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Interview: mouse on the keys

The Japanese band, fond of fusing classical with hardcore, tell Kris Lynch about their eclectic tastes, shifting fan base, and the state of contemporary Japanese music

mouse on the keys

It’s rare to find a band that are as equally influenced by Debussy as they are Fugazi, but in mouse on the keys you’ll find a dizzying mix of classical, nu-jazz, post-rock and hardcore. The Tokyo-based trio (two on the keys and one on the kit) are as eclectic as they come, skittering across genres with the agility and urgency of their namesake rodent.

The boys are back in town again, returning after their sold-out gigs three years ago to take the stage at the Esplanade’s Super Japan festival. We catch up with mouse on the keys pianist Daisuke Niitome to find out what they’ve been up to. 

'[On the transition from hardcore] We didn't want to stay in one place. We wanted to go to more places and experience a wider scene.'

How has your sound evolved since your last record?

Since the last record [Machinic Phylum], we completely changed the way we write our music. Whereas before Akira [Kawasaki] did nearly all the songwriting, today each of us do. We also collaborate with artists from outside the band, so our sound has become a lot more diverse.

How was the transition from hardcore to what you play now?

We didn't want to stay in one place. We wanted to go to more places and experience a wider scene. And we felt it was important to visit other countries. Now we play anywhere. Wherever people ask us to play, we'll play!

Have you managed to bring your old hardcore fans along for the ride or are you attracting a different kind of fan today?

Some stayed, some went. We still get asked to play at hardcore gigs, though, so I guess we’re still welcomed. 

Your sound is something unique to the band. How would you describe it to someone who’s never heard you play?

I suppose you could say it’s a combination of Debussy and Ravel, fused with hardcore and with a sense of Detroit techno.

What bands are you guys listening to at the moment?

I’ve recently listened to Kneebody and Don Cabarello type of bands. We all have also been inspired by contemporary classical music.

'Japanese music has a lot going for it right now.'

Are you guys aware of the Japanese subculture in Singapore? Cosplayers, anime fanboys and such…

Uh, no. Is it big?

Yeah, it’s pretty huge.

I didn’t know that. I guess it’s the same worldwide, though – in Europe and America, too. I didn’t know about Singapore but I’m not surprised. It’s kinda strange to see [that] as a Japanese person, but I think it’s a good thing. Sometimes these sorts of sub-cultures can be a lot of fun.

Japanese music seems to be going through something of a renaissance. What do you think the future holds for Japanese talent?

Japanese music is very different from that in other countries. I think there have been a lot of changes recently. A new generation is coming up and it’s getting more interesting. There is a lot of uninteresting and disgusting stuff, too, of course. But there’s a lot of amazing, beautiful stuff, too.

What should Singaporeans know about Japanese music?

I guess the main thing is that we have a diverse music scene – from well-known artists like Seiji Ozawa and Ryuichi Sakamoto to the indie scene’s mono, envy and toe to J-Pop’s Kyary Pamyu Pamyu. Japanese music has a lot going for it right now.