Kido dials up the romance

by Matthew Holmes

Staff Writer

I’m told Ryuto Miyake, the artist who sketched the portrait in front of me over hamburgers near his university in Tokyo, shares the same ideas about the music industry as the “real” Yoji Kido now sitting opposite me; mainly a desire to strip away labels and to cross genre-boundaries. A cliche maybe, but even while obviously conflicted and still working out his thoughts, he explains it with refreshing simplicity.

“It gets on my nerves when people claim something is ‘the best genre.’ Why? I know there are popular genres, but these days it’s like an ants’ nest.”

There are too many of them?

“Yeah. I’m trying to convince listeners to like what you like, enjoy what you have; don’t just feel that you’ve got to fit into something.”

This 21-year-old from Tokyo, via Boston and New York in his high school days, is now back on home ground, and has been making a name for himself over the last year producing and reworking music that gets noticed. Kidzrec, the record label run by heavyweight electronic duo 80Kidz, picked him up after hearing what Kido calls a “quite electro” demo he gave to the pair in a club. They liked it immediately, and impressive side projects and remixes followed. Now Kido has an EP titled “Call a Romance.”

Despite his electro-stylings, and having taken up the guitar as a teen — he says unabashedly, “to get more chicks” — his favorite instrument is still the piano. Kido first grabbed the attention of a couple of international music blogs when choosing to play piano, and doing it well, over his remix of Yes Giantess’ “Tuff ‘n Stuff” in 2010. I’m not sure if he is joking about the teacher who “whipped” his mistakes out of him as a 7-year-old, but it may have worked. He says the piano’s “simple and clean” sounds match his personality and help him “to put basic emotions into the music, and make people feel good.”

Kido says musical development was natural, and you can hear the 1970s disco sound that runs from the childhood family stereo right through to his latest release. The “Call a Romance” EP brings together some of those funk-guitar basslines with chords and piano rhythmically influenced by the likes of French band Phoenix. But it’s the compressed drum beats that hold it together; it’s analog in its feel, but then come the synthesizers. Kido admits, “People call it electro, but it’s not. They’ll label it that, but I personally feel I’m making more funk, pop and disco.”

It’s with those synths that he sleeps, sits on his bed, thinks of the day behind him, thinks about life, and tries to “get” part of himself through to the music.

“(My bedroom’s) a place I’m comfortable. I can be honest with myself and create my own world. I tried once in the studio, but it’s never the same thing.”

Then there’s the voice. Kido is so earnest when he says he thinks it’s “ugly” that I forget to check him for his modesty. He even started a side project, Salman, with his friend Shoma “Bazz” Wada to try out the role of vocalist without harming his “Kido Yoji image.” But Salman itself generated some buzz with “When the Sun Rises,” a catchy track with a slight French touch and a plethora of different sounds that give it the feeling of a young artist testing the waters of what he can do. The response should have given Kido more confidence because, despite the cheap bedroom microphones that he says he “might” fix in the future, many felt the vocals were a highlight of Salman’s overall sound.

Kido also shies away from speculating about what kind of “scene” he fits into in Tokyo. He says he has been so busy recording that he’s away from the music discussion and has perhaps lost touch a bit.

However, he thinks DJs in Tokyo often conform to a kind of sempai-kōhai (senior-junior) hierarchy. He worries that too many people are led by what other, older, people say, and he wishes it was more simple.

“When you are trying to listen, it’s best not to think about the social pressures,” he says. “When you have a simple emotion, you are entertained. I don’t want to get stuck in a scene.”

Kido says it would have been “easy” to just play to 80Kidz fans and produce dance music for clubs. But he wanted to take a different approach, and he hopes this direction works for listeners.

“I imagine people going through Tokyo at night, playing my music on their iPods. I might think about making more ‘performable’ music someday, but this is what I want for now. Maybe it’s for before people go to a club.”

Kido doesn’t feel “Call a Romance” is a sophisticated album. There is one basic concept that runs throughout it: four chords and no key changes. These are three-minute pop songs that he assures me can “simply, go straight into your mind and make you happy.”

A couple of times during our conversation Kido mentions the March 11 earthquake. He describes “holding down the synthesizers” in his bedroom and how the experience affected his attitude toward composition.

“It kind of reminded me of the reason why I want to make music,” Kido says. “Before, I was making something with a different concept — something darker. But I (ditched it and) started again. All the songs are really simple and, except for one, all were written after the quake.

“The reason I make music is to entertain, and I’ve learned a lot this year, but I want to entertain myself, too, so I’ll keep changing my approach.”

Again pointing at the artist’s portrait of him on the cover of the “Call a Romance” EP, his eyes widen hopefully, “but,” he slows down and his voice becomes uncertain, “I’m not sure what’s going to happen to this guy.”

“Call a Romance” is out Oct. 26 via Kidsrec and KSR Corp.