Shintaro Sakamoto is a true artist. And unlike many artists entering their 4th decade of performing, he shows no signs of slowing down creatively. His Friday Fuji Rock performance will no doubt prove him an artist still in his prime.
Having started producing her own music at an astonishingly early age (in grade five or grade six, by her recollection) 4s4ki released her first full album in 2020, and makes her Fuji Rock debut this year. I caught up with her via Zoom, to get a feel for where she is headed.
Tiernan: At what age did you first get interested in producing music?
4s4ki: It was in the fifth or sixth grade that I first made music by myself. When I was very young I played the Electone, but I couldn’t read sheet music, so I tried to learn songs by ear. Gradually, through that, I developed the ability to compose musical arrangements by ear. And, that’s how I started producing my own music, towards the end of elementary school.
Tiernan: Of course, since you are Japanese – and might write most of your lyrics in Japanese – I’d like to know which Japanese artists influenced your music. However, since I am introducing you to a western audience, I’d also like to know if there were any western influences on your musical debut.
4s4ki: I’d say I wanted to be a (music) producer from the get go, so people like Nakata Yasutaka and Porter Robinson were my greatest influences. Of course, they are primarily track makers, and they also perform in front of people.
Tiernan: I listened to some of your earliest tracks, and some of your most recent work. And, it seems to me that when you started out, your music was more gentle, but it seems to have gotten darker and harder as you went along. Is that correct, or how do you feel about this?
4s4ki: In the early stages, (I think) my skills were not good enough to express what I wanted to do. So, I was doing what I liked and what I could do at the time. However, over time, my skills developed – and I also liked Japanese anime songs – so, over time, those became an influence as my skills got better. And, you know, what you pointed out (about how I started off gentle and then became more agressive) is something I agree with.
Tiernan: I am a bit of a gear nerd, and I know there are many of us around the world. So, on behalf of all people like me, I’d like to ask you about your signal chain; from your choice of instruments, and microphones, to processors, etc. In short, could you please tell us about your favorite pieces of gear, as well as your signal chains, and processors that you like to use; from your sources to your software choices?
4s4ki: I use Logic, in terms of a DAW. I tried a few other DAW’s, but they never felt comfortable to me. I’m also a big fan of piano sounds, so I like using a MIDI piano which can get me a good piano sound. I’m not one to pay too much attention to the model names of my gear but, in terms of brands, I’m using an M-Audio keyboard with 61 keys, mostly, as well as a Blue mic. The mic was a gift, so I don’t really remember the model name. I am not much of a gear nerd. I’ll use whatever is in front of me – if it feels good – and do whatever I can with it.
Tiernan: I hear that Björk has a similar approach….
4s4ki: Yeah, and I hear that Grimes makes her own sounds as well, so that’s what I aspire to do.
Tiernan: Could you please tell me some of your favorite songs that you’d like to present – particularly – to western audiences?
4s4ki: This July (2021) I released an album called “Castle in Madness” on which you can find a track called “Obon,”; about the Japanese festival of the same name, to honor one’s departed loved ones. And, I don’t know if any western countries have this type of custom, but that is part of Japanese culture in the summertime. And, I hope that people in western countries can enjoy this sample of Japanese culture.
Tiernan: Have you ever performed overseas and, if you have not, where are some places that you’d like to perform?
4s4ki: In terms of performing overseas, I performed at a festival in Taiwan in 2019. And, from now on, I’d like to perform all around the world.
Tiernan: What were your favorite performances of your career so far?
4s4ki: On my birthday, on March 11th of this year, I had a solo show that I really liked. And, before, I didn’t really rehearse much for shows. But, for that one, I put in a lot of preparation time, so I feel that it was my best performance so far.
Tiernan: What can fans expect from you at Fuji Rock this year? Will it be something different to what you’ve done before?
4s4ki: I am going to use a new instrument at Fuji Rock this year, and I have a new song to perform. So, I hope that people will enjoy it. Also, like the show I did for my birthday, I put my soul into the lighting; so I hope people will enjoy that as well. I will also play piano by myself at Fuji Rock 2021, which is something that people cannot hear on my albums.
Tiernan: I heard a rumor that – despite the fact that you released a new album in July of 2021 – that you actually have a new recording in the works. Is that true? If so, what can we expect, and when might it be coming out?
4s4ki: I am planning to release something new by the end of this year. It’s a collaboration with another artist, but the person’s name isn’t being publicly revealed yet.
Tiernan: Do you have a message for your potential foreign fans who might come to see you, or might want to check out your music?
4s4ki: I’ve never been to the Fuji Rock festival before, so I find it quite amazing to be going there for the first time as an artist. And, during my set, I am going to give you the coolest, most attractive performance I can, while bringing you the best music I have. So, I hope everyone can come and watch my set. Also, for those who cannot attend the festival, please be ready for my new releases which will be coming out in the future.
Tiernan: Thank you very much for that, and thank you very much for doing this interview, 4s4ki!
4s4ki: Thank you very much!
4s4ki makes her Fuji Rock debut on August 22 (Sun) from 21:00 to 21:45 on the RED MARQUEE stage.
- February 7, 2020 ● Bands
It’s always fun to make guesses about the upcoming lineup announcements. In the past, we at Fujirockers English have had a casual beer pool based on our predictions vs. which bands were officially announced to appear. Though we won’t be doing that this year, I still had a little fun speculating who might be added to the lineup this time around.
The Latin-ska-hip-hop band Zoo comes from Valencia, Spain, and though it’s their first time at Fuji Rock, several Zoo band members have played the festival before. The bands Obrint Pas and La Grossa Sorda are well remembered for rocking the damn house with wild Spanish horn-fueled punk at both the White Stage and super fun late-night parties at the Crystal Palace Tent. Zoo is a contemporary evolution of these sounds. Imagine a merging a ska band with, hip hop MCs, and a raging Barcelona dance club, and that’s pretty much what you get with Zoo. When they play in Europe, it’s a giant Latin house party and audiences are in the thousands. Now they’re coming to Fuji Rock 2019 for sets at the White Stage and Crystal Palace, and also to the Tokyo Wednesday night pre-event on July 24, Radical Music Network. We caught up with band leader and MC Panxo for an email interview to learn a bit more about the band. From the sounds of it, the message is: Fujirockers! Put your hands up! And get ready to dance!
Italian group Banda Bassotti have been likened to the Clash for mixing ska, punk and a fight for social equality, especially in the 1980s and 1990s. They also rock the house in a very major way, so expect them to whip the crowd into a frenzy when they play on Fuji Rock’s White Stage on Sunday, July 28. This is Banda Bassotti’s third visit to Fuji Rock, though the last time they were were here was 14 years ago in 2005. A lot has happened since then: In 2006 the group released a song called “Fuji Rock” on their album Vecchi Cani Bastardi. Last year, founding member and vocalist Angelo Conti passed away, with tributes stretching from Rome to Japan. We caught up with the band’s manager Luca Fornasier to talk about Banda Bassotti, two decades of coming to Japan, and his own upcoming DJ sets as Goldfinger Selecta at both Fuji Rock and at the Tokyo pre-fest party, Radical Music Network.
On March 29th, 2019, as The Cure stood on the red carpet before their induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, their lead singer – the eternally-lipsticked Robert Smith – was accosted by a brash reporter who, in classic American fashion, belted, “Are you as EXCITED as I am?!?!”. Equally true to form, and visibly wincing from her sensory assault, Mr.Smith quietly replied,”…apparently not”.
Despite their relatively upbeat post-punk debut in 1979, The Cure quickly ascended to the ranks of royalty as “kings of gloom”; people who made it not only acceptable to openly live through one’s depressive states; in the right circles, they even made it look “cool”.
As recent studies reveal that depression is on the rise worldwide, The Cure’s receipt of Rock’s highest honour not only seems fittingly timely; it also validates those who were bullied for being their fans in decades past. And, as Robert Smith and Co. prepare thirtieth anniversary concerts of their album Disintegration (arguably their darkest record) we can almost hear their throngs of fans silently chime, “We told you so”.
Even further cementing their importance, beyond becoming an incidental champion for those who struggle with mental health issues, from The Cure’s earliest performances, Robert Smith also pioneered another modern topic; gender and sexuality. Openly displaying more femininity than the average man since The Cure’s first shows, by 1982 Mr. Smith donned lipstick for all concerts and photo shoots. Even throngs of loyal fans assumed he was bisexual. However, ever-defiant of preconceptions, and consistently breaking new ground by default, Robert Smith would clearly state in interviews that he was monogamously married to a woman he loved; his high school sweetheart, Mary Poole. Once again, decades ahead of popular discourse, he indirectly gave millions permission to be themselves in both gender and sex.
As the band prepares to release a brand new album this autumn – reportedly steeped in “doom and gloom” – to celebrate its fortieth anniversary, its performance at Fuji Rock flows into a twenty-three date marathon of concerts, consisting mostly of appearances at legendary festivals like Glastonbury and Austin City Limits. Some may question the relevance of these ageing pioneers, in a country where visual kei and makeup on men is already seen as passé. However, for a land still struggling with gender equality, LGBTQ rights and epidemic depression, The Cure is a prescription we all need.
- July 4, 2019 ● Bands
A festival is supposed to feel grand, it is supposed to be all spectacle and grandeur. It should come across the way a circus coming to town must have felt in bygone eras- a separate time and ethereal place that only comes around about once a year. No act at this year’s Fuji Rock scratches that itch quite the way Tokyo’s Charan Po Rantan does.
Legend has it that as Death Cab for Cutie sat on a porch with their indie label rep circa 1998 – trying to decide how big a run of their first album they should press – they thought perhaps 500 copies might be enough. Their label then convinced them that they could sell 1000. Eight albums and a few member changes later, the band that grew around vocalist Ben Gibbard’s solo project is still evolving. From arguably depressing, navel-gazing ambient indie rock hymns drenched in reverb that perhaps only critics, hipsters and this writer could love, they completely changed their tune(s) by their fourth album; 2003’s Transatlanticism. Despite the darkly ironic nature of some its lyrics, the music for the single “The Sound of Settling” rang out with summery jubilance meant for stadiums. Atlantic Records were quick to snap them up, with the band striking a deal to their liking; on the strength of their last indie album selling 500,000 copies; the benchmark certified as “gold” in America. The following ten years saw their ambitions rewarded, with four albums multiplying into eight Grammy nominations. Their melding with the mainstream then reached its completion with a commission to write a song for the soundtrack of The Twilight Saga; “Meet Me on the Equinox”.
2018 saw the band born anew once again and reaching for new sounds, as it released its ninth studio album, Thank You for Today. Being DCFC’s first recording without their producer/guitarist Chris Walla, it also marked their debut as a five piece; with the addition of Dave Deeper and Zac Rae, both on guitars, vox and keyboards. Keys play a heavier role here than perhaps on any previous work, which is apropos, given the heavy nod to the eighties on a lot of songs; even borrowing the lead guitar sound of fellow Fuji Rockers The Cure, on the album’s opening track; “I Dreamt We Spoke Again”. By song three, a casual listener could be forgiven for believing that “Gold Rush” was a new Pet Shop Boys single; as lead singer Ben Gibbard’s always whimsical voice leans even more towards the gentle nasal tones of PSB’s leader Neil Tennant, and the drums resemble a modern-day version of the raucous dance beats the Brits employed to chart success in the nineties. One might question how this will all translate to the stage at Fuji Rock, but given the success of 80’s flirtations for artist such as Taylor Swift and Katie Perry, and the general desire to party of the average festival attendee, Death Cab for Cutie will probably reign supreme this summer at Japan’s largest festival, with one more arrow to add to their quiver.