The early stages of this year, 2022, are already coming to a close, but covid is still dominant in Japan. Parties and events haven’t returned to their pre-pandemic state yet. Inevitably, we have fewer encounters, experiences, and places to interact with others in real life, so it’s hard to know how youth culture is changing unless one’s at the heart of the scene. As such, it’s tough to grasp the current mood of Tokyo and Japan.
tokyovitamin’s compilation album Vitamin Yellow, released at the end of last year, is like a guidepost indicating where Tokyo is going this year. This stems from the fact that it’s a compilation album.
The desire to show Japanese music to the world
With origins in club culture, tokyovitamin is a label that’s been active on the streets and in society, building connections with people. They made an album with fellow artists to manifest the mood of Tokyo today through music and lyrics.
Looking back on tokyovitamin’s musical modus operandi, they’ve been releasing radio-style playlists on SoundCloud and putting out music in an inclusive way, where many other people they know could join in. Perhaps this is an extension of their careers as DJs. In 2020, they released their first compilation album, Vitamin Blue, and their presence as a label has become increasingly prominent since then. Why does tokyovitamin continue to release compilation albums in the first place?
“We make them with the hope that they’ll reach someone somewhere, as one example of music that’s coming out of Japan right now. It doesn’t matter if it’s in Japan or abroad. If I were living abroad, this kind of music (tokyovitamin’s compilation albums) would catch my eye. By working with artists in different fields to create one album, I hope we provide a space where the participating artists can show off a different side of themselves. At the same time, I’m sure it’ll give the listeners a chance to discover new artists” -Vick
“I think compilation albums have a lot of equal principles. Of course, we make music videos for some of the songs, but it’s not like they’re the lead songs of the album. It’s more like every song is a single. Maybe I like compilation albums so much because they have that nature about them” -Kenchan
As of now, tokyovitamin’s compilation albums mainly include artists in Japan. Vick and Kenchan have discerned Tokyo’s vibe and zeitgeist throughout the years, and they aim to incorporate that into their work and show it to the world.
“We couldn’t even go abroad in 2021, so the results of being in Tokyo the entire time are reflected in this album. It’s our interpretation of Tokyo, in a way” -Vick
“It’s not like we choose which artist to approach based on their nationality, so this may change in the future, but for Vitamin Yellow, we focused on the current shape of Japan and Tokyo. Down the line, we’re thinking of ways to get producers from overseas to work with artists from Tokyo, and vice versa, so we’re looking forward to what music we can make in the future” -Kenchan
The artists in Vitamin Yellow include label artist Duke of Harajuku, as well as Young Coco, Loota, etc. Gliiico, Stones Taro, Kaoruko, MIYACHI, and MANON are among the artists who’ve appeared in tokyovitamin’s albums for the first time. The songs that feature the likes of Minami Nakamura, Rave Racers, and JUBEE also stand out. One could say this lineup is tokyovitamin’s interpretation of Tokyo today. Vick, Kenchan, and Duke of Harajuku acted as directors for the songs and came up with artists they wanted to work with. They directly approached and DMed artists to expand the roster of artists. After Vitamin Blue was released, the collective met Bleecker Chrome, Only U, and L.A.-based Kazuo, and they contributed to Vitamin Yellow as well. Kenchan approached Stones Taro because he wanted to work with him for the album and decided to get Kaoruko to make “YOU WORRY.”
“I believe it’s important for us to understand each other to work together. Of course, we sometimes approach an artist because we think their music and what they’re doing is cool, but it’s like we naturally started working with artists we know or those we’ve had prior relationships with” -Vick
“We don’t have any criteria for the artists we approach. It’s mostly based on personal taste and what we find is cool” -Kenchan
As Vick and Kenchan said, they chose the artists for this album based on their sensibilities. Another crucial factor upon approaching artists was whether they had the mindset of making music with a strong will and can-do attitude.
Because a director was assigned to each song and many artists contributed to the compilation album, worldbuilding of a certain degree must’ve been necessary to make sure the songs had the same direction. Despite Vitamin Yellow being a compilation album, once listened to from start to finish, one will see that it’s very cohesive. The music made from the vessel of tokyovitamin is unique.
“The person who invited the artist was in charge of the direction of the song, but we didn’t coordinate or do anything special to create a sense of coherence. We all understand what we like, and we can easily communicate without saying anything. Occasionally, the artist would ask me what kind of song we were going for, and I’d give them my view on the overall direction. But I didn’t give them any specific instructions. I left that up to them. The result turned out to be more interesting, and it came together more naturally” -Vick
An album that showcases not only the pair’s mood but everyone else’s too
Compared to their previous album, Vitamin Blue, Vitamin Yellow is more melodic, and some parts have a rock-like sound. It has a more prominent mix of different sounds. Was this their intention?
“It probably has a strong eclectic element because of everyone’s mood, more so than ours. The producers who participated in this project also probably wanted to create something new, not something they’ve done before, so I think that’s why you can tell the difference” -Kenchan
“It’s true that [our album in] 2020 didn’t have the same mood as this album. I don’t consider it as rock, but I feel that there’s a strong emphasis on the melody. It’s a result of being influenced by the mood of the world, and the speed of the songs is more relaxed. We knew we wanted to create songs with high energy, but we wanted to have vocals on top of songs with time and space to think. That probably came about naturally” -Vick
Around the release date of the compilation album, they held a pop-up store at Tower Records Shibuya for just two days. Because this event happened in the center of Shibuya, I feel like the album symbolizes Tokyo.
“We were happy about the pop-up store as well. We had been talking about doing something together with Tower Records for a few years, and the timing of this pop-up store worked out well this time around. It was a coincidence that the color of [Tower Records] and the album was yellow; it was perfect” -Vick
“I’ve been going to Tower Records since I was in elementary school. I used to go to the sixth floor a lot. That floor has rows of metal and hardcore CDs, and I used to dig through imported ones a lot. They played the music video for “YOU WORRY (feat. Stones Taro Kaoruko)” on the screen on the first floor, and I was quite touched to see my video like that. I was also glad that people I wouldn’t usually meet at a club or izakaya saw our pop-up store” -Kenchan
Aside from the actual music, the cover art, created by neon artist WAKU, is also appealing. This piece came about thanks to Kenchan and WAKU’s meeting each other over six years ago. They also displayed the artwork at the pop-up. WAKU’s neon piece, including the reflected light on an acrylic surface, stands on its own as a complete work of art. One could enjoy different expressions depending on the angle. He conveyed a fragment of the art’s true magic in real life.
tokyovitamin carves out the current shape of Tokyo in Vitamin Yellow, but what do the two think about the spirit of Tokyo’s subcultures today and the scene surrounding them?
“That’s a difficult question. I haven’t met enough people to summarize the different moods, so it’s hard to describe them. But I’m certain that interesting things are happening everywhere. Today, cool bands, producers, and labels are popping up here and there. I get excited just thinking about how different cultures can blend once we interact with more artists from abroad, the way we did pre-covid. Outside of Tokyo, [things are also happening in] Kansai. Producer E.O.U runs a label called PAL.Sounds (in Kyoto) with Keiju, ktskm, and Vis. There are a lot of interesting events. I’m just so excited about what everyone’s doing” -Kenchan
“I believe Tokyo could be a hub that connects the world. I can tell that artists all over Japan are doing their best to create things, even during the pandemic where real information from outside is stagnant. As Kenchan said, not only are there interesting people in Tokyo but all over the country. And it’s interesting how each of them is making something they can only make now, based on the current state of things. If each person continues being creative, and the next phase is for real information from the world to come in all at once, I feel like we can build such an interesting culture. As of right now, Tokyo operates on information flowing in and out. While it would be fun for that to happen, we could still have fun in a way that we never imagined even if it doesn’t” -Vick
The mood of Tokyo today can be seen in tokyovitamin’s compilation album Vitamin Yellow: the album is an international embodiment of the collective’s unique locality, from Tokyo to the world. If one gleans the vibe of the songs from the cover art and listens to the content of the lyrics, one could experience Tokyo’s youth culture of tomorrow. How will they capture and present the zeitgeist from their point of view in the future? I can’t wait.