Beatmakers just wanna have fun

@djtomoko, Ucca-Laugh bust out some girl talk

by Mariko Lochridge

Special To The Japan Times

British magazine DJ Mag caused some ripples among critics this month when it released its list of the most popular DJs from around the world and there wasn’t one woman among the 100-strong pick. Though the magazine points out that its editors don’t decide the list, which is comprised of write-in ballots from readers, it seems the electronic-music scene may still be a man’s world. But Tomoko Ida and Yuka Niiyama are two young women putting up a formidable fight to correct this notion.

Ida, who goes by @djtomoko, and Niiyama, who goes by Ucca-Laugh, were disappointed by the poll results, but not deterred.

“Of course, we will be seen as females first and artists second,” Ucca-Laugh says. “That’s just the way it is. But you learn to keep that at a distance and prove to people what you can do.”

While female DJs are relatively few in Japan, female beatmakers such as @djtomoko are even more of a rarity. When she met Ucca-Laugh, who is a singer, five years ago, the two were initially more interested in learning from each other as women working in the same industry. Soon, however, they realized how well they gelled as a duo and they began creating together.

“I had something like a sixth sense about @djtomoko from the beginning and after seeing her blog,” Ucca-Laugh says, referring to the blog @djtomoko wrote when she lived in New York. The results of this partnership have resulted in the album “1 MPD n a Mic,” released by Tokuma Japan Communications. The 12-song release sounds like a J-pop take on modern American R&B, a hybrid that’s no stranger to the Japanese charts.

@djtomoko’s technique is like that of Pop Wansel, a U.S. producer who recently scored a success with the track “Marvin Gaye and Chardonnay” off the Big Sean album “Finally Famous.” However, “1 MPD n a Mic” has a prominent female voice dealing with themes of love, sex and heartbreak. It’s entirely the girls’ own.

“I have always dreamed of releasing my own album with just my beats on it,” says @djtomoko, who produced and mixed all of the tracks on “1 MPD n a Mic.” “With this album, that dream became a reality.”

@djtomoko, 29, became interested in music via dance. Growing up in Tokyo, she was a fan of a dance group called Zoo. At 18, she began learning how to DJ, and a year later began experimenting with sampling and making her own beats.

This curiosity about technology has served @djtomoko well in terms of both art and self-promotion. Along with Ucca-Laugh, she began broadcasting her own show on Ustream last year. Titled “Meat Da Beat,” the show is broadcast on the first and third Sunday of every month starting from 11:30 p.m. The two discuss writing songs, perform and occasionally welcome other musicians onto the show. Their best session boasted around 12,000 unique viewers, according to the women. Among those were representatives from the duo’s current management company V.A.S.P., and it was what brought them to the attention of Tokuma as well.

“We’re pretty geeky,” @djtomoko says. “I know that is a big part of our success. We really like technology, being on the computer, and learning about the latest things. I handle the Web updates and movie editing, while Ucca-Laugh is in charge of emails and being the contact for inquiries.”

“Social-networking sites have really helped us to connect with fans and important people such as our management company and people like DJ Taro of J-Wave,” Ucca-Laugh adds.

The division of labor is striking, with @djtomoko playing the role of the techie and Ucca-Laugh making contacts. The associated personality types with each role are immediately apparent when meeting the two of them: Ucca-Laugh gets right in your face while @djtomoko stands back a little.

Ucca-Laugh, 28, has spent more time behind a mic than behind the decks. After graduating high school in Tokyo, she studied in Los Angeles. It was there that she started writing music and performing it live. When she came back to Japan, she even made it to the finals of “Star Bape Search,” a competition to find R&B singers put on by fashion designer Nigo and U.S. producer Pharrell Williams.

Even though Ucca-Laugh seems to assume the role as the face of the project, both women are prominent in the video for “Ravu Go-chin,” an ode to love under the covers and their first single from “1 MPD n a Mic.” Both say they feel too few women are discussing the topic of sex in their music and they felt it was time to provide some constructive — and realistic — “girl talk.” The effort hasn’t gone unnoticed, condom-distribution company Okamoto is collaborating with the duo on a project ahead of International Aids Day on Dec. 1, to raise awareness about safe sex.

“Yes, our faces are on a condom,” Ucca-Laugh says, blushing slightly. “It was a little strange at first, but we are really excited about the project. It is definitely an area that needs to be given more attention and as women, and artists, we are proud to be a part of it.”

Have they tried out their personalized condoms yet?

“No,” Ucca-Laugh chuckles. “We’re so busy, it’s hard to make the kind of time for that special someone.”

@djtomoko and Ucca-Laugh will perform at the official release party for “1 MPD n a Mic” at Microcosmos in Shibuya-ku, Tokyo, on Nov. 26 (12 midnight; ¥2,500 including one drink). For details, visit www.microcosmos-tokyo.com. “1 MPD n a Mic” is in stores now. For more info, visit www.tomoucca.com.