It’s not very often an artist appears, seemingly out of nowhere, with a fully fledged world built around them. London producer Yamaneko is not only that rare artist, but he’s one who’s so deep inside the world he’s created on his debut album Pixel Wave Embrace that he’s created two mixes that play like a prequel and sequel to the record. In fact, that he’s also apparently put together “Otherworld” mixes for every track, forming a parallel universe that runs alongside it. I had a dream the other night about a newborn baby that could talk in full sentences (it was weird; I don’t really want to think about it), and this album is in many ways the same thing: it’s arrived fully fledged, riding sublimely crafted waves of energy from gunshot grime to pixellated ambience, already speaking fluently in its own characterful voice.
Long before its release (which is this week on Local Action), this album was being hyped by the likes of Mumdance – who calls it “one of my favourite albums of 2014” – Mr Mitch and Logos, and pre-orders of the cassette have already sold out. You’ll have to move fast to get a physical copy on the next run, but in the meantime you can now stream the record in full. While you do, read on for Yamaneko’s chill guidebook to his digi-universe, explaining what “Ghetto Kyote” Enya, four cell manga, his mate’s shit car and his nan all have to do with the conceptualisation of this gentle-yet-powerful debut.
You know how those language learning tapes don't teach you any of the cool shit like “motto tsuyoi nomimono-o kudasai” (“stronger drinks please”) before they tell you the basics like “sumimasen” (“sorry, excuse me” etc)? I guess I’d like some people to understand the language of this album too, so this tune kinda serves to show you the basics. These being the basics of a completely accidental instrument that somehow captures concisely the convoluted music and natural sounds I love, without really sounding like any of them too much.
There’s a lot of really wicked producers re-hashing established sounds, and all the little popped bubbles and page turning shuffles that crop up here are supposed to be nods to those odd, amazing sounds. Danny Weed’s cybernetic polaroid whirr, “Ghetto Kyote’s” “eh eh” sound, Plastikman’s printer loops, all that shit, you know? One of my favourite qualities of grime was its tendency to find non-percussive sounds from the most barmy sources and giving them their own sudden history in music.
For some reason during 2013’s back to school season it felt like every bastard with a Soundcloud account was sending for every other bastard with a Soundcloud account. I made “Slew Wave” around this time, essentially sending for myself. Throwing gunshots all over the shop, trying to make the daftest sounds with the pixel synth, rinsing that muffled pulse bass sound I like and coating the thing with (probably very irritating) breaths like a subtle “Shangooli” –shout out to my asthma crew.
This was definitely a theme for another place; somewhere that tried to look beautiful but didn’t quite manage it. Somewhere with some ominous technological darkness lingering around every Sylvanian Family flower garden. Glitches in the matrix. If this is starting to sound like a poncy cyberpunk rebore of Alice in Wonderland then that’s probably about right.
One of the ambiguous intentions I had approaching this album was adding glimpses into a sort of parallel universe that exists alongside all the tunes. I did a bunch of “Otherworld” mixes for these tracks (some of which might come out later, who knows) but thought, “fucking hell, I’m recycling a million sounds throughout this album already, better not take the piss having two versions of the same tune in there.” So this and “Calotype Process” are the “Otherworld” remnants that felt like they served a purpose on the LP.“Yonkoma” is a tune that tries to emulate the Kishōtenketsu narrative structure often used in four cell manga. So you have your “Ki” which is all your establishment shit, introducing a theme or character; and you’ve got “Shō” which progresses that theme without any major twist; but then you get “Ten” which turns the narrative towards a new, unknown topic – apparently this is the crux of the narrative, or the “yama,” which is pretty rad as far as whopping great coincidences go – and the “Ketsu” which wraps everything up. I hope that’s how the tune sounds.
There’s a sticker on the cassette copy of Pixel Wave Embrace which says “gentle can be powerful”, and despite the fact it’s a slogan I pinched from an old advert to try and get Tom at Local Action to listen to my tunes, I like how it sums up the mood in which the album was made. Going mad with overstimulation from working, living in London and trying to understand what the fuck is going on at any given time, I started paying less attention to new tunes and tried to quiet my head with soft background music from videogames, or going in on The best of Enya. So while a lot of the album focuses on the more delicate ways of withdrawing yourself from your real world, sometimes, in my experience, the best cure for thinking clearly amongst all the noise is an absolute bastard of a kickdrum. This album isn’t meant to promote one way of living or saying “this should make you feel like this or that,” but saying that, powerful can be gentle too, in a way.
A tribute of sorts to Imp Batch’s remix of “Ghetto Kyote,” or more recently Mr Mitch’s peace edits. I’ve got a lot of time for variations on well-known themes, whether they’re chopped up, re-arranged slightly, played on different instruments, whatever – something that takes the feelings you get from a sound or place and adds some additional meaning to it. The soothing reception-y feel to the Balamb Garden theme always stuck with me through school, uni and all sorts of places that you’re supposed to be chill and look at a cool map to get around. This melody stuck with me throughout all those places, so I named the track after this weird lake in my secondary school all the olders used to threaten to throw us in.
This one came out of a conversation with a mate Oli, who was going on about JRPGs' tendencies to have a bunch of people living in a really happy forest that happens to be on the border of absolute chaos filled with evil kingdoms and dungeons. Seabrooke Rise was a place that my nan lived near the Thames in Essex; it had a bit of a reputation but everyone was so, so safe there. I suppose no one’s gonna harm a kid and his old nan, but the sense of community was – probably unsurprisingly – so much more genuine than all that fake happy shit going on across the road in Grays Beach. It flipped the dynamic of Oli’s JRPG model a little – and gave me a personal narrative that let me play with Danny Weed’s sample/squarewave dynamic without feeling like a leech.
Tom (Lea, Local Action) has a folder on his desktop called “Fucking Tugboat” and for good reason. During our mammoth session mastering this a reel-to-reel, we encountered so many weird problems with it that we ended up hearing that loop for about two hours straight. Kinda appropriate, given that it’s named after a piece of shit car my mate used to drive us around the valleys in with limited degrees of success. Glad we stuck with it though – it’s the first tune I can remember making when I finally had a relatively solid idea of the music I wanted to make, and it’s still one of my favourites.
Another one from Pixel Wave Embrace's “Otherworld.” The grime influence is more bait on these tunes I think. Those Imp Batch-y strings that sound like they’re being strangled a little; awkward, broken percussion; big ol’ distorted kicks; rebore pulse stabs. None of those things are from grime-y sources though, I wanted to keep all samples at least vaguely unusual and from things I'm emotionally attached to, rather than those indebted to others.
It’s no secret that this album is pretty obsessed with water. Watery things were always my favourite themes in those new age tapes that take something fairly ambiguous and just run with it as far as they can get away with (I’m looking at you, Even Wolves Dream). I can’t think of any solid reasons why I’m so into water; maybe it’s ‘cause I grew up along the Thames. The blueness of it, its healing properties, the mysteries and mythologies associated with it, sirens, imagined worlds like Atlantis, those people who think running rainy mood over a tune improves it, the idea of scattering loved ones' ashes into this great unknown, hydration, HM03, the fact that water levels in games are always filled with cryptic fuckery, Drexciya! I could bang on about this more, but basically water is great. And this interlude was the closest sound I could make that felt somewhere between buoyancy and complete submersion.
“NOISES IN THE WAVE WIRES LIKE THE KISSING OF THE SEA (FEAT. RIMPLTON)”
Rimplton is an unsung genius. He’s got hundreds if not thousands of tunes kicking about, mostly on my housemate’s harddrive, and they’re all bonkers. The strangest, most intoxicating tunes you’ve ever heard. Since him and his crew, Daybreak, introduced me to so much good shit over the last few years and were, I reckon, entirely responsible that I started making tunes that felt true to myself, I really wanted to have one of them involved. I sent Rimplton some beatless melodies and some variations of the Pixel synth having absolutely no idea what he’d try and do to them. He came round my yard with the rest of Daybreak a few months later and just when I was heading off to bed I hear him say “oi, here’s this thing I’ve been working on for Yama” and the first twinkles came in and I must have fallen to the floor looking like that gif of Antonio Banderas people post when they like something. It’s kinda like what Rachel (Noble) achieved with the artwork – I chatted breeze for ages about what sort of sound I wanted and he quietly knocked out the perfect climax for the album. His mind works differently to anyone else I’ve met. I hope we make more tunes together soon.
Tom (Local Action) said to me this felt like day breaking at the end of a moonlight voyage or something. I thought it was supposed to mean we’re all forever lost at sea, haunted by hopes and past desires. Interpretations are cool, innit?
Pixel Wave Embrace is out now on Local Action.
Follow Aimee Cliff on Twitter here @aimeecliff