Image by Chad Imes
The West has always had an unhealthy appetite for Asian aesthetics. Perhaps due to its stark contrast to European austerity and chaste rigidity, the aesthetic conventions of Japan have become some of the most appropriated and fetishised. It’s even given rise to an entire counter-culture of non-Japanese people obsessed with Japan, known as weeaboos. The meteoric popularity of Japanese animation and comic books has largely disseminated the form away from their aesthetic origins to assimilate with mainstream culture. We can be thankful then for artists like Takahide Higuchi, better known as Foodman, who proves that the contemporary iterations of Japanese aesthetics are best when left in the hands of its rightful heirs.
It’s not hard to imagine that Higuchi makes music in the same way he paints pictures. Both are exercises in texture and form, whimsical squiggles of colour and abstract shapes that invite a sense of childlike play. The Japanese producer, DJ and painter arguably draws inspiration from the principals of his culture’s aesthetic tradition, creating work that finds wonder in the experiences of everyday life. This approach has resulted in work that often feels like wabi-sabi iterations of dance music styles, with house and footwork patterns being constructed from hundreds of tiny sound bits put together by way of his imagination. Released on Hyperdub as his first for the label, Yasuragi Land arrives as Foodman’s first album in three years and sees the artist embrace his exuberant experimentalism more earnestly than before.
The aesthetic concept of wabi-sabi denotes a mindful approach to everyday life, finding wonder and beauty in the mundane. This approach largely informs the inspiration behind the music on Yasuragi Land. Meaning “tranquility land” Yasuragi Land sees Higuchi look towards spaces of sanctuary, which in his case take the form of Japanese gas stations and bathhouses. From this point of departure, he quietly formulates intricate and complex collages from hundreds of simple bleeps and sonic textures. The inspiration he finds in the real world and his preoccupation with abstracting the ordinary makes for music that buzzes with saturated, 8-bit psychedelia. Food Court pings with the erratic bounce of a Pac-Man game, pattering out into singular beeps held in space which, in succession, create just the faintest melodic refrain. This is similar to Shiboritate, but here these sounds crash into each other to create a syncopated cacophony.
Structurally, things here are fairly up to interpretation. Some tracks jitter and stutter erratically like Hoshikuzu Tenboudai while others like Parking Area take things slowly, contorting and deconstructing itself gradually and languidly. Higuchi has a way of synthesising vigorously dynamic rhythms from fairly barebones sonic pieces. The way Higuchi composes his music feels akin to a child assembling building blocks into impossible shapes and forms, allowing his imagination to recreate the world around him into endless possibilities of new and wondrous experiences. This gives Yasuragi Land a sort of frivolity and whimsical energy, that even at its most synthetic makes the music burst with life. Throughout the abstractions, Higuchi roots his catalogue of sounds in the familiarity of daily life. Clanks recall pots and pans and human voices are chopped and guttural or choral as on Iriguchi. Perhaps most telling of his grounding in the real world is the sound of a simulated acoustic guitar, a leitmotif that appears in various forms across Yasuragi Land, becoming a warm, quasi-organic backbone for the breadth of the album.
Yasuragi Land has moments of straightforwardness, although even these are still wildly stylized. Sanbashi is micro-house sans the 4/4 pulse and the tropical funk of closing track Minsyku is unmistakably cumbian. Mostly the landscape of Yasuragi Land is fairly distinguished from Higuchi’s most recent previous releases, the beat driven EPs ODOODO and last year’s DOKUTSU. This is a return to the delightful frolicsomeness of his earlier work in the vein of 2016’s trip, Ez Minzoku. Yasuragi Land is a quirky look into the mind of an artist who understands dance music on his own terms, and presents ideations of these familiar forms in a way that is both startlingly intricate and gleefully simple.
Download Yasuragi Land here, and see the sushi filled music video for Hoshikuzu Tenboudai below.