The sign is the first thing we see on entering Peckham’s Rye Wax basement. It greets anyone heading into Yamaneko’s first full live show, and reads simply: Everything Is Going To Be Alright.
Inside old televisions glow and flicker, the visuals shifting and altering as the support DJs do their thing. Clash says hello to Tom Lea – label head of Local Action, and a constant champion of Yamaneko’s music – before we’re introduced to the producer himself, stood unobtrusively on the outskirts of a small throng of people.
It’s a short conversation, but – a little oddly – there’s this spark of familiarity, almost as though we had met before. Perhaps that’s the case, we reason – Yamaneko is a regular at club nights such as Boxed, still small enough that the regulars are recognisable.
But perhaps it’s that his music is so closely intertwined with his own life, passions, and personality, a slim but utterly immaculate catalogue that moves from fractal grime, re-contextualised club elements, onwards through ambient composition and an enduring love for Japanese culture, that we can't help but stumble on to common ground.
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On the phone a few days later we open by discussing the lack of context for his work – despite being a warm, friendly interviewee Yamaneko doesn’t actually interact with the press very often, and he doesn’t participate in social media discourse.
“It messes with my head in the wrong way, I think. It’s more looking after my mental health, really. I’ve always had a big fear of things being miscommunicated – I don’t necessarily have the most faith in my own words, in terms of communicating the ideas that I want people to get. And I overthink things.”
“I used to have social media just as a personal account, before I even did music, but even then I started over-thinking every single thing I was saying,” he explains, sounding audibly exasperated. “It just didn’t make sense. I’m very happy talking to people in real life, but that side of things just never really works. Unless it’s 100% sincere I just don’t get on with it, unfortunately.”
One of the by-products of this unintended mystery is that it has allowed Yamaneko’s music to occupy its own realm. A personal observation, but also commonly held: some of the best writing on electronic music of late has tended to hinge on Yamaneko’s output, perhaps due to writers having space to operate with nothing but their own imaginations.
“For me, it’s always been a way of externalising complex feelings in my body and head,” he says. “Getting them out of there and into somewhere tangible, that I can understand. And music has always been the only thing that I trust how my ideas get communicated. It makes sense to me.”
“It really does help process things,” he continues. “I definitely feel a lot more worked up in my head if I’m not making anything. Or if there’s a bit of a writer’s block. I struggle with that, if I’m not putting my feelings into a tune or a mix or whatever. They linger inside and it’s harder to externalise it. It’s kind of an accident that any of this has been released, because it all feels like this little personal scrapbook.”
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Yamaneko’s catalogue is a highly singular experience, with his sonic touchstones wrapping themselves around some ultra-distinctive techniques. From ‘Pixel Wave Embrace’ to his work with Mr. Mitch as Yaroze Dream Suite, on to the highly functional meditative work ‘Spa Commissions’, he only releases music when he is completely satisfied with the outcome of his processes.
“I like music that really sounds like the people who make it,” he says at one point in our conversation. “It sounds like their personalities. It doesn’t matter how technically advanced it is, it could literally be a distorted 909 and a clap, and if it has that sort of earnest energy to it then I’ll love it.”
“Some of the things I love most about grime – like eight bar structures, big low frequencies, very sparse arrangements – I’ll make an eight bar ambient tune and try to channel that energy into a tune that you could listen to while doing yoga. It still feels earnest. It’s just translating my love of grime, eight bar or whatever, into a context that I feel quite comfortable working in.”
Grime is a minimalist art-form, Clash says – you can pretty much construct a beat from a snare, a two note melody, and a gunshot sound.
He starts to chuckle: “And in ambient music you can get away with a couple of bird samples and a wind chime… add a little bit of fog and you’re done!”
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There’s this cautious self-deprecating humour that runs throughout our conversation. It occurs to us that Yamaneko really didn’t plan any of this – he simply made music, and through a natural friendship with Local Action’s Tom Lea it found its way out into the world.
“God, me and Tom go way back,” he recalls. “We live together now. I’m literally in our flat right now with my cat. The first time I met him, he knew I lived round the corner and I had bought some records off him so he just came round, and was like: here’s your records. Started going to some of his clubnights, we’d hang out there and just talk about grime, really!”
“It was pretty much after the first Boxed, I think, when I first sent him tunes. I didn’t tell him I was making music for ages, it was at the point where I didn’t really tell anyone – apart from the people I lived with and a handful of others. We were talking about it, and he said, oh send them over!”
“And like three months later he finally listened to them, and said: this sounds absolutely like nothing else, can we do something stupid and put out a tape or something. We thought it was just going to be, here are some weird, interesting sounds… it’s a tape, take it or leave it. And it did really well. Which still doesn’t make any sense!”
It was perhaps the alien, if inviting, nature of those recordings that struck a chord with listeners. Completely otherworldly, Yamaneko’s music seemed bonded to some extra-dimensional realm, in a similar manner to the way the music at Boxed, for example, aligned itself to perfectly to the concrete walls at Dalston’s Birthdays during its early run.
“That’s my favourite thing, making the right sort of music for a specific environment. But also twisting it on its head as much as possible. Almost like a weird in-joke with myself. I just have fun with it. Again, the live set was written for Rye Wax – it was written for that exact space, with those props, and those visuals. Everything I do I will approach it from, what environment will this be heard in, and how best to adapt to it.”
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Which brings the conversation back to those signs we saw when first entering the live show, those affirmations of positivity which seemed so pleasantly out of sync with the aggressive door policies – No Hats No Hoods, All Bags Searched On Entry – which currently litter London clubs.
He explains: “I have a bunch of phrases that echo through my mind a lot anyway – almost like mantras, I guess. My main one was: Everything Is Going To Be Alright. I insisted it would be the first one that people saw.”
“It’s definitely for the people coming in,” he continues. “Instead of seeing a sign that says Don’t Use Phones or Look After Your Bag – I mean, obviously those are important signs but instead of having that there is this little gentle reminder that everything is going to be fine. I think it set the mood. Everyone I spoke to seemed to be in a happy, chilled mood… which isn’t always the experience you get in London clubs.”
It certainly worked – it was a heady, tangibly supportive vibe.
“Exactly!” he exclaims. “We wanted to create as much gentle positivity… nothing overbearing or in your face, just a reminder that everything will be fine. We’re all here to have a nice time together.”
Seeking out new challenges, Yamaneko has immediately set about tinkering with his live show, exploring fresh elements for potential future shows. He’s also keen to plan more collaborations, while his solo catalogue could be overdue a fresh chapter.
“I can never really predict when something will come out,” he explains. “I do try and do stuff yearly just because it feels like a part of the year now, and it’s a good way to release… not even pent up emotions, but pent up tunes that are clogging up my laptop!”
Each release feels like a very intimate experience, but it remains system music in essence. Perhaps that’s why Yamaneko’s first live show felt like such a natural endeavour to undertake – the reclaiming of club tropes he had long since recontextualised.
“I always feel comfortable in clubs,” he remarks at one point. “It’s because the people there are passionate about music, and so am I.”
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