Why Manchester is the new creative epicentre of neo-soul and hip-hop
Sapphire Slows is a producer from Tokyo who recently released her first non-Japanese 12”, True Breath, on LA label Not Not Fun. Her tracks are bedroom takes on pop and house that actually sound like a bedroom – she’s very much in line with producers like Maria Minerva and Terekke in the way she negotiates between familiar tropes and spectral headiness. I asked her a few questions about her background and approach, which appears to be as flexible and intuitive as her work suggests.
Please introduce yourself.
Hi I’m Sapphire Slows. I don’t want to tell my real name yet. I think it’s not that important to reveal your name on the Internet. I’m a student at other times.
Where does the name Sapphire Slows come from?
It just came up. It doesn’t mean anything. Probably it’s because I like blue. I like this name since somehow it sounds feminine. But I didn’t want it sound…female, obviously, like “… Girl”.
How long have you been making music? When were the tracks for True Breath composed? What’s your workrate like: do you produce a lot of material? Do you take a long time on each track? Also, when do you work? I get a very nocturnal feel from your stuff…
I started to make music around last spring. I’ve been in a band or done composition-like things before that, but it was my really first time [composing] tracks properly [on a] laptop by myself. I make music in my bedroom, most of the time at night, but once I’m into [making] a certain track there’s no day or night. [I’m] like a geek behind a closed door. Sometimes it takes lots of time to decide just one tone and I need to try various effects, but sometimes ideas just flow so easily.
“I make music in my bedroom. Once I’m making a track there’s no day or night. I’m like a geek behind a closed door.” Sapphire Slows
What kind of gear are you using to produce with? Are you content with your setup or is it constantly changing?
Mac, [an] old Casio keyboard, and [a] junk rhythm machine which cost me just 500 yen. Some tracks use sampling but some tracks don’t. I make music just using something there. I’m satisfied with this setup but if I [had] more money [there’s] so much gear I’d want.
How much do you think your music is grounded in dance music – what kind of influence does something like Chicago house play? To me it seems like a clear undercurrent in all your tracks, but then the melodies/the stuff on top seem just as prominent…do you have any interest in making “pure” dancefloor tracks?
I’m attracted by Chicago House in a way, including its culture or ideas all together. But even [if] I try to make similar music [to] this, [I’ll] end up with totally different stuff – as the times are different, then the context is different. What I’m directly influenced by is today’s music that is reminiscent of 80s-90s Chicago House. I would say 100% Silk or Ecstasy by Miracles Club are my favorites, and of course a lot more!
“I cannot lie in making music.” Sapphire Slows
I was interested in making pure dancefloor music at first, but in the course of making [it], my current sound and style has been shaped. That’s quite a natural outcome as I’ve been listening to a variety of music, not only dance. Besides, I make music in my small room. That’s a very internal thing and this kind of music is supposed to be completed in just a narrow space, so it cannot be for a dancefloor anyway in a physical sense. I cannot lie in making music.
Your vocals are really shrouded/unintelligible, which I get an ethereal, floating feel from. On You Got True Breath, the chant kind of reminds me of some of LA Vampires stuff – her songs have these mantras, where she’s just repeating one lyric over and over. Do you write lyrics ( You Got True Breath sounds like you’re saying something) or have any interest in bringing your voice up in the mix like that?
It’s not like lyrics. More like feelings that I cannot normally put out as a word. I think it’s not that important whether you could catch it or not as a word. You feel the atmosphere of the track as a whole, that’s enough. I just use it as one of the sound materials. I like the female voice in this sense.
How did you get involved with Big Love and Not Not Fun? Is there any reason True Breath isn’t on 100% Silk?
Big Love has a brilliant shop in Harajuku, Tokyo. I started to collect vinyl after I moved to Tokyo and I often go to Big Love to buy vinyl. I think it all started from here, so it’s a very important place for me. One day, I handed over the track I made to the owner, and then he offered me to release it on Big Love.
Not Not Fun and 100% Silk are both my favorite labels so when I made the first track I first sent it to them. I just wanted them to listen, and then I’ve got a reply from Not Not Fun straightaway about releasing. I was surprised but happy to hear that. I’m so lucky.
I have no idea why it’s not on 100% Silk since it’s not my decision. But I think my tracks are not pure dance like they want. I don’t even know how my music is going to be like. It might be more dancefloor or might go away from dance. Of course I want to make dance tracks or do remix work for 100% Silk if I have a chance, but there’re a dozen more possibilities.
Do you play live? If so, how do you translate your recorded material, or do you use similar/the same gear? If not, do you plan to?
I haven’t done any live performances yet, but I’d love to do that. If I find nice band members, I would probably arrange my tracks into a band-like style. No idea about band members so far, and besides I like to be by myself because it’s more straightforward and handy. So I might just do a simple live only with my laptop and controller.
Do you have any plans for an album?
I’m currently making songs for an album. I haven’t got any songs stocked at the moment since I’ve been releasing as soon as I [make them] so far. It might take a long time, maybe next year.
Do you feel part of a scene in Tokyo? How do you think living there translates into your music? (Sorry if the second part seems ridiculous or like I’m reaching; living in the west it’s easy to have kind of a romantic view of Tokyo.)
That’s a very important question. I’m sure something is definitely happening in Tokyo’s indie scene this year. Musicians from Cuz Me Pain —The Beauty, Jesse Ruins, MASCULiN, ;visited — and Moscow Club, New House, Friends, Neon Cloud, also Hotel Mexico (Hotel Mexico is a Kyoto-based band though)…we have a lot here who will be or already [are] highly valued in overseas. They all look different but we are all friends or friends’ friends, [and] somehow relate to each other.
“I’m sure something is definitely happening in Tokyo’s indie scene this year. I think we are all fed up with Japanese media or authority.” Sapphire Slows
Of course there [has] always been so [much] music in Tokyo, but I feel this kind of phenomenon is occurring for the first time ever. It’s quite immature at the moment as a scene and I even don’t know if it’ll succeed or not, but some overseas media has gradually started to pay attention. We’re not yet stable enough to be united as a scene but we influence each other in a good way. If I can be a part of this, that’s great. I think we are all fed up with Japanese media or authority and I also don’t expect anything from them. Luckily, overseas there’s a certain basis that purely evaluates music without such a thing. If young musicians like me come out one after another without hesitation, I think the situation in Tokyo should become much better.
What’s coming up for you?
My new track will be on Cuz Me Pain’s next compilation album, which will be released in the beginning of next year. I’m also planning to go to the US in March, hopefully playing live on tour. I want to meet everyone in real life, not on the Internet!