! I talked to Keith Rankin from Orange Milk Records about the Japanese artists they’ve featured on their label.
It has been an eventful year for Takahide Higuchi, the artist who records sparse experimental music under the name Foodman (or, in his native Japanese, Shokuhin Matsuri). He’s just returned home after his first ever European tour, though he’ll be back on the road before the year ends, with several stops in North America. This past summer, he released a song via the Mad Decent sub-label Good Enuff, which usually dabbles in multi-layered EDM and trap. Foodman’s “Thicket,” though, threw a curveball at the Diplo devotees, with its copious use of blank space and its samples of snapped twigs. “This isn’t music…” is the phrase that best captures half of the comments responding to the song. The rest of them loved it.
Higuchi credits his success to his work with the New York/Ohio label Orange Milk Records. “After releasing my first album through Orange Milk in 2012, I got various release offers from various labels,” he says. “And the media started to write about me. Orange Milk was the trigger.”
Writing about Nagoya’s culinary offerings for CNN Travel
CNN Travel wanted to move a bit away from Tokyo and look at another city in Japan — Nagoya. I obliged by writing about their unique culinary offerings.
Japan’s Aichi prefecture has long been known for its automotive industry, anchored by homegrown car manufacturer Toyota.
Yet in recent years, the region has become just as celebrated for the food originating from Aichi’s capital city, Nagoya.
Fittingly, part of the charm of the metropolis’ cuisine is owing to an approach that’s also made the nearby automaker such a force.
Talking with Piko-taro, the man behind “Pen-Pineapple-Apple-Pen,” for The Japan Times
Really really happy with this one — I sat down with Piko-taro, the artist behind one of the year’s biggest viral hits with “Pen-Pineapple-Apple-Pen.” It was definitely a silly chat, but we also talked about slightly more serious stuff — his process to making music, being a long-obscure artist finally having his moment in the spotlight, and being referenced by The Chainsmokers.
Pikotaro still can’t believe it all. Two days before he sits down with The Japan Times, the performer saw that American DJ duo The Chainsmokers had changed their Twitter name to “Pineapple & Pen,” a nod to his song “PPAP.” That pair previously claimed YouTube’s most popular clip with “Closer” — until Pikotaro’s 45-second ditty took the top spot.
“Is that real? Is that really their account?” he asks me midway through our interview. I assure him that it’s authentic, and for a split second he looks surprised. Just another highlight in a surreal month.
Writing about collab cafes — and visiting Tokyo’s Ted Cafe & Bar — for Eater
Here’s a fun one for Eater — wrote about the wave of “collab cafes” that have sprung up across Japan, centered around the Ted Cafe & Bar that opened recently. Yeah, the bear.
People crowd around a giant stuffed toy, snapping photos and lining up to take a selfie with the super-sized version of Ted, the foul-mouthed bear from the film franchise of the same name. At the recently opened Ted Cafe and Bar, tucked away on the second floor of a building in Tokyo’s bustling Shibuya neighborhood, the venue is completely devoted to the Seth MacFarlane creation. It’s nearly full at 11 a.m. on a Wednesday, the only time I could get a reservation this week. I’ve come by myself, but the restaurant has kindly placed a Halloween-themed Ted in the chair across from me in what they dub the “VIP room,” so I’m never really alone.
Writing about Tokyo’s first Russian maid cafe for The Japan Times
Recently went to Tokyo’s first Russian maid cafe, and wrote about the experience for The Japan Times.
Twelve men sit in silence at a new cafe in Tokyo’s Shinjuku district as three women dressed in Russian attire start serving a sour-looking plate of borscht.
The men have each paid ¥15,000 to attend this soft opening of ItaCafe, which bills itself as the city’s first Russian maid cafe.
The general chit-chat you might expect to hear at a comparable Akihabara venue isn’t present at the soft opening on Oct. 16. Instead, it’s replaced by operatic background music and the shuffling of feet that comes courtesy of the press in attendance, who move around the diners to get a closer look at the chilled beet soup on the table in front of them.
Writing about YouTube channel Life Where I’m From and reviewing a compilation for The Japan Times
Two new articles in The Japan Times today, highlighted by an interview I did with the man behind Life Where I’m From, offering a kid’s perspective on everyday life in Japan.
Greg Lam’s YouTube channel Life Where I’m From started one morning with a simple idea.
“Honestly, my wife started cooking breakfast and I was like, ‘Hey, hold on, is it OK if I just capture this?’ ” The Canadian videographer recorded the most important meal of the day, with his elementary-school-age daughter, Aiko, explaining the finer details of preparing a Japanese omelette and eating natto.