Electro-pop prince: An interview with Yasutaka Nakata of Capsule
Emerging out of the tail end of the Shibuya-kei scene with the group capsule in 2001, Yasutaka Nakata has gone on to become one of Japan's most influential pop producers. His energetic electro-pop style has graced many film and TV soundtracks, and now thanks to his work with idol phenomenon Perfume, has penetrated the world of mainstream J-Pop.
Influenced more by the style culture of Tokyo's premier fashion district Harajuku than by the vinyl-hunting sensibility of forebearers like Pizzicato Five or Fantastic Plastic Machine, Nakata and capsule have maintained a connection with the shopping area. The group's forthcoming show at the Harajuku Collection fashion event on March 21 (ironically held all the way out in Ariake) coincides with the group's recently-released collection of postmodern electro-pop, "Player."
CNNGo: Your recent work seems to focus less on (regular capsule singer) Toshiko Koshijima, and more on other, rather mysterious vocalists.
Yasutaka Nakata: I've been doing this for a while now, so I don't think that the percentage on this album is different. I just sampled those singers, so I just picked them up and don't actually know who they are (laughs). In some cases I've changed the voice so much that it doesn't even matter who they are.
CNNGo: On "Player" there seem to be an awful lot of British accents.
CNNGo: You recently completed the soundtrack to the new "Liar Game" movie as well as a new capsule album. Which did you find easier?
Nakata: It's more difficult to do capsule's music. With something like a soundtrack or producing music for other artists (such as Perfume, MEG, etc.) I'm working with a particular theme. So there's obviously less freedom, but it's easier to do. If the music I make works with the scene, then it's been effective, and we can say it's good music. With capsule I have 100% freedom, which is much more difficult. I have to make that judgement by myself, with no external criteria to measure it against.
CNNGo: You're credited with "music, lyrics, production, mixing and mastering," as well as being listed as "art director, designer and stylist." It seems like you enjoy making your life difficult.
Nakata: Yeah (laughs.) There are times where I've worked differently on different projects, but in the case of capsule, I feel the group should be involved in all aspects of the production. I do like collaborating with other artists, and I enjoy remixing, but with capsule it's not the right time now. It's just a matter of time. In the future I might want to bring in some other people.
CNNGo: Do you feel there's a difference between playing in a club environment and doing shows at fashion events?
Nakata: It's interesting, because we played an afternoon gig at LaForet the other week, so there was a whole audience there who are too young to come and see us at a club. What we've got to hope is that we'll be able to see these same kids at our club shows after they turn 20.
CNNGo: It seems that the fashion scene in Tokyo has much less of the sort of "invitation only" elitism of the West.
Nakata: Being in fashion is more like being in a band. In Harajuku there are lots of students who just get together and start putting on fashion events. It's not professional but it's really accessible for everyone -- just like being in a band. That's what gives Harajuku its energy: the fact that there are so many people who are so passionate about it, and its not based on commercialism. There are a lot of brands in Harajuku who can just about pay for the cost of living but they're not really making money. But even so, they're still really cutting-edge, cool brands.
CNNGo: Nevertheless, your show at Harajuku Collection is a pretty big deal with some very big name sponsors.
Nakata: Perhaps what attracts such kinds of sponsors to an event like this is that the people involved are so young and have this particular kind of energy. At least, that's how I feel about the show, so it's my guess that other people might feel the same way. The other interesting thing about the Harajuku Collection is that the models aren't really 'supermodels.' They're the kind of people where you might say, "Oh, they're really cool," but there's not the same distance. It's like, "If I try really hard, I could be like him or her."
CNNGo: I'd have thought the main reason is that the sponsors think they can make money out of it, so there also must be a sense that this kind of less elitist approach has a lot of commercial value too.
Nakata: With normal fashion shows, the brand comes first. In Tokyo it's a bit different in that people will come along to see a particular model, and then maybe in two or three years time, those people might be able to become a model themselves just by really immersing themselves in the culture. So yeah, perhaps this is an emerging trend in Tokyo.