Kyoka is a Berlin-based artist known for her chaotic and direct musical approach and a heavy-rough sound, resulting in a broken pop-beat with experimental yet danceable rhythms. She grew up in Japan, and while listening and recording radio shows to tape, she became attracted by the possibilities of scratching tapes back and forth. That’s how she begun to use the tape recorder as her toy, cutting, editing and producing first rough sounds. She was the first female member of the raster-noton label: 2012 saw the release of her first EP ‘Ish‘, which was followed by her first full length album, ‘Is (Is Superpowered)‘ last year. These days she is working on new material and frequently visits the Elektronmusikstudion (EMS) in Stockholm, so we had the chance to talk to this creative lady about her adventures in the studio and the everyday life of a woman as an artist.
You grew up in Japan and got involved in playing musical instruments at quite a young age. If you look back now, what is the strongest memory that comes to your mind regarding your first contact with music?
One day, my father took me to an orchestral concert. I was so impressed by the whole resonance of the sounds that I kept having goose bumps. When they were finished with the performance, I could still hear the resonance and it was one of the most memorable first impressions.
When did you become interested in electronic music and whose music was the most inspiring to you?
Actually, I started listening to electronic music not such a long time ago. I haven’t been listening to too much electronic music when I started making it, so I could not say that anyone inspired me. What attracted me to electronic music was that I could edit only resonance with the help of a computer, and this was also the reason why I began experimenting with it.
That’s interesting! When you were listening to music back then, what type of music did you listen to?
Back then I didn’t really choose any specific music to listen. If someone gave me music or a copy of something, I’ve listened to it. I was listening to music all the time, but mostly on the radio or in the movies. I have always liked music, but I don’t really remember the name of the artists I heard before. I went to the cinema quite often, and was mesmerized by the sound effects of the 60’s American and European films. When it comes to cinema, I also tend to focus on the atmosphere, so I don’t know too much about the directors either.
Many artists are moving to Berlin. What was your story? Why did you move there, how is your experience and what does Berlin offer to you that you cannot find anywhere else?
Before I moved to Berlin, I couldn’t stay in one place more than 6 months, so I was moving somewhere else all the time. Before Berlin it was Los Angeles and before that I was in Tokyo and San Francisco. Also, in Tokyo I changed apartments all the time.
Why was that?
I don’t know. That time I felt really stressed if I stayed in one place longer than half a year. I felt that I was consuming myself to fit within the place. But I wanted to consume myself for something that fits me well. In 2008, one day I moved to Berlin by chance, but at that time I didn’t know that Berlin was a nice place for musicians and artists. After I moved there, I stopped moving around and I was happy. It was the first time in my life that I’ve lived in the same place for such a long time since I left my hometown. I realized that when I was living at these other places, I always had to go out to concerts… or to see the ‘other’ world, I had to go out from the city, but when I’m in Berlin, the world comes to me. I love to watch performances or go to the cinema in Berlin. Also, people who live there are really interesting, they inspire me a lot. For example, my friends inspire me all the time, even when we just have a cup of coffee. This does not happen in Japan. When I’m in Japan, I feel like a candle, like a fire which is lighting a space but also burns itself. But when I’m in Berlin, I’m just a light, not burning myself, just always charging with nice energy. It’s important to live like that. But of course, I do like Japan as well.
What do you miss the most from Japan?
No nice sushi places in Berlin?
I haven’t tried too many yet, but my soul food is sushi. What I really miss is nice quality machines. For example, products’ quality in Japan is extremely precise, almost everything is well-made. If I go to buy a train ticket in Berlin, it happens so many times that the machine works really slowly and it does not accept my money. In Japan these things never happen. Same problems when I go to buy adapter cable in Berlin, the quality is just not good sometimes. This is what I really miss from Japan!
It’s not the first time that you’re here at EMS, why is this such a special place for you?
I feel like this place is paradise for me. Everything sounds good, but I especially love Studio 3’s sound. It’s a mastering studio, so there is no waste of sound and I can hear all the small details. Also, before when I was listening to some music back home and I thought the quality was nice… if I listen to the same music here, I can hear some serious differences and I can even see the intention of the musician who composed it. The music goes through all the speakers and that room exposes all the artistic sources. For example, when I listened to Frank Bretschneider’s music before, I really loved it. But when I listened to his music in Studio 3, I loved it even more. It was beautiful, no dust and no waste at all, very pure and balanced. Also, in Studio 2 there is a special surround system. I don’t have surround speakers in my house, so I’m really happy to have it here. Also, I don’t have a Buchla… and people at EMS are very nice and they inspire me a lot. Someone’s always there to answer my questions and the whole treatment is just beyond my expectations.
How is the creative process different for you when you are doing an artist residency like this? Like you know that you have to come in the studio and you’re going to stay here all day. Does it inspire you or sometimes it makes you a bit frustrated?
I don’t get frustrated, but I feel more responsibility to create something nice. I need to be objective to see myself and be able to check myself and my work as someone else would’ve done it. I feel responsible for EMS, so I want to be able to concentrate.
I don’t think you have to worry!
Not everything I make is perfect! But when I’m here every day, I just go to the studio and I don’t think about other things like sightseeing or cooking… or life… and that makes me so high!
Let’s talk a bit about what you have been doing here.
I will have an installation in Japan soon, it’s called “Wave & Tide, and –“. You can find more information about it HERE (Japanese only). Also, I am working on a new EP, and I will try to combine that with the sound I made for this installation. I’m not quite sure if I can combine them, but I will try it anyway. Originally, my experience with music has started since I am impressed with ‘resonance’. This installation also uses resonance but as visible pattern. For the release, I have to create this resonance for listening purposes, mainly. The EP will be released at the end of the year.
You are the first but apparently not the last female artist on raster-noton. Do you feel that you were ever treated differently in the music world because you were a woman… like they haven’t taken you seriously enough or you had to work harder than men?
Previously, I’ve been unhappy to be a lady, because sometimes people don’t treat me as a proper musician. But raster-noton have always treated me properly, so maybe that’s one of the reasons that I could be the first lady artist there. I’m very comfortable to be with them. Since I became the first female artist, sometimes feminist groups contact me. It’s also a new experience for me, because in Japan I never ever heard from feminist groups. In Japan, this situation is even worse, because we don’t even think about making such a group. In European countries, ladies have actually more power. This is a new situation for me and I really enjoy getting to know this new world.
What did the feminist groups want from you?
To play music for them, to go to meetings, to join the group and to make some nice events and female friends there. I heard that it’s a really important issue that most of the festivals have more male artists than female artists… But I think it is not easy to decide what could be fair in this sense. We have about 7 billion people on the whole planet, how many men and women do we have? Also, how many people like to stay at home, and how many people are good at social networking? Measuring of fairness is just unclear. For example, if a DJ couple has a little baby, it would be better to take care of the kid equally… Otherwise, a housewife type of person might lose the chances of playing at festivals, and I would say that would be unfair. Also, it’s not just about musicians but regular employees in Germany and all around the world… women’s salaries are much lower than men’s for the same work. This is also unfair, what do you think?
It’s getting more and more popular to involve more female artists but do you think this should happen just to have the gender equality or they should focus on quality as in general?
Personally, I don’t care about the number of female or male artists yet. For example, there are much more female singer-songwriters out there, I guess. How could we explain this? When it comes to electronic music, I’m not always thinking about my gender… I also have two older brothers, so perhaps I’m not that feminine!
So when it turned out that you were the first female artist on raster-noton, you just realized, oh I’m a woman!
Yes. Plus, European people generally don’t treat me as a woman, but just as an artist. Compared to Japan, ladies here are more cheerful anyway.
Why do you think that is?
I think in Japan ladies are more quiet and educated to serve people. We are more or less trained to support men, which used to be some kind of a tradition and rule. Serve alcohol (called ‘osyaku’, お酌), and make tea for them, and so on. But these days it’s coming from our kindness, hopefully.
If you wouldn’t make music, what do you think you’d do?
I’d maybe do painting or photography.
Do you paint?
Actually not right now, but I used to when I was little. If I didn’t use my time for music, I’d invest my time in painting.
Even though you’ve worked together with other people (producing your album with Robert Lippok and Frank Bretschneider) you haven’t really had collaborations – except your group called Groopies – would you like to collaborate someone in the future or you prefer working alone?
I like working alone.
Because I don’t need to misunderstand myself about my possibilities. If I work with someone else all the time, I don’t know what level I’m on actually. If I work alone, I know what I can make by myself and what I cannot, even if I put all my efforts into it. I really want to get to know myself without misunderstandings – it’s something I’ve always been doing since I was a kid. Maybe it’s my hobby. So because of that, I work mainly as solo… but at that time for Groopies, by chance I found a very nice website when I was in LA. I really liked that site’s atmosphere and there was a contact, so I sent her a message saying “Hi, I really like your website!”, and she said, “If you want a website, I can teach you how to make one, it’s so easy!” One day I went to Tokyo, so I met her and that day we didn’t make a website but we made music. And that was Groupies. So it was collaboration, but only an almost one-day collaboration. We put 3 songs on the internet, then Ryuichi Sakamoto contacted us, we were lucky. We had 3 concerts, but we weren’t together for too long, perhaps a few months in total. But we’re still good friends. We made 3 songs in 1 day, and then I started to work on my solo material, because I thought I learnt something nice from this c.a. one-day collaboration. I wanted to use that for my own music, so I tried to improvise… I wanted to check how much I’ve grown with the experience. Later on my EP was released on onpa))))). The guy who’s running the label was really nice and told me not to worry about quality, moral or common sense, just put out my first impression. I loved this idea, so I put out my first impression in 10 years as ‘Ufunfunfunfu’. I was really happy, but at the same time I also started to feel that I would like to have more consideration and try out more precise things. Then I tried to make more precise music, but I started to lose my passion and my energy. I thought being precise and balanced was difficult. But when I gave my demo to raster-noton and they told me the next release would be Kyoka, I was extremely happy to be on a precise label…
…making precise music!
Yes, so I had to brush up on my preciseness and that is what I constantly aim for. Frank became my producer naturally, and sometimes he gives me really useful tips on how to be more precise and how to check myself from the outside, less is more… and things like that! Frank told me to be more concrete and precise, while Robert Lippok told me that my messy part is also my charm, so even if I tidy everything, I should not lose the chaotic parts. He showed me how beautiful chaos can be and also how to make rules in this chaos. Robert is a really good teacher, he’s really good at giving people homework. Frank and him are both mentors for me. Frank is a cleaning mentor, while Robert is an emotional mentor for music, for example. They are great and it is beyond my words.
What kind of music are you listening to nowadays?
Nowadays I only listen to raster-noton. I know it’s very narrow-minded, but since I met them I just think they are great… Maybe one day I will be curious to listen to something else as well, but these days I’m very satisfied with them.
What do you like best from raster-noton?
Frank Bretschneider and Robert Lippok, for sure.