RBMA Toyko Reflections From Mr. X

20 November 2014

It was with great disappointment that we learnt Tokyo’s 2011 edition of Red Bull Music Academy had to be postponed.

Due to the devastating events that followed March’s earthquake and tsunami and the severe problems at Fukishima nuclear plant, the Academy relocated to Madrid in 2011 (hosting two Indian participants: Jivraj Singh and Jeet Zitar).

3 years later and hot on the heels of the Academy's 14th edition - which ran for three weeks in New York last year – ‘RBMA’ returned to Tokyo earlier this year.

Having already travelled to 12 different locations around the world, the Academy would best be described as a world travelling incubation program for producers, vocalists, DJs, instrumentalists and all-round musical afficiendos. Each year they come together in a new city for two weeks worth of recording sessions, lectures by musical luminaries, collaborations, and of course performances in the some of the city’s best and most varied venues.

They’re not in and out either. The Academy places heavy emphasis on building long-standing facilities in each city they visit, which are then not only made accessible to participants but also to local musicians after the event – thereby leaving a legacy in the years to come.

And this year was no different.

Set in the sprawling suburb of Shibuya – home of the famous intersection outside Shibuya Station as well as a multitude of shops, restaurants, and game centres, it couldn’t have chosen a more central location. Renowned worldwide as the epicentre for new trends – it’s an area that feels like it never sleeps, always crowded day and night and almost a direct insight into current Japanese trends - and soon to be - worldwide trends.

Much of the Academy’s work took place behind closed doors, in a building spread across 7 floors. This is where 59 participants from countries such as France, Egypt, Australia, Pakistan, Argentina, and Chile collaborated with each other in recording studios, shared meals in a lounge littered with contemporary Japanese art, only heightened by the 24/7 soundtrack courtesy of the Red Bull Radio studios in the adjacent room. Not to mention the exquisitely designed lecture room, which at best held 50 odd individuals soaking in lectures by artists ranging from Richie Hawtin to Haruomi Hosono, Floating Points, Jah Shaka, Dorian Concept and more.

The recording studio itself was perhaps the most vital and beautiful space in the building. Some say the best that Red Bull has ever created, it took 3 months to build, with staff working 24 hours a day in shifts.

Then there was the studio floor. Following a concept of bringing the outside-inside, interiors even included left-over wood from the building's exterior construction, to create the appearance of a wooden home where the eight individual recording studios exist. To further bring the outside in, architect Kengo Kuma's chose artist Tetsuro Kano to create an installation using tree branches, bird cages, and live birds that gently flew around the recording spaces.

Take into account the Reactable sitting casually in the corner and multitudes of art spread across all studios, as well an indoor patio area with plants – and you’re picturing the most serene recording studios you could ever know. Throw in studio assistants such as Branko and Matthew Johnson, as well as all the gear that you and every other participant could only dream of using (they ask every participants for their dream list) and well, as a producer – can you think of anything better?

For the public, however the academy was judged on the merits of the gigs, parties and other events that took place during its run – on almost every night.

We were lucky enough to catch the likes of Tony Humphries, Floating Points, Fat Freddy’s Drop, Jah Shaka, Branko, Goth Trad and WIFE and even an installation titled TEST PATTERN [N°6], buy Ryoji Ikeda. Our final 2 days also played host to a supremely curated culture fair. A chance for some of the more upcoming participants to perform on a small stage also housing stalls from various independent record stores and of course a warm Sake bar.

What a journey.

As Pakistani participant Tollcrane put it, “a constant battle between studio time, collaborating, writing music, attending lectures, partying, checking out the city and sleep.”

No better way of putting it. We dipped our toes into Academy life for 5 days and left inspired, sleep deprived and exhilarated.

The anti climax of our return home was thankfully knocked out of site as we prepared for RBMA’s third tour in India, this time with the rambunctious producer Hudson Mohawke. 3 cities, 3 immaculately rowdy shows. His masterful approach to manipulating audiences with his rollercoaster sets were a testament to the excellence that Red Bull Music Academy insists on showcasing and nurturing.

An echo of standards that we felt in the Tokyo edition of the Academy were felt as ripples on the dance floors in Delhi, Bangalore and Bombay.


Image Credit: Neville Sukhia & Dan Wilton


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