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Golden Interview Week: No. 6 - Shugo Tokumaru


Shugo Tokumaru is the rising star of the Japanese indie scene, and his debut album Night Piece was the best thing that ever happened to 2004. Pitchfork gave it an 8.6, and it eventually charted at both Other Music and Darla. The remix album NPRMX is out now on our small label, and his sophomore release should be hitting the streets in the near future.

1) What have you been listening to lately?

I’ve been making my new album, so I’ve only been listening to my own music.

2) Is there an instrument that you really want to learn how to play?

I’d like to learn to play traditional Japanese instruments. I’m very interested in gagaku (a style of Japanese court music first played in the 13th century.)

3) I hear you studied music in California for a while. Do you think there’s a difference between the way Japanese and Americans think about music?

There are differences in physiques and vocal chords, differences in the languages, cd prices, copyright rules, so I get a sense that there is a difference in the way people take in music, but comparatively, there’s not that much difference.

But, there’s a part of me that thinks, no, there’s something different. It’s hard to explain in words. For example, I think that when compared to Americans, the Japanese listen to music with their bodies to a lesser degree. You can see this in difference between the hit music in both countries.

I’m changing gears here, but do you know this story? It’s a story more than 100 years old. When foreigners came to Japan, they were doing a performance of their own country’s music. And the Japanese first hearing this Western music said, “That first song you played was the best.” And the foreigner said, “Oh, what song?” and he started to play the first song, but the Japanese guy answered, “No, the one you did before that one was the best.” Turns out the Japanese guy was talking about the sound of the foreigners tuning up their instruments.

Of course, this story is made up, but there is a considerable difference in the way Japanese and Westerners listen to music.

4) What is the greatest challenge (barrier, difficulty) in the Japanese indie scene of today?

Because it’s so easy to reside in the indies scene now, it’s filled with “B-level artists who think like major-label artists, but can’t get to the majors.” I don’t understand the meaning of being an indies artist who completely imitates major-label artists. So, the greatest challenge (barrier, difficulty) is challenge itself.

5) How is your new album going?

I finally put it all together. I’m moving towards putting it out this summer in Japan. And of course I plan to release it abroad too.













Marxy wrote a lot of essays back on his old site Néomarxisme. This is one of them.

19 Responses

  1. Sameer Says:

    I find it interesting that Tokumaru, in Q5, writes “hatsubai” in reference to Japan but “release” (in katakana) in reference to the rest of the world. Is this an ironic use of language to make some subtle point about the music industry, or is it just natural to talk that way? (I don’t know)

  2. Momus Says:

    I love the anecdote about the Japanese liking the sound of Western instruments being tuned better than Western music itself! I mean, it is a more interesting sound, isn’t it? It’s microtonal, polyrhythmic, aleatory conceptual process music! (Instruction: turn tuning keys of instrument, with as much indifference as you can muster for the sounds of others around you doing the same.)

  3. marxy Says:

    The question is… who made up that story and what were they getting at? The idea that tuning is more interesting or that the Japanese had a hard time understanding Western scales?

  4. marxy Says:

    Also, Sameer, I don’t see any intentional differences between “発売” and “リリース”. Why say the same word twice when you can add diversity to your writing/speaking?

  5. Jaff Says:



  6. trevor Says:

    i am interested in the part about americans listening with their bodies more. or just the idea of listening with your body. i find even with ambient or experimental music, if something is really hitting me. emotionally. i can’t help but move physicaly in some way. from head bangs, to hand sweeps, even tears. i can’t just “listen” to music. and if the music is bad, i will feel bad, uncomfortable, sick.
    also, i always figured music to be more or less universal. so the idea that cultures could listen to the same thing, differently. is interesting too, though makes sense once i think about it for a split second.

  7. Klas Senatus-Sjogren Says:

    His take on that Christmas tune almost made me forget my aversion towards that Holiday. Shugo’s album is one of the best I’ve ever heard. I’d like to think of it as something of a product of the blogging sphere, although I’m sure Shugo would disagree, but Midori, David F, Digiki, Marxy etc. who appear on the remix thing are all part of this community.

    japanese translation


  8. marxy Says:

    Midori, David F, Digiki, Marxy etc. who appear on the remix thing are all part of this community.

    I can’t speak for the others, but I’m more like a groupie/follower.

  9. dzima Says:

    Even though I appreciate Shugo’s work, I don’t think that Pitchfork is a reliable source of opinions and news. Most of the times they completely ignore or dislike whatever goes against their agenda.

  10. trevor Says:

    well i realise you are more attacking pitchfork, then the quality of shugo’s work. or so i think. i’d like to point to these other comments on shugo’s album. not from pitchfork.

    “Mostly created from acoustic instruments with some light electronic accents, this Tokyo bedroom producer’s record could quite possibly be some of the sweetest 25-minutes of music you’ll hear this year. This is one of the best album debuts that I’ve heard in a long, long time, don’t miss out.” -Other Music

    “this tiny little number by Shugo Tokumaru was such a refreshing discovery. In just 25 unassuming minutes and a nice, round, non-confrontational number of tracks, Tokumaru gives us more than we ever hope to expect from much longer efforts.”
    -Tiny Mix Tapes

    sorry, i can’t help but promote shugo.

  11. dzima Says:

    No, I didn’t say anything against him at all! I said I like Shugo but whether Pitchfork gives a thumbs up or down to anyone is mostly irrelevant to me. Marxy’s constant embracing and validation of any kind of authoritative media is rather disappointing or naive.

    Ask Jim O’Rourke or Momus about their relationship with Pitchfork by the way.

  12. marxy Says:

    Marxy’s constant embracing and validation of any kind of authoritative media is rather disappointing or naive.

    Ouch. The best thing about having Pitchfork is that we can all debate Pitchfork and ultimately choose to ignore it. I’ve read people who start reviews saying, “Pitchfork hated it, so I knew I’d like it…”

    In Japan, they have no version of Pitchfork, no version of the “Hot Sheet,” or any other kind of critical media. These kinds of subjective reviews play a big part in our lives whether we like it or not, and I feel that, at least, the Japanese indie scene would now benefit from someone Japanese seperating the Shugo Tokumaru’s from the “B-grade major-label artists.”

  13. Klas Senatus-Sjogren Says:

    I do think that Pitchforkmedia has improved quite a bit lately. I really enjoyed Drew Daniel’s Autechre interview and Nitsuh Abebe’s writings are often full of insight, genuine interest and curiosity. However, some of their writers appear to be molded by the all too familiar American rock journalist template with its various milestones and iconic writers (Marcus, Christgau, Coley, Bangs).
    At one point, I really saw a 1-5 rating at PF as something truly positive. Both of Ariel Pink’s efforts have scored around 5, I think. That ‘holier than thou and with a bigger record collection’ attitude can just kill any enthusiasm…
    Overall, though, I’m very happy PF exists, as an interface between the mainstream and alternative…for the more personal insight I’d rather go to blogs.

  14. dzima Says:

    Isn’t there a kind of music fan that listens to ‘whatever Pitchfork tells me to listen’? So there’s no difference between having or not having Pitchfork if all people are so willing to follow whoever is in position to tell them what to like.

  15. Klas Senatus-Sjogren Says:

    So there’s no difference between having or not having Pitchfork if all people are so willing to follow whoever is in position to tell them what to like.

    Isn’t that a more generic problem? The ‘Sheep Herd’ effect, which applies to society in general. In this country (U.S.) people work so much and worry too much about money, they don’t have time to reflect over their leaders. It’s very easy to lead such a herd. Hitler knew it, Bush knows it.

  16. marxy Says:

    I think there are some herd-like followers, but I very much doubt that’s a majority of the readers, nor is it a good reason to beg for its dissolution. Whether they hate or love something you like, Pitchfork – and their ilk – are willing to give space to albums from tiny labels that aren’t getting a “barter” for advertising.

  17. Brad Says:

    Bad or good, right or wrong, Pitchfork is a valuable service to those who enjoy it. If it doesn’t highlight the kind of music that you like, then don’t use it as a resource. But just because you don’t like their opinions, don’t belittle it. You’re talking about Pitchfork having a holier-than-thou attitude, but are you reading what you’re writing about it? Hello, pot. This is kettle.

    I’m not a big fan of it either. A friend of mine recently gave me a 4 DVD set with mp3s of all of Pitchforks Best Album picks for 2000-2004. Lot of predictable stuff, lot of stuff that wasn’t to my taste, but did allow me to find a few bands I had previously not heard or heard enough of. Through PM, I’ve become a fan of a few new acts. Doesn’t that alone justify it’s existence?

  18. marxy Says:

    The Fiery Furnances kind of expose one of Pitchfork’s real weak points. Only a handful of the writers like them (the other writes hate them), but through the small cabal of fans, they were able to work together to get the FF on the site all the time and into the top 10 of 2004.

  19. baerd Says:

    Thanks for posting this, how did you ever get a hold of this fella? Can’t wait to get the remix album and give it a go…