Canadian music producer and DJ Ryan Hemsworth is always on the move. He’s zig-zagged across North America, Europe and Australia multiple times over the last two years, an endeavor he has said is “such a crazy luxury, but the most exhausting thing as well.” His upcoming trip to Japan, however, is special.
“I’m scared and excited. This is a trip I’ve wanted to make for so damn long, and now it’s finally happening,” Hemsworth says via e-mail while on tour in Europe. “I guess I’m just going to buy every video game I can and eat sushi until I explode.”
He’s also got some shows to play, starting on Oct. 10 with a show at Daikanyama Unit in Tokyo. He’ll then move on to Nagoya and Osaka over the weekend. Hemsworth’s forthcoming tour of Japan feels like a long time in the making, as few critically embraced Western acts in recent memory have been as upfront about their love of Japanese music and pop culture. And he’s turned the spotlight on smaller Japanese electronic producers.
The Halifax, Nova Scotia-born Hemsworth says he started learning guitar at 13: “I grew up on Elliott Smith, Brand New and Bright Eyes, bands that had a lot of emotion in their music.”
He eventually made the transition to producing electronic music on his computer, and spent his years at the University of King’s College in Halifax creating beats. His sample-heavy songs, along with unofficial remixes of artists like Frank Ocean and Grimes, gained him attention, and he was able to turn music into a full-time gig.
Hemsworth’s interest in Japanese pop culture bloomed around the same time he picked up a guitar, via movies introduced to him by an older cousin.
“The films of Takashi Miike and Takeshi Kitano made a huge impression on me as a kid,” Hemsworth says. “They’re gruesome and dark, but also full of humor.”
He eventually discovered Japanese musicians such as Cornelius, Kahimi Karie and Shugo Tokumaru via musician and writer Momus, and he’s also become interested in some contemporary J-pop. On a mix made at the end of 2013, he remixed a Hatsune Miku-fronted song by Vocaloid producer Hachioji-P, and mashed up U.S. rapper Mr. MFN eXquire with Kyary Pamyu Pamyu — a Japanese artist he particularly likes.
“Kyary is my ideal pop star — beautiful and strange, with such a personalized brand.”
Hemsworth is also really interested in a lot of minor Japanese producers, which he says he found “scouring through Instagram and Tumblr.” He hasn’t kept his excitement about these artists hidden — he has talked about beatmakers such as Taquwami and Seiho in interviews with publications overseas, and this year he collaborated with Sapporo-based artist Qrion and netlabel-staple Tomggg on tracks that received the kind of attention that such acts wouldn’t get at home.
“I think although a lot of us producers use similar tricks, in Japanese production there’s usually a creative melding between technology and melody,” Hemsworth says. “An artist like Tomggg is using some amazing technological tricks, but when the songs are stripped down they’re still beautiful and moving. I think soundtracks (film and video game) are also taken much more seriously in Japan, and that’s something near and dear to me.
“There’s a wave of musicians now who are at least a bit indepted to the sounds coming from Japan. It makes sense for some Westerners to turn to the more high energy, ‘kawaii’ sounds because we’re so overwhelmed by aggressiveness in the American EDM world. I am at least.”
His interest in giving burgeoning acts more attention helped spur the creation of Secret Songs, a project wherein Hemsworth shares a song from a young musician via the web platform SoundCloud every two weeks. A recent Secret Songs mix included new tracks from Qrion and dream-pop-leaning Tokyo artist Cuushe.
“I begged the promoters (of his upcoming shows) to let me play with Seiho, tofubeats and as many of the (prominent netlabel) Maltine artists as I could on this tour,” he says. “And I can’t wait to meet and perform with Qrion in Nagoya.”
Hemsworth will embark on another North American tour shortly after his Japanese jaunt, and he’ll also release a new album, “Alone for the First Time,” on Nov. 4.
“It’s a quiet album, at times, because I’ve been around so much loud, abrasive music in the past couple years. It sometimes pokes fun at EDM, and has a lot of singers featured on it that I love although they’re a bit lesser known,” such as rising artists Lontalius and Alex G. After that — and his long-anticipated Japan trip — he hopes to spend 2015 getting a little more relaxation.
“I want to play less EDM festivals, spend more time at home producing, releasing friends’ music, maybe start a band,” he says.
Ryan Hemsworth joins tofubeats and Seiho at Daikanyama Unit in Tokyo on Oct. 10 (11:30 p.m. start; ¥3,000 in advance; 03-5459-8630); he plays with Qrion at Club JB in Nagoya on Oct. 11 (10 p.m.; ¥2,500 in adv.; 052-241-2234); and with tofubeats at Live & Bar 11 (Onzieme) in Osaka on Oct. 12 (9 p.m.; 1,500 in adv.; 06-6243-0089). For more details, visit www.ryanhemsworth.com.