A conversation with Kiki Hitomi, music and visual artist
Stories and fairy tales have not fallen out of trend. They are still very much present in contemporary music. My discussion with Kiki Hitomi, the Japan born musician and visual artist who fell in love with reggae and dub, is like a tsunami of sincerity and hope. She debuted in London with Dokkebi, an electronic fusion project that mixed dubstep with breakcore, reggae, experimental and noise. She then met and worked with Kevin Martin (The Bug) in the Future Lover’s Rock trio King Midas Sound, who released their debut Waiting For You on Kode9’s Hyperdub label. After just a year she shines on the Ninja Tune released Catch A Fire from The Bug’s Infected EP, scoring another underground anthem. Her elecronic-dub flavored trip continues with Black Chows Wonderland EP released on Jahtari in 2011, partnering up once again with The Bug and the French singer Pupajim of Stand High Patrol. Kiki continues her journey along King Midas Sound with a psychedelic-shoegaze Lovers Rock single called Aroo, a special release for Record Store Day 2013. In the same year she greeted the musical world with the amazing hook for The Bug’s Filthy EP, appearing on the outstanding Freakshow alongside Danny Brown.
Concentrating now on her solo career, Kiki released just last year Karma No Kusari LP (Jahtari), a collaboration with her partner, Disrupt, Jahtari label boss. Some of the record feature guests are The Spaceape, Maffi and Masaaki Hirao.
This Japanese dub lady knows no rest as she continues the journey in experimental music with projects such as WaqWaqKingdom and NoinoNoinoNoino.
First time I’ve heard your music was on the amazing Catch A Fire song with The Bug, and only after I have discovered the Dokkebi Q project. What do you remember from that time? You were living in London. How was the music scene and how did you fit?
Dokkebi Q was my first proper music project. Before it I was working as a as freelance illustrator and graphic designer and running a skateboard company called Heroin Skateboards between London and Japan. I did not think too much about the music scene of that time in London. I was listening to Rock, Pop music and Reggae-Lover’s Rock a lot at that time, then I met Gorgonn with whom I shared a flat and he told me all about the club scene at that time and all the new music. He introduced me to breakcore, dubstep, noise, grime, chip tune, experimental, etc.
He played me The Bug ft. Warrior Queen tunes and I was blown away. Suddenly and easily my reggae resources connected to dubstep music as this genre used to sample reggae heavily at the time. I was not into 90’s dancehall, however The Bug ft. Warrior Queen opened new windows for me. Gorgonn and I made dubstep influenced tunes and mixed them with breakcore, noise and reggae. I was naturally mixing in Japanese minor code Anime songs that I used to watch in my childhood. I created the antihero monster character called Dokkebi Q, based on a Korean folk tale story. The monster looks unhappy, sad and melancholic, but has a good heart and tries to save the world with his super powers. Originally, in the Korean tale, he is a fire monster that transforms into fire as he travels and saves poor people and farmers.
I guess I was the Dokkebi Q monster, as I needed to express myself at the time, but naturally the concept helped me write lyrics and build a certain type of song structures, as I was learning to make music.
It is no secret you have a strong connection with Jahtari Records. From Black Chow to Karma No Kusari how did this relationship evolved?
I know Jahtari ’s music since Gorgonn and Kevin The Bug introduced me to it. Me and Kevin made the Wonderland EP and Jahtari loved it, so we released with them! Kevin personally introduced me to Disrupt and I met him several times at clubs and festivals. I got to talk with him more, when I booked him at my Dubbing You party which I held in Berlin in October 2012. Finally I discovered he knew a lot about Japan and Japanese music. Back in 2010 he already made reggae cover versions of one of the most famous Japanese singers: Hibari Misora. He covered a song called Ringo Oiwake. I was so impressed and we talked about we should collaborate and make some Japanese Enka meets Reggae tracks. He sent me an Enka track with a reggae sound and I put some vocals on it straight away. It was a song called Pink No Kimono. So we started making more tracks and I had to go to Berlin at the beginning of 2013 to live there, as I was sick of living in London. So I went to Leipzig first and we fell in love and instead of making album, we made a baby! This why it took a long time to finish the album “Karma No Kusari”, because I had to go through pregnancy, a new life in Leipzig and through motherhood etc.
Any news about WaqWaq Kingdom and NoinoNoinoNoino projects?
WaqWaq Kingdom it’s all next level sounds coming from the science ninja team WaqWaq Kingdom, re-charting dub territory as we know it with their highly addictive post-tribal epic Shinsekai (“New World”). Driven by Andrea Belfi‘s trimba, a percussion instrument developed and mastered by Moondog, my ethereal voice twists through a fog of swirling arpeggiators and polyrhythmic textures, all brought together beautifully by bass-and-mayhem expert Shigeru Ishihara (DJ Scotch Egg, Seefeel).
Regarding NoinoNoinoNoino, there is no plan. It’s a one off project and a one take improvisation album. I just wanted to release this material because it was so important for me to start and end making Karma No Kusari. I love the sound and atmosphere of NoinoNoinoNoino, so I included in it those tracks for my solo live set as well. It does mix well with the Karma No Kusari live set.
The music of WaqWaq Kingdom has a lot of reggae and dub influences, have you ever thought of recording an album in Jamaica?
I have never been to Jamaica. If there is a time machine, I would like to ask the young Lee Scratch Perry to co-produce my solo album in The Black Ark studio. Also I would like to ask King Jammy to remix in Jammy’s studio and mash up my new music project with DJ Scotch Egg and Andrea Belfi, WaqWaq Kingdom. Our debut album is called Shinsekai (New World) and is out now. This album is not reggae but it has a lot of reggae influences and heavy bass music. I am so curious how Jammy could cook this album.
King Jammy did a remix of a Japanese reggae band called Dry and Heavy. If you don’t know much about dub and the beauty of distortion, then you will be amazed by this album. It totally changed my perception for my aesthetic view on music.
Any new musical addictions?
It always changes so I can’t say who now. At this moment , I listen a lot to the self-made and produced Tomorrow, In A Year album by The Knife . Noise, distortion and a beautiful electronic mixture with Opera.
The projects you are involved and the music you are doing is very eclectic. Have you taken into consideration doing soundtrack for movies? Is there a particular one you would choose?
There is a silent documentary movie I watch regularly when want to cleanse my soul. The documentary is called Nanook of the North (1922), and it is a story of life and love in the actual arctic. It was produced by Robert J Flahery. I want to mention also The Scent of Green Papaya.
You are painter, graphic and fashion designer, all in parallel with being a musician. From the cover art of different friends and peers to how you helped Stephen Spaceape Gordon with the make-up for his only solo video for On The Run, how do you balance music with visual art?
I think that, more than me balancing these artistic directions they balance out by themselves. It is healthy to have lots of inputs for my brain and do music in the same time. Since I started my first music project Dokkebi Q, music is my main concern and in order to make music I get inspirations from visuals, foods, fashion, philosophy and all kind of experiences I have.
They all intertwine, develop and get expressed in my music. If I do only one thing, I get stuck and it takes longer to squeeze ideas into my music.
How come you have chosen to live in Leipzig instead of Berlin?
I have a 3 year old daughter now, so Leipzig is great for growing kids. 10 minutes away from where I live you can go kayak, stroll in the forest and go swimming in some beautiful lakes. On the beach in the summer time you can get a tan. I grew up in a similar environment in Osaka Japan, so I really feel like I am at home. Also people are pretty left wing where I live in Leipzig. I feel so welcomed in this city. I made a song called Yellow Story on my debut album Karma No Kusari. I wrote it ten years ago and I will not be able to write another Yellow Story in this city.
We were talking some time ago about your passion for cooking and the comparison between food and music taste in terms of mixing blends. I was stuck on this idea for some time.
I love cooking and eating. Gorgonn told me that I can’t cook straight Japanese foods. I always ended up making a fusion of styles. I am half Korean and I love Korean food the most, but generally I love all kind of foods worldwide. I always want to try new foods. People love my fusion cooking because I mix all the unexpected spices in my dishes. Same as my music tastes, I love unexpected surprises and a mixture from different fields (junra). Visually too I get turned on by the food. Presentation and environment can change how we taste and enjoy our food. Sometimes street food wrapped in a newspaper eaten by hand is the most tasteful. So, there are so many interesting mismatch possibilities in my cooking.
As a graphic designer and painter, could you please name your top five favorite album covers?
1. London Is The Place For Me 2: Calypso & Kwela, Highlife & Jazz From Young Black London (Honest Jon's Records, 2005, UK)
2. Miles Davis – Live/Evil (Columbia, 1971, USA)
3. Andy Bey – Experience And Judgment (Atlantic, 1974, USA)
4. Darker Than Blue: Soul From Jamdown 1973 - 1980 (2001, UK)
5. WaqWaq Kingdom - Shinsekai (Jahtari, 2017, Germany)
Artwork for Shinsekai is done by the Hanga artist, Simon Fowler, who did The Bug ’s album Angels and Devils and artwork for Earth, and Sun O))) in the past. It is an jaw dropping masterpiece. I made short video that shows the process how he did the HANGA art for this album. He also did the cover for The Bug Vs Earth LP – Concrete Desert that is out on Ninja Tune.
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