Business Trips is available at:
Alternative; Alternative-Pop; Electro
London, U.K.; Tokyo, Japan
28th June, 2017
The Business Trips EP is available at:
30th June, 2017
NOT often does one come across an artist one…
can literally call ‘unique’. When it comes to Rié that is entirely justified. I shall come to look at her music very soon but, before I do, I wanted to look at Japanese-born music and the vitality of the city; the inspiration behind songs and the link between Rié’s fine art music; transitioning from the Japanese market to Britain; popularity and artists ready for the mainstream – I will look at sounds and fusing unexpected voices. Let us address Japan: an area that does not get a lot of coverage in the music press. Later today, I will attempt to compile a playlist/feature that celebrates the best international artists around – bringing in names from the U.S., U.K.; Sweden, Australia and beyond. Japan is a nation that boasts some fantastic musicians but few make their way to us. When one thinks of Japanese music, especially that which emanates from Japan, one imagines bright-coloured Pop and a sense of the quirky. We look at Japan as a nation and see the bright lights and rush: the strange adverts and the real head-rush of the culture. Aside from that; there is a politeness that we need to adopt here and a punctuality and respectfulness that lures many people in. On the other side of the Japanese coin is a culture of Rock that has been adopted in the West. That class and contrast between variegated Pop and serious Rock makes Japan one of the most intriguing and exciting nations for music. Historically; the nation has brought us artists like Malice Mizer, Aqua Timez and D’espairsRay. Band-Maid, Z’s and OOIOO are other acts worth investigating. I look at the list of Japanese artists and find myself wanting to discover more about the music culture there. I shall look at great venues in Tokyo for musicians in the conclusion – but I wanted to look at some great musicians in Japan. In terms of Rock; Crystal Lake are at the frontline of Japanese Hardcore music and have the potential to break away from Japan and spread their music throughout the world.
Kohh is, actually, a Hip-Hop artist from Kota (Tokyo) who fuses Western lyrical ideals - getting tattoos and a rebelliousness – with flavours and embers that relate to Japanese culture. Quite standout in terms of his words – unusually for a Japanese artist to break away from love in music - he is someone to watch closely. The fin. are a band who have played here a lot and melt dreamy Electronic sounds with urgent Rock. They have soundscapes that take you somewhere special but a definite immediacy. Kyoto’s Tricot are a three-piece are a technical band who have strange riffs and rhythms in their bad. They have toured Europe and are another act that has the potential to assimilate into the Western market. I will come back to this subject later but it is interesting seeing the great artists playing in Japan. Rié started life in Japan and, immersed in the richness and variation of the music scene, and recorded for Sony Japan under the name of Rie Fu. The pink-haired artist was performing something akin to J-Pop-cum-Rock. It has a youthfulness and sense of fun but serious undertones. We get hung-up on stereotypes of Japan and assume all music from the country will fit into that mould. Rié started in a rather ‘traditional’ and cliché way. Maybe, now, she has moved past that and adapted into a unique artist. It is interesting seeing where she came from and the inspiration she takes from Japan. Her Business Trips EP - I will look at the title-track, soon – is half-dedicated to Japan: the other side is focused on London and the U.K. It has been a while since I have encountered a Japanese artist so it was paramount looking at the country and the vivid burst of musical activity one can experience there. It is something I shall come back to later but it is great to back the incredible music that is coming out of Japan.
Coming from Tokyo, with a successful career behind her; Rié could have stayed there and enjoyed life as a Pop sensation. She recorded an album in Japan and, singing with Sony Japan at the age of nineteen. I am not sure whether Rié is returning to Tokyo at any point but, surely, she will have gig requests there. It seems London, and the beauty of the city is enough to keep her rooted. It is hard transitioning from any country but there seems to be a huge difference between Tokyo and London. The former is a bright and sense-enhancing city that is very modern and is dazzling to behold. The latter is modern but has more history and a different pace of life. Having to assimilate to London life would be challenging for someone who comes from Tokyo. Similarly, going to Tokyo – having been based in London – would take a lot of time; acclimatising would be problematic. The reason Rié came over here was to study Fine Art at London’s Central St. Martins. That education facility is somewhere I have seen a lot of musicians study at. There is, as I will explore, a link between art and music but, for the Japanese songwriter; it gave her the chance to embrace and expand her love of art and imagery. I am not sure whether having knowledge and passion for art heightens music: it gives new prescriptive to songwriting and can lead a writer to be more imaginative, abstract and diverse. For Rié and her move here; it seems she has found her calling and home. I know she has spoken about London and how settled she feels at the moment. Of course, there is still that homesickness lingering but, being in a city that can rival Tokyo for music and art, let’s hope there is not too much of a vacuum present. I have seen few artists transition to a new city/way of life as quickly as Rié. She has the look and sound of someone for whom London is the perfect space for her.
Having performed tours of Asia and wowed the population there: it is now time for Rié to tour around the U.K. and bring her music to the people. Her Business Trips EP was released a month ago – it is still quite fresh in the memory. The reason I wanted to focus on its title-track was the story behind it. In my conclusion, I will expand upon the points I am addressing now but, when it comes to songwriting inspiration, I can probably exhaust it in the opening. The E.P. track, St. Martin, recalls the time the Tokyo artist met with a music businessman and another man – who told her it would be very hard to make a career out of music. That frustration lead to the song: a chance for her to prove, rather demonstratively, she is capable of making a career out of music. There are a lot of detracting voices who will tell people there are unable to fulfil their ambitions. It is quite common but, if they are saying it without evidence, it can be patronising and condescending. Calling, a song document when she moved to a small U.K. town – having been in the epicness of Tokyo – tackles isolation, identity and contrasts. The weather, people and accents; the politics, customs and religions – all conflicting and differing from what she had experienced back in Japan. That is what I was talking about regarding Rié and her travels from Tokyo. Having to disconnect from one way of life and embracing a foreign strangeness is enough to unsettle someone. Instead of retreating and hiding herself away; the songwriting took inspiration from these emotions and feelings. Her E.P. is a collection of experiences in the U.K. and how hard it has been adapting to a new nation. She has immersed herself in Britain but still finding her feet (to an extent). What strikes me about the title track is a couple of things: its links to Kate Buh and her husband.
Rié’s husband, also Japanese, was/is often away on business trips and, in addition to being hard to bare – her special other being away for a long time – it meant the young songwriter was hearing and seeing parts of her husband in static instruments and physical things. The same way Kate Bush embraces the domesticity and simplicity of a washing machine in Mrs. Bartolozzi (from 2005’s Ariel); that is what we get from Business Trips. Kate Bush’s paen to laundry and cleaning is something few artists have emulated. What strikes me about that song is how compelling and beautiful a song about housework and day-to-day work is. It is a song that boasts images of the heroine cleaning – after people traipsed mud into the house – and getting the laundry sorted. There is, in that song, a spirituality and mysticism in these appliances. Bush turns the song into a hymnal: a prayer to the pleasures and escapism of domestic chores. Rié takes guidance from Kate Bush and how she embraces the mundane in an extraordinary way. Business Trips was inspired, oddly, by a gecko that happened upon Rié one day. This, I think when her husband was away, was an embodiment of him – maybe an emblem that provoked her to bond with her surroundings. I am not one who believes in fate or reincarnation but, creatively, the creature could have represented remnants of her husband – someone watching over here and keeping her company. As she was recording and away on tour – and he was elsewhere – that sense of separation could have put strains on the marriage. Rather than dwell on the loneliness and distance: she has connected with her home and found elements of her husband in her environment. That gecko, and what it symbolises, drew her to Kate Bush and how she found romance in the ordinary. Alongside the extraordinary story and vocal performance are electronic beats, piano and koto – a mix of Japanese sounds and Western Electro-Pop inspiration.
There are few who take inspiration from original sources for music. I am seeing too many people go to the love-well and splits of love. Anyone who steps aside from the predictable and represents something unexpected finds a place in my heart. It is so easy going with the common and not thinking outside the box. Rié is someone – maybe motivated by her heritage and Japanese characteristics – who does not go with the average and expected. That is one reason why I am drawn to her but another aspect of her personality stands out: her bond and affiliation to art. Studying Fine Art in London; many would immerse themselves fully and not have much time for music. I can only imagine what an experience that degree/course is. Fine Art is not only about studying historic pieces and those famous painting. Many assume it will be a one-dimensional course that does not offer a window into any other cultures. One can imagine there is a chance for Rié to study Japanese art and a lot of the work she would have seen as a child. Not only would it be confusing having to adapt to a British way of life – after coming from Japan – but based in London; the differences in terms of art would have been immediate. The greatest and most reputable art galleries are based here. That provides a wonderful portal for Rié but, in terms of cultures, one wonders how many Eastern works would be hanged there. All these dimensions, diversions and dynamics, naturally, would have spiked a curious imagination and romantic soul. I listen to a song like Business Trips and see art and colours in the composition. It might be pretentious to suggest Rié composes as she paints. She will not use bland colours and project in a predictable way. She sees music as a canvas on which she can create something majestic.
Because of this; one hears fusions of East and West; beautiful nuances and spectacular moments. It is a very direct link, for me. Few musicians have such a creativity and mindset as Rié. She is accustom to our ways of life but is not someone who wants to abandon her home. One gets suggestions of Tokyo in her music and where she came from. Vibing from the incredible culture and opportunities in London: that has gone straight into the music and connected art to music. One hears vivid brushstrokes and depictions in the E.P. I am not sure how long Rié has to go on her Fine Art course but let’s hope she pursues this route and continues studying. I feel this is one of the reasons she is such a prodigious and individual musician. I shall move onto my last point soon but feel a real connection to Rié. She is one of those musicians who feel constrained by limitations and conventional routes. Her songwriting is accessible but can never be seen as commercial. Look at the inspiration behind her songs and one discovers a woman whose heart, imagination and soul resonate to a different beat. This is all true of her voice that could, one imagines, conforms to cliché and national stereotypes. I shall return to Japan but, when one thinks of artists there, the mind is split between a girlishness and intensity. Many J-Pop groups are quite cutesy and sugary. The harder Rock bands have a huge masculinity and ferocity to them. There are few that fit in the middle of the spectrum and offer anything beyond the binary.
In many ways; Rié is more Western in the way she performs and articulates her music. Comparisons have been made to Karen Carpenter and Suzanne Vega. There is that balance of lush and romantic: two artists who, between them, have performed some of the most beautiful music ever. When listening to a song like Business Trips, I am reminded of those singers – and Kate Bush – and notes that are unfamiliar to all. Rié is not someone who clings too closely to others: she is unique and keen not to be labelled alongside others without much consideration. One of the reasons her voice has such a lustrous and candid quality is her connection to Japanese art and poetry. She adores the poetry of her nation and the emphasis its poets/writers place on beauty. There is a sense of the oblique and intangible; nothing is ever spelled-out – only alluded to. Because of this; her music has a mix of the tangible and distance. Beauty is evident but never forced; there is physicality that suggests sexuality and longing. Such a fascinating brew from an artist who has very few competitors. The story and background of Rié is one that seems set for the screen. I know there are many musicians with an interesting back-story but there is a definite drama to be found from Rié’s story – a lost Haruki Murakami novel, perhaps? I love his work like Norwegian Wood and A Wild Sheep Chase and, looking at Rié, see someone who is a heroine from one of his works. That obsession and passion for art; the husband away on trips and the musician who has to get used to a new city (and world). Were she to portray her life onto the screen, it could be called Business Trips. It would be, essentially, an expanded version of the music. The tale would follow Rié from her teenage years – singing for a big label and engrossed in the gaudiness and buzz of Japanese life. From there; she would transport herself to a town in Britain and have to transform herself into someone else.
The novel/film would then see her following her love of art in London and making the E.P. – that encounter with the gecko and new experiences. I am getting a little off-topic but there is plenty of scope for anyone who wants to pen the Rié story. I shall return to my earlier point but find it interesting there are older Western artists in the mind of Rié. One might think local artists or modern mainstream acts would be her influence. Maybe I am stereotyping again but feel too many artists are beholden to the mainstream and have a very narrow focus. A young woman like Rié would be forgiven for sticking to music of this decade and not really casting her mind back. The fact she recalls Suzanne Vega and Karen Carpenter suggest the kind of sounds she grew up to. It has been a while since I have put those two names together in a review. It is a testament to an unpredictable and unconventional artist who does not want to be easily defined and written off. That defiance and uniqueness is a demarcation between Rié the Artist and Rié the Musician. There is an inherent link between the two but there both are different sides to her personality. Business Trips employs art in its compositions, designs and videos. It is the raw and real story of the Japanese artist that goes into the vocals and lyrics. Because of this, artists like Suzanne Vega and Karen Carpenter seem like obvious idols. Both articulated a sense of loss and longing; a blend of romance and confusion. I am a big Bangles fan and grew up listening to Vega perform for them. Carpenter is someone I came to later in life but feel a real affinity towards. Rié, in a way, refreshes my mind and draws me back to childhood. Her performances are so evocative and intoxicating: one forgets she is a mere human. This might sound like hyperbole but such is the sense of wonder one experiences listening to her music.
The openings seconds of Business Trips presents the rush of (what sounds like) trains and clash. It is he rush of feet and the sounds of commuters. That is balanced by piano – which is romantic and tender – and that mesh of lush and hectic gives the song a rather strange energy and dynamic. The heroine sings and is surrounded by the smell of turpentine. Maybe she is engaged in painting and setting down to create a commissioned work – perhaps something to pass the time. Whatever the origin; one senses a distraction and need to connect with her husband. His departure creates an emptiness that, one feels, is filled with art. As she started to paint on the canvas; a gecko approaches and is in her sights. Perhaps, one assumes this was set back in Tokyo, a rare creature like that seems born out of a dream. This was a literal happening and a revelation that provoked the song. In a way, or as she says it, the physical embodiment of her husband. It is company and inspiration but it is a rather mystical and odd happening. Those Japanese strings – the subtle pluck and Eastern flavour – give it is a homely feel and connection to her past. Bird sounds and a breeze blows and, this gecko arriving, happens every time her husband is on the business trips. What I get from the song is a woman who longs for her husband and feels his departure quite hard. I know she has her own life and purpose but it is quite uprooting having to face regular spells without her husband. The vocals, to start, float and have that Suzanne Vega tone to them. It is romantic and swaying but starts to heighten and embolden. They always retain their romance and beauty but get heavier and more pressing. The composition brings in fizzy and electric that signifies the internal struggle and turmoil the heroine is faced with. She works from five in the morning to nine (that morning): odd hours that see her dedicated to her work but fulfilling her role as a wife and housekeeper. That early wake-up might be because she has nobody else around. She is free to keep her own hours but needs that distraction.
It is interesting noting the change in pace and sound in the song. It is not announced by the vocal or lyrics – a huge chorus or shift in narrative – and happens quite naturally. Because one does not expect it; it takes one by surprise and creates quite an effect. It is a stunning sea change that brings a lot of physicality and emotion into proceedings. Business Trips starts life tenderly and with grace but grows more anxious and heated. In a way, the vocals of Rié remind me of Lana Del Rey and her finest work. There is that sweet-and-husky mix that reminds me of her latest album, Lust for Life. The voice sways and floats in the breeze but its mantra concerns the office and a domesticity. In the song’s video; she drops paint into a cooking pot – maybe that is the way she mixes paint but seems to represent the art of housework and mixing her work and home life – and puts images of the gecko on the wall. It is a busy and active space that is her day-to-day routine. Her office is bustling and alive; it is her vocation and explanation – the way she can find some sort of solace and meaning. Having to deal with her husband’s absence means there is a definite quiet and loss. Rather than dwell on that; she picks up her paints and creates murals and spectacular work. The composition seems to mirror that colour-burst and epiphany. The electronics and percussive elements are productive and assiduous; the vocal is disciplined and imaginative – it all seems to be like paints being mixed and put onto the walls. One imagines the other side of the coin: her husband waiting at airports and having to bundle onto the train. It is a stark contrast to the peace and creative perfection of an office studio. Maybe there is anger and disappointment at the state of the relationship. The two make plans and speculate projects but then, when things are starting to happen, another business trip comes up.
It seems work is getting in the way of the relationship. Whether there is a sense things could be different and less divisive, I am not sure. Rié pines for a simpler life where the two live together and can have their own careers. Maybe that will never be possible because her husband has to travel. Whether the song has its heart in London or Tokyo, it is hard to say. One imagines this is a recent occurrence and, as such, does Rié pine for her simpler days? I guess, when you transition in a new nation, sacrifices have to be made. In this case, the two have very different careers and they do not really overlap. Rié is someone who can be based at home and does not need to travel. Her husband’s itinerant agenda means Rié is, in a way, having an affair with the home and surroundings. The same way Kate Bush longingly sung about a washing machine on Mrs. Bartolozzi: here, the artist is guided by the gecko but seems closer to her subject and passion. She is not seeing anyone else but desires a connection and conversation. This occurs through her art. Painting on the wall and mixing colours; dreaming and speculating distract her from the sense of isolation and loneliness that has been created. This is perfectly rendered in a song whose composition tells the husband’s side – the rush and energy of travel – whilst Rié’s vocal is a more sensuous and artistic thing. Both, ironically, unite harmoniously in a song that talks of distance and bridges. The song’s coda – the heroine working in an office – seems to spark new interpretation as it is repeated. Towards the end of the song, maybe that is the conversation and echo of her husband. When Rié asks why he cannot be there: that is his response, I guess. It is simple and terse but cannot be defined and rationalised. Maybe he needs to pursue a career in the arts: where he can be with his wife and they are a more connected couple. That might not be practical so it makes Business Trips a fascinating and tense thing. The song starts to grow and crawl: the composition showing teeth and starting to stomp. Everything tightens into an anxious crescendo. The heroine continues to remain calm inside the storm but one feels an explosion and execration is imminent. Perhaps there is mediation and discussion required but, in a sense, one is a voyeur when listening to the song – watching something intimate and personal break and go through strain. In any case; Business Trips is a song that will remain long after it has ended – and announced the presence of a unique artist with few equals.
I mooted as to the cinematic potential of Rié’s story. Such is the strange and wonderful route she has taken in life – I cannot help but marvel and speculate. Some artists go from Japan to the U.K. but none have the same course and consequence as Rié. A married and domesticated woman; there is a sense of the ordinary and predictable – in a very good way. Part of Rié concerns hyper-focus and singularity: she sets her mind of one thing and has that discipline. Her songs are the results of, in a lot of ways, whimsy and strange inspiration, but the actual composition and production suggest someone who engrosses themselves in the business of recording. On the other side; one can see a rather flighty and dreamy soul who loves to wonder and lose herself in all sorts of art, culture and music. Earlier this week, Rié performed a live version of Business Trips at Craxton Studios. It is a performance that takes a different approach to the recorded version. It is interesting seeing the dichotomy of the versions and what the live version brings to the plate. I will let you watch that – on her Facebook page – and what an incredible rendition it is. Rié has been interviewed and spoken about her E.P. It is a work that, one hopes, will be fostered by many cities and towns. She has that London base right now but, one wonders, will she return to Tokyo in the future?! It seems her husband’s business jaunts are quite unsettling and that distance creates stress. It does also provoke creative bursts but one senses a sentiment of yearning inside Rié. Maybe Tokyo was perfect for her when she was a teen: London seems more designed for the more mature person; someone who has a vibrancy and curiosity but it is more settled and composed. Let’s hope Rié remains because she is someone I want to see perform. I love the way she writes and her strange intelligence.
Whether Business Trips EP gets a U.K. tour I am not sure but the music is being celebrated and promoted by Rié’s fans. Her social media numbers and huge and she already has that mass of fans back in Tokyo. It means her songs can be heard there – in addition to London. I will return to my earlier chat about Japanese music. I provided a few names that are worth seeking out but there are some great venues around Japan that are perfect for musicians – whether native or going there on tour. The Living Room Café is based in Shibuya and is, it is claimed, Japan’s biggest live music café. It combines art, food and music and manages to fit 300 seats into its 1,200mÇ floor. The Guinguette is a five-minute walk from Shibuya’s station and hosts live music in the basement of the three-storey venues. There are colourful lanterns and a classy feel that sees Jazz musicians take to the stage – often dressed in suits with top hats. Art Space Bar Buena is an art gallery-cum-bar that, one feels, would be perfect for Rié. It is a more ‘experimental’ space where Punk artists played and, on some occasions, the patrons wear blindfolds – tables are pushed over and all hell breaks loose! Not only is there is a variety of genres being played in Japan: cities like Tokyo are set up to house them. Metro is a hip club that attracts a younger crowd. It is one of the best venues in Kyoto and somewhere one can go to untangle themselves from the hustle of Tokyo. Taku Taku is a reputable bar and live venue that, again, seems to be established for a hipper crowd. Jittoku has stone floors – it used to be a sake brewery – and has that authentic feel.
It has been great discovering Rié because she seems someone born to perform music. Business Trips is a terrific E.P. whose stories are rich and fascinating. You do not get your average and boring love songs with Rié. Instead, there is a nod to domestic bliss and missing one’s spouse; being refused opportunity and rebelling against it; the head-mess of having to adapt to a new nation and its people. It is, effectively, the tale of Rié up until now. The title might suggest her husband’s business trips are the main focus but, in a way, she is on a business trip – both in different worlds but connected by their love and marriage. Two human beings who have had to change their life and get used to a new country is enough to unsettle the steeliest of souls. For Rié, she has based herself in a country that affords her the chance to indulge her love of art and poetry. How her life will progress from this – setting up a family or studying still – I am not sure but there is a real opportunity ahead of her. Her music is incredible and she has the chance to be one of the finest new artists on the block. The mainstream welcomes artists who are different and have the potential to remain for years. That is true of the Japanese songwriter who, on Business Trips, shows she is a force to be reckoned with. Ingratiate your soul with music that goes further and provokes more reactions than anything you’ve likely heard. The title track from Business Trips EP is a song that stays in the mind and takes your body…
TO a strange and fascinating place.