Nisennenmondai: Japan’s hippest instrumental rock exports go electronic

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They don’t sing anime songs or wear uniforms, and they aren’t part of the “kawaii” boom. But instrumental rock trio Nisennenmondai—Japanese for “the Y2K bug”—are one of Japan’s hippest musical exports. Metropolis caught up with guitarist Masako Takada and drummer Sayaka Himeno in Tokyo to hear about collaborating with U.K. electronica engineering wizard Adrian Sherwood on their hypnotic new album #N/A.

Where are you at present, and what do we find you doing?

Sayaka Himeno: In Tokyo.
Masako Takada: At home; just woke up.

What brought the three of you together, and what keeps you together?

SH: We met each other in band club at our university.
MT: Probably the fact that we are not too musician-like helps us stay together. All of us are very honest and serious, and share responsibilities without thinking too much about it.

Your music has a repetitive techno quality. Why use live instruments, instead of computers?

MT: We want to pursue the possibilities that only live instruments have rather than using predictable sounds. Making repetitive music by humans creates a sense of instability and uniqueness that you wouldn’t achieve if you used computers.

What was your first impression of Adrian Sherwood?

MT: I thought he seemed gentlemanlike and kind.

Tell us about the experience of having him mix you live in Tokyo.

SH: During the performance, we couldn’t hear the mixed sound from the monitors onstage, so didn’t really know how it sounded. It looked like the audience was reacting to parts that I wasn’t expecting, which made me nervous. But I listened to the recorded audio and found that he was able to maximize our songs and lay on just the right amount of effects.

Why did you decide to record together?

SH: To be honest I only knew his name but [label] Beatink brought up the idea and I thought, why don’t we give it a try?

MT: I knew Adrian, and even though I had no idea how it would work, I thought he was the right match for our music.

How was the experience different than producing yourselves?

SH: We just released our album earlier this year and this idea came to us on short notice, so we didn’t have any new songs. They were like, “Just do a session and give it a try.” So we did, but I had no idea how this would result in an album.
MT: It was completely different from producing ourselves. We normally write music in advance, but for #N/A, almost everything was session-based. Adrian had some ideas for parts, so some were improvised on the spot.

How does #N/A evolve from your previous albums? Tell us about the making of one song on #N/A.

MT: I forgot which song it was, but Adrian asked me to play like I’d gone crazy and I tried to do so. He seemed very happy with it so I remember feeling relieved.

Tell us about working with New York rock band Battles.

SH: It was 2003 when we first played together in Shimokitazawa. Since then, we’ve opened their shows in Japan, and they also come to our shows in NYC. In 2011, they took us on their U.S. tour and we also played together at Shibuya AX, All Tomorrow’s Parties, and London Forum. Thanks to Battles, we’ve had chances to play to bigger audiences, so we’re really grateful for that.

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