Once you escape the hustle and bustle of Shibuya Station and walk towards the main Tokyu Department store and Bunkamura, the scenery changes dramatically in a second. Suddenly, a quiet and sophisticated vibe envelopes you, and you see one stylish, low-key restaurant after the other. This area, called Oku-Shibuya, has been rising in popularity recently. There, in one of the multi-tenant buildings, lies Studio Mule. Toshiya Kawasaki, the founder of the acclaimed, prominent Japanese label mule musiq, established this wine bar in August 2020. Although he opened Studio Mule during the pandemic, it’s already grown into a hidden spot frequented by patrons in the music and fashion industry.
Birds On The Playground, a lush ambient album created with Studio Mule in mind, was released in March. The artist in question is Lawrence, also known as Peter M. Kersten, the poster child of mule musiq who plays in Japan and internationally. As the founder of Dial and Smallville, he has released and produced many albums. I met Peter for the first time in a year since his gig at OXI Garden last May. In a quiet voice, he started the conversation with “I always want to go to Japan” on one sunny afternoon in beautiful Berlin, lined up with postmodern apartment buildings from the 50s. I asked him about Birds On The Playground and Japan.
Constantly being influenced by Japanese culture since the first visit
——I’d like to learn about Birds On The Playground, an album you released in March. I heard you produced it for Studio Mule, a bar which opened last August in Shibuya. Birds On The Playground is a beautifully made album: cosmic and elegant. Why did you make an ambient album—something that differs from the tracks you usually play and create?
Peter M. Kersten (Peter): Most of my favorite records are genres outside of dance music. For instance, when I drink fine wine at a bar with a good atmosphere, it makes me want to listen to calm music that matches the occasion. It makes me want something different from usual. So, I produced Birds On The Playground to create a wonderful moment at a special bar such as Studio Mule. It’s my way of contributing to Studio Mule.
——Because of covid-19, it’s hard to go to Japan now. How did you gain inspiration and imagination to create the songs, even though you can’t visit Studio Mule?
Peter: I went to Japan last year, and at that point, Toshiya was already starting to build Studio Mule. But the pandemic became severe after that, so I came back to Berlin. I produced the songs while thinking about nights out in bars in Shibuya, drinking with friends, looking at Stefan Marx’s—who creates artwork for mule musiq—work, and listening to eccentric music.
——I believe you could complete this album because you’re familiar with mule musiq and Japan. Aside from last year, you’ve been to Japan many times. What’s your impression of the country?
Peter: I visited Japan for the first time in 2006, and since then, it’s continued to have an immense influence on my life. So, I would try to go to Japan as frequently as possible. In Japan, there are so many amazing things in various fields that influence me, such as food, music, the arts, culture, history, nature, manufacturing, architecture, and so forth. When I spend time in Japan, it’s completely different from my lifestyle in Europe. I can relax more when I’m in Japan, and I miss that because I can’t do it now.
Local Japanese culture as the primary source of inspiration
——Unfortunately, it’s even harder to go to Japan in this current situation. I reckon you have many memories and experiences in Japan. You’ve also been heavily involved in the Japanese dance music scene. Are there any parties or clubs that have left a strong impression on you?
Peter: Hmm. I have countless magical memories. mule musiq’s label night held at the now-gone Space Lab Yellow in 2007 was especially impressive. I played and spent time with my friends, Superpitcher and Stefan Marx. It’s a good memory. A few years after that, I played with DJ Koze at a New Year countdown party at eleven (now closed; it was established at the former site of Space Lab Yellow), and I remember it being a crazy night. I have many good memories, not just in Tokyo but also at Circus in Osaka. I had a great gig at Precious Hall in Sapporo with Kuniyuki (Takahashi). Also, I think CMVC, a contemporary space in Hita, Kyushu, is a venue people should pay attention to. They have a great sound system, and it’s a cultural hot spot. My friend Aoki Takamasa regularly hosts parties there. CMVC is a fantastic venue: they pay meticulous attention to sounds, [draw in] a passionate audience, and create many fun moments.
——There were numerous good-quality events at Space Lab Yellow, eleven, and such. I, too, have been paying attention to the underground culture in other regions. I’d love to go to CMVC. Aside from clubs, which stores or places do you enjoy?
Peter: It’s hard to answer because I have so many. But I want to say that my favorite places in Japan aren’t necessarily shops or restaurants. One place I always go to when I visit Japan is Kurama Hot Springs in Kyoto. You walk through Kurama-dera to head to the hot springs, and the view is so pretty. Also, I like Yufuin no Mori, a limited express train that connects Hakata and Yufuin, because it’s unique. I’ve also been to Onda, where their beautiful pottery was memorable. They have this distinct clay powered by water, and the pottery made of that clay was brilliant.
——You’ve been to so many places. You might be more knowledgeable than me, even though I’m Japanese. What other aspects of Japanese culture have influenced you?
Peter: Japanese people’s devotion and passion towards culture have massively influenced me. I’m not a perfectionist, but I always try my best to make something good with music and food. My experiences in Japan have given me a lot of inspiration for my work.
I recently got into gardening, and I learned a lot about gardening in Japan as well. In particular, I’m focusing on the fun and playful technique details. I can say the same thing about the making of Birds On The Playground.