‘I get asked, ‘How can you make it as a musician?’ and I really think it’s all about mental strength,” says Kinuko Hiramatsu, who produces music under the name Sapphire Slows.

In the past two years the 25-year-old electronic-music artist has released a full-length album, toured the United States and Europe, all while completing a masters in musicology — which is no easy feat. Now Hiramatsu is ready to take on another challenge by joining this year’s Red Bull Music Academy in Paris.

“I’ve always been a bedroom producer because that’s the most relaxing environment for me, but it’s not like I was proud of how my music sounds all lo-fi,” says Hiramatsu, explaining why she applied to the academy. “I’d like people to hear the best music I can possibly make.”

Sapphire Slows emerged from Tokyo’s indie music scene in the early part of the decade, catching the attention of music blogs overseas at the height of bedroom pop’s appeal. Since then, her music has lost some fuzz and has become more polished and dance-driven, perhaps thanks to her association with U.S. label Not Not Fun.

“I tend to create from an emotional place, and I think pop music is about making songs that feel good emotionally,” Hiramatsu says. “Techno is about making sounds that feel good physically, so I’d like to produce music that balances these two components. I hope I can get advice on how to do this at the academy, even if it means improving something simple.”

Much of the emotion in a Sapphire Slows track results from the artist using her own vocals, which adds an ethereal atmosphere to her work. However, Hiramatsu doesn’t want her listeners to conflate “emotional” with “feminine.”

“As a medium to work with, I prefer female vocals over male vocals. It’s also handy that I can use my own voice when I get an idea, since my voice is female,” Hiramatsu says. “But I don’t like how people impose ‘femininity’ or ‘masculinity’ on creative work. For example, if a girl DJs, she does it because it’s cool and she likes it; you don’t have to comment on the fact that she’s a girl.”

Her identity as a female artist has been something Hiramatsu has had to think about more since she’s gained exposure.

“When I first started out, I had no idea how people saw me or treated me — I didn’t really have a strong sense of myself,” she says. “Those things don’t matter if you’re just making music, but it follows you around when you get attention. I think that as long as the music you make isn’t affected, the exposure you get as a female artist can be a good thing.”

Witnessing Hiramatsu’s level of focus, however, makes it clear to me that her success has nothing to do with biased exposure.

“Being from Japan, I have to try harder since I’m a little looked down on from central music scenes, but through my work I’ve met a lot of women who give me a ton of support,” Hiramatsu says. “Women are so strong, especially mentally. Anybody can buy equipment and make music, but you can’t make it without mental strength.”

In line with COVID-19 guidelines, the government is strongly requesting that residents and visitors exercise caution if they choose to visit bars, restaurants, music venues and other public spaces.

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