The Christmas lights are out, the holiday season has finally arrived and what better way to close off the year than with an interview with the colourful YMCK. For those unfamiliar with the Japanese 3-piece, YMCK are an effervescent, cutesy band from Tokyo who’ve gradually made themselves known as one of the leading representatives of 8-bit and chiptune culture. With record deals granting them worldwide distribution and the support of a widely active and supportive fanbase, YMCK are one of the rare bands in the chiptune scene to benefit from mainstream attention in their home country as well as worldwide recognition within the chiptune scene. For those pining for the days when pixels and primitive waveforms ruled the world of video games, one cannot help but fall back into a nostalgic yet cheerful mood upon hearing the bands’ sweet chirping 8-bit melodies. Having released their 6th album Family Dancing earlier this year, the band is still going strong and have no intention of slowing down in their tracks. I was lucky enough to get a hold of the band via email to ask them a few questions about the band and the 8-bit scene.
To start off, could you tell us a little bit about your background with music and also with 8-bit media ?
Yokemura : We basically all come from different musical backgrounds. I used to play in lots of different bands, playing rock, blues or Jazz amongst other things I’ve always wanted to combine my taste for Jazz music with something new, but at the time I hadn’t any idea what that “something” might be. That was until I realized that you could find jazzy sounds and elements in the soundtracks for Famicom (NES) games, so I tried it out. I would compose the music with the synthesiser I had and I found the result really interesting, which led me to finally start composing authentic 8-bit music.
Could you tell us how you got together as a band (how did you meet)?
Yokemura : We actually knew each other beforehand from playing in another band. We basically got back together to start YMCK when I decided to put the band together.
What would you say are your biggest influences?
Yokemura : As far as I’m concerned, I draw a lot of influence from 50s’ and 70s’ Jazz as well as rock, particularly Heavy Metal. From the very start, I would put an accent on jazzier elements since there weren’t too many artists implementing Jazz influences into their Chiptune tracks, so it kind of became our trademark in a way. On the other hand, my compositions also carry some rock elements. As for my bandmates, I know that Nakamura is influenced by 60s’ and 70s’ rock, pop and also video game scores, and Midori is into J-Pop, 90s’ House music and various movie soundtracks. All of these influences can be heard in our music.
Could you tell us a few insights as to the tools you use in order to create your art ?
Yokemura : In terms of sounds I started out working with an emulator and a basic synth, but ever since I created my very own 8-bit plugin Magical 8bit Plug, that’s pretty much all I use nowadays. As for the backing tracks, besides my use of samples for the beat, I practically only use my Magical 8bit Plug. As far as DAWs go, I work with Logic. For our visuals, Nakamura uses Adobe After Effects and whenever I do a bit of work on that field I use Flash, but in both cases we draw the pixel art designs on Photoshop.
What do you think accounts for this resurgence of 8-bit music in the 21st century?
Yokemura : I think that there are several reasons for this. It’s like in other artistic spheres you’ll find certain fashions or aesthetics to reappear and come back into fashion every few decades or so. The retrogaming phenomena probably also carries this “revival” aspect to it as well. Furthermore, there’s also the fact that this tendency for “revivals” and reemerging fashions has started to grow more frequent in the internet age. I also think that the development of certain musical tools for the Gameboy such as LSDJ and Nanoloop has also greatly contributed to this tendency.
One of the standout traits of YMCKs’ music is the fact that most of your songs feature vocals. Could you tell us a little bit what some of the lyrics to your songs are about?
Yokemura : The ground we cover is very broad, so to speak. Some songs are simply odes to retrogaming, others deal with life struggles and philosophical questions, whereas others deal with mundane things such as the deliciousness of curry or the cuteness of cats.
Last June you released your latest album Family Dancing, could you tell us a little about the themes of the album ?
Yokemura : As the album title suggests, the thematic centerpoint of the album is Dance Music. We tried to create our own take on the style and express it in our own YMCK style.
Do you have a lot of contacts in the 8-bit music scene in Japan or overseas? How has the scene evolved during these 12 years you’ve spent as a band?
Yokemura : Back in the day we weren’t really keeping an eye on the scene, we were simply keeping in touch with the people who would get in touch with us. However, nowadays we try to keep ourselves up to date with the scene. I don’t exactly know how is it that we’ve grown, but I guess it must go with the fact that the Chiptune scene has been growing bigger lately. I’m thinking for example of the Facebook community “Chiptunes= WIN”, which counts about 4000 members and is a great example of Chiptune’s growth in popularity.
Do you know of any other 8-bit music our friends should check out?
Yokemura : As far as the current Chiptune scene as of lately there are obviously some artists who’ve drawn our attention, there are loads of artists making this type of music and we’re keeping a close eye on the Indonesian scene, which as of yet scarcely known. I’m thinking about the group Afterschool Party notably, whose energy will hopefully help propel the Indonesian Chiptune scene forward.
How do you see the future of 8-bit music 10 years from now?
Yokemura : I can’t predict what it’ll be like 10 years from now, but Chiptune music has managed to establish itself as a music genre in and of itself. Considering that Chiptune related events can now gather several thousands of people, I have faith in the future of the genre.
Other than your main albums, you’ve also done quite a few collaborations and remixes with other artists. If you could chose to collaborate with any other artist right now, who would it be?
Midori : I’d like to collaborate with some artists outside of the musical spectrum. I’d be interested in collaborating with dancers or other types of plastic artists for example.
Nakamura : I for one would be really glad to collaborate with Scha Dara Parr or Maywa Denki.
Are there any future plans for European or US tours in the near future ?
Yokemura : Nothing is planned as of yet, but we are discussing a european collaboration with Chiptune artists coming from England and Holland.
Could you name one of your favorite Video Games and Video Game Soundtracks?
Yokemura : It’s a bit of an obsession for me but I still absolutely love Super Mario Bros, to this day. Musically I’d go for Ice Climber. Every song on that soundtrack has that “jazzy 8-bit” feel.
Midori : Whether it be for the game itself or its soundtrack, I love Metroid.
Nakamura : One game that stuck with me is The Legend of Valkyrie. As far as soundtracks go, I really like the music for the Darius games.
Could you name one of your favorite Albums, Movies and Books?
Yokemura : Being that streaming services have been booming lately, I’ve been watching and listening to more and more older material. I watched Man Who Causes a Storm (嵐を呼ぶ男 Arashi o Yobu Otoko) on Hulu and thanks to Apple Music I listened to a playlist called John Coltrane – The Impulse! Albums. I’ve also been listening to quite a few heavy metal tracks I’ve been meaning to buy for the longest time but that I’ve never had a chance to get a hold of.
Midori : I don’t really have a favorite album, but lately I’ve been listening to a lot of ambience music like background music while going about with my day.
As for movies that have left an impression on me, I’ve recently watched Mad Max : Fury Road.
As for books, a friend of mine who’s an illustrator recently took part in an exhibition during which I found a magnificent essay that really struck a chord in me, I can’t stop re-reading it.
Nakamura : Lately I’ve been listening to a lot of Glam Rock and Progressive Rock bands like T.REX and Emerson, Lake and Palmer.
As for movies I really liked the 1927 german movie Metropolis by Fritz Lang.
Interview translated by Basile Mathevet and Robin Ono.
A huge thank you goes out to the band, their management and Basile Mathevet for making this interview possible.