There is nothing like a pandemic to add constraint to creativity.
That’s the case with producer Shokuhin Matsuri aka Foodman, otherwise known as Takahide Higuchi, who saw first-hand how the rolling state of emergency declarations over the past year in response to COVID-19 left his native city of Nagoya bereft of a live music scene, or anywhere to drink, for that matter.
“Right now, I live on the outskirts of Nagoya,” Higuchi says. “When (the government) first declared a state of emergency last year, I started going to nearby super sentō (public baths) and michi no eki (highway rest areas) instead of concerts or going out drinking.”
And so began a love affair with the open road and its everyday attractions, which resulted in “Yasuragi Land,” Higuchi’s upcoming release for the London-based, dance-heavy label Hyperdub. It arrives after 2018’s “Aru Otoko no Densetsu,” as well as a slew of releases including “Odoodo” (2019) for Diplo’s Mad Decent label and “Dokutsu” (2020) for Highball Records, a London label focusing on music from Japan.
“Yasuragi” means “peace of mind” in Japanese, and though the album conjures images of an escapist haven floating in the ether, high above the troubles of the world, it’s named after something closer to home, yet still far-flung. “Imagine the name of a fictitious michi no eki,” Higuchi says.
That’s the concept of “Yasuragi Land.” It’s about convenient rest stops, sprawling super sentō and the other things that make up the landscape of life beyond the dense metropolises of Osaka and Tokyo.
“It all started with the idea of creating an album that combines the culture of local cities, with the sound of guitar and percussion,” Higuchi says, adding that the decision to create this combination of sounds comes from his early 20s, when he used to busk with friends. “I’ve always thought that kind of low-grade trance feeling when jamming around on guitar and percussion with friends is pretty awesome. So I thought it would be interesting to express this sound electronically through programming.”
This guitar features throughout, but being the leftfield music producer that Foodman is, it’s not in ways you’d expect. Take “Shiboritate,” for example. Named after a variety of freshly pressed sake (not aged; a winter favorite), Higuchi calls this track “symbolic of the album’s sound.”
Acoustic guitar jostles in this track, pulsing in a collection of hyperactive arpeggios, the staccato crash and sweep of chords creating a modular frenzy. Bongos tumble in diagonal parades, much like the type that plays when you’re riding Yoshi in Super Mario World. Add in airy synth pads reminiscent of the PlayStation 2 start-up sound, and it’s a fairly video game music-friendly excursion.
That’s not a coincidence. Other than busking, one of Higuchi’s early experiences of making music was on a 1996 PlayStation game he bought in high school called Depth (Fluid in the U.S., Sub in Europe). In one mode of the game, the player navigates a dolphin through stages to collect samples to use in the Groove Editor section of the game — here you could combine loops to make simple music.
“Until then, I wasn’t interested in making music that much, but I thought, ‘I could make this.’ So after graduating from high school, I worked part-time, bought a sampler and then started making music seriously,” Higuchi recalls. He didn’t really learn music theory, he continues, instead combining sounds based on what felt right.
But his interest in music actually started even earlier, in elementary school with another video game: Game Boy title SaGa 2: Hihou Densetsu (Final Fantasy Legends 2 elsewhere). This role-playing game included a sound check mode where you could listen to the soundtrack.
“I used to listen to that game music and enter into a fantasy world,” he says. “When I think about it now, I think it was my first experience of consciously choosing to listen to music.”
Higuchi imbues a certain “tropical or soft, bright tone,” as he puts it, in his music. It’s everywhere, but perhaps tracks like “Food Court,” which has a kind of Animal Crossing-like sense of urgency, the comedic bounce of “Aji Fly” and the rapid yet gentle percussion in “Shikaku no Sekai” (“Square World”) show it best. As his mother hails from Ishigaki, Okinawa Prefecture, Higuchi himself spent a year living on the island.
“Recently, I’ve been wondering if I was influenced by the scenery of the stone walls I saw when I was a child, the smell, the temperature, the tone of the sanshin (a three-stringed Okinawan instrument) played by my grandpa and grandma,” he says.
Also important to Higuchi is juke or footwork — the subgenre of house music for which he initially gained attention.
“When I first learned about it in 2011, the impact and excitement had a huge influence on me,” he says. “The free-form beat format and freedom of how you can use it continue to inspire me.” Unusually for dance music, “Yasuragi Land” doesn’t feature bass. Instead, it’s high on intricate, trebley sounds and very much lacking in low-end frequencies.
Despite that, a flavor of footwork still jitters on the album; the second-half of “Parking Area,” with its cuts of shoegaze guitar, clatters in dancefloor-ready tempo, while the percussion on the track “Yasuragi” melds with syncopated chords for uptempo appeal. “Michi No Eki” is similarly frenzied: A single chord guitar battles a stream of clunking beats punctuated by monotone vocals from Taigen Kawabe (of London-based band Bo Ningen; also, along with Higuchi, one half of psych-trap duo Kiseki).
Away from these highly kinetic tracks, the fantasy elements at play in “Yasuragi Land” still have a childlike wonder to them. Practically every song contains within it the potential to transport listeners to a colorful, idealized version of the seemingly mundane venue or object that Higuchi explores.
Whether it’s the triumphant excitement of entering your favorite establishment in “Iriguchi” (“Entrance”), the gloopy minimalist bass and cartoonish creeping feeling in “Numachi” (“Swamp”; a real role-playing game locale), or the fizzy jazz that etches out a refined, frenetic space in “Gallery Cafe,” the tracks here are loving, constructivist vignettes outlining the various atmospheres found in reality — in Higuchi’s reality, at least.
“The subjects of the album are where I actually went, and what I was impressed with,” he says. “For me, creating (music) is the result of pursuing realism. These small impressions and healings in everyday life are very important to me.”
Foodman’s “Yasuragi Land” will be released by Hyperdub on July 9. For more information, visit foodman.bandcamp.com.
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