Interview met Sugai Ken

achtergrond: concertavond 24 Oktober 2019

Op 24 Oktober speelt Sugai Ken in Het Bos. Hij maakte voor deze gelegenheid een exclusieve mix voor ons en We Are Various. Daphné Pascual van WAV stelde hem ook enkele vragen over zijn muziek, zijn concert, het label Rvng Intl. (waar zijn vorige plaat op uitkwam) én over Japan. Je kan zijn exclusive mix beluisteren terwijl je het interview leest!.

‘When listening to your music, especially the one on On The Quakefish and on UkabazUmorezU, your 2017 album out on RVNG Intl., the idea or feeling of nocturnal Darkness takes hold of all the senses.
There’s a beautiful Inuit word, “qarrtsiluni”. It means “sitting together in the dark, waiting for something to happen”. Can you relate to that feeling when you are looking for sounds, or when making music?

Thank you for teaching me beautiful words.
It’s the first time I hear about this word and its meaning, but I think it is a very important expression. Darkness is one of the most important image sources for my creation.
There is an important Japanese book called “醒睡笑”, written by the founder of Rakugo (literally “fallen words”, is a form of Japanese verbal entertainment. The lone storyteller sits on stage, with just a few props, and depicts a long and complicated comical story without standing up – Ed.).
There is a sentence in this book: “Darkness is the time when God acts.”
I think this idea is influenced by the Japanese people’s fear of nature, caused by animism. On the other hand, I think it demonstrates human instinct, in that the sensitivity of the other senses is greatly enhanced when the sensory organ of sight is cut off.
By the way, my hypothesis is, that this may be one of the reasons why we enjoy listening to music on a dim dance floor. So I often get inspiration from darkness because darkness has this effect on humans.

What can we expect of your set up for the concert at Het Bos? Will it include darkness?

One of the bad effects of the internet on humanity, is this untamable urge for “excessive sharing”. People today get “information” too easily. Information you get easily only produces “easy” excitement. And even though there are exceptions, it’s a reason for me to upload as few videos of my performances as possible.
So, to the readers of this interview: please come to Het Bos to see my performance on the 24th. Perhaps you will see a performance as you have never experienced before…

How is the co-operation with RVNG Intl.? It is not the your-average kind of label, they support their artists in different and unique ways. Can you tell us something about how the exchange between RVNG Intl. and the artist works? Do you have other collabs with them in the pipeline?

My style doesn’t depend on trends, so I can imagine it to be pretty unmanageable for the label. On the other hand, I believe my style has a certain cultural value, being contemporary Japanese. RVNG is giving me various opportunities despite my esoteric style, so I’m really grateful to them. Besides, they also gave me this opportunity to socially contribute. E.g. a portion of the proceeds of my album on RVNG is donated to Tsunami Relief in Japan, to disburse funds for organisations providing relief and emergency services to victims of the earthquake and tsunami

So I've learned a lot from the label as a person. And in many ways, I would be glad to contribute more for and with RVNG.

Your mix for WAV/Het Bos is an intriguing and enchanting amalgam of sounds and voices. A selection ranging from ancient rituals, to Buddhist mantras, regional festival music, early modern verbal entertainment, field recordings and so on. Can you release me from my curiosity about the last track of the mix? This guy weeping in a slapstick way and a guy frenetically talking over the weeping? It’s hilariously funny even without understanding one Japanese word.

It is one of the Japanese fraud techniques called “Crying Sales”. It’s a very light form of rip-off, but still it is fraud. Two men are pretending to be strangers to each other, and are selling goods to the bystanders while pretending to help a crying man.
Although fraud is unacceptable, this kind of street vending business includes human’s true character, which makes it very interesting for cultural anthropology.
This practice is so geeky that most modern Japanese people probably don’t even know it…

Do you still live in Japan? Do you need to be there to produce your music? Could you imagine living somewhere else that could be as inspiring for your creation?

Currently, the Japanese government and mass media, which are totally intertwined with the government, are leading the country into destruction, both economically and ethically.
There are too many problems, ranging from falsification of official documents, leading the social security system into bankruptcy, unfair tax exploitation, and involvement with large companies such as power companies. The majority of Japanese people are worried, but unfortunately the government continues to evade its responsibilities.
The system can’t cure itself anymore, so please spread this fact to the world.
Therefore, the benefits of living in this country are steadily disappearing. However, there are countless valuable cultural aspects of this country that are hardly known.
It is not this export culture of the “Geisha” and “Samurai”.
Neither is it the aristocratic culture of “Zen” or “Wabi Sabi”.
Nor is it the exploitation of “Cool Japan”, even though I don’t want to completely deny that Japan is Cool.
The main asset of Japan is its everyday culture, cherished by ordinary people.
And that’s exactly why I still live in this country. It is precisely there where countless undeveloped and important sources of inspiration are waiting to be found.

Thank you Ken!

Interview by Daphné Pascual (WAV), Photo: Takuya Murata