Kikagaku Moyo on Exploring New Sounds and Keeping Other Bands Alive
We got a chance to talk with Go Kurosawa from Kikagaku Moyo about supporting other bands, changing the culture, and the importance of jamming.
Words by Ghina Sabrina
Kikagaku Moyo, whose name translates to “geometric patterns” in Japanese, is a psychedelic band from Tokyo who has amassed a huge following through their distinctive performances across Europe, the UK and the United States. Initially signed by labels from Greece, Britain and American, they finally created their own Guruguru Brain, which is now based in Amsterdam. With several mind-bending releases under their name, being “Stone Garden” EP as their most recent, we have the opportunity to talk with Go Kurosawa, one of the earliest members of the band; at La Bodega Grill Fondue, Jakarta, about the inaccessibility of the Japanese music scene, exploring traditional sounds and the responsibility to support the industry.
Last month, you were dubbed by GQ as the “Best-Dressed Band of the Decade”. Do all you just happened to share a similar taste in fashion – and also hair, too?
It’s all a coincidence. I feel like they didn’t have stuff to say, and probably they found our picture – because we played in a festival in San Francisco last month. We were like, “haha” because we’re not really high fashion.
Being a music genre deeply-associated with psychedelic drugs, it’s quite interesting that while there has been a big psychedelic music scene in Japan, there’s never really been a drug culture that would support this. What are your thoughts regarding this issue?
Psychedelic music in Japan is not really connected with drugs, because as you said, there’s not much drug culture compared to the US or Europe. So I think when psychedelic rock came to Japan in 70s, people didn’t know. For us, without having drugs we could make more druggy music because if you don’t know, you could imagine, right? If you see psychedelic music or art, you’d be like, “How does it feel like if you take acid?” without actually experiencing it. So it’d become more extreme and more focused on sound, not more on the feeling. So I think that’s one characteristic of the Japanese psychedelic scene, if there is a scene. I think it could also happen anywhere. When you don’t know, you could make up something more extreme than the feeling itself.
You’ve played more shows outside Japan in the beginning of your career. What was the reason behind this?
The things is, long story short, in Japan we have this system called “noruma” where bands have to pay to play. Then, venues own everything, they have sound, they book themselves, there’s no promoter or booker. And if you’re starting your own band and want to play shows, you have to usually pay 300 USD. Also, practice costs a lot of money. I knew, it’s not the same outside of Japan, so I said, “Ok we should just tour abroad”. If we get offers where they would pay for us to play, then we’ll play in Japan. But if not, then we could see this world as kind of a global ecosystem.
Just because we’re from Japan, it doesn’t mean that we need more shows in Tokyo. We play once a year in Tokyo, which is the same as in London, Paris and other cities. I don’t think it’s unfair, but it makes more sense to us.
Aside from the usual set-up, Ryu is a Sitar player, how do you incorporate the traditional sound into your music?
So he’s my brother. He went to India and he played and practiced traditional music. There are a lot of bands from the 60-70s that had sitar in them. Especially western bands. I really like the sound of the western sitar where it’s not so good, very sloppy, and had a more cheesy Asian vibe. That was a challenge and we wanted to bring pieces of sitar in a different way. So he uses electric sitar and not the acoustic sitar, he uses a pedal as well. So it’s a traditional instrument but it’s used in a more contemporary way in which people could relate to.
I think if you’re from India and hold traditional instruments, which in this case is the sitar, you cannot really think how to use it other than how it’s usually played because it’s so traditional and has a lot of history. But just because we’re from a different culture, we could sometimes pick some parts from other cultures and that’s the interesting part of music and culture.
In one of your interviews, you said that initially, the meditative element in your music did not have anything to do with a religious approach, but merely due to your lack of ability. Have you evolved from your earlier method?
Technical-wise, I think, a little bit. We get more confident when being in front of people and performing in front of the audience. But when we see bands, like in Soundrenaline, like other bands, technical wise we’d be like, “Oh, this drummer plays so good”. But we also like to see when they play not really way and you could see them trying so hard. It’s more fun for me to see them play. When you’re trying, I feel like you could see more of their personality. So it’s more about how you could cover-up your flaws with your style of playing.
In terms of our creative process, yeah, because now, Tomo and I live in Amsterdam and the three of us live in Japan but they live in different cities. So, the writing process has changed and how we practice has also changed because we used to live in one house and were always jamming and playing in the street.
So with the new album, we made a Dropbox where every week we put some ideas in it. It could be anything, from just humming, rhythm, something you listened or some songs that you like. Let’s just put anything in it. We have different folders every week. We listen to each others’ inputs, then Tomo and I composed them together and then we send them to everyone and asked them their thoughts. They would also change the compositions. So when it has reached 70% completion, we would start touring and then we would figure out how the song would sound like during our soundcheck. We would never feel like the song is finished because we would always change the composition.
How do you know when the song is finished?
I know what I want sometimes. It’s like this feeling when you’re polishing this thing, and trying to make it more round, once you start polishing and seeing the form, we’d say that this is how far we could get. It’s because we don’t really expect too much of ourselves. We don’t really take ourselves seriously, either, so it’s usually more like, “Yeah, I think that’s what we got”.
With “Stone Garden”, it seems that you are experimenting new sounds as you take the listeners on another lucid journey. What was the motivation behind this, and how was the creation process different from the previous records?
We didn’t really plan to record “Stone Garden”. We had two days off during our European tour and one of our friends from Prague had a studio where we could record for 2 days. We didn’t have any materials, but we just stayed there for 3 days and just jammed. We had hours of jam materials as a result. Then, we gave it to our friend where he composed and mixed everything.
Also, the motivation came from when we released “House in the Tall Grass” we got a review from the UK media which said that we were trying to sound pop and cute, and we’re not even better than Tame Impala. I totally understand the perspective, but I also wanted to express the raw feeling when we started playing music. You don’t care about composing, you just care about playing, jamming and its pure energy. That’s the thing that we wanted bring with “Stone Garden”.
So “Stone Garden” was a result of a two-day jam session and that one bad review.
Yeah, exactly. Usually when I read good reviews I feel like, “it’s cool”. But when I read the bad review, I felt sad at first because I’ve made something that they didn’t like. But these kinds of critiques are actually inspiring because I could use that ideas for my music.
Your own record label, Guruguru Brain, has also released a record from an Indonesian band Ramayana Soul. Could you tell us why you took an interest in them?
When we started Guruguru Brain, we wanted to focus on Asian music scene, especially the current scene because I really feel it’s important to show that rock is not only for the people in America and the UK, and only for ones who could speak English. But the reality is in all the festival line-up, there are only European and American bands. There are no African, Middle-Eastern, and Asian bands. Why is that? We need more diversity. I can appreciate music with lyrics in a different language, but why can’t American people do the same? So that was our first motivation.
For Ramayana Soul, aside from the Indonesian language itself, they have this thing that we cannot make. It’s such a good characteristic where it’s not too traditional and cliche, which is a good balance because although the bigger market is in the West and that we need make them interested, we also need to have this Asian identity in you, in which I saw in Ramayana Soul.
Who do you look up to, in terms of music, to seek for inspiration?
It’s hard to say because all of us listen to different music. However, we are more inspired by the people who are doing the D.I.Y approach, such as King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard where they have their own label and they support their scene, especially the music scene in Melbourne. Basically that kind of approach used to depend on self-releases, in which nobody cares so you have to do it all by yourself. But now, I want to change the concept, as part of a political statement in this capitalistic system.
Record company owners are afraid that if the bigger bands start releasing themselves, that they would change the industry completely. And people start realising that when you buy merchandise at a show, you’ll feel like the money is actually going to support the band. But when you buy their record in Amazon, you’ll get the product but then you wouldn’t feel like you are really supporting the band. I want to make people realise that by supporting the artists, you’re going to also support the industry, and in the long run you’re going to sustain your favorite bands.
By having your own label, it means that you’re also curating the music scene yourselves by keeping other bands alive. Has this been your motive all along?
Yes, and I’m not against labels because you could use labels in different ways. There are some bands who could only do music, but there are also some bands who could manage themselves. Also, I start feeling that there is this hierarchy where being from Asia, everyone sees that being released by a UK or American label is the ultimate goal. But when you release your records yourself, you’re not going anywhere. Why does being big in America means being big in the world when being big in Indonesia or Japan doesn’t mean the same? So there’s this cultural hierarchy. People are also culturally brainwashed, which makes now a good era to make people realise that we don’t need to change if we don’t want to.
I want Asian bands to be able to tour in the US and Europe. So one of the reasons I moved to Holland, was because our band always tour abroad so we bought a property there. I want my artists to be able to use it for free so they could come with ease. Also, since we tour we started knowing more booking agents and we now have more connections so I could connect them and bring them abroad. Rather than just being a label who release albums and make money.
What can your fans expect from your live shows? How are you going to translate your sound on stage?
I don’t want them to expect anything. If they like our music, please enjoy. I’m not pushing any messages, we’re just playing music. What I want to say is what I’m telling you right now, and not from our music. I want people to feel that music is a universal thing and that you could connect to it. We would want our fans to have a good time so that we would have a good time and then we’ll have a good exchange of energy. I want to be honest on stage and show we are. We’re not someone who’s super good and super cool, we’re just a couple of normal people who just wants to play music.
Do you have any future projects planned?
We’re going to release a new record “Masana Temples” which is coming on October 5th through Guruguru Brain. We’re packing and preparing for distribution. For future stuff, we have some projects planned such as new singles and a cover for some Brazilian music because we really like Brazilian music. But the thing is, we don’t speak Portuguese, so maybe we’ll sing in Japanese? Also, we’re interested in doing soundtracks for films, and collaborate with more artists because we always do collabs for our merch. We also want to push more female artists forward because this industry is very male-centric and I think we have this power to change this as our goal.