Taku Takahashi (m-flo)
Interview by Dave Cirone
June 11, 2019
m-flo’s Taku Takahashi is gearing up to inject a mind-blowing dose of Tokyo club culture into L.A. on July 3. Following up last year’s marathon music event OTAQUEST LIVE, m-flo is hosting a back-to-back set of Japan’s hottest EDM and dance music artists at the Novo in Downtown L.A. The chart-topping music producer, performer, and self-certified otaku (yes, you did see him at that Street Fighter tournament) breaks down his plans for this summer’s hot ticket J-Pop event.
OTAQUEST LIVE is coming back to L.A. this year with a powerful lineup, including m-flo, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, and CAPSULE, and now you’re adding the OTAQUEST KICKOFF after arty. Why did you decide to add the DJ event to this year’s celebration?
Takahashi: There are two main components of Japanese pop culture that I’m hoping to introduce from Shibuya. One is vocal performance, and the other is DJ culture. The live vocal performance might fall in line with your imagination, but the Japanese club and DJ scene is very unique. We’re connected through all sorts of avenues, especially rhythm games like Beatmania, DDR, and all sorts of titles. Of course, anime music has a place in all this too. Our style is a bit varied from regular EDM parties, and I hope our friends in the U.S. can experience this too.
OTAQUEST LIVE will include visuals, lighting, and production quality found in Tokyo’s famous dance clubs. What type of experience can you show them that they can’t find in L.A. clubs?
Takahashi: We’re bringing our personal VJ team for m-flo; they also happen to handle a number of major festivals in Japan, as well as underground clubs in Shibuya. CAPSULE and Kyary’s team will be bringing their own visual team too, so I think it’ll be a very exciting visual experience all around.
How would you describe the EDM connection between L.A. and Tokyo? What are these two music scenes learning from each other?
Takahashi: The EDM scene in the U.S. is a really big market. You’ve got Ultra, EDC, and all these other festivals that put the U.S. up there with Europe as a mecca for the genre. We’ve got something like this in Japan too, but what we’re hoping to do with OTAQUEST is different. We’ll be playing some EDM, but we’ll be infusing various elements from anime and the like to introduce a real pop culture spin on it.
I myself have handled the soundtrack for GAINAX’s Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt alongside TeddyLoid. I’ve also recently done music for Shinichiro Watanabe’s Carole & Tuesday. Even though these works are technically EDM, they’re different from what you’d usually hear at a regular EDM event. OTAQUEST KICK-OFF, which is our late night party after OTAQUEST LIVE, is going to be very eclectic.
OTAQUEST LIVE – Coming to L.A. Novo July 3, 2019
You’ve been active as a DJ and music producer for over 20 years. What advantages do you feel now after all these years of experience? Are there things that come easier than they used to?
Takahashi: Every day is a learning experience for me. Both m-flo and I are unique in the sense that we’re always embracing new styles. We like to experience different things, and as a result, our audience is very diverse. While this does bring forward a number of challenges, I think that the experience is important. I think as long as you’re passionate and love what you do, though, that can more often than not mean a whole lot more than experience.
The global music scene changes more rapidly than it did in the past. Everything evolves so quickly – technology, business, and the taste of what fans want. How do you stay up to date and adapt?
Takahashi: These days, you’ve really got to understand what type of experience fans are after. In the past, it was all about mass production and mass appearance. It’s all about connecting with people who have similar interests and finding your niche. Even though there are fewer people buying music these days, and in some ways, it’s harder to monetize, I like it like this. It’s more exciting to connect with people around the world.
One thing that works to my advantage, too, is that I’m also a big fan of music and entertainment. I experience a lot of things not just as a creator, but as a fan. That gives me an edge because I get to see what’s really going on from both sides. I’m constantly checking things online, randomly dropping into club events and going to live performances, not because it’s my job, but I do it for fun.
You’re doing double duty in L.A. on July 3 – performing as part of m-flo during the OTAQUEST LIVE concert, and then doing a solo DJ set at OTAQUEST KICKOFF. How do you get ready for these different types of gigs, and how do you make them stand out from each other?
Takahashi: The m-flo performance will be more focused on the vocal aspect of music while my DJ set will be more about partying. With my DJ set at OTAQUEST KICK-OFF, I’ll be playing a mix of both my own works and other peoples works from all over Japan. I want the audience to experience a legitimate slice of Japanese electronic music culture all while having a great time.
What makes a great DJ set? What does your personal interaction in the club bring to the event that a USB playlist can’t do on its own?
Takahashi: DJ’ing is purely about the communication between the DJ and their audience. It’s very dynamic, and a good DJ will work their setlist to flow with their environment. It’s very important for a DJ to ensure the audience hears what they want to hear, but at the same time, I like to introduce something new. I love to be eclectic in my works.
m-flo – No Question
Your personal interest in otaku culture is well-known. The “Otaquest” name is tied to that, and you’ve invested a lot of time bringing Japanese music to U.S. anime events. Plus, you do otaku activities on your own, like attending esports tournaments. How important is otaku culture to spreading Japanese music?
Takahashi: It’s been a while since the term “otaku” was originally coined in Japan’s cultural environment. It began as something very niche, something categorized entirely as geek content. Today it’s become a bit more natural. There’s a whole bunch of creators who blend cutting edge music, art, and fashion together with “otaku” content. Anime and video games are now mediums that can convey a narrative just like live-action film and novels. There’s so much crossover between what’s deemed “otaku” and everything else that you can’t separate it anymore.
I think that the OP and ED segments of anime have been incredible for the introduction of Japanese music internationally. One thing that we lacked initially was the ability to do live shows and interact with US fans. I’ve been reflecting on just how much energy it took to happen, but now the music industry in Japan finally gets to feel the same way I do.
You’ve worked in the fields of anime, games, TV, and film. How much trial and error goes into creating music to match someone else’s artistic vision? What does it take to pinpoint the right approach?
Takahashi: When I’m working on a soundtrack, my main focus is making the director feel confident with their own production. Making anime, movies, and games are all team efforts, and I just happen to handle the music tied into them. From my own experience, the best thing you can do is really talk to the director a lot. I love doing sessions with Shinichiro Watanabe because he lets me suggest my ideas and even introduce new artists to him too.
m-flo is back to its original tripod lineup. At least year’s Otaquest event at the Microsoft Theater, you and VERBAL told the crowd that bringing m-flo to L.A. has been a longtime dream. Why is this city special to you, and what does it mean to you to know you’ll be on stage with VERBAL and LISA in July?
Takahashi: I used to live in Los Angeles when I was in college, so it’s kind of like a second home to me — it means a lot to perform somewhere so close to my heart. Truthfully, we’d love to perform at other cities too if the opportunity is there. Right now our connections are in Los Angeles, but I’m hoping we can bring this to other cities too.
feat. m-flo, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, CAPSULE, CrazyBoy, Hiroomi Tosaka
feat. Taku Takahashi, Yasutaka Nakata, TeddyLoid