Sometimes there are bands worth digging for, and the more you dig the more you want to root for them – Looprider is one of those bands. Residing in Japan, Looprider is caught madly contorting away from definition where, in three years, they have covered dreamy shoegaze air walking in My Electric Fantasy, hardcore punk ground tunneling in Ascension and now look set to step into the wide eyed world of post-rock in their newest release Umi. Mastermind Ryotaro Aoki was kind enough to introduce Looprider in an attempt to make sense of it all whilst hitting upon genre theory, perception of music and Japan’s mysterious “Galapagos Syndrome”.
OneMetal I think it’s fair to say a lot of people will be unfamiliar with Looprider. Could you give your best sell to those curious about who you are?
Looprider I always dread this question (laughs). We’re still a new band, but already we’ve been called hard rock, doom, shoegaze, and a bunch of other things. People have also called us noise and hardcore, and I think I can relate to those from a conceptual standpoint. I guess a lot of my musical ideology has been rooted metal, noise and hardcore. I just say we’re a pretty heavy band, in terms of sound and ideas. And some other times, we’re just pretty. Take your pick.
OneMetalLooprider is forming its own identity almost from a lack of identity, mirroring bands like Boris and Faith No More who constantly change their sound and mimic so many different elements that they become indistinguishable in whole from the parts they mimic, becoming their own unique thing by default. Do you feel like you can recognise the characteristics of the Looprider sound, or is the point that there is no recognisable sound between releases?
Looprider Depending on who you ask, some people will think our releases sound completely different, while others will say that they all generally play in the same sandbox. I think this applies to the two bands you mentioned too. And so it generates this dialogue of genre. Some people swear by genre, while others are much more liberal about it, so it’s interesting to see where people stand. To me, genre is simply aesthetics, the clothes you put on more fundamental, core elements. I always joke to my band members that I only have about five actual ideas, and all I do is change the tempo, time signature, effects, rhythm, etc. to make it seem different. So I like to think there are recurring concepts, motifs and emotions that are always being addressed in what we do, whether on a conscious or subconscious level.
At the same time, finding identity in a lack of identity is a concept I’m very much invested in, both musically and just as a person. Looprider is, in a sense, just one giant ongoing identity crisis. Identity is very much reliant on context, and the processing of identity is ultimately never ending; it’s always shifting and changing depending on how all the parts come together. In terms of bands, the overarching narrative is important to me; how it all looks like when you step back and see all the releases and sounds together as one big thing. Some bands are more conscious of it than others. The challenge is finding a balance between being conscious of it, and making sure that it doesn’t dictate every little thing we do, so things can still happen organically.
OneMetal Each Looprider album seems like a love letter to a particular genre. You’ve covered dream pop, hardcore and now post-rock; with what I’ve heard is an eye to put out a gothic album. Do you see Looprider, in a sense, as a nostalgic outlet for the genres you love in music? You’ve separated a few genres into palatable albums where the sounds complement each other, would it interest you creating an album that is a complete mixture of all your sounds – the Frankenstein’s Monster of Aoki.
Looprider I think that’s where we’re going next, so I’ll have to put on the gothic album on hold for a bit (laughs). We’ve come to a point in the live set and the band’s musical identity where everything we’ve done so far is coalescing together, and I think people are starting to see what kind of band we’re trying to be. So I think the next album will be a result of that feedback, as well as just us getting used to doing these varied sets. We’ve already started to write new stuff, but it’ll probably change by the time we get around to recording them. We’ll see how it goes. I think Umi is already doing all that though, to a certain extent.
I don’t see the approaches to different genres as nostalgic, although I like the idea of them being love letters. I see it more like how a genre film director will approach a certain genre. The challenge is committing to a certain list of rules and then finding ways to break them or perfect them or to inject a bit of yourself into it.
OneMetal In the UK we rarely get to hear or see a lot of bands from the music scene in Japan, and the bands we do get are strangely usually the more underground and avant-garde bands; rather than any on major Japanese labels. I have the opinion that the music scene in Japan works in its own, very healthy, ecosystem that rarely escapes its own bubble unless they are naturally outsiders to that bubble. Do you think there is any truth in that statement?
Looprider The music industry in Japan is very strange. It definitely is it’s own bubble. We call it “Galapagos Syndrome” here. “Japanese music” and “overseas music” are treated more like genres than categories, and there are people who only listen to domestic acts. You’re almost labelled as a certain type of person if you listen to music from outside of Japan. It’s very frustrating. The way music is sold and marketed here is very different from other countries, and I think a lot of underground bands who listen to different kinds of music get tired of how things are “supposed to be done” here, which is why they leave and tour abroad.
The indie scene is very exciting and there are a lot of good bands, but the market and audience is just so tiny. The majors and a lot of listeners are only interested in the domestic market, and the mentality and values surrounding that trickles down into the indie scene. So there are different scenes with different values and there’s always a conflict of interests. The “Galapagos mentality” works for some bands, but definitely not for others.
OneMetal One of the best things about the internet is that you can find bands like yours that we would never otherwise hear about in the UK. Are there any other bands that we should be looking out for in Japan? You lived for a long time in America, so I understand, and I was wondering if you noticed any big differences in the music press and industry between America and Japan?
Looprider Just to name a few bands, lately I’ve been into Qujaku, who are a post-punk, Swans-like outfit from Shizuoka. We played with them last year. Another is a duo called Bumbums, who play a sort of quirky, Melvins/Sub Pop influenced noise rock. I’ve been getting into some heavier bands lately again, like Lantanaquamara, who are very much influenced by that Isis, post-metal sound. They just put out their first EP; very slick production and technique. Guevnna are another band, who are doom/stoner-ish and often tour abroad. Funeral Moth are another funeral doom band who have been getting some press overseas. Also, Disgunder, who are a grindcore-ish four-piece, and Endon, who are a black metal/noise outfit. Some great bands in the shoegaze scene as well, like Cattle and Yukino Chaos, who sadly just stopped playing a few weeks ago.
I lived in the US for a long time, but I’m not so familiar with how the industry and press works over there. I can say that the Japanese industry is very conservative and very controlling, at least the big companies. Labels and management are very concerned about the image of the artists, and I think a lot of their ways would not really work in a Western environment. It’s one of the reasons why a lot of bands have trouble breaking through in the US, I think.
One big difference is that there’s a big divide between mainstream and indie music here. I feel like in the US there are more layers in between, and a strong infrastructure for more musically ambitious bands to have a career and gather a following, whereas here you’re either really polished J-Pop or really obscure underground music. There’s no middle ground for those bands to comfortably exist in, and no real way for those bands to get attention outside of their small music scenes.
OneMetal You work in music journalism yourself, and are used to applying the critic’s eye to music. I find this quite interesting, do you ever feel the journalist side of you effects how you create or receive your own music? Or are these both separate entities that are not on speaking terms?
I try to be very clinical about my journalism; it’s always very much about finding out what the artist is trying to do and then finding a clear way to explain that to the reader. I don’t feel like I have to always agree with a particular artist and what they do for them to be interesting, or to find something to write about them. I have however, been able to have wonderful, insightful conversations about music with some of the world’s best musicians, which I wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise. Those stick with me, and they do affect my views on music and how I approach my own, especially when speaking to musicians I’ve been a fan of for a long time.
I guess there’s some overlap in how I perceive and write music, in terms of how I approach music from a historical or anthropological angle. I like to see and listen to how people, scenes and genres are connected, and I think it’s really important to acknowledge what’s come before and how it all fits together, hence the band’s name.
Looprider’s third album, Umi, is released on Call And Response Records on March 1st