Yukio Takahashi is an artist now widely known as YKOYKO. His Bikkuriman-style illustrations, which he started purely for fun, have attracted a great deal of attention on SNS and he has been collaborating with many musicians. Takahashi once aimed to become a designer who can work on CD jackets. Although he once gave up on that path, his illustrations led him to become involved with musicians. Such unexpected encounters were brought about by his love for music. This time, he spoke on the history of his creation so far.
——Your Bikkuriman-style illustrations of musicians are very much like Bikkuriman’s official ones. First of all, please tell us how you started drawing such illustrations.
Yukio Takahashi (Takahashi): I started drawing this Bikkuriman-style illustration in 2013, and it was triggered by Momoiro Clover Z (Momokuro). I learned about Momokuro around 2011. Their songs at that time seemed to be ground-breaking as idol songs, and were overwhelmingly powerful. That’s why I started to be obsessed with them, and at first I was making mashups * with Momoiro songs.
In this way, I was keeping up with Momokuro’s activities, and in the fall of 2013, a collaboration product called “Momokuro-man-choco” was released. When I saw it, I came up with the idea, “What would it look like if I drew my favorite musician in a Bikkuriman style?” At first, I drew an illustration of a music producer Hyadain, Momokuro members Reni Takagi and Ayaka Sasaki, which went unexpectedly well. Then I drew portraits of the musicians that hadn’t been drawn before, such as Merzbow, Keiji Haino, which drew a great amount of attention. From that point, I started drawing various musicians that I liked.
——It’s surprising that Momokuro was a trigger. Have you been a music lover for a long time?
Takahashi: That’s right. My hobbies are music and design, which are the reason why I am still alive for. Originally when I was in junior high school, I started listening to the music of “Shibuya-kei”, such as Pizzicato Five, Flipper’s Guitar. It was also the heyday of CDs, so I really liked looking at jacket design of them. I was particularly influenced by the design of Mitsuo Shindo, the art director of contemporary production. So I used to draw cassettes and CD jackets for fictitious titles. Then I started listening to rock, techno, experimental music, and other music, and going to “Disk Union” to buy CDs and records. I still do the same thing though (laughs).
Holding an exhibition was a major turning point
——Are the illustrations hand-painted?
Takahashi: At first, I used to scan a draft drawn with a pencil and pen, trace it with Illustrator, and color it with Photoshop. But since I recently purchased an iPad, I have been doing all the processes digitally.
——You have also released a collection book of illustrations.
Takahashi: I published the first volume under the name of “Bikkuri Book” in 2015. Since it was more popular than I had expected, I have already released the third volume.
At the time when I published first book, I held an illustration exhibition in Shimokitazawa for the first time in 2015, and many people came to it. Until then, I had been doing it just by myself, so it was great to meet various people there. Some people I met at the venue asked me to draw an illustrations, or others invited me to another group exhibition. From that time on, I have had exhibitions at “Amleteron” in Koenji every year, and in Osaka, I have been participating in an event called “Record University” hosted by “Morimoto Bookstore”.
I had been very anxious until the exhibition, but I was very happy to see many people visiting the venue to see it. And it gave me confidence. Holding an exhibition in 2015 was a major turning point, and that’s what kept me doing illustrations.
——How many illustrations have you drawn so far?
Takahashi: At first, I thought it would be enough to draw 10 works, but for some reason I’ve created about 300 works so far.
——Do you always create stickers out of the illustrations you draw?
Takahashi: At the beginning, I basically drew it and only published it on SNS. But I created the first sticker at the time when I made about my 20th work, which was really interesting. After that, I try to make some stickers so that I can give them out in the event.
——What kind of reaction have you got for your illustrations?
Takahashi: I was so happy that Ichiro Yamaguchi from Sakanaction and the other musicians gave me responses like “they are interesting” early in my career. To my surprise, two months after I started drawing, I received an e-mail request saying “I want you to draw something for me officially”.
——What are you paying attention for when drawing?
Takahashi: To draw something with love. I collect various photographs and draw sketches, wondering how I can make them look as much like the subject as possible. It may sound mysterious, but if I put my love into it, I can draw it well. I sprinkle my illustrations with elements that can be associated with the subject, such as a certain motif, music, or theme. Apart from that, it would be nice to draw something, dreaming of me receiving an official request from the subject I am working on. (laughs).
Requests from musicians I’ve loved and listened to
——Do you remember the first official offer from the musician?
Takahashi: That was from Jim O’Rourke. Instead of asking me to create a new work for him, he asked me if he could use the illustration I had drawn. He used the illustration for the sticker which was to be given out to the audiences at the venue of the concert held at the end of 2013. Personally, I’ve always liked Jim O’Rourke, so I was very happy and couldn’t really believe what had happened.
Next, in 2014, I was asked to draw an illustration for a bookmark by a bookstore called “Book Union” in Shinjuku. Under the theme of “collectible bookmarks,” I was able to draw my favorite musicians every month. I mainly drew portraits of Western musicians. It was fun every month.
——I see. You also draw illustrations for CD jackets, right?
Takahashi: At first, a rock band called Deerhoof in the United States used my work for the jacket of their live album “FEVER 121614” released in October 2015. Originally, I drew it for a novelty sticker, but the members liked it so much that I was told, “We are going to release a live CD soon, so can we use it for that jacket?” It was released on vinyl overseas, and people all over the world uploaded photos of it on SNS. I’ve loved music since I was a kid, and I had a dream of becoming a designer of jackets of CDs and records, but I couldn’t make my dream happen after all. However, it was a moment when my dreams came true in an unexpected way, thanks to the illustrations I drew just for fun.
——It’s a very good story that your dream came true in an unexpected way. Have you received many offers since then?
Takahashi: Yes. Thankfully, there have been continuous requests from the musicians including Kenta Maeno, Awesome City Club, and Macaroni Empitsu. When it comes to novelty sticker for those who bought CDs, I drew quite a lot of works for musicians. I remember the 20th anniversary concert of KIRINJI’s major debut in 2018, where I drew illustrations for the goods of KIRINJI and Yasuyuki Horigome. I’ve been listening to KIRINJI since I was a student, so I was really surprised when I received the request. Recently, I was allowed to draw a CD jacket for Gerogerigegege *, and Denki Groove’s Takkyu Ishino introduced that CD on Tiwtter. Although indirectly, I was really impressed by the fact that my favorite musician Takkyu Ishino introduced my work.
——Your illustrations seem to appeal to musicians outside the country as well.
Takahashi: In addition to Deerhoof, I was commissioned to draw works for novelty stickers for Japanese edition of CDs of Kamasi Washington and Thundercat. Since I had loved them so much, I was honored to be involved in this way.
I was blessed with the opportunity to officially draw an illustration of Luc Ferrari * for 90th anniversary of his birth. In this context, it seems that Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore saw my work. I was very happy with that too.
——What is your favorite one among all your works?
Takahashi: What I like the most are the works for “Konya Ha a boogie back”. This song has two versions: an Kenji Ozawa’s version and a Scha Dara Parr’s version. So I drew illustrations for both versions with respect. This song was released on my birthday, March 9th, and I thought I’d draw something sick for a special anniversary. This took about a week, but I had a lot of fun drawing them.
——What about your future activities?
Takahashi: At the beginning of 2020, I had a lot of plans, but all the events were canceled due to the corona pandemic. I can’t make it public yet, but I have a lot of ideas that I’m preparing for. So I’d like to participate in exhibitions and events again when the current situation calms down. So I want to talk a lot about music with visitors (laughs).