Yasutaka Nakata’s schedule tonight is packed. He’s being photographed by a Japanese magazine in a basement studio after 10 p.m. on a Friday, and it’s taking a little longer than expected. After this he’ll have a (very) late dinner before heading to Tokyo’s east end to do an early-morning DJ set at club ageHa.
The months ahead don’t look any less chaotic. He mentions “deadlines” for electro-pop trio Perfume, bubbly performer Kyary Pamyu Pamyu and a number of young music acts hoping to get that same digi-pop shine that Nakata has become known for as a producer and composer. And that’s just the tip, he has even more personal projects to undertake ranging from his duo Capsule to his solo work as a DJ.
“The reasons why I create music haven’t changed from when I started making music. It’s just more fun to create my own music than to listen to other people’s,” Nakata says once the photographers finally wrap up.
This year has been an interesting one for Nakata, who has stepped into fields he’s not necessarily a heavyweight in. He wrote the soundtrack to the film “Nanimono,” out Oct. 15, and took part in convenience store promotional campaigns that allowed people a chance to record with him. Most noticeably, the artist contributed music to a portion of the Japan segment at the closing ceremony of the Rio Olympics, which provided him with his largest global audience to date.
Now Nakata is trying his hand at a music festival. On Oct. 2, Otonoko will take place in his hometown of Kanazawa, minutes away from the city’s primary train station where a Nakata-penned melody serves as the departing jingle.
“The biggest reason for the festival happening was the opening of the Hokuriku Shinkansen,” Nakata says. “Kanazawa has always been a city focused on sightseeing, but because of this shinkansen opening, it has become easier to visit Kanazawa from Tokyo. So I wanted to do something to support Kanazawa’s tourism industry, but also to do something involving local people in the city.”
Otonoko builds off Nakata’s daytime Takenoko club event that features himself, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu and several other artists geared toward an audience who can’t make it out for an all-nighter. He hopes his entrance into the crowded Japanese festival industry will stand out.
“Music festivals in Japan are either rock music or dance music, you can divide them into two categories. Otonoko does not fit in either of those categories,” he says. “I selected artists who make electronic sounds — not necessarily what would be classified as ‘dance music,’ but the way that they make music is electronic.”
The bill is stacked with artists like himself. Ten years ago he was creating heavily compressed electro-pop with vocalist Toshiko Koshijima as Capsule and sleeker fare with Kate Sakai in Coltemonikha and, of course, the then-unknown Perfume. It was a time when music fans in Japan were smitten with singers such as Hikaru Utada and Ayumi Hamasaki, who charted alongside authenticity-craving rockers. But then, Perfume broke big.
Nakata became an in-demand performer and producer, working with SMAP, Ami Suzuki and countless others; everything he touched racked up sales. Then came more commercial commitments, more media appearances and more of everything else.
Otonoko might be seen as Nakata’s way of passing the baton. It highlights a handful of young producers like TeddyLoid and banvox, and more recent pop acts such as Dempagumi.inc and Tempura Kidz.
British electronic artist Danny L Harle is one of Nakata’s many overseas fans. A rising name internationally — Harle’s latest single, “Super Natural,” features Canadian pop star Carly Rae Jepsen — he remixed Nakata’s “Nanimono,” which will appear on the “Nanimono” EP set for release on Oct. 5.
“I have been interested in J-pop for as long as I can remember,” Harle says via e-mail. “When I did a bit of research into the specific artists that I liked I realized that they were all produced by the same person: Nakata. My favorite track is ‘Fake It’ by Perfume, I love the saturated sound of the dance sections. It showed me that music can be very complex in its construction but can also appear to be very simple if it is crafted well enough.”
The Nakata sound has been changing in recent years, most likely due to commercial obligations. The producer told The Japan Times in 2011 that Capsule was one of the only outlets that still allows him true artistic freedom.
This could change with his involvement in the Olympics, however. The portion he scored was classic Nakata, featuring augmented reality visuals, performers pushing lit up cubes together to form the 2020 Tokyo Olympic logo and dancers executing tight choreography. Overseen by rocker Sheena Ringo, it played up the “futuristic” image Japan has cultivated and, given Nakata’s own work, his music made for an appropriate soundtrack to this passage.
“I went to the kickoff meeting (for the Olympics) and there were people there who I regularly see, like the choreographer and art director, so I felt comfortable in agreeing to the job,” Nakata says, referring respectively to Mikiko Mizuno, who has played a central role in the choreography for Perfume and heavy metal idol act Babymetal, and Daito Manabe of production outfit Rhizomatiks, a team who has also worked with Perfume.
You’d imagine the task of representing your country on a large stage would be intimidating, but Nakata says his Olympic contribution was easier than any of his personal or pop work.
“The purpose and the vision were very clear, and I knew what I had to work on. The request was making music for this presentation, so it was very straightforward,” he says. “This music doesn’t have a melody line, it’s about the rhythm and making atmosphere. The ceremony had dance performances, lighting … there was just a lot of visual information. That visual information replaced the melody and vocals of my usual music.”
Nakata, focused solely on the task of making the music, didn’t even see the final presentation until the Olympics themselves.
“It was really good, it was exactly what I expected,” he says. For most viewers, it exceeded expectations (give or take a Super Mario Shinzo Abe). The team behind it made Japan look cooler in 11 minutes than the government’s “Cool Japan” campaign has done in five years. And Nakata’s sound played a huge role.
Back in the basement studio, 30 minutes tick by and the three staffers surrounding Nakata look more anxious, typing frantically on their smartphones. The ageHa set approaches, and they still need to grab food before zipping out to the club. It’s a demanding schedule, but similar to that of one of Nakata’s biggest inspirations, 1990s heavyweight Tetsuya Komuro. He’ll play at Otonoko — a nice nod to Nakata’s past.
“If I could be satisfied just by listening to other people’s music, I think I would quit creating music,” Nakata says. Don’t expect his schedule to ease up anytime soon.
Otonoko takes place in the No. 4 Building of the Ishikawa Industrial Exhibition Hall in Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture, on Oct. 2. The festival starts at 11:30 a.m. and ends at 7:25 p.m. Tickets cost ¥5,300 in advance. For more information, visit www.otonoko.com. Yasutaka Nakata and Kyary Pamyu Pamyu will also head out on tour in November taking in Zepp Nagoya on Nov. 10, Zepp Namba in Osaka on Nov. 11 and Zepp DiverCity in Tokyo on Nov. 14.
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