Wednesday 19 August 2015

Looprider interview

To coincide with the release of Looprider's debut mini-album My Electric Fantasy, I sat down with the band's leader and creative driving force Ryotaro Aoki to listen to music, talk about his work with Looprider, and explore some of the process and context behind the music.

As the interview begins, we’re listening to the new EP by Nagasaki alternative/art-punk band Mechaniphone.

RYOTARO: This makes me feel nostalgic somehow.

IAN: There’s something of Afrirampo to it. It’s amazing to think of it but their album Urusa In Japan was ten years ago now.


IAN: I remember at the time thinking, “I wonder when a Tokyo version of this will happen...” but whenever a Tokyo band tried to do something with that combination of artistry and wild abandon, it always felt kind of posed.

RYOTARO: I guess Nisennenmondai was the Tokyo equivalent at that time.

IAN: In terms of the scene, yeah, maybe, but they never had the humour. When Tokyo bands try to be funny it feels wrong. Unnatural.

RYOTARO: But this isn’t really funny music either.

IAN: No. I guess Tacobonds, Worst Taste, all those “Panicsmile’s children” bands – they were Tokyo’s answer to the Kansai scene. They’re all closer to this. It’s interesting in a way how a lot of the best stuff at Fuji Rock this year was kind of leftovers from the mid-2000s Kansai scene. Oshiripenpenz, and then Moon Mama, which is Pika from Afrirampo’s new stuff.

RYOTARO: All this is very nostalgic for me. I saw Afrirampo in 2005 and thought they were hot as shit. Then I saw them near the time they broke up and it felt dead. The show was good, but something was done. My formative experience of going to live houses was in that period when Afrirampo was hot as shit, and then it kind of died. Something really happened in those years.

IAN: And since then, you’ve been raging against the lack of that “something”!

RYOTARO: That’s a big part of it, right? The beauty of Afrirampo was that they were kind of innocent about what they did. They put out a nude photobook and people got mad, like, “What are you doing?” It was just another outlet for what they were doing with their creativity, but people didn’t get it.

IAN: Nowadays, I think something like that would mean something different. It would just be this reductive, blandly accepted thing now, like, “Oh, they did a gravure nude thing. Of course they would: they’re hot girls.” They did it before the idol thing came and ruined that for everyone.

RYOTARO: I think all those bands from the early 2000s painted a kind of idealised version of what Japanese alternative music is for me.

IAN: I wonder how much of that was the context. Like, it would be difficult to make that work now.

RYOTARO: Yeah. It’s not just the sound. Bands like Melt Banana, Boris, all these bands I found in high school in the States, I had no context, just that people were talking about them on message boards. I pictured this diverse scene where all these bands existed, but then actually being here and seeing them, and talking to them, I understood that they left here because they didn’t fit in. Afrirampo maybe had a bigger following, but Melt Banana certainly didn’t.

IAN: So all these bands in a way had one foot overseas. Your entry into the Japanese music scene was kind of a foreigner’s entry point.

RYOTARO: Totally. We joke about it. When The Mornings were at South By Southwest, everyone was like, “Oh, you’re from Japan? Do you know Envy?” to them apparently – I’d totally have been one of those people! After playing here a while, you realise no one really likes those bands.

IAN: On the surface, though, Looprider wouldn’t seem to have much to do with this stuff.

RYOTARO: Yeah, there’s no influence from Afrirampo or Nissennenmondai on surface. It was the range – metal, shoegaze, tribal stuff – and naively I thought it was all connected in this wide, openminded scene, but actually it’s all very compartmentalised.

IAN: There's a bit of an attitude of "Why throw together so many influences on one record?"

RYOTARO: It’s my idealised version of music. I would get people who’d listen to two songs and they’d be like, “Is this the same band?” and to me that seems very strange.

IAN: So when you organise your own events, you have to sort of construct a context in which your music makes sense.

RYOTARO: I don’t like to do events that are just all the same kinds of bands. In Tokyo there’s a lot of that, and it’s natural and logical in that context. I just don’t think music should be logical all the time. I like it to be fucked up.

IAN: You seem to seek out bands that represent elements of things that you try to synthesise in Looprider though. Something pop, something heavy, something distorted and ethereal.

RYOTARO: Part of me always wants to take two different things and show they’re not that different actually. Shoegaze and metal aren’t that different texturally, but they just have these aesthetic sides that make them seem different.

IAN: When I DJ it ‘s like that sometimes. It’s like a game, to take you from here to here by the shortest route. I like to take people on a journey that seems like a natural progression at the time but by the end of it, you can’t remember how you got there.

RYOTARO: I think bands should take you on a journey – not just on record but over their career. My favourite bands do that – Smashing Pumpkins for example – and a lot of the bands I’m kind of railing against with this album don’t do that. Every band will have a narrative ultimately, but how interesting it is depends partly on how aware they are about what they’re doing.

IAN: So whether the band chooses to take you somewhere.

RYOTARO: Yeah, whether they’re aware of what they’re doing and the context of what they’re doing this stuff in. I think it’s a waste for a band to just say, “Hey, let’s just play some music and have fun!”

IAN: That’s what most bands would say.

RYOTARO: And it’s not a bad thing. It should be the ideal way it happens, but at the same time, that’s not the reality. Bands don’t exist in a vacuum, and if you’re not careful, it starts to seem like a pose, “Oh, we don’t care about what everyone else does.” I think bands should care.

IAN: If you take that pose, you’re missing all the ways you’re being unconsciously influenced by the stuff around you and not taking control of it.

RYOTARO: To me, a lot of it’s about aesthetics and context. Two bands may seem different, but when you look into it, the only thing that’s different is how they dress, how they stand on stage, the bands they associate with. And the context thing: playing hardcore at a hardcore venue in front of hardcore fans isn’t very hardcore. I saw Boris when All Tomorrow’s Parties came to Japan for I’ll Be Your Mirror at Studio Coast. They’d just put out an album on Avex, and they played on the main stage with a bill that was like, Haino Keiji, Melt Banana, Godspeed You Black Emperor. Their Avex album was their “J-pop” album though, so they played stuff from that album, and the people who were there hated it, because they were noise/experimental fans and they were expecting Boris to do their noise thing. Haino was in the small tent at the same time, and everyone went out to see him. I’m sure Boris played that set to piss everyone off, because the point of noise and punk is to push people’s buttons. So you get into this argument about what’s more challenging: Haino playing experimental music to experimental music fans, or Boris who played all this visual-kei music to all these people who hang out at Ochiai Soup?

IAN: But that can be an excuse too. This contrarian, “Isn’t pop music the real punk?” position that just ends up reinforcing pop’s hegemony?

RYOTARO: Yeah. But Boris aren’t really that kind of band. The next thing they did was an ambient shoegaze thing after that, then a 70s style rock album, then like three noise albums. Context again.

IAN: So Boris does doom metal, J-pop, then shoegaze, and then you call your band Looprider, which is a Boris song. You like Boris?

RYOTARO: I like Boris a lot.

IAN: But Looprider is part of the music scene in Tokyo right now, not floating in this international space. How does it relate to the current scene?

RYOTARO: It’s everything that’s not popular right now. Right now it’s all about city pop and tote bags and being happy and having the time of your life. Everything’s like, “the best thing ever”. And it’s weird because it changed really quickly from the shows I was going to just 5 years ago.

IAN: The earthquake. People wanted to be happy after the disaster.

RYOTARO: That may be something to do with it. Ten years ago was all this post-Number Girl/Supercar/Quruli stuff, and the remnants seeped into the Tokyo live house scene. Back then you could start seeing the Number Girl children coming together, like in the Tokyo New Wave 2010 compilation, and then, Boom! It was gone. But this is completely subjective – it’s how I’ve experienced it.

IAN: What you hear now has been stripped of what made it feel radical.

RYOTARO: It doesn’t mean anything now, and that happens all the time.

IAN: Like 60s revival in early 80s. We’d had punk since then so when stuff like The Rain Parade came out, it all sounded twee rather than raw and dangerous.

RYOTARO: Yeah. I feel like there’s a way you’re supposed to operate as an indie/alternative band that was established in the Number Girl/Quruli days, around and just after 2000. You play at venues, pay noruma, go to uchiage, get to know bands. Very formulaic. I do all that stuff and I’m ok with it, but I have a lot of problems with it too.

IAN: The whole hierarchy thing.

RYOTARO: Yeah, the hierarchy and just the sucking people’s dicks. Not just sucking dicks, but the Japanese way of sucking someone’s dick.

IAN: What, like you apologise first?

RYOTARO: Yeah, “Sumimasen...!” – these mainstream Japanese social values that you’d have thought the underground scene wouldn’t need or care about. You’d think people would be more openminded and could get past that, but actually it might be stronger in certain areas of the scene. My issue with the openmindedness goes back to “Why do you have a pop song and a metal song on the same album?” It’s like, “Why not?” I mean, “Why are you asking? Does it make you feel uncomfortable?”

[We put on the Looprider album at this point]

IAN: Tokyo has a particular way of doing stuff. It’s full of great music but always filtered in the same way and that makes even new things feel familiar somehow. When I was going round Kyushu managing the Umez tour, I wrote ten songs and when I looked back, I realised they were all about wanting to escape Tokyo.

RYOTARO: On my album too, looking back, a lot of it’s about leaving or something ending: this element of killing my old self. Killing off the person who played in that scene that I didn’t feel comfortable in.

IAN: Washing the taste of all the dicks out of your mouth?

RYOTARO: Haha! Yeah. I tried really hard to fit into that scene but I couldn’t do it. I wasn’t good enough at sucking dicks.

IAN: Umez are on your album too, right?

RYOTARO: Oh yeah. They were super-important for me. The way this band started was that my old band [Sweet Vespa Sweet] dissolved and I was like, “Fuck, what do I do?” so I started doing things by myself, but it was half-assed and didn’t sound good to me, and by that point I was like, “This isn’t happening,” and I was thinking about not doing it anymore. But then I saw Umez at Ebisu Batica. You guys were talking about them and saying how good they were, so I went to see them, and they played their regular set where they do their noise thing and then the “songs” and it was like a smack in the face – they were doing the music I wanted to make, but they were also doing this other thing that was just noise, and they were doing it in the same set, and they didn’t look like they cared. They played Goodbye My Friend and I was like, “Wow, that’s a good song!” and so Farewell was like my reply to that song. It felt like they were saying to me “It’s OK to do noise and pop at the same time,” and then Niiyan was doing these epic guitar solos, and it all seemed so right, so perfect for me. The first moment I saw them, everything felt OK. I hadn’t felt like that since seeing Afrirampo in 2005. If it wasn’t for Umez, I wouldn’t have made this album, so it was super-important to me to have the both of them on it.

IAN: If I release something by Umez now, this’ll set it up nicely! It’s like Rockin’ On, setting bands up in the magazine, then putting them out and promoting them.

RYOTARO: No, man, it’s like Marvel! This is like when Black Widow appears in Iron Man 2! Actually comics are an important thing in understanding this album too. I’m a huge comic book fan, and comics are stupid and confusing.

IAN: So you made an album that’s stupid and confusing?

RYOTARO: It’s true though, right? I don’t agree with how you have to make things easy to understand for people. You know what I mean?

IAN: At the same time, you’re very aware of where your music sits in relation to people’s expectations.

RYOTARO: It’s confusing on purpose.

IAN: Right. You don’t just “make music that you like”: you’re thinking about what you want.

RYOTARO: But at the same time, I shouldn’t give myself too much credit. It is just a stupid rock album.

IAN: You think there’s some element of just you post-rationalising your stupid decisions by coming up with elaborate reasons after it’s too late?


IAN: But it’s true though, yeah? You can do both. You can make music for yourself, but the side of yourself you make music for can be influenced by so many factors depending on context.

[End of Dronelove, Kill La comes on. Ryotaro bursts out laughing]

RYOTARO: And there’s Charlotte [from Merpeoples] in the background!

IAN: That’s Charlotte? When I first heard it, I remember thinking the most badass thing in this track is that, “What the fuck! Is that a trumpet?”

RYOTARO: Ha! And that’s Charlotte. Now I regret not putting in trumpets.

IAN: But then you wouldn’t have needed Charlotte. Merpeoples were another important band for you, right?

RYOTARO: Yeah. Merpeoples to me seemed like they were just being themselves and they didn’t care if what they were doing was cool in the scene or not.

IAN: And I think it’s sad, but I feel like they lost that and losing that naturalness feels to me like kind of what destroyed them.

RYOTARO: Definitely. They started to worry about exactly what I was worrying about before. It didn’t work out for me, and I don’t think it worked for them. A lot of this album has to do with reclaiming for myself that sense of not worrying. And what’s ironic about that is that this is probably the most commercial sounding thing I’ve ever done. Maybe Sweet Vespa Sweet, but then we only did one song.

[Satellite is playing now, and a distinctive sounding guitar solo comes on.]

IAN: OK, and this bit is Niiyan from Umez, right? His guitar solos are so recognisable.

RYOTARO: His guitar is so sweet.

IAN: Guitar solos are a rare art in the Japanese indie scene. They feel like the preserve of really cheesy rock bands.

RYOTARO: When I played your birthday party, Kazuma [from Bombs & Triggers/The French Kissingers] came up to me and said, “I like your guitar solos. They’re not cheesy!” At the same time, I was like, “Really?”

IAN: Yeah, your solos are really cheesy. When I was listening to Sharkk, you can always hear, “Oh, here comes Ryotaro.”

RYOTARO: Guitar solos are really fun though. I don’t understand. There is this sort of visceral thing about guitar solos.

[The solo in Thunderbolt comes on. We rock out for a bit]

RYOTARO: I mean Van Halen, Boston! Please mention how much I love Boston.

[The song finishes]

RYOTARO: Stupid fucking album!

[Farewell comes on]

RYOTARO: I don’t trust people who say they like this song on the album.

IAN: Like how I don’t trust people who say they like Hysteric Picnic on my label. They’re a great band, but if they’re the only band you like, then you like them for the wrong reason!

RYOTARO: Exactly! This song is me saying to everything that I hate, “Fuck you, here’s what you want. I’m leaving!” At least, in the context of the album. It’s a tribute to that Umez song, but at the same time, if this is the only song someone likes, I don’t think they get it.

IAN: I threw my back out playing air guitar to this track the other week.

RYOTARO: A lot of people don’t understand when I say things like that: “Do you like this song? I don’t trust you!” The guitar sound is the same – I don’t see this as being so different. Then it gets into “Are the other songs too metal, or you like it because it has more shoegaze in it?” and the question of what does metal mean to you, what does shoegaze mean to you?

IAN: They’re bringing baggage from the music scene to your party. They’re failing to recognise the fresh context you’re trying to build up around the album.

RYOTARO: It all comes back to “Do you really listen to music?” which might be a horrible thing to say. And then it also goes back to people who say, “Let’s just play music. Let’s do it!” I mean, are they really saying that? It sounds like such a pure statement, but is it really something else? Perhaps they’re not really attracted to the music but to these things that are attached to it.

IAN: I think when people say, often with a smug aura of pride, “I just do the kind of music that makes me feel good. I don’t really analyse my music in such an intellectual way”, they’re nearly always unconsciously absorbing and regurgitating all sorts of really boring elements from the scene around them that they just haven’t bothered to recognise or question.

RYOTARO: So we’ve covered Umez, dicks, guitar solos... what else is there?

[We start listening to Madame Edwarda – a Japanese goth band from 1986]

RYOTARO: So this is what I should sound like in two years.

IAN: Yeah, so you’ve already got your next few albums planned out – even written and recorded in some cases, right?

RYOTARO: Right. Next is hardcore and noise that I did with Sean [Sharkk], and Sachiko [Umez] will be on that for one track too. Then the one after that will be a long instrumental album, and then maybe after that will be a goth album I do by myself. And then there’ll be an accompanying album with a full band that’ll be heavy, cheesy rock. It’s like Marvel, man, planning up to phase 3!

IAN: So do you expect to have any fans left by this point?

RYOTARO: No, but by the end of it, I think it’ll be an interesting movie or book or whatever. I don’t want to be that band that makes the same album twice in a row!

IAN: What, Polysics?

RYOTARO: [Laughs] I don’t understand why more bands don’t do that. I guess because most bands are collective and the influences average each other out to something consistent. But movie directors do that, who’ll do loads of genres but there’ll be a thread that runs through it all.

IAN: Auteur theory.

RYOTARO: I’m a big fan of the auteur theory. It’s a bit of a cop out too though. Like, it doesn’t matter if it’s any good as long as it has an identity.

IAN: It’s almost better though – something that’s rubbish but has its own identity is better than something good that has nothing.

RYOTARO: I was talking to Eri from Chiina and she was saying if it was between having someone else writing their songs and being really famous and popular, and playing to small crowds and doing their own stuff, she’d choose the latter, because she’d know the songs were theirs.

IAN: It’s really about who music’s for. If it’s not rooted in something solid, it might as well just be a product serving a customer. It might as well just be owarai [comedy/entertainment industry].

RYOTARO: There’s two kinds of things going on in music here. A lot of it’s just, “Listen to my feelings,” and that’s OK as long as there’s some other element. Otherwise it’s just someone’s boring Facebook feed. You get lots of people with acoustic guitars around Shimokitazawa like that and it sounds horrible. At the same time, I really think rock music shouldn’t be entertainment. I don’t think rock bands need to “serve” their audience. It’s OK with pop music to be like that, but it’s counterintuitive to what rock music is supposed to be. It’s really weird when you go to Rock in Japan and you have these rock bands “serving” an audience and that mentality’s kind of trickled into the live house scene as well.

IAN: That’s what “Call And Response” really means. It’s the relationship between bands and audience: we’ll meet you halfway, but you’ve got to do some work as well.

RYOTARO: When you’re making music, the watchword so often is “wakariyasui”, “let’s make it easy to understand”. But when you make music “wakariyasui”, what does that mean?

IAN: I think it goes back to the “I just make music for me” bands. As soon as the chance comes up, they’ll sell out everything just like that – they don’t think about their music so they have nothing to ground them when the music industry comes calling. It’s like you say in your album jacket, “If you don’t stand for something…”

RYOTARO: “’ll fall for anything.”

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