Smoke & Mirrors: In Conversation With Guruguru Brain

Smoke & Mirrors: In Conversation With Guruguru Brain

Outernational sounds from the Amsterdam based Japanese expats...

If there's been one upshot of this hellfire of a time we've been having, it's the manner in which the arts community has been supporting one another. Bandcamp Fridays, listening parties, and fundraisers have all done their part in helping musicians, large and small, keep the wheels turning. With the world forced into a state of contemplation, fans the world over have dived back into their record collections for solace, spreading the word on groups and scenes that have helped keep them sane. 

Not surprisingly, recent years have seen a resurgence in psychedelic noise, cosmic escape routes to help listeners drift away from all the hassle of the 24/7 news cycle. One of the most exciting purveyors of such mellow song is the label Guruguru Brain, founded by Go and Tomo of Japanese psych outfit Kikagaku Moyo.

A personal favourite of this writer, Clash decided to check in on the guys and ask for some background on the label's foundation, focus, and how they've been dealing with the strange environment we now find ourselves in...

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Firstly, how are you guys? It's been a strange year!

Go: Doing great! Crazy!!

You founded the label in 2014; why were you keen to set up your own thing?

Go: There were several inspirations, but originally, we didn’t plan to release Kikagaku’s records. We wanted to focus on releasing other musicians in Asia but it ended up the band couldn’t find a label we liked, so many friends encouraged us to do it ourselves.

Where did the name come from? Am I right in thinking Guruguru translates as 'to circle' or 'go around?'

Go: Yes, you are right! The original name came from my internet handle name, haha. At some point, I realized I liked music which makes my brain go guruguru.

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GuruGuru Brain relocated to Amsterdam in 2017. What did Europe offer that Japan couldn't?

Go: Logistically, Amsterdam is located in the middle of the European tour route, so it makes lots of sense to have a label hub here. We have hosted lots of musicians so far. We don’t have a lot of friends here yet, but we are surrounded by lovely people so we’re grateful.

You have an amazing collection of artists from all over the world on your roster, including Indonesia, Thailand, Taiwan, and your native Japan. How do you find these eclectic acts?

Go: Usually through friends, but recently we get demos.

As label heads, how important is it to give your artists complete freedom?

Go: It depends on what the artists want from a label. There are cases where the artists want complete freedom, where they want to control everything such as music content, artwork, even where they want to distribute to, or not to.

What's been your proudest moment running the label so far?

Go: When Khana Bierbood could tour in Europe and played some festivals. We were involved in producing the record, the release, and connected with booking agents, as well as helping with their visa, etc.

All your releases have included beautiful artwork. Is this something you've consciously aimed for or just a byproduct of the colourful music? Do you have any involvement in the visual look?

Go: It depends on the artists, if the bands ask us, we are happy to give our opinions.

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What challenges have you faced trying to run a label during a global pandemic?

Go: The bands cannot tour, so it is difficult for new artists to reach people without playing shows.

Japan has a long and proud history within the Psych Rock genre. Which groups did you first discover growing up - who converted you into the cosmic realm?

Go: When I discovered Hadaka no Rallizes (Les Rallizes Dénudés), it was shocking how their songs are simple, but the feedback and fuzz guitar made a completely different texture.

Psychedelic music has always been reactionary - from its 60s origins during a time of great social change - to today. The past decade has seen psychedelic music's popularity rise again. Why do you think this is?

Go: I think psychedelic music has always been there with people. It’s the human history of trying to escape from reality by playing music.

If this past year has proven anything, it's reminded people of the importance of music, its ability to soothe anxiety and create a sense of community. What have you guys been listening to relax?

Tomo: I initially thought that I would have been listening to more Ambient or New age kind of music. However, I ended up listening to music that makes me feel positive and that ultimately makes staying at home fun. It was especially amusing and relaxing for me to explore different types of dance music for me to move to in my living-room during this pandemic (even though I'm a terrible dancer). 70s funk, 90s hip-hop, trip-hop and Björk! Any music that makes my brain dance.

Another current favourite is DJ Nina Tarr! My girlfriend discovered her Youtube channel this past year and we have been enjoying watching her all-vinyl DJ sets. It's very soothing and fun to watch Nina's videos.

What future plans does Guruguru Brain have?

Tomo: 2020-2021 is a pandemic era. There is something very special about what musicians and artists can create during this surreal time. As a record label, we are very grateful to witness the exciting output of work coming from artists of this era. We are also continuously rethinking how we can be better partners and better serve musicians amidst the constant, rapid changes of the current musical landscape.

We have a lot of new music to share with our audiences this year and hope everyone will enjoy listening to music from Asia during this period.

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‘Deep Fried Grandeur’ by Ryley Walker & Kikagaku Moyo is out now.

Words: Sam Walker-Smart
Photo Credit: Jamie Wdziekonski

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