Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on May 2010
With its rich history of bands like Yellow Magic Orchestra, Denki Groove and Cornelius, Japan is synonymous with electropop. The genre is now back in the charts thanks to performers like Lady Gaga, but Japanese ele-pop artists tend to pursue a sound that’s less sexualized and in-your-face.
Sitting across from me in a record company meeting room, Daisuke Endo seems the typical self-effacing Japanese producer. Yet the man known as De De Mouse has already been to Europe three times, and just debuted his album A Journey To Freedom in London. It turns out there’s still an audience for the more melodic, fanciful brand of Japanese ele-pop to which De De Mouse is an heir.
“I have a lot of other influences outside dance music, and I try to pack them all into my songs, whether they are from stories or whatever,” he says. “I want to make people move—but I also want people outside the dance-music world to listen to my work. YMO had that kind of balance, and they are a huge influence.”
Journey to Freedom features striking cover art from Final Fantasy creator Akihiko Yoshida, depicting four minstrel children on the move against a background that is simultaneously pastoral and hyper-urban.
“The title is a parody of a Squarepusher song called ‘Journey to Reedham,’” Endo explains. “I borrowed the name because I love that song, but I also wanted to create an image of kids going on a journey—a kind of boys’ adventure.”
At a time when the LP format is facing extinction, it turns out that Journey to Freedom is something of a concept album.
“The songs follow a loose story,” he continues. “The first track, ‘My Favorite Swing,’ is the theme song; ‘New Town Romancer’ describes kids living in a suburban development; the eighth song, ‘Station to Stars,’ follows the kids toward their destination. So I did have a kind of narrative in my head as I was making it.”
With its glistening surfaces, charming Kraftwerk-like melodies and frequent use of Okinawa-flavored vocals, A Journey To Freedom is accessible as a pop album. But its dense rhythmic textures also make it work on a more dance-music level, as suggested by the reference to the challenging electronic music of British producer Squarepusher. This aspect is played up in the digital-only remix version, which features contributions from club heavyweights A Guy Called Gerald, Plaid and Hudson Mohawke.
“My first attempt at music was playing anime theme songs on a small toy keyboard we had at home,” Endo recalls. “But even in the traditional countryside of Gunma, word was getting out about the techno boom. I hadn’t even imagined going clubbing, and had an image of [clubs] as scary places. But finally, after moving to Tokyo around 2000, I got invited by friends to go to a rave at Yoyogi Park—Harukaze—which was perfect, since I didn’t have any money. Then I started going to Womb and other clubs and learned about club culture.”
With stints behind the laptop and decks at most of Japan’s leading clubs, as well as European venues and Fuji Rock, De De Mouse has learned what makes a crowd get up and move. But his favorite place to be remains at home with his music gizmos.
“When I’m not eating or out doing some other work, I’m pretty much always in the studio,” he admits. “It’s become habitual, like brushing your teeth. I feel insecure if I don’t make music every day—it might be an addiction.”
De De Mouse
Japanese electronic unit with eclectic influences. May 28, 8pm, ¥3,500. Unit, Daikanyama. Tel: 03-5459-8630.
A Journey To Freedom is available on Rhythm Zone.