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Tone Glow 029.4: Foodman
An interview with Foodman for a special midweek issue
Takahide Higuchi, better known as Shokuhin Matsuri in Japanese or Foodman in English, is an electronic artist based in Nagoya. Inspired by the Chicago-born juke and footwork community, Higuchi has created his own take on the style over the past decade, releasing music through Orange Milk Records, Palto Flats and Good Enuff among others. Earlier this year he released his new EP Dokutsu through London-based label Highball Records, finding Foodman bringing his wonky touch to house and techno sounds. He also produces and remixes other artists, while working with psych-rock band Bo Ningen’s Taigen Kawabe in Kiseki. Patrick St. Michel talked with Higuchi over Skype on August 26, talking about life in the central Japanese city, how juke remains his creative foundation and his favorite fried discovery during the pandemic.
Patrick St. Michel: Hello, how are you doing?
Takahide Higuchi: I’m doing well. How is everything in Tokyo?
Right now, everything seems normal, but it feels like everyday the number of new COVID-19 cases keeps going up. How is it in Nagoya? How has 2020 been for you?
Before COVID-19 started spreading in Japan, I had been going to Tokyo quite often, but in February all my live shows started getting postponed or cancelled. So I’ve just been staying at home, working on music.
That’s probably the safest thing to do.
Yeah, definitely. Even in Nagoya, though, there have been more people going out. I actually went to Tokyo over the past few days, and I realized there were more people out and about than I would have expected. Even though there’s no real end in sight for this, I feel like there’s energy coming back to the cities.
Was that your first time back in Tokyo, these last couple of days?
I actually did go to Tokyo in early March, after coronavirus started becoming more of an issue, to play at a live show put on by Trekkie Trax. Nothing after that though—it was about half a year before I went back.
What was it like? Was it a weird feeling, stepping back into the capital after being in Nagoya for six months?
It was kind of strange, because I’m always seeing people’s pictures and videos on social media, so even though it has been half a year since I was in Tokyo, it doesn’t really feel that long.
I’ve been following how all of this is impacting music in Tokyo over the past eight months, how live venues and artists are coping with everything. I find most of them are struggling to get through this. What is the situation like in Nagoya?
After the government issued the state of emergency, nobody here was holding any live events or gatherings of any sort. Once that was lifted, though, quite a few events and live shows have been happening here. I heard in Tokyo there are unofficial raves happening, outside of clubs. But in Nagoya, some of the venues are running. And it seems like a fair amount of people are attending. The scene might be more active here compared to Tokyo.
Do you feel comfortable going to the shows? Have you gone out?
I actually live a little bit outside of Nagoya proper, so there’s a bit of distance between me and the club neighborhood. More importantly, I’m really close with my wife and her parents. We’re actually taking care of them. I encounter older people pretty frequently, so I’ve been very careful. I wouldn’t attend very often.
I think this would be a good time to zoom out a bit—I think some readers of Tone Glow might not be familiar with Nagoya. You grew up there, and are living there now, so I was curious, how would you introduce Nagoya to someone who doesn’t know anything about it?
That’s a good question (laughs). It’s between Tokyo and Osaka, and Nagoya is considered to be one of the biggest cities in the country. As far as music goes, there are a lot of people who are into underground music, and there’s a really big hip-hop and rock community. Regardless of whatever is trendy in Tokyo or Osaka, Nagoya has its own sort of trends, and a history helping to shape it.
Ahhh, Woop-san! I’ll be honest, I don’t know how to really say it either (laughs). I just call him Woop-san.
Glad I’m not alone (laughter). So why do you think Nagoya attracts so many artists in that mold?
There is an experimental music scene in Nagoya, but it really isn’t that popular. Yet right next to Nagoya is Okazaki, a city with venues like Hikari No Lounge. The owner is quite connected with the country’s underground electronic community, and the whole online music scene. He keeps inviting underground electronic acts to the area. They put on events you wouldn’t even be able to see in Tokyo or Osaka, but happens in Okazaki.
There’s also Huck Finn in Nagoya, which is primarily a hardcore venue, but they put on noise shows and electronic events too. There’s a history of these types of events in Nagoya for a while now. There’s also places like Daughter, which is now closed, but had similar shows. I could go on and on about the history of Nagoya live venues (laughter), but there are a fair amount of spaces here that support experimental music in the region.
I interviewed CVN last year, and we talked about how moving from Tokyo to Nagoya changed his approach to music. When you moved back to Nagoya from Yokohama a few years ago, did you experience something similar?
I think it has changed. When I lived in Yokohama, there were a lot of events I could attend, and because of that I would meet up with a lot of people and listen to a lot of music. Nagoya just has a lot fewer events, not to mention less overall variety in what music you’ll hear be played. Like I mentioned before, I live on the edge of Nagoya, so the number of shows I’d get out to was much lower. I was staying at home and working on music. As a result of that, I’ve become more inward looking. I have to face what’s inside me, rather than what’s happening outside. The music I make is much more personal since moving here.
What have you learned about yourself?
Ahhh, let me think about that. Where I’m living right now isn’t quite where I grew up, but it’s close by. So I often go to the place where I lived when I was kid. I’d walk by my elementary and junior high school, or check out stores I used to visit when I was young. It reminds me of all the things I liked, and reminded me of the music I was into at those times as well. It gets me thinking about how I’ve changed.
Sounds like you’ve been doing a lot of reflecting.
I started making music after high school, but before that I mostly enjoyed drawing manga and painting. I’ve been thinking about that too.
I guess you have been doing a lot more artwork—including for your albums—since moving back to Nagoya.
That definitely has a lot to do with coming back here. Like for the cover I do or the art book I included with Aru Otoko No Densetsu. That was all about coming back here and being inspired to draw again.
You said you went to a bunch of stores from your childhood. What were some of your favorites?
At the station nearby, I really like these taiyaki and takoyaki stores (laughs). I went to them a lot while I was growing up, and I went back and ate those foods again. There’s also a few cheap snack stores nearby, so I’d stop by there and eat some of my favorite snacks. There was a bookstore, and I was also into fishing when I was younger. So I went to a store to buy a magazine about fishing. All of that—food and books and magazines—reminded me of my childhood.
I wanted to shift gears a bit and talk about your latest EP, Dokutsu. How did these songs come together?
I actually wasn’t thinking too much when I started making the EP. When I’m making an album, I need to have a concept and a tonality that runs through the whole release. Since this is an EP, though, I can try new things. There’s songs inspired by house music on this one, and other tracks featuring way more melodies than I usually use in my music. Dokutsu is about experimenting with styles I normally wouldn’t go towards normally.
Why did you want to dabble in house-inspired tracks?
When I first moved back to Nagoya, house and techno were pretty big, and I’d attend events built around those genres. I just wanted to give it a shot after hearing it again.
That sounds like something you’ve mentioned in other interviews, about how your music is influenced by daily life. Like, just going to a party and hearing house or techno. What else from your daily life shaped Dokutsu?
Since I went back to my hometown, I did things I used to do all the time. One thing was I started playing more video games from when I was young, and I think the sound of those games seeped into my unconscious and shaped the music. Like Final Fantasy VI, Chrono Trigger and Shin Megami Tensei If. There’s also a Game Boy game called SaGa 2—that one even had a feature called “soundcheck” which allowed you to just listen to the background music from the game. I’d just listen to it alone, and enjoy it.
I’ve found myself doing something similar in the last few years, listening to the soundtracks of games I played a bunch when I was younger, like Earthbound.
Ooooh, that’s a great choice.
Something that’s not from your childhood but you have been connected to for a long time is Japan’s juke and footwork scene. I’m blanking if you’ve ever talked about this before, but what was your first encounter with juke and footwork in Japan?
It was in 2011. I saw that the live-streaming channel Dommune was airing a juke special. I think it was in February. I was amazed and surprised by what was this really strange music to me. I got curious, and started researching it on the internet, and learned about juke. I also found that there were footwork producers in Japan, and I started following them on Twitter and SoundCloud. I’d talk with them, get to know them. I was in Nagoya back then, but I’d go out to Osaka and Tokyo to attend these events.
Do you remember the first one you went to?
Actually, the very first event I ever went to was in Nagoya, at the place I mentioned called Daughter, albeit it had a different name. They put on juke and footwork parties. There were guests from other cities, like DJ Fulltono from Osaka and some artists from the label Booty Tune. I’d known about all this from the internet, but this was my first time seeing it in real life, in a club with a huge soundsystem. I’d only been listening to it from my PC up to that point. It was amazing hearing it in this new context.
How does juke inform the music you are making today? What’s your relationship to it in 2020?
I was always composing music before I started making juke, but at that time I was feeling like what I was making wasn’t quite working. There were even times where I didn’t feel any joy from making music. When I was introduced to juke music, it was strange. I was inspired by this strangeness I felt from the music. The tracks I encountered were even doing things that some might consider to not even be music, it was bordering on that territory. That was surprising, and inspirational.
In juke, the tempo and BPM being fast is an important part of it, but I was inspired specifically by the feeling of being able to do things that felt really out there. What juke taught me was to just do what I want, and play with the ideas I desire from music. What I make now, the juke influence is there, but it isn’t necessarily the sonic elements. It’s the freedom—of being able to make the music you want. When I make house, breakbeat, noise… juke is there, because I learned about embracing the freedom of doing what you want. That’s the message.
That touches on something I personally love about your music, which is how joyful and fun it sounds. Like, how much you enjoy the process of just creating. That’s something I’ve always associated with Chicago juke too, the fun that artists seem to be having with it.
Thanks for saying that! I’m happy to hear you think that about it.
Well, no worries. Shifting the topic a bit, I wanted to talk about collaboration and how you work with others. I’m most interested in Kiseki, your project with Taigen from Bo Ningen. I talked to him earlier this year, and he was talking about how much you’ve inspired his own music. Do you remember your first time meeting him?
It was about the end of 2013, I tweeted something out and Taigen responded to it. That’s how I was first introduced to him, through Twitter. We began talking on DM, and I realized he was in Germany with members of Mouse on Mars. They were listening to my music. A year later, Bo Ningen played in Japan and I had the chance to talk to Taigen in person. When they came back in 2015, he was like “let’s do a session sometime.” It was an interesting experience, and we decided to start a group.
Taigen mentioned the two of you would just walk around the streets, rapping over beats you had on your phone.
Yep, that’s true. We’d walk around and freestyle over the music. It was a free way of doing things, and when ideas popped up, we’d just record them right away.
How does working with others, like Taigen, change your approach to music?
When I’m alone, I’m just in my own element. When I’m jamming and having sessions with Taigen, for example, things I never would have thought about or imagined emerge. With Taigen in particular, we can just vibe and come to the same feelings together. Those sessions have eventually fed back to my own music as Foodman too, which is another special part of it.
What’s an example of your times with Taigen influencing your solo work?
It’s like when I’m working alone, I’ll use a PC with Ableton, it’s kind of rigid how I make music. What this experience with Taigen taught me was that I want to create in a more lively way. On the spot, with more improvisation. I’ve started treasuring things that happen in the moment. It’s like I’m jamming with myself.
When was the last live show you played?
It was in July, at a place called Rita in Nagoya.
How’d it go?
It was completely different from what I normally do (laughs). It was a drone performance. I went out with an iPad and played drone music live.
Why did you decide to do a drone set?
There were times when I’d listen to drone a lot. There’s a small park near where I live, and sometimes I’d go there while listening to drone. It was very refreshing. That made me want to make it myself. That’s part of my experimentation, to make and play it live.
Sounds like this year is you really trying to push yourself musically. What do you want to try next?
It’s hard to say, but about 20 years ago, I would play the guitar and sing outside of the train station. I’m not good at the guitar, but I’ve been thinking about bringing that back and doing some simple guitar-and-vocal music. I can also play the ukulele a little bit.
So if we see you, like, outside of Nagoya Station playing the ukulele, we shouldn’t be too surprised (laughter).
I mean, it’s still too hot outside. It would be fun when the weather cools down and I have a few drinks. That’s totally possible (laughter).
Late last year, you started your own label, Kuromon Label. What prompted you to do that?
I started the label to release music by a singer/songwriter named Go Osaki. We were just talking about playing guitar outside of a train station… he’s actually been a friend of mine since elementary school, and he was making music long before I started. He’d be in a band, and then eventually we’d play together in front of the station. He was always making such great songs. I was just a fan of Go’s music, but he’s not the type of person who would release or go public with it. He’s the same age as me, 39, but he never released anything. I always wanted to introduce his music to the world. So this is almost like the sole reason I did this label, to introduce Go Osaki’s music to the world.
Wow, that’s interesting. That almost ties back to what you were talking about earlier, revisiting your childhood and early memories.
This is actually something I’ve wanted to do for a really long time, like 15 years ago. I always thought that if I made a label, Osaki’s music would be the first to be released.
What was Osaki’s reaction to you wanting to start a label basically putting out his music?
When I approached Go, he was just like “yeah sure. Do it.” He’s easy-going about it… he’s not trying to make it in the music industry or anything, but he’s a childhood friend, and if I want to put out his music, he’s happy with it.
Actually, one of my first experiences with making music was with Go. I went to his house and he had a multi-track recorder, and I’d kind of jam out ideas with Go. This was about 20 years ago. It’s something I was talking about with juke music earlier… when I first encountered it, the joyfulness of the music reminded me of the experience I had at Go’s place, just making songs together. It’s totally different sounds, but it does tie together my attitude towards playing and making music.
One of the best things about making music is listening to what you’ve made play out of your own speakers. That’s a feeling I still want to hold on to now, that’s the ultimate joy of making music for me. With the juke scene, you can tell how much joy goes into it, like it’s something they made at midnight, just having fun and going with the flow. It was almost like listening to my friend’s music.
That would probably be the perfect place to end this… except I have a completely unrelated question about the things you post on Twitter. You post a lot about aji furai (deep-fried horse mackerel) as of late… what’s up with that?
(laughter) So since the start of this year… OK, there’s a highway service area near my house, where cars and trucks can stop to take a break. You can actually get into the food court of the service area from the back, and these places have surprisingly good food. So I went, and ate aji furai for dinner, and it was really good. Aji furai is rarely the main dish of a meal, but here it was, and I was really in awe of it. I kept going to the food court two or three times a week. I became a big fan, and I just started tweeting about it. There’s not much meaning (laughs).
I’m genuinely surprised that you can even walk to one of those service areas on foot, like I always just assumed they were in their own little private world, only accessible by car. I never thought that you could just walk behind it and go in one.
It was genuinely a great experience to find out I could get into this food court, this world. Due to COVID-19, there’s no events or big things, but finding this food court has been one of the big finds of the year for me. The other thing for me is just finding local saunas and super sento (a commercialized take on hot springs). Even before all of this, I enjoyed taking little trips to places. I’d ride a bike to a new station, or go into a new restaurant. That has been a hobby.
Thank you so much for answering my aji furai question, and thanks for taking time to talk today!
No worries at all, thanks so much for the fun talk!
Still from Supermarket Woman (Itami Juzo, 1996)
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