Pop music catches up to De De Mouse

by

Special To The Japan Times

Daisuke Endo made peace with EDM thanks to Mister Donut. The electronic artist, better known by his stage name De De Mouse, eats at the snack chain frequently. Recently, he says he has been enjoying the American pop music they pipe into the store.

“They always play The Chainsmokers. It’s almost like good 1980s-style pop music, it’s very refined,” he says, referring to the American electronic duo who have dominated charts over the past year. “When I was at Mister Donut … I didn’t know what the song was, but it was just good hit music.”

The producer, known for bouncy electro-pop anchored by diced-up vocals, hasn’t gone full Billboard Hot 100 on latest album “Dream You Up,” but he has come a long way from his last full-length, 2015’s “Farewell Holiday!,” which embraced jazz and classical. He says that LP was his personal protest against the bludgeoning sounds of dance music branded as EDM, then inescapable in the Japanese club scene.

“I now view EDM and tropical house as pop music, and at this point it has been perfected,” he says. “My last album was about going against EDM, but now that it’s so ingrained in pop music, I listen to it and I take what I find good about it.”

In a strange way, “Dream You Up” proves that the rest of the world just caught up to De De Mouse. It comprises 11 songs of tender electro-pop, full of criss-crossing synthesizer melodies that are begging for a laser light show, and with soulful female vocal samples served up in half-second bursts. Discernible words rarely appear, but the songs are earworms nonetheless.

The structures are not far off from those found in some of the biggest global smashes of the past few years — songs such as The Chainsmoker’s “Closer,” which features pitched-up vocal details, or Justin Bieber’s “Sorry,” which boasts a chorus heavy on diced-up “Ohs” tripping over one another. As dance music has become the dominant pop style this decade, words have become unnecessary, replaced with a reliable millennial whoop to get listeners hooked. You can even pitch up the Bieb’s voice to sound like a dolphin and have an instant smash (Jack U’s “Where Are U Now“).

“A few years back, people would have considered (that kind of approach) to be strange,” Endo says. “Now it’s used as a chorus, so people sing along at a concert together. It’s easier for me, as that’s what I’ve been doing all along.”

Endo’s first album, “Tide of Stars,” came out a decade ago and stood out partly thanks to his decision to rely on finely chopped vocals as the basis for his melodies. He has stuck with the style throughout his career, though he has frequently veered into new territory, including the aforementioned classical-jazz combo and last year’s mini-album “Summer Twilight,” which merged traditional Bon odori rhythms with contemporary dance sounds. “But with ‘Dream You Up,’ I wanted to do De De Mouse again,” he says.

To that end, his sixth LP embraces synths — a lot of them — alongside his trademark vocal treatment. It’s similar to his 2007 debut, but Endo says technology has improved vastly, specifically the quality of a computer’s CPU.

“Back then, it couldn’t handle all the synth plug-ins I would use,” he says. “It was stressful, and tough to change anything afterward.”

Now the process is smoother. He points to the song “Flesh! + Blood” as something he couldn’t have done 10 years ago — the amount of synths and samples alone would have been impossible to open.

“It’s like, Goku from ‘Dragonball’ was always strong, but eventually he came back bigger and stronger,” Endo says, laughing.

Other small changes are noticeable — he uses the stuttering vocals more to create rhythm, while songs such as “As You Like It” and “Flesh! + Blood” include sections that resemble the “drop” commonly found on EDM tracks. The final song, “Pump It Up,” features Anamanaguchi, an American act known for its novel use of 8-bit sounds and appreciation for Japan’s electronic music community.

“(De De Mouse’s music) feels like an amalgamation of things you’re familiar with but can’t really place a reference point on. Like feeling nostalgic toward something you’ve never actually experienced,” Anamanaguchi’s Ary Warnaar says via email. He has listened to the producer for several years and finally met him in person in 2015. He ended up working with Endo on “Pump It Up” at Shibuya’s Red Bull Studios.

“I was so curious about his vocal and sample work and saw a bit of the process, but it’s still a mystery to me as to how good he is at it,” Warnaar says.

“Dream You Up” also boasts a light science-fiction theme, conveyed primarily by the cover art and slightly by the music, which has an ’80s arcade sheen to it.

“Originally, the idea was MTV in the ’80s. I wanted to make music that would have been big back then,” Endo says. “That’s when I started thinking about nostalgia and what they projected the future to be like back then.”

It’s retro futurism. The irony is, 10 years ago, De De Mouse sounded like the future. When I ask him about what he remembers from 2007, he instantly says “Vocaloid,” as that was when singing-synthesizer Hatsune Miku came out.

“That was also the year Perfume broke through,” he adds. “It all felt so new, so futuristic.”

Endo fell into that scene too, his videos aired on Space Shower TV and he eventually landed on a major label.

Despite an environment that’s friendlier to his style, he’s not aiming for massive hits and remains a cheerful and down-to-Earth person — even giving me a tiny rubber duck after I ask why he has some on his shelf. (He found them in a hotel fountain.) Instead of chasing the bright lights of a Vegas rave, he feels he’s just adjusting to modern times in small ways. This is most clear in his approach to live shows — he plans to tour the album with a rock band, a move meant to attract younger Japanese listeners who are first and foremost fans of rock music.

“Sometimes I would think about what’s coming, or would look at trends,” Endo says. “But ‘Dream You Up’ feels like a reaction to what is actually happening.”

“Dream You Up” is in stores now. For more information, visit www.dedemouse.com. De De Mouse is on tour from this month: Daikanyama Unit in Tokyo on April 28 (7 p.m. start; ¥3,800 in advance; www.unit-tokyo.com); Live House Eenn in Sendai on May 1 (7:30 p.m.; ¥3,500; http://livehouseenn.com/index.html); Duce Sapporo on May 5 (6 p.m.; ¥3,500; http://duce.asia); Club Quattro in Hiroshima on May 11 (6 p.m.; ¥3,500; www.club-quattro.com/hiroshima); Compass in Osaka on May 12 (7:30 p.m.; ¥3,500; www.conpass.jp); Club Rock ‘N’ Roll in Nagoya on May 13 (6:30 p.m.; ¥3,500; http://clubrocknroll.net/2017/04/); Yokohama Landmark Hall on May 14 (6 p.m.; ¥3,500; www.yokohama-landmark.jp/web/hall/); Metro in Kyoto on May 26 (7 p.m.; ¥3,500; www.metro.ne.jp); Mairo in Toyama on May 28 (5:30 p.m.; ¥3,500; http://mairo.com); The Voodoo Lounge in Fukuoka on June 2 (7:30 p.m.; ¥3,500; http://voodoolounge.jp); and Output in Okinawa on June 3 (9:30 p.m.; ¥3,00; http://outputop.com).

Beats by De De

“Dream You Up” is De De Mouse defined in one album. He has refined the sound he has been toying with for a decade and the result is upbeat dance tracks carried by stuttering vocal snippets (“Get You Back”), samples from the 1980s (“Rock You Up”) and playful breakbeats (album highlight “Chase After Chase”).

For fans of Kero Kero Bonito, Porter Robinson or PC Music, the dream continues.