Interview: Magical Mistakes

We talked to Osaka's Magical Mistakes about the lack of PR in Japan, as well as his bring your own music party.

In December of 2011, I went to LA to experience one of the country's finest DIY music festivals, FMLY FEST. It was as if I was stepping into another world, completely outside of the spectrum of what I was used to back in Florida. On the second day, the festival was hosted in an after school daycare. Food Not Bombs was serving food, and there was even a giant rope swing in the middle of the biggest room. In the middle of the largest room, there was this rather large geodesic dome that was dubbed the “Chill Out Tent” where ambient artists did hour long sets in there to soothe your body and mind from the chaos that was the fest. I soon found myself in there actually chilling out and listening to an artist make this incredible electronic music. After his set, I came to find out it was Erik Lueb's project Magical Mistakes. I’ve been a fan ever since. Lueb lives in Japan, though he’s a California native. I soon discovered Day Tripper Records, which puts out some incredible Japanese electronic artists as well as INNIT, a party in Osaka that implements a “bring your own music” policy. If you bring your own original music, you get a discount into the party and it’s played for everyone to hear. INNIT is more than a party, but instead it’s a way to create a collaborative community in Osaka by bringing musicians together as well as people who appreciate the electronic pulses they create. I was lucky enough to sit down and talk to Erik about INNIT and the Japanese music scene.

Snow Shoes by Magical Mistakes

Noisey: How did you start playing music? Did you play any traditional instruments as a kid?

Erik Luebs: Yeah. When I was eight or nine, I really wanted to play the drums. At first, my mom wouldn't let me play the drums unless I took a more traditional instrument. She made me play the trumpet for a bit. Then when I was ten, she let me take a bunch of drum lessons. I started with just a drum set and I found a really good instructor who was teaching at a university. I would go to the university and he’d teach me how to play percussion and stuff. Later, he started to teach me music theory. That was fun. I did that till I was about sixteen or so. I stopped taking formal lessons then and I started doing my own thing. Around when I was fourteen, I started getting into electronic stuff. My friend hooked me up with a copy of a program called Acid, a really cheap, old program. He got me that and then I started using making music with loops and stuff.

What got you into electronic music?

Around the age of fourteen or fifteen, I was listening to a lot of post-rock music and electronic music. As a kid, Radiohead was a big influence on me. I was following them like they were religious figures to me. I always tried to figure out what they listened to. Just be like, "Oh they like Autechre? Then I'm going to listen to Autechre! Oh, they listen to Boards of Canada? I'm going to listen to Boards of Canada!" Then I began to get familiar with the Warp Records label and some of the other bigger labels that were doing similar stuff. I didn't really distinguish it as electronic music versus non-electronic music. I just thought there was a lot of cool music out there. I didn't get involved with electronic music as an artist more so until I moved to Japan. I think I just stumbled on the scene that was a bit more abundant for me. I didn't know at the time that LA had such a crazy scene either.

When did you move from LA to Japan?

I came here as a student. The first time I went to Japan was through my school. I was twenty at the time. I just went to study here. I got placed in Osaka and I've known about Boredoms so I was really excited to see what the noise scene was like here.

How long did you stay there for your first move? Just one semester?

Two semesters. So, I was there for about a year.

What was the transition like? What was there a major culture shock for you?

I don't know. My school was kind of hardcore about that cultural assimilation stuff. I had to take a lot of classes on that. Also, I'd been to India for a little bit prior to that. India was a total trip to try to live there. I was with a host family for about 5 weeks when I was 18 years old. India has a quality of life so different to what you'd be used to in the states. The real differences between Japan and the states are its cultural differences and ways of thinking about the world. And sure, there are some culture shocks or some things that are still hard to deal with, but I think my personality might be more in tune for some of those values too.

Did you move back to the United States for a period of time?

Yeah. I got back from Japan at the start of my senior year in college. I finished up school and I began looking around for jobs here after college. I wanted to keep doing music though so I decided to move to New York. I lived there for about 8 months. During that period, I found a job here [Osaka], saved all my money, and moved back.

Where do you live right now?

I live right across the river in Osaka. It's a cool, kind of ghetto area. It has a funny history for being slummy, but I kind of like it like that.

So you moved back because you got a job, but did you move back for any other reasons?

I knew I wanted to continue to do a lot of music here. Briefly, I tried to figure out how to make some sort of label right when I finished college. I got in touch with my buddy, Kobu Masayuki, and we put together a split EP. That was when I was in the U.S. and I thought it would be really cool to put together some sort of label that did digital distribution both in the U.S. and in Japan. We would collaborate with artists in both places. When I came back to Japan, my main interest was to continue to work on music and try to collaborate with as many people here. That's why I came back really.

Perfect Touch Trailer from Gabriel Maxwell Freed on Vimeo.

How's the electronic music scene different from city to city or region to region?

Tokyo is really quite big as far as the amount of artists based there. Every night there's a different event going on. There's pretty much whatever genre or micro-genre you're interested in you could probably find a scene for in Tokyo. However, a lot of people who live in Tokyo talk about how it sucks because people are pretty fractured with the actual community aspect of it. They'll be two artists who pretty much are working in the same vein who may be have been doing this for about ten years will never play a show together or even meet each other. We'll kind of link them up because we'll bring them to Osaka for shows, but before that they'll admit not even knowing each other. Tokyo, in general, has bigger clubs and a bigger scene, but it's less of a community. Here in Osaka, we're kind of a young crowd with the stuff we're doing right now. I think we're pretty much all under 25 years old. The scene that we're all in right now is a little more international in terms of the quality and the type of music we're putting out. It's more in tune with things coming out of Europe and the states. It's more collaborative in that nature as a creative medium than some of the other scenes that are in Osaka right now. Osaka also has a really big noise and psychedelic scene that's been established since the early 80's with Boredoms and all the people affiliated with that. I really like that scene, but it's not really apart of the electronic scene here. Another place like Fukuoka, which is the southern-most big city, has a scene that I really respect called Oil Works. It's run by a producer/DJ named Olive Oil. He started right around 2000 or 2001 when he started this crew and this party. It's kind of a design and music party. He puts out really good quality artwork for everything he puts out and he does a lot of fashion as well which is now distributed by Stussy as well. All the stuff he puts out, you can get in stores around Japan. It's a more heavily, straightforward hip hop scene though. It's got that whole masculine thing going on, but it's pretty sick. Kanazawa has a sick scene, but it is a lot smaller. I'd say it only has 500,000 people. My understanding of that place is that it's a very wealthy town from futile stuff from 200 years ago, but it has a lot of remaining wealth in the town government. They put a lot of money into having a very metropolitan, arty scene going. They have this huge museum with a whole bunch of modern art and they got these gardens with a castle. All the kids who live there have been growing up in a really small scene with really nice shit around. They all know each other and all listen to really good music. They'll DJ some small events and stay up all night. It's pretty fun. I go out there maybe once every three months to either play a show or see whatever is going on in the museum or hang out with my friends there. A lot of them come out to Osaka or now live in Osaka.

So, there's a big community bridge between the two cities?

Yeah even though Kanazawa is quite far away from here. I think for some reason people just gravitate towards the two places. There is also another scene in Sapporo. That is a bit of a smaller scene, but it's affiliated with some of the promoters in the Tokyo scene. They'll bring acts to Sapporo if they are large enough artists. I know the Low End Theory crew goes to Sapporo relatively often. The big person coming out of Sapporo is Jealous Guy. She does some pretty amazing stuff with samplers. She's kind of apart of our crew and part of the Tokyo crew too, but she lives in Sapporo.

That's cool that there's that much diversity between all the cities. I was reading a past interview with Kubo and he talked about how much electronic scene has changed in Osaka. Have you witnessed that change for yourself?

For one, the police started enforcing this law about dance clubs not being able to operate past 1AM. That's been a real hassle because there used to be a pretty thriving scene of people who would party till 5 or 6. That's one of the things I really liked about it here. Everybody was just out all night. There's still underground clubs that I'm starting to play at. Those are a lot of fun. As far as the quality of music, I think the type of music has changed quite a bit with people really getting into hip hop and taking the hip hop tendencies and putting it into a more left-field electronic music. In the early 2000's, you'd have more straightforward IDM with very surgical sounds and glitches. People discovered a way of making electronic music is really intense and interesting, but still a bit groovy and soulful. Aesthetically, I think it's changed quite a bit as well.

What's different between Japan's electronic music scene compared to the states. Would you say there's a big difference or would you say it depends where you are in Japan?

I think it kind of depends on the place. Los Angeles came up in the mid-2000's to become globally relevant and interesting. I think that's amazing. I think there are more people in involved in that scene, so there's more people coming out to support it and probably economically they can do a lot more things. Everybody in Japan knows what the fuck is up with LA and what's up with the U.K. They follow that shit like crazy. If you bring a guy out here like Matthew David out here, everybody freaks out. The scale alone is bigger in the states. I lived in New York for awhile and I was trying to get the vibe of what the scenes were like there, but it was really hard to figure it out. It didn't feel like a place with a tight knit community so much. That was hard for me to get a pulse on New York. I know for our scene in Osaka we all have to be our own managers. There is no such thing as PR companies in Japan.

That sounds awesome.

You're not paying anyone to promote your stuff. Japan still has a record industry though. We still put out physical records that get distributed in stores. We have a national distributor who puts out records, which is pretty cool. They end up taking care some of other things like booking because there aren't any book agencies here either. Our distributor is called Beat Ink which is the same distributor for Warp Records and Brain Feeder. Pretty much all those big ones. Next week, we're all gong to play at Sonar Sound Festival because Beat Ink is involved with that. They'll put us on bills for Brainfeeder and stuff when they come through. It's cool that they do that. The economy of scale isn't big enough to warrant having an office that's just your PR company and frankly I don't fucking get the PR shit. It's a really weird way to milk money from artists who don't have much money, but the only way that artists could get on to whatever publication is to go through a PR company. They'll throw their money at these people who don't really care too much. They got to pay their bills too. What is the purpose of that? I think for now, I'm going to be putting out a lot of music for free. Every week just put out a new track.

I think that's the best thing you can do.

I think that's why I make music in the first place. You know the producer Knowledge?

Yeah I do.

That dude is ridiculously prolific. I don't think he really gives a fuck about getting his tracks in the right people's hands so much as making a shit ton of music and then realizing people really like it and it'll take care of itself.

Even Four Tet put out his new album with no PR at all. He just did a post on Facebook and Twitter and you could download the whole album for free off his Soundcloud.

He was one of the first dudes I got into from all of that. I went to Coachella once when I was really young and saw him there. I spoke with him for a good while too and he's really nice… really made me interested what the electronic scene is all about.

He's a great influence. I want to talk to you about INNIT. Could you explain it a bit for people who don't know what it is?

INNIT started around 2010 / 2011 and it was mainly Kubo who put it together. He got the idea when he went to the U.K. and went to some party in London a few times that was getting people to bring their original music to the party. He got influenced by that and decided to start doing BYOM (Bring Your Own Music) parties in Osaka. The first two or three shows didn't have a lot of people there. Since then, it's really grown. We don't do them too often…maybe once every three months we'll have one. We usually we get about 150-200 people out. Kubo mainly organizes and I do the website as well the promotion. It's a really cool platform that really helped develop the scene here. It gave it a big kickstart make the scene a collaborative creative community. It's also more a party. The vibe of the party is really good.

When people give their music for you to play, do you listen to it before hand or do you just play it?

The actual event and book for the live acts are already decided before hand. The last hour of the show, after the acts have played, we play the tracks that people submitted through the PA. Prior to that, we have a DJ booth setup with headphones so you can listen to all the tracks and see which ones you like. We don't a rating system or anything like that. At the end of the night depending how many submissions we get, we'll play most of the tracks.

Do you ever deny people?

Not really. I've heard some really bad music played over the PA. Sometimes you'll get some the random folk-pop duo band that's really cool, but it's not really what the part is about. The party is about sound system electronic shit. I really like psychedelic folk-pop music too, but we probably wouldn't play that on the system.

For INNIT, is the primary objective to form a community in Osaka?

Yeah, definitely. It's a grassroots community more or less. It's grown to a pretty large community as far as 30 musicians involved with it.

Daniel Dorsa just bought a ticket to Japan. He's on Twitter - @danieldorsa