4s4ki, Tokyo’s next-generation alternative pop icon, has released his debut album with a major label, Castle in madness, last July. Since then she has continued with two other EPs, Here or Heaven And Here or in hell, gaining even more supporters both in Japan and abroad. You have drawn attention overseas as the flagship of Japanese hyperpop. Her style, which encompasses a wide range of styles, such as punk, emo and electro, has a bitter and dark side as well as colorful and cute. 4s4ki manages every part of the music production process by itself, writing its own lyrics and composing and arranging its own songs, and actively collaborates with foreign artists.
He talked to us about everything, from his roots and the unique sensitivity he owes them to his visions for the future.
Your music is often classified as hyperpop. I think one of the reasons is that in early 2021 some of your songs, like “Sugar Junky”, were included in Spotify’s “hyperpop” playlist. What was your first impression when you saw your music being classified as hyperpop?
Hyperpop was just starting to get popular and I wanted to use that kind of unbridled hyperpop approach to create my music. I like to create tracks by building, not stripping things, and I see hyperpop takes the same additive approach, so I thought it suited me. So when they put me in the hyperpop category, it made me really happy, but at the same time I also had mixed feelings about it. I started to feel like I had to make that kind of music because that’s how they classified me. I was in a difficult position.
What kind of artists did you listen to as a teenager and how did they influence you?
When I was in junior high, there was a “Nicorap” culture in sending rap videos to Niconico (a video sharing site). This was my starting point. I started exploring what these Nicorappers were hearing, and that’s how I was first exposed to grunge. “The first result when I searched online was” Smells Like Teen Spirit “. It had a huge impact on me. I had no idea that music could be so dark. I loved Avril Lavigne too. I was a shy kid, so every once I went to school I thought, “Oh no, another school day, another day when I have to talk to other people …” However, listening to Avril on my way to school made me feel stronger and more confident. This is what got me hooked on pop-punk music with female vocals. I didn’t know much about musical genres, so I did some more research and discovered Paramore. I listened to Avril and Paramore a lot on my way to school.
What led you to create your own tracks instead of joining a band?
I’m not very good at collaborating with others, so I didn’t think I’d do well in a band. Being part of a band was one of my aspirations, and in high school I joined the music club, but there were so many members who were really energetic and outgoing, which intimidated me. But I wanted to make music and I wanted it to be quality music, so I did some research online and found out how to make your own music. I watched YouTube videos explaining how to do it and thought “Writing music like this is almost like playing a video game.” Just then, smartphones started supporting GarageBand. During my freshman year of high school, I created a song and thought, “Wow, I didn’t expect it to be that easy to produce something that sounds good.” I started to really want to improve the quality of the music I was making, so I worked hard with a part-time job, got a computer, created a home recording environment, and bought Logic. My first experience with full-fledged production was in my second year of high school. I preferred to create the basics rather than sing, so at first I just wanted to work behind the scenes as a producer. Unfortunately, none of my friends wanted to sing, so I recorded some temporary vocal tracks. This is what got me started singing.
What do you think was the turning point that led to your current business as 4s4ki?
There was a teacher who taught me about music production in my vocational school and I talked to them about things like not feeling cut out for society or not being able to find a part-time job. They worked for a company that made music for theatrical productions and said, “You should come and work for us and make a living with music.” I started working as a production assistant. Once, someone at work said “I can’t find a female singer. Could you write me a temporary vocal track? “I submitted my track and they just praised, saying,” You should become an artist yourself! It’s a shame to see this talent go to waste! ” I didn’t have much confidence in myself, but I decided to give it a try. I started playing on the street and one day Kussy (president of Sasakrekt, the music agency of 4s4ki) saw a video of me performing and sent me a DM. Around the same time, I was booked for an event held by Shaka Bose and was starting to really devote myself to my musical pursuits.
On your debut album with a major label, Castle in madnessyou have collaborated with foreign artists such as Zheani, Puppet and Smrtdeath. How did you make those connections?
I was already listening to Zheani’s music, so when she commented on my Instagram and started following me, I got really excited and texted her in DM saying, “Let’s do a song together.” I got in touch with Puppet when he got in touch with my friend gu ^ 2, who is also a producer, saying “I remixed a 4s4ki, so play it”. I also got in touch with Smrtdeath via Instagram. I sent him a DM out of the blue saying “Your music is so beautiful” and that just paid off.
Looking back, what do you think of the album?
I wasn’t sure how much space I would have to do what I wanted with a major label and how much I could reject the label, but they gave me a lot of freedom, so I really poured all of myself into the album. I think the album expresses my duality. There are really dark songs, but there are also really bouncy pop songs. I wanted to show the breadth of the music I could create.
After the album was released, you also played at the FUJI ROCK FESTIVAL and went on tour. Looking back, how do you feel about that time?
Fuji Rock was one of the things that led me to start performing live. The whole experience felt so natural that it’s all blurry. Partly, because it was my first time performing live. To be honest, I suspect my voice was terrible. However, my memories are just of how incredibly fun it was and the feeling of accomplishment I had. On tour, I tried to make sure I didn’t overdo it like I did at Fuji Rock, but while practicing I also tried to maintain the same level of aggression. When it’s all said and done, what I’ve found is that if I surrender to my emotions, the show is fantastic.
You play guitar lately and perform on stage in punk style in your shows, right?
Punk is starting to get popular again in the underground fashion world, and when I look at Avril Lavigne’s old album covers or listen to those songs I loved when I was younger, I think, “Yeah, that’s great.” I was also heavily influenced by Grimes, so even as a solo artist, I didn’t want to be trapped by convention. That’s why I added the guitar to my live performances.
Tell us about your two new EPs. Here or Heaven And Here or in hell they are a conceptual couple, right? Where did that idea come from?
He goes back to wanting to express that idea of duality again. I had a lot of unreleased songs, enough for two EPs, so I thought I’d take the opportunity to create a set for the EP titles as well. Heaven and hell are two opposite extremes, right? So I wanted to convey that kind of extreme duality while continuing to create EPs that gave listeners a good idea of what I am like as an artist, even if they only listened to one of the EPs.
How do you write your lyrics?
Many of my lyrics express my inner thoughts. I have really extreme ups and downs, and when I’m at both ends, it’s like the words fall like rain on my mind. I save everything I’ve written in moments like this, and write song lyrics by linking these little snippets.
The pandemic has made international travel difficult, but it seems that this hasn’t stopped you from making connections with other artists at all.
What can I say, I love the Internet. I feel that it is precisely because of the age we live in that we have these opportunities to reach national borders, so I am using the net to the fullest. I send direct messages with the music I wrote, people reply to me by saying “Sounds great” and then send it back with their own version. It’s like a conversation through music instead of words.
I’m sure the hustle and bustle goes smoothly because you share similar sensitivities. I feel like people are making these relaxed connections through the internet, not really focusing on genres or categories but sharing things with a more “this is great” attitude. Names like “hyperpop” or “digicore” were created to express these kinds of connections.
I think so too. You get an idea of people sharing a similar sense of what’s beautiful, what’s beautiful, what’s beautiful. Like-minded people just seem to come together and connect naturally.
What do you want to do in the future?
More than anything else, I want to invite overseas artists I have collaborated with to come to Japan so that I can organize a “4s4ki festival”. There are so many artists I want to collaborate with that I couldn’t even try to name them all, but to give just a few examples, when I was about 17, learning to compose songs, I listened to a lot of Porter Robinson and Madeon music and copied them by ear. . They are part of my musical roots, so I want to contact them and say “Let’s make songs together”. I would love it if it came true. Also, I’d like to play Coachella someday. However, I think it all depends on luck or fate, so more than anything else, I just want to keep doing what I think is beautiful, without compromise.
This week, 4s4ki’s online performance at SXSW 2022 was re-edited and posted on YouTube. Check out the special live performance marking the start of a new chapter in 4s4ki’s career below.
This Tomonori Shiba interview first appeared on Billboard Japan.