EeL pumps out electric pop for common people

by Felicity Hughes

The title track from EeL’s new album “For Common People” is likely to make you feel like you’ve just overdosed on candy.

From the seizure-inducing breakcore beats to the sugary-sweet reggae flourishes, all the elements are set to overload. The music video for the track interprets this experimental electronic sound into a visual riot of neon colors and features the disembodied bright blue head of EeL herself surrounded by a coterie of head-banging glove puppets.

Behind the loud visuals and chaotic beats, the Kansai artist is an extremely secretive individual, who refuses to reveal her real name and is difficult to get hold of even for a phone interview. The Japan Times tracked her down via e-mail to see if we couldn’t glean some scraps of information about the woman behind this arresting sound.

“Around the time I got going I had been working at a computer game company, but I’d just resigned. It was then that I was approached to begin making music by a former colleague who is now a sound designer,” she says. The designer she’s referring to is Yoshiki Sandou, a DJ who creates sound effects and tunes for computer games. He’s also the founder of Sandou Records, whose stated purpose is to put out “intelligent, hardcore, sexy electronic music from Osaka.”

EeL’s sound is infused by a madcap computer-game aesthetic (her distinctive whispered vocals have appeared in the games “Pop’n Music” and “Beatmania”), but she isn’t defined by bleeps alone.

“My label owner, Sandou, who recruited me, gave me this name. It gives the impression that I’m difficult to get a hold of. Simply put, it seems like the word ‘eel’ has the right kind of resonance.”

She began by creating a mix of French bossa nova and electro-punk music, but in April 2002 took a slightly new direction when she teamed up with Ryoma Maeda, aka Milch of Source, who produced her fourth album, “Little Prince.” The album included influences of old-school breakcore, funk, reggae and electronica. The prince of the album title is possibly a reference to the artist Prince, who has been a huge influence on EeL since she was in high school.

Maeda, who produced “For Common People,” describes its style as containing elements of “tropical, surf, California, reggae, ska and colorful pop essence.” However, EeL doesn’t focus on the details of how to categorize her music.

“I don’t really care about style or genre,” she says. “I just create things on a whim. Every time it has got a different feeling. Compared to my last album, ‘Little Prince,’ there are more songs in Japanese and more songs with vocals.”

The creative process seems to come easily to her. “Often songs just come to me when I’m humming,” she explains. “I don’t especially have any set image in my head, I just compose freely.” What doesn’t come easily though is performing. “I’m always nervous. At first my heart is pounding, but in the middle it’s pounding from happiness and it becomes great fun.”

On stage EeL has a group of friends, who somewhat resemble the glove puppets from the “For Common People” video. Wearing outrageous outfits, the group whips up the crowd and often invites audience members up onto the stage to join in the frenzy.

“It’ll be different from a typical EeL gig in that drums will be included in the performance,” says Maeda who will be one of those on the stage. “As the maestro and producer of EeL’s live backing band — the Little Prince Orchestra — I’ll be making strange sounds by messing around with keyboards and computers. For that reason it will be extremely fun, producing a sound that I think will get our audience really fired up.”

EeL’s album release party takes place at O-Nest in Shibuya, Tokyo, on Feb. 27 ([03] 3462-4420). The show starts at 6:30 p.m. and costs ¥2,500 in advance (¥3,000 at the door). For more information, visit www009.upp.so-net.ne.jp/eel-filleunique/.