The Brvtalist is proud to present a new mix from group A. Ahead of their performance at Krake Festival, our own Marie Bungau conducts an engaging discussion with the duo. See below.
An Interview with Group A
by Marie Bungau
Group A’s journey started in Tokyo, then moved to London, finally arriving in Berlin where they currently reside. Their visceral, experimental mix of post-punk, synth-wave and noise, plus the daring visuals that accompany their live shows fits perfectly in the German capital. Ahead of their appearance at Krake Festival in Berlin, we caught up with Tommi Tokyo (synthesizers, vocals, percussion) and Sayaka Botanic (violin, cassette tapes) to talk about their beginnings, self expression and what to expect from the show at Krake.
The Brvtalist (Marie): First off, thanks for taking the time to put together this mix and answer our questions.For those who are not yet familiar with group A, tell us a bit about how you two met and what drove you to form group A.
Group A (Tommi): We met through our mutual friends when we were both bored and tired of our lives back in Tokyo after spending a few years in London. We formed group A that night after talking to each other for couple of hours, with another girl who also happened to be there. We were all looking for something fun, I was looking for someone to start a new project back then as the band I formed before had just separated. This was at the beginning of 2012.
TB: You played some great festivals and shows in Europe (Gothic Pogo Festival, Berlin Atonal, Boiler room, just to name a few). How is your music perceived here compared to Japan?
Sayaka: People seem generally very honest to music in Europe. If you liked it, you dance to it. If you hate it, you just leave the room. We receive clear responses every time we play. In Japan, people rarely dance to our music. Some people do but most of the audiences seem to try to watch us, watch our live performance earnestly rather than reacting to our music.
TB: What were your influences back when you started working together (music and other as well)? And what inspires you nowadays?
T: I'd say my main interests in music and art have not really changed. I'm a big fan of a wide range of underground electronic music that came out in the late 70s through the mid 80s and I still enjoy discovering records that I have never heard before from that era everyday. When we started group A I was a Graphic Design student and was obsessed with Russian Avant-garde and Dadaism and I also fell in love with Modernism and Brutalist architecture while I was taking a photography course in the college. I am still very much in love with it today. One thing that changed is that I am more aware of the world situation than I was in Tokyo. Tokyo is one of the top cosmopolitan cities in the world but it is an island country - we still have a strong Japanese culture and I have always felt like Japan was such an isolated country. It is hard for us to see what is happening around the world and understand the world situation comprehensively. I am the kind of person who gets motivated to make art by rebellious spirit and anger, and what kept me going was my anger towards the Japanese government and society. But now that I’m in Europe, I can see how things are all related around this entire world. I feel much better now, I have clearer ideas about what I want to achieve with my music and art.
S: My influences, also haven’t changed at all since group A were formed - anger and sadness, a desire for a utopia, unconditional love, timeline of nature, traditional rituals, faith, colourless films from the era, sublime literature from Germany, Russia and Japan, music from various times and various countries, people who live the life together, work together, and so on, something always being around myself.
TB: You’re currently living in Berlin. How does it feel to live here after having lived in Tokyo and London for so many years? Was this move motivated by the amount of opportunities Berlin has to offer?
T: I'm not sure how much I was expecting to have more opportunities when we were moving here. I just couldn't be bothered with Japanese society. I have always hated it. Japan can never make me feel good to be in.
S: It feels unbelievably easy to live in Berlin. Tokyo, London both are great cities but have simply no ‘space’ which I need, which musicians and artist need. Berlin is not like that, it still has got a 'space' and people try to keep it comfortable. I locked myself in a bedroom for days and days to make visuals, or playing with new pedals and still I could manage my own living. I should be thankful to the blessed situation here.
TB: J-Rock, along with visual kei, was my first foray into the more peculiar side of Japanese music, and when I think of its sound and aesthetic, it’s totally different than what you are doing. But I’m curious, were you ever involved in this scene or is there any aspect of it that influenced group A?
T: No way. I have always hated that scene, I still do. Although I understood the whole scene better when I got into dark wave, before that I never even thought their influences were Eastern music at all.
S: I used to listen to those kinds of bands when I was 14. It's like my guilty pleasure but it has nothing to do with it as group A.
TB: I noticed your live sets are accompanied by some trippy visuals, and even your presence on the stage is a performance itself. How do you see your work: is it an art statement or more like an expression of yourself?
T: Art is nothing more than just the way I choose to express myself to the public. It all comes naturally from inside myself.
S: We express forth our feelings which come from deep inside ourselves. It might be an art statement as well - for example when we feel the inconsistencies on the scheme of society, we create music or we perform very honest and straight to the doubt or sadness. I think that it becomes a statement to society through our expression.
TB: Do you feel that coming from Japan, a country well known for its advances in technology, influenced your sound or your approach to making music?
T: I don't really think so, as I have always listened to European music since I was young. I actually only started listening to Japanese music after I moved back to Tokyo from London, but that's also "European influenced" music. The thing is, we weren't making music at the beginning. It's hard to explain but our gigs were more focused on performance and the sounds didn't matter. But making sounds(or rather noise) was a big part of the performance. We could even hardly play any of our own instruments for a while, we didn't really know what we were doing. Perhaps that's why it was so much fun, and that was the whole point. We were like three babies screaming, trying to express our feelings without knowing how to speak.
S: Technology is not a big deal. We obviously owe much to the development of technology - group A wouldn't exist if there were no Made-in-Japan synthesizers and pedals. Technology is more likely-one of the choices to live the modern life to me. Never got influenced by that. We are more influenced by the myths, various religions and indigenous faiths of Japan.
TB: You’re playing on day III of Krake Festival at Urban Spree, alongside ADULT., Kamikaze Space Programme + Geso and many others. What can we expect from the show?
S: The beginning of the new chapter of the year. We are experimenting on new visuals and sound.
T: We are reconstructing our show right now to send a clear message to the audience.
TB: What else is on the horizon for group A?
T: New 12'' single coming out on Mannequin Records in October.
TB: As a final word, could you tell us the idea behind this mix?
T: I wanted to make it sound summery and I gathered tracks with ethnic rhythms in it, from Asia to Africa, and mixed with raw and primitive industrial beats. All from early 80s, Europe, US and Japan, apart from one track which is an actual field recording of a minority race in Asia. I had to add a song about the atomic bombing in Hiroshima at the end even though it didn't have ethnic beats, because it's one of the most symbolic things of summer for me. The track then disappears into the soundscape of children playing in a park at the end(another "field recording", this one from the early 80s in Japan), with a hope for peace.
S: I referred to what Tommi brought in, ethnic rhythms and its borderless feelings. The hidden theme/story that I made up behind this mix is : In the mid summer day, a 17years old boy who lives in 2017 has picked the cassette tape on the street which has engraved the history of the whole entire world. I wonder how he will live his life from now on, with knowing the fact of the history.