13 Dec 2014

Red Bull Music Academy: Tokyo 2014

Red Bull Music Academy Building in Shibuya
Red Bull Music Academy building in Shibuya, Tokyo

For the last 16 years, the world-travelling Red Bull Music Academy has served as a wellspring of inspiration and rite-of-passage for countless emerging musicians from across the globe. Late last month Martyn Pepperell attended the academy, held this year in Tokyo's storied Shibuya district. He walks us through a day in the life of the academy, speaking with participants and staff along the way.

A day at the Red Bull Music Academy

By Martyn Pepperell

Since its inception in Berlin in the late 90s, the Red Bull Music Academy has served as a rite-of-passage for talented musicians on the cusp of global recognition.  Described as "a world-travelling series of music workshops and festivals: a platform for those who make a difference in today’s musical landscape," it's a space of inspiration. Held annually, the academy sees two groups of 30 selected producers, DJs, vocalists, and instrumentalists come together in a different city. They converge for two weeks of recording, lectures from key musical figures, live and studio based collaborations and performances in clubs and music halls. This November, after having heard stories about the academy for over a decade, I attended the Tokyo edition, where New Zealand was represented by Auckland singer/producer Chelsea Jade.

Valesuchi and Chelsea Jade in the studio
Red Bull Music Academy Tokyo participants Valesuchi and Chelsea Jade in studio / Photo courtesy of RBMA

Auckland DJ and broadcaster Nick Dwyer has been involved in the academy for a decade. This year he's in residence hosting the academy's daily radio show and lecturing. Nick's also helping coordinate Fat Freddy's Drop's debut Japanese performance and video game music showcase 1UP: Cart Diggers.

"It's the coolest Hogwarts/summer camp for cool dudes that love music you could ever wish for," Nick enthuses. "It's like all these incredible people that come from all over the world, and each of them brings their own music, vibe, and culture. Everyone just gets together. I guess one of the coolest things about being in a city like Tokyo is for so many people it's a foreign land. So everyone just posses up, and everyone goes out and has fun. Every night there are these amazing events, and it's just a really magical and inspiring place to be in."

Beginning with breakfast from 10.30am, a day at the academy is made up two lectures, studio sessions, lunch and dinner breaks, and trips around the city to attend and take part in live performances. The bulk of the academy takes part inside a building in Shibuya. Press attendant Arne Christensen gives us an idea of the layout.

"Red Bull Music Academy occupies four of the nine floors in this building. The first floor is the lobby and the main studio... The next floor is the bedroom studio floor, where we have eight bedroom studios. When you go to the fourth floor, you'll see three or four people working in a studio. One of the ideas behind the studio  is to get people to cross cultural borders and make music that way... The next floor is where we have the cafeteria, lecture hall, and lounge area."

Carl Craig Lecture
Carl Craig giving a lecture at the Red Bull Music Academy

Today the lectures are with Detroit techno godfather Carl Craig and New York based Kuwaiti artist, musician and composer Fatima Al Qadiri. Carl has been in residence at the academy as a studio mentor all term. Fatima, on the other hand, is visiting briefly to speak and perform at Nick Dwyer's 1UP: Cart Diggers video game music event. After Carl's lecture, I snatch some commentary from Chelsea. "I thought it was really insightful," she says. "He was really generous with [explaining how and why he does what he does through] metaphor. I really like when people link what they do through metaphor. It's such a beautiful effort to connect with the audience."

Following Fatima Al Qadiri's discussion of geography, gender-roles in music, history, and linguistics, academy co-founder Torsten Schmidt offers me some thoughts. "She brought a lot of different perspectives. All of the participants come from so many different cultures and heritages and countries. It's not only about the paradigm that sits somewhere between London, Detroit, New York, Berlin and maybe Paris and the odd satellite city. There are all these other places that have an extremely valuable place in the global musical conversation. Therefore, we are always happy when you have someone that eloquent and that conscious of what those different conversations consist of, and are happy to partake in them."

Fatima Al Qadiri Lecture
Fatima Al Qadiri presenting at the Red Bull Music Academy

Early in the evening, we're down on the bedroom studio floor. In the midst of collaborations, Chelsea chats about the academy participant experience with Australian singer/experimental musician Mimu Merz.

"I was quite surprised that artists from a really experimental side of music are being represented here," Mimu says. "It's about improvisation. It's about working with the audience. That made me really happy... I think the precious thing about this academy is that there is pop, electronic music, dance music and then suddenly also improvisation taking place. That is just great."

Later on, I pile into a shuttle with the participants. We head to a music hall where we listen to Icelandic cellist Hildur Guðnadóttir, and Canadian- Ukrainian pianist Lubomyr Melnyk perform ear-opening experimental works. Afterwards, the atmosphere is electric. You can almost hear the cogs of inspiration ticking over inside everyone's heads.

This is what the Red Bull Music Academy is all about.     

Kadhja Bonet in the studio
Kadhja Bonet in the studio - all photos courtesy of Red Bull Music Academy

Related Links

Red Bull Alumni Louis Baker live in session

Myele Manzanza on getting in to the Red Bull Music Academy

Music Details

Artist: Hitoshi Sakimoto
Song: Waltz of Meditation
Composer: H.Sakimoto
Album: Magical Chase OST
Label: Palsoft

Artist: Fatima Al Qadiri
Song: Shanghai Freeway
Composer: F.Qadiri
Album: Asiatisch
Label: Hyperdub

Artist: Kadhja Bonet
Song: Tears For Lamont
Composer: K.Bonet
Album: N/A
Label: Self-Released

Artist: Innerzone Orchestra
Song: Bug In the Bassbin
Composer: C.Craig
Album: Programmed
Label: Planet E, Talkin' Loud

Artist: Chelsea Jade
Song: Assembly
Composer: C.Metcalf, Justyn Pilbrow
Album: Beacons
Label: Self-Released

Artist: Ayshay
Song: Warn-U
Composer: F.Qadiri
Album Warn-U
Label: Tri-Angle Records

Artist: Valesuchi
Song: Golosynth
Composer: V.Montalvo
Album: Golosynth EP
Label: Discos Pegaos