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Thursday, Oct. 11, 2012

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Down the line: Stuart Howard, aka Lapalux, says he's moving away from "clean" sounds and toward things that are more lo-fi.

Lapalux, Taquwami tap into a West Coast sound


By MIKE SUNDA
Special to The Japan Times

LONDON — It's early on a Saturday evening at the 1-2-3-4 Shoreditch festival in London and Lapalux is taking the stage. He's only armed with a laptop, a MIDI controller and some select software, but the hundreds in the audience haven't shown up expecting a flashy light show; the music is more than enough to hold their attention.

Lapalux, whose real name is Stuart Howard, cycles freely between chopped-up, R&B-inflected dance tunes to up-tempo juke and ends with an improvised mashup of Aphex Twin and A$AP Rocky. There's a lot going on. So much so that it requires a lot of attention from the listener, but that doesn't come as a surprise — Howard is signed to the California-based Brainfeeder imprint, which is known for complex electronic tunes on the deeper end of the beat-music spectrum. Label owner Flying Lotus' recent full-length release, "Until the Quiet Comes," is already being acknowledged as one of the year's most demanding listens.

"I've always been a massive fan of 1990s hip-hop and that (West Coast) scene," says Howard, whose new EP "Some Other Time" is out in Japan on Oct. 16 and who will also play at Tokyo club Sound Museum Vision on Friday. He mentions rappers Cannibal Ox and beat-maker J-Dilla as examples, but adds that he's not a hip-hop snob: "I used to listen to Deftones and stuff like that. I like to have a really wide palette of different things." When I ask about some of his earliest purchases and just how far that palette extends, he laughs. "The first single I bought must have been (Canadian band) Bran Van 3000's 'Drinking in L.A.' on cassette tape. So embarrassing!"

"I've always thought that Brainfeeder had something unique about them and I wanted to be on their label ever since starting out. FlyLo rings me up sometimes — I'll send him bits and pieces and he'll send me pieces, and it's nice feeling like we're connected." But as Brainfeeder's only second-ever British signing, Howard could be forgiven for feeling distanced from the sunny climes of California that the majority of his labelmates call home.

Howard lives in Essex, just outside of London, and believes that the location has been a big influence on his music: "I think if I was in the city for too long I'd just run out of creativity because there's so much going on. I like to feel that I'm in control of my outside influences — when I want to see something or hear something new, I'll be the one that finds it instead of it finding me, so I like being out in the sticks really." Howard explains that the influence of locations can even be felt in his tracks, via the prominent use of field recordings. "I go out quite a lot with (a Tascam recorder), just getting textural sounds — people talking in stations or trees rustling their leaves — just stuff I can stick in the background to make it — it's a bit cliched — but more organic."

Though Howard's live setup is decidedly minimalist, the opposite is true of his recordings, which use a range of analog equipment to produce a distinctive lo-fi sound behind his tracks. "I can't really listen to 'clean' records anymore. I like my stuff lo-fi and gritty," explains Howard. "Lately, something I've been using a lot is a crappy tape recorder that I manipulated — I've got two Biros stuck to the spindles so I can reverse the tape through the playhead, and I took the front off the cassette tape as well so you can see what's going on in there and just lift up the tape while it's playing and stuff, so you get all these weird little artifacts."

Japanese track-maker Takumi Kuwahara, who goes by Taquwami, is another artist who'll be leaving plenty of equipment behind at his studio when he joins Clark and Lapalux at a Beatink event at Tokyo's club Vision on Friday. His most recent output on Void Youth — July's blissful "Blurrywonder" EP — was met with positive reviews from the kind of blogs that champion microgenres such as witch house and vaporwave.

Much like Howard, Kuwahara's tracks emphasize the instrumental in instrumental hip-hop, with guitars, electric piano and a number of synthesizers all key to his recordings. Indeed, he started playing guitar in high school, long before making music on a computer, but feels that a shift away from "band"-based compositions toward electronic music was inevitable not only for him but for others in Japan.

"Pop and rock music in Japan has become really dull — I like Japanese music but it's sad how few good bands there are about at the moment," he says.

In contrast, solo artists who record in their bedrooms have been supported by the global network that the Internet provides.

"Thanks to sites like SoundCloud and Bandcamp you can find out in real-time what sort of music is popular across the world. It's become easier to find out about takuroku (home/bedroom-recording) producers."

Kuwahara discovered the global network when one of his own tunes was picked up and included in Lapalux's mix for website XLR8R back in May, despite the two having had no prior correspondence.

Perhaps the benefits of an online presence outweigh those of belonging to physical scenes. Like Howard, Kuwahara lives in relatively quiet confines away from the city — Kawasaki, in his case. "Tokyo might have plenty of record shops and live venues, but apart from that 'convenience,' I don't feel like there's much there for me," he explains. "Rather, I feel most stimulated when I'm out somewhere in the countryside. I'm inspired by photographs and the weather," Kuwahara says. "I'm sad that the summer is coming to an end and I won't be able to see towering thunderclouds in the sky anymore." But if all goes well after his first major performance Friday, he might just be in for a really great winter.

Lapalux and Taquwami play with Clark, DJ Nobu and more at Sound Museum Vision in Shibuya, Tokyo, on Oct. 12 (11 p.m. start; ¥4,000 in advance, ¥4,500 at the door; [03] 5768-1277). For more information, visit www.beatink.com/Events/Clark-Lapalux12.

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