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Thursday, Aug. 4, 2011

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Special to The Japan Times

What are your first impressions of Japan?

It's been amazing. But, it's pretty wet to be honest. And humid, which I didn't expect! It's also kind of crazy being in the mountains. I felt kind of car sick on the way here because we were just driving round and round the bends. I haven't actually managed to see any of the sites yet though, just the press area. Ha ha, I hear there are some stages and music over that way.

Will you do a live set or a DJ set tonight?

Live. A live drum kit, and I play all the electronic gear. Sampha is on vocals and he'll play some drums, too.

Have you ever played a festival like this before?

Lineup-wise it looks a lot like Glastonbury or Bestival (in England) in that it's got rock headliners and some dance-music stages. I was reading about Fuji Rock and understand there is a tent with a capacity for about 5,000 people (talking about the Red Marquee where he will play later), so it sounds pretty cool. Dance music always sounds better in tents because it closes off the bass and you don't lose it all into the crowd. The only time I like dance music on a big stage outside is really late at night with big lasers and stuff, but during the daytime it's wrong.

I have no idea what to expect from a Japanese crowd because I've never played to one. It seems like quite a leftfield lineup tonight — obviously two of us are on Young Turks (SBTRKT and Jamie xx who plays later on). And we played with Four Tet two weeks ago in New York at the Museum of Modern Art, so yeah I'm quite excited about it. Musically, I don't think you can fault it.

How did you make the shift from DJing to just a live set?

Well both of us learn and play instruments by ourselves, like keyboards and drums — we both multitask even when we're creating the tracks, Sampha will play keys while he's singing and so on. So, the live show is really an extension of how we write tracks in the studio. It's more experimenting in a way — we get more excited doing that than just repeating the songs as they are on the record. Everything would feel like the movie "Groundhog Day" then, going from one place to another and playing the same set every time. As a DJ you can play whatever you like and every time play different stuff in a different order, and in a new way. That's why being a DJ is exciting. So for the live thing, I wanted to try and translate that part of it, but not necessarily stay too "electronic." For me watching music is a personal experience, I want to see something a bit more visual, where you can see something being built up as opposed to someone just pushing buttons. That's why I brought in the drum kit and Sampha plays the keyboards, and we loop up vocals and just end up experimenting and jamming. Sometimes we even wind up writing new songs while we're playing, and it's funny because we can't remember them after the gig — we have to hear recordings of the show to know what we did!

You've worked with lots of different vocalists up till now (Sampha, Jessie Ware, etc.). What do you look for in a vocalist?

For me it's about finding someone who has a unique identity and someone who is adaptable to different things. I like every type of music, and if I find vocalists who are in tune with different styles, from indie to rock to dubstep to hip-hop to soul, then I know that they can come up with musically intriguing ideas beyond, "I like Stevie Wonder so I'm gonna sing like Stevie Wonder" which then just gets plonked on top of what I do.

I never like writing a song, giving it to someone and then telling them to send it back to me. It'll end up more like a "feature," with the producer and the vocalist, and the listener can hear it straight away. For example, Sampha on his own has a very distinct style, but when he works with me it's totally different — vocally he's in a different world to how he makes his own music. Same with Little Dragon, I think (the collaboration) pushed them outside their usual zone, so although some people who like "Wildfire" might not like other stuff by Little Dragon, hopefully it's more the case that some people will discover new stuff.

Did Drake's re-edit of "Wildfire" surprise you?

I heard from the label that he was really feeling the beats and the production, and then suddenly they said he wanted to do a version of "Wildfire," and then he basically just did it — I didn't say yes or no! And then I heard, "He's putting it up on his blog tomorrow" — and I hadn't even heard it yet! I heard it the same way that everyone else did, from his website.

I saw that Drake had sent a tweet about him starting his world tour in November, so I asked, "Do you want a support band?" and he tweeted back saying, "Yeah, the world needs this!" So from that I invited him down to our show in Toronto — I didn't know if he'd do it, but then five minutes before the show someone told me he arrived with his massive crowd-dispersing entourage at the back. I find it inspiring to see an artist of that level who's listening to new music and finding stuff that's not in the mainstream or in the public eye, stuff that's still below the radar.

There are lots of tunes on the LP that are perhaps a bit "poppier" than your previous work, do you see yourself going in a certain direction from here on out?

I'm not really a fan of "genrefied" music, because that means you're just following what other people are doing. For me, the point of the album was creating something that's a unique vision of what I think about music, and saying: "This is how I see electronic music and vocals and songs fitting together." It was never a pop thing. It was just about making something that's well arranged. Arrangement is key in everything I do — I always want a beginning, end, middle 8, bridge, and so on — rather than it being five minutes of elongated loops and rising pads ... it's all about creating a whole song, which is my stance on the electronic genre.

I suppose my music is more accessible purely because there is a vocal element, and I don't overcomplicate things. It's very accessible, in a format that anyone, not just DJs, can understand. I try and simplify the production as well — I really like simplicity, having one bass, one synth, one drum sound — and every track is different.

Does the mask draw any inspiration from "Spirited Away" or the Ghibli films?

It's funny because someone just came up to me and said, "Kaonashi!" It's more of a tribal thing, but yeah the Ghibli films are definitely one of my initial inspirations for it. The films are a massive inspiration for me, there are some really deep meanings to some of the plots — and mad imagery. I think that's where I see it fitting in with my music — I think electronic music is very much about making this imaginary world and creating something different to a rock band or singer-songwriter, who tell stories about their own life or something situation-based, whereas what I do is create a make-believe world. The "Look At Stars" video actually had a direct reference to that. The same with "Wildfire" — our idea was to make it like a weird, Korean horror film.

The funny thing is though, the Ghibli music tends to be really cheesy, I don't really like it. I can imagine a Ghibli movie having the weirdest, deepest, craziest soundtrack ... and I would love to work with them and make it!

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