Music in 2016 is every bit as focused on the eyes as it is the ears. Videos play a pivotal role in helping artists stand out in the digital age. One viral clip can break a previously unknown name, or bling up existing acts.
“When I’m making a music video, it’s almost like I’m constructing how people will view the band,” visual artist and video director Kento Yamada says, tired but thoughtful after a night of filming. “I can almost decide how the world will see these bands, since YouTube has such strong power.”
Yamada serves as VJ in rising electronic quintet yahyel, crafting colorfully disorienting videos and live visuals apt for the group’s songs. He has created clips for other artists, from garage rockers Tempalay to the rapper IO. His work for Suchmos’ “Stay Tune” has racked up over 3 million YouTube views, helping define the band’s image and push them into the mainstream.
He’s a rising artist helping others thrive in the online age.
“In junior high school, I programmed games for mobile phones, I was a geek,” the 24-year-old says. By high school, he shed that image and joined an American football team, playing until he graduated from Keio University (he was a good enough wide receiver to make an all-nation squad, surprising for someone now in a Warp-indebted electronic outfit). He says the members of yahyel knew each other for years, but didn’t start the project until university, with Yamada bringing a newfound interest in visual arts to the group.
“The music comes first, the visuals assist the sound. I get the demo or the lyrics and then I get a deeper inspiration to assist the songs or live set,” he says.
His education in direction came via U.S. hip-hop videos: “It shows the attitude, the way they are, in the video.” Yamada’s work for Japanese rappers carries the same swagger, as does his work with rock bands, who often stare down the camera like an MC. That’s the case in “Stay Tune,” a composition that captures what Yamada describes as Suchmos’ “cool,” while also playing with their reputation as skateboarding Jamiroquai disciples.
“It’s easy to make guys look cool, but harder for me to make women look cute,” he says, before sharing his hardest challenge to date. Gravure model Ai Shinozaki wanted to start a music career, one focused on her singing. Yamada took this to an extreme — his smartphone-only video for her first single only plays music when you flip the phone over, so you can’t see her.
A risk, but one the artist and label loved. And it got attention online — the ultimate sign that Yamada is tapping into the era.
“Once,” the latest single by yahyel for which Kento Yamada shot the video, is on sale via iTunes now. For more information, visit www.facebook.com/yahyelmusic. The group plays New Audiogram’s 10th anniversary, which is being held at various venues on Sept. 10. For details, visit www.newaudiogram.com/premium/294_na10.