Artist Feature 008: Akiko Kiyama

May. 25. 2015

Photo: Mari Inoue

Photo: Mari Inoue

Well it’s been a little bit since out last artist feature, but after all we are about quality over quantity here at the blog.  And with this week's guest we are certainly staying true to this philosophy.  Akiko Kiyama has become a name synonymous with quality productions and unique sounds.  Sometimes minimal techno, other times ambient or left-field.  But to put a name or genre on her sound is really quite difficult, and instead of trying to classify this beautiful music I’ll instead point you in the direction of an excellent interview and exclusive track she has left for us below :) 

Hey Akiko, fill us in what is happening with you at the moment?
At the moment…. I am having a work weekend again! But thanks, I am fine. Right now I am working on my live set and a remix, and also listening to many kinds of music, very old vinyl stuff and recent cassette releases.

Talk to us a little bit about your musical background and how it led to you taking up electronic music production in 2002.
From my childhood, I went to music school and started playing the piano and learning classic music theory. I had to spend many hours everyday to keep up and improve my skills and knowledge. Honestly I didn’t like it much because It was very strict, more like training than simply having fun. But when I heard Bach’s Sinfonias at the age of 9, the way I thought of music completely changed. 

At first, it was very difficult to understand and play the pieces. Especially in Fugue as I needed to run triplicate core melodies (themes) and the consequent harmonies at the same time in my brain. It was incredible that such short and simple cores (each theme consists of 5-10 seconds) result in the intricate but beautiful harmonies and eventually make an entire piece of music. But while I was interested in Fugue, I was still complaining about classical music especially in terms of musical limitations. For example, there was not much creative liberty given to the player since many classical music composers provided specific instructions on how the piece should be played and even which instruments should be used. In my opinion, classical music has already reached its completion and perfection. So that is one of the reasons I started exploring other kinds of music such as rock, electronic music etc.  I was especially interested in sounds that can be changed and modulated by flangers, chorus, and overdrive. I’m also interested in the extremely complex rhythmic patterns which humans cannot play with instruments in real time.

Akiko Kiyama Dimension EP

Some of these complex rhythmic patterns can be heard on your 2004 debut EP “Dimension” which was released on London’s Sud Electronic.  The release received international support from the likes of Richie Hawtin, Sven Vaeth and Ricardo Villalobos.  Did you have any idea your debut EP would be so well received?  
Absolutely no. I was much more familiar with breakbeats and abstract hiphop stuff than techno and minimal. At the time, the only techno I knew was from Fumiya-san (Fumiya Tanaka) which he played at his parties... stuff like Sutekh, Stewart Walker, Kit Clayton,  and Basic Channel. I was pretty new to techno music when I released my first record on Sud Electonic. 

In 2007 you made the move to Berlin.  How did you make this big decision to leave your home country of Japan?
Actually now I have relocated back to Tokyo, but I used to live in Berlin for a total of 7 years. I never thought it was a big decision. I simply thought it would be nice to live outside Japan and get some new inspiration. Also I already knew some people in Berlin through Contexterrior (The Berlin based record label) so I wasn’t too worried. 

What differences have you found between the nightlife in Berlin compared to Tokyo?
Hmm, this is not easy to answer. The fine details, of course they are different. Berlin parties are, I think, longer, more daily, more natural, and rougher compared to that in Tokyo. But I don’t find such big differences as some other people say. In the past few years, lots of artists/DJs are playing similar stuff all over the world. If the music content is similar, then to me it is generally the same. The atmosphere is maybe different but it is not my priority to listen and dance to the music.

Do you ever find it challenging to be heard in such a male dominated profession?
Not at all. Rather I feel it more challenging as an Asian or non-native English speaker to enter the scene in terms of cultural differences and simply communicating at parties and in business situations as well. In my case, I don’t drink alcohol due to some particular metabolic issues that are pretty common in Japanese people, but it’s often hard to explain that in clubs!!

Talk to us a little bit about your recently founded record label: Kebko Music.  How did the creation of the label come about and what is the vision of the project?
When I finished the track “Newmud”, I found my production was changing both in terms of music and process, and I felt these new sounds represented me. The core part of the song was already done in 2011, but I couldn’t imagine “Newmud” being released on any other label. I just kept it and waited for myself to create more similar music. In the time being, I made 5 or 6 tracks that would be suitable with Newmud. So I started exploring this whole new direction little by little.  It was quite different from what I had done in the past years but interestingly I was somehow convinced of the results and I decided to release them by myself.  I think there are things in life which cannot be explained very easily, especially in music and art. But I regard this spontaneity as being inevitable and it often leads to honest results which are very important in music and valuable for the future. My vision for Kebko Music is to be a place where artists and listeners can get inspired and explore music that’s never been heard before.  

Do you plan on releasing other artists material as well on the label?  or will it be more an output for your own productions?
I already have some other artists in mind. Some are from electronic music and others are not. 

The most recent release on the label is your own 10 track album: “Ophelia.”  Your music has always been known for its minimal, playful and trippy qualities and this release certainly contains some of these signature sounds.  The release also sounds firmly rooted in the left field, experimental genres and less dance floor focused, is this a direction you would like to continue with your music?
I will know it when I finish my new tracks. For Kebko Music, I am focusing on timeless, original and honest sounds. So the music could be anything if it satisfies those three things. 

What are some major sources of inspiration for you?
Reading books, walking around, cycling…. trying to stay quiet and also not to see my friends too often. I know it sounds a bit weird but I like to have some limits and frustration and then try to put those feelings into the music.

Thanks again to Akiko for stopping by, have a listen to the 3 minute experimental synth piece shes left for us below…

Connect with Akiko: Soundcloud, Instagram, Facebook