Bubblin’ Up: YPY
Osaka's Koshiro Hino reflects on his Japanese band roots.
Bubblin’ Up: YPY
Osaka's Koshiro Hino reflects on his Japanese band roots.
YPY is a project by multi-instrumentalist and composer Koshiro Hino. The Osaka-based artist began his career in 2010 as a band musician in Talking Dead Goats “45, and he remains involved in minimalist instrumental outfit Goat and hardcore-induced band Bonanzas. Drawn by the fun of experimenting in electronics, he launched YPY in 2014. After self-releasing music via his own birdFriend label, his first EP, Visions, surfaced via Berlin’s Nous Disques in 2015, followed by his debut full-length, Zurhyrethm, in June, before his second, 2020, through Where To Now?
Hino’s band experience is evident across his solo output, particularly in his approach to rhythm and percussion, as is his Japanese heritage. He discovered electronic music through Osaka’s lively experimental music scene in his youth, but as with so many of his peers the opportunities to access clubs were limited by fueihō, an adult entertainment law that required that venues meet size restrictions if customers were to dance. Authorities generally didn’t act on the “no dancing” part of the law until around 2010 but these strict crackdowns forced many venues to close. It remained this way until 2016 when the law was revised. “I think that perhaps the fact that many clubs were forced to close due to fueihō crackdown, and thus not having much access to the actual club scene, made us approach electronic music differently,” Hino explains.
Hino recently returned with his third solo album as YPY, Be A Little More Selfish. The output encompasses a wide variety of styles, again with a particular focus on percussive elements, from dancefloor-friendly techno and house to headier and noisier experimental excursions. It’s a captivating listen that draws heavily on YPY’s band instincts.
In support of the release, we connected with Hino to learn more about the state of Japanese electronic music and his YPY project, in particular how it has been shaped by his background in bands. In support of the interview, YPY also prepared an exclusive Bubblin’ Up studio mix, available to download here.
What’s the state of the Japanese club scene now?
Things are gradually getting better. The major fueihō (dance-ban law) crackdown in the city kept young people away from clubs for a long time, and also 3.11, the Tohoku earthquake, and the Fukushima nuclear disaster made many international artists reluctant to come to Japan. This is particularly bad because these events have had to rely on international big names to draw enough of an audience. These factors really affected the scene, but in recent years I feel like more local parties have been emerging, and there is more of a connection between the younger generation and nightlife. In the building where I have my studio, there’s a new club called Daphnia opening this month, so I’m optimistic about things to come.
How substantial has Japan’s legal reform regarding fueihō been on the Japanese electronic music landscape?
The amended set of laws now allows some clubs to operate late-night, but only if they meet certain criteria, such as being located in a commercial district and holding minimum dimensions—but this actually prevented many small independent clubs from being able to gain a business license to operate after midnight. After the reform, the long running Club Hachi in Tokyo got busted for violation of the new law, and Forestlimit had to stop hosting club nights, so there have been many negative impacts. Osaka didn’t experience anything drastic as far as I know but the general impression is that nobody is totally comfortable running independent clubs in the country. So I don’t feel like the reform has actually helped anyone too much. And I don’t really see either a positive or negative influence of the reform on the electronic music scene or artists. But that’s just my personal perception.
“I think that perhaps the fact that many clubs were forced to close due to fueihō crackdown, and thus not having much access to the actual club scene, made us approach electronic music differently.”
The law only changed in 2015, meaning that it can’t have been easy for you to have experienced electronic music in the club setting growing up. What impact has this had on the Japanese scene?
When the enforcement of the fueihō really started with the first raid of Club Noon, I was much more involved in the band scene, so I don’t really feel like I have enough insight to really talk about it. What I can speak from my perspective is that in retrospect this was the period that many of the younger generation of Japanese music producers such as Foodman and Keita Sano began reaching out to an international audience to have their music heard, although I am not sure if there are any correlations. Of course, some Japanese artists had released on international labels in the past but I know a lot of other people never really considered that as a realistic option before. Seeing unestablished artists making their international debut regardless of their “career” in Japan, and getting recognition, was refreshing, and I think many more people were encouraged to follow that path.
Also, what I do know is that those two producers in particular seem to have developed unique electronic music without having much experience of being in clubs. The same could be said about my production, and many others. I think that perhaps the fact that many clubs were forced to close due to the fueihō crackdown, and thus not having much access to the actual club scene, made us approach electronic music differently.
So do you see a big contrast between Japanese techno and European techno, for example?
Yes. I see techno as a type of music that’s very tied into the space. I’m kind of stating the obvious, but how it resonates, and how it fits the space seems to be particularly important with techno. I believe Europe has a longer experience and deeper understanding of club culture in general, so that people know how to make it “work” in that environment. I think you need to be quite imaginative to produce techno because you need to be able to imagine how it will sound in the club setting, but since there are not that many influential clubs exist in Japan, it’s probably harder for us to imagine that while making it. However, not knowing or ignoring what you know, or don’t know, can also be an advantage. Because your creativity is not restricted by the functionality of the music, which can lead to building a completely unique style, and I think you find some fine examples of that among Japanese artists.
Do you consider yourself to be a beneficiary of this ignorance?
Since I try to learn and reflect what I learn on things I do, I don’t think I have much of that benefit. However, as a record label owner, I am constantly looking for artists who do.
Can you name me some of these artists, and their works that you feel represent this different approach?
For example, Yximalloo whom I’ve included in my mix. Germany’s Kompakt released his LP entitled WANTED without knowing who made it. He has various different approaches depending on the song, and is also probably trying new methods everyday. However, I am very much attracted to his uniqueness; you can immediately tell it’s Yximalloo’s work even on the first listen. A duo called Shimetta Inu from Sapporo are very special too.
Your approach to music is also different because your career began with two band projects, Bonanzas and Talking Dead Goats “45. How has this impacted your approach to electronic music?
I think my band experience has influenced pretty much everything I do in electronic music. For example, when I acquired my first sampler, I played it on the guitar and bass amp instead of a mixer. When I played on normal speakers, via a mixer, I felt uncomfortable because the sound was too clean. I thought you were supposed to treat synth or sampler sounds on an amp like you do with the guitar. FYI, the title track from my first album, Zurhyrethm, was made with live recordings of the sounds coming out of the amps. I only realised later that the sound quality is much better if you just line record it via mixer, but I think the use of guitar/bass amp was actually quite effective for my early period when I didn’t quite know how to make the sound I wanted otherwise. I also think the band experience helped me in how I approach and manage live performances, and also how I compose. There are many such positive influences.
How did Bonanzas and Talking Dead Goats “45. evolve into Goat and YPY?
To be honest, Talking Dead Goats “45 is my past that I’m not particularly proud of, but it all started there and everything I’ve done since can be traced back to it. I used to put all my interests and desires in one project, Talking Dead Goats “45, and I basically failed. But then I realised I can express myself in multiple projects, so Bonanzas emerged as a way for me to incorporate guitar solo improvisations, an essence of hardcore, but with a focus on a percussive and noisy approach. Then this led me to invite a saxophone player from Talking Dead Goats “45, and together we became Goat. YPY came about even after that, and it’s the most free-form. It’s a project that I can just throw in everything I want to experiment with, and record in my bedroom on my own.
Why the need to stray from the band format?
I can only speak for my take on electronic music, but for me it’s the speed and the fun. It’s really great that you can put together your ideas so fast in an audible form. I’m always super buzzing when making electronic tunes.
What’s the music scene like in Osaka?
Up until the beginning of 2000, it had a vibrant noise/avant-garde scene. I was very much involved both as a member of the audience and as a performer, and I had some incredible experiences, but it feels like that energy has faded out a bit recently. There are a few artists and labels I find outstanding but not so many. Maybe I’m just caught up too much with my own stuff and haven’t been able to pay attention to others though.
Which artists and labels are impressing you?
One of the acts I respect most in Osaka is Nanaentai (a.k.a Dinarudum.) They are a drum/percussion duo, and I really admire their excessively stoic attitude towards their music. I also discuss the methodology of composition with them sometimes, so they don’t just inspire me but actually affect the way I compose my music.
Without exaggeration, Em Records is such a respectable record label. I came across the label about 10 years ago, and got heavily with the works of Roland P Young, Wicked Witch, Yoshi Wada, and Matsuo Ohno. I had no idea it was based in Osaka at that time, and finding that out was really enlightening because I didn’t know too many Japanese labels that released this type of music internationally back then. And they don’t just reissue forgotten gems but also release current music simultaneously. I think that’s remarkable.
Can you make a career as an electronic artist in Japan?
The infrastructure is definitely not sufficient. China currently seems to be experiencing a big boom with electronic music with many new clubs opening up, and lots of artists coming in from Europe and beyond. These artists will play in Tokyo if they ever come through Japan, but it’s often the case that smaller cities simply cannot afford to invite them to play. I really don’t know too many clubs outside of Tokyo with enough money. But I don’t think artists are so limited by geographical boundaries anymore; the current Japanese electronic music is not so detached from the rest of the world and so you don’t really require an infrastructure to be a musician. I think the important thing is to keep doing what you want to do, and a career might follow just as a result of it. In that sense, I think it probably is possible to build a career here.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned in your artistic development so far?
I’m still constantly exploring the way I produce music, so I can’t describe clearly, but if there’s anything I always keep in mind it’s to question everything. Try doing exactly the opposite of what’s considered standard, then you will get interesting results. I spoke about this in my interview with Juno before, but to give an example, I didn’t use MIDI sync in my first YPY album. With Goat, we use the melody instruments—guitar and saxophone—as percussion in the composition instead. When something starts to become a style of my own, then I start questioning that too.
Where did you learn this non-conformist attitude?
From people like EYE and Seiichi Yamamoto of the Boredoms, who both approached music in so many different ways. And performances by artists like Christian Marclay and Yoshihide Otomo. These made me think, “Oh it’s actually ok to go this far,” and this has liberated me on multiple occasions.
“I get much more excitement by setting restraints or limits, and this excitement usually gives me the drive to make music. I can’t actually make good music without having this sense of excitement.”
You’ve also spoken about the power in restraint. Can you tell us more about this?
If you keep making music with an anything goes approach, you start to lose excitement. I get much more excitement by setting restraints or limits, and this excitement usually gives me the drive to make music. I can’t actually make good music without having this sense of excitement.
In the case of bands, the setting of strong rules, flexible yet specific kinds, takes up most of the composition process. These rules can be things like: ways to compose and play or selection of instruments. If you fail to set the appropriate rules at the beginning, the rest starts to fall apart at some point, but when you have them working, you just naturally come up with many ideas and everything falls into the right places. Working in a limited framework generates more wild ideas, and leads to special sounds. To give a simple illustration: when you feel like you want to add another percussive element to your song, you could add a new sound by playing an existing instrument differently rather than adding a new instrument.
How does this translate to your electronic music production?
Recently, I’ve been trying to apply the rhythm rules of the band works to YPY, and conversely applying what I did with YPY to my band music. I always struggle with the balance between the complexity and simplicity of the rhythms, but I think having the experience of band’s compositions is an advantage.
What’s the story with birdFriend? What do you look for when it comes to signing artists to the label?
I was initially intending to release the works of undiscovered talents I encountered around me, but as my network of people grew my perspective on the label also expanded. I just simply put out the music I find interesting at the time, but I tend to be drawn to interesting experimentations. I think I can announce a 7″ release soon. From then on, I’m hoping to release more vinyl.
Do you distribute your music to select artists when you’ve finished it?
With this album, I gave out to people like Jane Fitz, Jon K, DJ Nobu, and Compuma. But not always.
What would you consider to be “success” in music?
To have an environment where I can make music freely without the stress of making a living.
Photos: Dai Fujimura
Be A Little More Selfish LP is available now, with order here.