The role taken by female DJs/producers in the Japanese electronic scene

Since we’re based in Belgium, thereby making us “Westerners”, we at HighClouds haven’t been exposed to a lot of the underground culture Japan has to offer. Aside from just the language barrier, Japan is so far away from everything that we know both geographically and culturally, that we are basically navigating into the unknown.

When looking at the Japan’s representation in the music industry, the first thing that comes to mind for many in the Western world is J-Pop. Being a complete sucker for pop music myself, I’ve noticed the growth of their innovative take on the genre and their understanding on how to create catchy songs over the years. But, what about the less visible side of Japanese music? With just a little digging, you can find a flourishing scene of innovative hip-hop and electronic artists, many of whom display a perfect understanding of their craft, flavoured with the Japanese way of perceiving music.

As exciting as the electronic scene is worldwide, we can’t deny the fact that it is primarily male-dominated. When it comes to Japan’s biggest names in electronic music, we have the likes of Stereociti, Hiroaki Iizuka, the duo Steven Porter, and Ryo Murakami, among others. Sadly, not many female DJs come to mind, and most of those that do are actually models. So, with such a small female representation in Japan’s electronic scene, what does it take for a woman to be taken seriously?

Even though she’s now based in Berlin, Kyoka is still an indispensable part of Japanese electronic music. Part of the duo Groopies, she’s now experimenting with a more crafty sound, integrating all kinds of modular synths experiments. Mainly known for her works on Raster-Noton, her LP “Is (Is Superpowered)” has garnered attention from all over the world.

YonYon, a Beatmaker, DJ, and booking agent, is receiving global attention as well, thanks to her amazing blend of styles that ranges all the way from hip-hop, to indie pop and J-Pop. Born in Korea and raised in Tokyo, she started her career with her band Kotoba Select. More recently, she’s known as the director of Bae Tokyo, a creative agency providing help to female artists, founded by radio host personality, Jayda B. Jayda is now focussed on her radio program “Dentradio”, where she’s been showcasing new talents since moving from Atlanta to Tokyo in 2009.

Chocoholic, another part of the Bae Tokyo crew, is one of the most exciting artists of the past few years. Mixing an intense palette of hip-hop tunes with straight-forward electronic vibes, her sets feel like a vision of what globalization might look like. We were lucky enough to have a talk with the three girls of Bae Tokyo – about their perception of the electronic scene, the place of women in the Japan’s music industry, and what women’s role in electronic music is worldwide. Additionally, Jayda B and Chocoholic made us an exclusive B2B mix, that you can hear below.

Highclouds: Hi girls! Let’s start with you Chocoholic. We introduce you a few weeks ago to our readers when we premiered your track “First Class.” When did you start creating music and how?

Chocoholic: My first encounter with music was when I was 6. My mum got me an album by J-pop singer Hikaru Utada. I was so blown away by her music. I also started learning piano at the same time, and a few years later, I got a little bored of playing someone else’s music so I started making my own songs on piano.

You are inspired by many genres. Where do you get such different inspirations?

Chocoholic: Hmmm, I’m not sure. I like many different genres. I guess it’s also because I believe in the importance of being open to ideas and being more diverse. And whenever I start making a new song, I try to incorporate my style as well as a new trend.

How is your situation as a female artist in Japan?

Chocoholic: As a composer, there are moments I wish I was a guy, however, I don’t usually feel that. It’s more about my introvert personality and not much about the gender.

Has is changed lately? Did you notice any improvements in the last few years?

Chocoholic: I feel like it’s got easier to become a producer or a composer. Anyone can get a tool, sometimes for free, and start making music but I still feel like there are not many girl producers in the field.

What can we expect from you in the future?

Chocoholic: I will be collaborating with many artists, and will also be releasing my first EP some time this year. In terms of performance, I will focus more on interactive, live shows and construct songs in front of the audience. It’s gonna be a challenging year!

Let’s talk about the collective. What is the purpose of Bae Tokyo?

Jayda B: I don’t like to use the word collective because it sounds a bit exclusive – Bae Tokyo is a creative agency that focus’ on bringing light to women in music and really building bridges internationally as this what’s starting to become a huge support network. With our “official” launch this year (after our 1st Anniversary) we really wanted to express this in our mission. Bae Tokyo is for everyone. I think we all want to make sure that’s clear to people who want to be involved with us. However, the purpose is to highlight and create a platform for women in music and art.

Yonyon: Bae Tokyo is a creative agency that emboldens women by providing a platform for djs and artists regardless of race, ethnicity and sexual identity.

Women from very different backgrounds are part of the agency. How different are their situations as female artists?

Jayda B: Yes, there are girls involved with Bae Tokyo that are from many different places but I don’t think our situations are too different from each other or have been. As female artists our situations haven’t been that much different.

Yonyon: Anywhere in the world, there are female collectives that are specialized to demands based on their country’s situation. In the case of BaeTokyo, the foreigners in Japan, originally born in other countries have been managing the crew, to work with Japanese artist. That is the roots of our movement, working with Japanese artists. Because we are foreigners, we have been well touched with the things happening outside of Japan and at the same time we know the Japanese scene as well because we have been living in Tokyo. Luckily for us, there are places in Japan that we could work together regardless of nationality or gender, so no one would disturb us because of those factors.

Yonyon & Jayda B

Jayda B: With all of us being in Japan, we face a lot of the same issues together as just being women, or foreign women. We have issues that are native to Japan when it comes feminism or women’s rights. There are so many things happening around the world right now and feminists movements especially in the states have progressed over time. We still have a lot of work to do and a lot of light to shed in Japan as the concept of “Feminism” isn’t really understood here.

Yonyon: Japan has not been a place where the idea of Feminism is generally known in the public. In other words, we would say that they are indifferent to our movement and we do not perceive much attention according to the feminism contexts. I think our activities will be meaningless unless we work in a larger field. That is why it is important to make connections positively with other country’s scene and collaborate with overseas artists. Also as the other fact, Japanese audience tends to join something interesting from overseas, rather than their domestic events.

What kind of support can you provide if any other artist is interested in joining you?

Yonyon: a. Appear in regular events of BaeTokyo. Then, b. Provide a place where you can demonstrate your abilities regardless of race, ethnicity and sexual identity. And finally, c. Given the opportunity to collaborate with overseas artists.

Jayda B: We act as agents sometimes for our girls. For example, make sure everyone gets paid. There have been a few opportunities that have come my way and both YonYon’s way from other promoters asking if “there are other baes who are available” so to speak. In that case we’re responsible for their well being, making sure we can get them what we know is deserved and fair.

Can you give us the name of some female Japanese artists that we might not know of?

Yonyon: Wednesday Campanella, Young Juvenile Youth and DAOKO.

Jayda B: There’s one dj in Tokyo named LICAXXX. She hasn’t played a Bae Tokyo event yet but she’s a great dj and a mutual friend of a lot of us. Her mixes are great so i’d recommend her.

“There’s some sort of stigma I think, that as a female producer most people don’t take you seriously” – Jayda B

How is perceived the role of a female DJ in the Japanese electronic scene?

Chocoholic: I think there are quite a lot of girl DJs in Japan. Many of my friends who came from different countries have told me that they didn’t expect to see this many female DJs. However, I feel like there’s always room to improve. People might see you as an idol and it can be hard to show your artistic side sometimes.

Yonyon: Unfortunately, there is still few female DJs here based on Japanese underground music scene. Our society somehow has common realization that female DJs are “models,” not the “DJ,” so sometimes it is difficult to represent yourself only with your music selections. However these days, we have a kind of current that female fashion icon should start being a DJ in the club, which leads more female audience on the floor to check those models. I think this could be one way to create the opportunity as the first step. Of course while accepting these movement, I also want all of these female DJs to put more underground tunes into their sets, so the audience could be familiar with that atmosphere – and it would change the way those people enjoy music in other contexts.

Jayda B: There are a lot of djs in Tokyo who are models so a lot of times people think most girl djs are only models, they can’t spin and are only there to be seen. That was what I heard a lot when I first moved back to Tokyo two years ago. Lately I don’t really hear about that a lot and especially with Bae, I think it has helped the perception of girl djs in Japan. It’s important to me that everyone is well represented and their own unique style is understood.

The Bae Tokyo crew at their party

How do you think the internet has changed the way music is created, specially for women?

Jayda B: I also am a radio host/personality and when I started my first show back in 2009/2010, the purpose of that show was to exclusively highlight musicians who didn’t have a voice or outlet to be heard. Now with the internet, there is so much information freely available. For example, we have outlets now like Soundcloud that allow people to share their music on a social network specifically for music. Because of this, there are so many “bedroom producers” who can easily share their music and overtime you can keep up with their progression as sound cloud is also like a portfolio. I think it is a lot easier now with social media to get recognition and to collaborate with like minded people to share your ideas and crafts with the world. Still, the music industry and most industries are male dominated. There’s some sort of stigma I think, that as a female producer most people don’t take you seriously just because you are a girl. Not that I have a chip on my shoulder but we still have a lot of work to do when it comes to women being equal to men on any platform.

Yonyon: To be honest I am still not sure how the Internet as whole thing have made the advantage only for women through the scene. But one thing I could definitely say, is that social networking service has massive strength – to spread your own message to all over the world to let everybody know about your proposal. For example, we could point out Women March on 21st of January in Washington. Not only local women, but also every women in all over world was able to resonate and offer their message via Facebook live and Instagram live, while they live-streaming the march by themselves in their own country.

Chocoholic: Hmm that is a really big question. I don’t think there are many gender boundaries or discriminations in the internet world. At least, I haven’t noticed any significant differences. In terms of changes, I think people can now discover you and your music much easier. Internet is really good for advertising yourself and telling others what you want to do, and also finding someone you can work with in the future. Good for independent producers.

You can follow Jayda B over Facebook and Twitter. Chocoholic over Instagram, Twitter and Soundcloud. YonYon over Facebook, Instagram and Soundcloud. And finally, Bae Tokyo over Facebook and visit their website.

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