I sat down for a few minutes yesterday to talk with Yamaan, a producer affiliated with the Temple-ATS experimental hip hop crew, about his new album, 12 Seasonal Music. Yamaan has produced tracks for several Temple artists, as well as friendly artists Juswanna and Chiyori, a reggae/soul singer affiliated with the Mary Joy label. Chiyori actually joined us, as she did a couple of years ago when I first talked to Yamaan, partly because she's on the new album, and partly because she happens to be his girlfriend. There's going to be a more polished version of all of this going up at Tinymixtapes sooner or later, but I wanted to pass along some of the interesting tidbits from the interview, including info on Temple's history, the similarities between blues and ambient music, what draws a Japanese teenager from Yamanashi-Ken to Tokyo, and what it's like to grow up in a city built from the ground up for scientific research.
But first, here's "Sea," the album's summery 7th track:
The track reflects Yamaan's nostalgic, generally pretty sound - which is frankly a little strange considering where he comes from.
Yamaan went to high school with both Nanorunamonai, one half of Origami, KOR-One, another Temple producer, and the hip hop journalist Futatsugi Shin, who has become one of the most important catalysts bringing together hip hop and political radicalism in Tokyo. They grew up together in Tsukuba, which has a unique history. It was conceived and planned in the 1960s as a "Science City," a research hub that would drive Japan's technological development. This centrally-planned dimension make Tsukuba physically hideously Orwellian, but according to Yamaan it was a collection of "strange people," who all helped create the left-of-center viewpoint of the Temple crew very early on. While Nanorunamonai and Futatsugi put on hip hop events at their high school, Yamaan was busy playing drums in a punk cover band - in mid-1990s, bands like NOFX were apparently quite big here.
Chiyori has her own superhero-like origin story on the margins of conventional Japanese society. She grew up in Yamanashi, but was sure by the time she was in middle school that she wanted to pursue music as a career, and had no interest in going to college. This made attending a conventional Japanese high school silly, since these are basically oriented entirely towards the college entrance examination. Her parents (apparently pretty enlightened folks) sent her to a progressive boarding high school in Saitama, nestled deep in a forest and, as she put it, without rules. What the school did have were highly qualified expert teachers, including music teachers. After finishing high school, she moved again, and spent three and a half years living in a rented house and putting together a demo CD with DJ Muta, now a member of Juswanna. She moved to Tokyo about six years ago, eventually connecting with Mary Joy, who will release her second album soon.
Though they're a couple and frequently collaborate, Chiyori and Yamaan make quite different music - in addition to hip hop, he's heavily indebted to ambient music, citing Brian Eno specifically, while she considers herself to be in the blues tradition. When I asked them whether their music expressed their dreams of the good life, both said yes, though of course in different ways - while blues addresses the problems of the day with sympathy, ambient music tends to be about tuning out, forgetting. But both insisted there were common threads.
We also touched briefly on the interesting and unique system of CD rental shops in Japan, with the two musicians saying that they think the easy access to a diversity of music is good for creativity as a whole, but that some rental shops (particularly small independent ones) are run without proper licensing, and the proper revenue doesn't always make it back to artists - which, obviously, they opposed.
The conversation wandered and tripped along, but hopefully that's enough to get you interested for the eventual full-length article, and for Yamaan's album. You can download the entire album on Amazon Japan (American Amazon accounts won't work, but the setup process is quick and there's an English version of the Japanese site).
Finally, here's a taste of the lead single from 12 Seasonal Music, entitled 「旅する思い出」- something like "Tripping through Memory."