Today we have an extra special Track of the Day feature from the emerging Dutch label Studio KOTO as well as an exclusive interview with The Flexican and an exclusive free download. In collaboration with Red Bull Studios Amsterdam, Studio KOTO has undertaken an ambitious cross-cultural EP bringing together 9 different artists from The Netherlands, France, and Japan. The aim of the project being to unite traditional Japanese sounds and culture with the very best of broken beat, electronic music, and experimental R&B. The final result is a stunning and eclectic 7 track E.P. Titled ME 目 recorded primarily at Red Bull Studios Amsterdam and featuring production from The Flexican, Wantigga, Jaël, Jengi, Canblaster, Sam Tiba, Emfucka, and the vocal talents of Japanese rappers Awich, and Loota.
For today’s track of the day selection we have chosen the track “Broken Japan” from the ME 目 E.P. featuring the projects entire cast minus Emfucka and Loota. The track takes listeners on a journey through all the stylistic cues that inspired the project. It starts out as a dance floor friendly, R&B-inspired, grooving house beat. It then breaks down into a stripped back bridge that features traditional Japanese elements before building back into a slamming broken-beat section. After a final breakdown where the track’s producer showcase their musicianship, the track builds back into the original house groove to really bring the record home.
Check out the video above to see the Red Bull Music ‘Uncut’ version of “Broken Japan” in which all the artist perform the track live in a single take at Red Bull Studios Amsterdam and be sure to check out the full project on Spotify here. Our very own Damon Steele was lucky enough to interview one of the projects most prominent artists, iconic Dutch producer The Flexican. So check out the interview below for his take on the making of ME 目.
We also were excited to receive an exclusive free download from Studio KOTO of The Flexican’s brand new Club Edit of Akiko Piano from the ME 目 E.P. So be sure to snag your free copy here.
Damon Steele: Congratulations on this amazing collaborative E.P. can you tell us a little bit about where the name ME目 came from and the meaning behind it as the title for the E.P.?
The Flexican: Thank you! We are very excited about the release of the EP. ME目 means literally ‘eye’ in Japanese but the word is multi-interpretable depending on the context. It can also mean ‘view’ or ‘wink’ or even ‘judge’. The playfulness of the word but also the positive and negative connotation is why we choose it. It’s very Japanese that the same word is multi-interpretable, which makes the language very interesting but also very complex. Personally, I believe that the complexity of a language saids something about the complexity of its culture. With the EP, we also bring a level of complexity by bridging traditional Japanese music with modern sounds. The music is therefore not for everyone and challenges the listeners to take their time to listen and understand. Kind of the same process you would go through when learning the Japanese language. Last, the simplified way of writing ME in Kanji 目 just looks aesthetically cool :-).
D: Whose idea or vision was it to bring all these artists together to make such a unique and dynamic project?
F: Rana Vatanparast, our manager, had the idea to bring us together to make an collaborative EP around the theme Japan. The previous collaborative EP we made, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, was inspired by Nigerian culture and the African period of Pablo Picasso. As we travel a lot to Asia and are very inspired by Japanese culture, Rana had the idea to use Japan as inspiration for this EP and to collaborate with our Japanese contacts. On that basis, she also asked Sam Tiba and Canblaster to join the project as they are both fanatics of Japan and Japanese culture and have a big musical network in Japan. It really helped us as producers to have some boundaries with this predefined concept when kicking-off this project. I think it easier to let your creativity flow within the context you are working, in stead of defining the context first. It was also great to work together in the RedBull Studio in Amsterdam. It’s a great studio and they provided us with all the equipment we needed to develop this EP, especially for the recording of live session of Broken Japan.
D: Did the group have a general idea of what these songs and this project as a whole would sound like before they started working on it, or was it something that came together in the moment once everyone was in the studio?
F: The only real inspiration / starting point we had for the EP was Japan. Sam Tiba sent us a playlist of reference tracks that he really loved which had a Japanese vibe to it. That was a good way to get into the right mood and to understand each others taste and the direction we would be going with the EP. During the first studio session, we also listened to some old Japanese classic vinyls like Akiko Yano and Riuichi Sakamoto. We got great inspiration for samples from those records and started building songs without really thinking too much. Canblaster couldn’t be at the first studio session, so he sent us some Japanese inspired chords and melodies so we had something to work with. I think we made like 15 demo tracks and finally selected 7 out of them to finish.
D: With so many unique artists and different musical tastes, was it difficult to find a common direction for the songs or was it something that came about naturally?
F: No not really, I think if you see all of our names on paper you would think that we are so different. But in reality we have the same eclectic musical background and knowledge. The ideas and the work progress flowed real naturally. Its was so much fun together! We had a blast!
D: The E.P. does an amazing job of blending traditional Japanese instruments with cutting edge beats and sound design, what was the most interesting or difficult part about striking a balance between these two contrasting elements?
F: To find the perfect balance between the melodies and chords. They had to be pristine, clean, but also a bit raw. The rawness was important so it would blend better with our style of beats. I think mixing old traditional sound with new more synthetic beats is a perfect marriage.
D: This project brings together producers and artists from 3 different countries (The Netherlands, France, and Japan) from vastly different cultures and music scenes. Was there some kind of common thread or musical philosophy that helped tie all these artists together to help make this collaboration possible?
F: Yeah absolutely, we are all fans of each other and we are all DJs who don’t play just one genre of music. We all DJ and produce in a real eclectic kind of way. The moment we started to make Broken Japan we all said lets make and broken-beat song and everyone said yes something like Jazztronic – Samurai. For us that song is a classic and we all agreed on the direction the song was going.
D: This is the first official release from the new Studio Koto imprint. What else can we expect from the label in the months to come, and are there more collaborative projects like this one in the works?
F: Yes for sure. Studio KOTO has some great new projects coming up. Definitely worth to keep an eye on. Our next collaborative EP will also definitely be released on Studio KOTO and there will also be some individual releases on the label.