Features I by I 29.06.14

Champagne and anime raves: Submerse talks Japan and his debut album Slow Waves

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I first met Rob Orme when I went back to Japan in 2013.

Known to the world as Submerse, Orme had moved over shortly after my last trip there and found himself involved in the same scenes I hovered around. We bonded over a shared love of hip hop, video games and anime – granted, with tequila as lubrication – but it wasn’t until I saw him perform at Sonar Tokyo that I fully ‘got’ his music and his talent for controlling a crowd. Despite disastrous weather he turned the outdoor pool area into the place to be with a mix of hazy ambient, classic ’90s hip hop, r’n’b and new school beats bursting out of his SP404, all topped up with a final rendition of ‘Singin In The Rain’ complete with umbrella.

Originally from northern England, Orme first began releasing music in 2009, with a string of short-form releases across various international labels. The music had a UK dance continuum edge to it while at the same time referencing his childhood love of hip-hop and interest in Japan. It was the latter that would ultimately lead him to move there in 2012 shortly after a release for R&S sub-label Apollo Records.

During his time abroad his releases became more focused on the space afforded by the slow/fast dynamic found in the 85/170bpm range. His first two EPs for Berlin’s Project Mooncircle followed the Apollo release with deeply emotive tracks that echo the work of fellow northerners Synkro and Indigo. In the flesh however most of the music he plays remains focused on hip hop and it’s that early love and interest in rhythm that takes full flight on his debut album, Slow Waves, which was written on his return to Europe last year.

I sat down with Orme to discuss the album’s genesis, depicting nostalgia through music, his roots and the experience of going to Tokyo from a small suburban northern town as well as the little known Tokyo scene that surrounds anime raves. You can also stream album track ‘Cut From The Team’ exclusively below.

When was the album written?

I came back from Japan last summer and went to Berlin shortly after and stayed with Gordon, from Project Mooncircle. When I came back to England I started working on what became Slow Waves. So it took from August last year to about two months ago.

You wrote it in London but the inspiration for it was the time you’d spent in Japan, is that right?

Yeah. That was all still buzzing around in my head so… I don’t know, especially coming to west London, it seemed like the middle of nowhere suburbia. So the vibe was coming back from Japan to suburban England again and having nothing around me that gave me much inspiration. The only thing I could do was look back at the times in Japan and even before that when I travelled a bit, when I was younger.

Is it fair to say that nostalgia drove the music then?

Totally. The whole thing is based off of nostalgia. There was nothing, no direct inspiration from the present that impacted on it. I wasn’t like “oh I need to do something like this” but rather looking back on experiences… nostalgia is the key word.

What do you think it is about Japan that makes it such an inspiring place?

I think it’s the drastic change of culture that I suppose a lot of people, especially from small northern towns in England, aren’t used to at all. It’s stuff you only really see in films and read about online so when you get there… watching a film and reading about it can never give you the same feeling of the place. When you’re there, you take everything in and it’s still so alien. For me, there was so much that inspired me. I was there for a year and a half, and I’d been out for a month the year before.

“Watching a film and reading about Japan can never give you the same feeling of the place.”

I had that same experience of the differences between this mental picture you draw and the realism of being there, picking up on all the idiosyncracies you come across. If you had to pick a handful of things that really stood out inspiration wise, what would they be?

I kinda felt like every little part of Tokyo, even the mini cities inside Tokyo, had its own vibe. And they can be completely different from each other. Depending on which one you go into I felt you got a totally different experience. Obviously going to somewhere around Kabukichō [ed note: the entertainment and red light district] say, Shinjuku, is a totally different vibe to Shimokitazawa. Shimokita feels just like a town, it’s compact and has all this different food. Everything adds up to making each place in Tokyo feel like its own city even though they’re all part of the same thing. I found each part of the city gave you a different inspiration. Kabukichō was an influence on the last three EPs I’ve done for example, from walking around there, seeing all these strange things. Kabukichō is special, all you can think about walking around is ‘what’s going on behind that door?’ You can’t imagine what goes down, that acted as inspiration to write something that reflected that vibe to myself.

A lot of it was also that I travelled so much everyday by myself just with headphones on, getting trains. The time you’ve got to think and take stuff in on your own was so much more than being locked in a suburban British town where I might get out once every couple days but most of the time I’m just locked indoors or doing things. Travelling around was probably the biggest single influence and inspiration from Tokyo.

You had a release on Apollo Records that came out just as you moved to Japan and a string of Project Mooncircle EPs during your time there. Sonically those releases were pretty much focused on that spacious, slow-fast sweet spot of 85/170bpm whereas the album is much more straight up beats, a hip hop thing more inline with your sets. What is it that prompted the switch?

For me it was a case of discovering something new but also maturing a bit. As a young kid growing up in the UK, even though I was brought up on American hip hop and the likes, I couldn’t ignore sounds like garage, jungle or drum n bass. And that’s where the passion first came from. Being in the UK and around it made me feel that it was what I wanted to make.

Once I got out of the UK I wasn’t surrounded by so much UK-like music and I started listening to a lot of other stuff. It really was a lot of people like Daisuke Tanabe and Yosi Horikawa and all those guys who are doing a lot more experimental stuff but that to me is also still hip hop. It wasn’t boom bap or anything like that and it really influenced me, this hazy vibe. I don’t know… I wanted to go slower and more lo-fi… It’s hard to describe. I felt like I couldn’t do anything more with really clean, straight quantised stuff. Those memories of being in Japan, which drove this album, were a bit hazy anyway. It felt right that I should make it washy and give it a crushed, hazy vibe while keeping it tied to the beats thing.

And for me drums have always been my thing. I played them as a kid, even some of my older work, and the electronic stuff, was about the groove of the drums. I always want to keep the beats as my main focus so if I can keep everything sort of loose but layer it with hazy, wishy-washy pads, harp sounds, Rhodes and the likes then to me it’s a mature progression of where I was when I was 16, which is ten years ago now.

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It harks back to the nostalgia we discussed too. Memories are always hazy.

Exactly. Looking back on my time in Japan was people like Daisuke and all those dudes who are on some other level for me. When I’d got there I hadn’t heard much of their music so it really grabbed me. But then going even further back, when I first saw The Jungle Brothers at 13, that had a huge impact on me. So memories of hearing hip hop for the first time are also part of it. Even things like being in school and carving Wu Tang logos into tables, you know? It was cool, everyone at school was still into pop music, Spice Girls or whatever, and I was all about Big L. The memories I drew on were also from that time. It was all so new to me and a bit of a taboo too. My parents didn’t want me to listen to rap and they were like ‘we’re going to need to take these tapes away until you’re a bit older,’ which I totally get.

I got all my CDs with Parental Advisory stickers taken away from me at 15 because I swore at my cousin. It’s funny in hindsight.

That’s it. When you hear something at that age it always has that connection with you, through life. Especially when you don’t listen to it for a few years and go back to it. Without even consciously thinking about the past that’s what comes into your head, memories of first hearing it or when you were in your prime of listening to that music, looping it all day. 36 Chambers is one for that. Even though I’d like to think of more current things when I listen to it, I just think of being a kid in my bedroom sat on my Playstation listening to the album on loop. Not the most gangster thing ever, but…

There’s something about that 90s hip hop, especially the New York stuff. There’s this dissonance in the New York hip hop of that era that’s fascinating. The music’s off but still sounds incredible. It’s timeless in a way. And it still inspires people decades on as you said.

It was such a big part for me… after I discovered it, it must have been a few weeks later, we were out skateboarding and my friend’s mom had been to Blockbuster and we’d asked her to get us any video to do with skateboarding. The only thing she could find was the movie Kids. She had no idea what it was and we had no idea what it was. There were three of us, really young, and we sat down and watched Kids twice in a row. As soon as we were done it was our mission to find some of the tracks and that’s when I first discovered The Artifacts ‘Wrong Side Of Da Tracks’ which then became my next thing. And from there it was down the rabbit hole. Everyday we’d go skateboard and then just ‘have you ever heard such and such artist’. Souls of Mischief, etc… it was game over.

Going back to this idea that classic New York hip hop is defined by its dissonance, what would you say is Tokyo’s defining quality?

The broadness I think. I feel like I’ve never seen a city as broad and as accepting of so many different things. I see line ups in Japan where I think ‘I’d never see that anywhere in the world cos it’s far too wide and far too varied’ yet it seems to work in Japan and everyone seems to stick to their guns, to what they love and everyone else seems to appreciate that. No one is like ‘this is our event, we play this’ and shunning anyone who doesn’t fit.

It’s all connected somehow, and it’s funny how you stumble across these links. You’ll play a party one night and realise the guys behind it are somehow friends with this other group who put on anime raves. It’s funny and I love the fact that it’s so connected. I think it’s a special quality in itself that no one is an elitist.

“People are on the dancefloor holding their laptops open above their heads with Skype or Facetime open streaming to their friends sat at home.”

It’s an interesting point. I always saw the city as a constellation of micro scenes that perhaps do connect but I felt it was more negative. I felt people didn’t interact with each other that much even if they were connected somehow. I’m also glad you brought up anime raves, as I thought that would be one interesting thing to talk about for people who’ve never heard of them. When we first met you mentioned an anime rave in Kabukichō you’d been to, so do you want to explain what they are?

Basically one of the sub-scenes in Japan is net labels. It’s been around for a while, very DIY, lots of samples, lots of bootlegs, they give everything away for free. There’s one in particular, a net label called Maltine Records, they were the first guys I actually spoke to from Japan. And that in turn gave me another incentive to go over because I knew some people online that lived there.

So they’ve been a successful net label for a while and every so often they’re known for hosting these legendary events. Because they’re so rare, when the events go down it’s on another level. I was lucky enough that when I lived there the owner of Maltine decided to put one on. He showed me the line up but I really had no idea what to expect. The flyer came out and said it was going to be in Kabukichō. I thought that was the weirdest spot for the party. The event got closer and the hype was pretty big. I went down to soundcheck and they’d booked this old cabaret, strip club for it. All carpet floors, red velour curtains, everyone dressed up in Yakuza style, suits and all that. All DJs are dressed up like that, the theme is Kabukichō basically. And they’re playing everything you can think of, including anime remixes. The line up had about 15 people on it and from the moment it opened people were throwing stuff around, jumping on stage. It was nuts.

The one moment it sunk in for me was when I went outside for a cigarette and realised I was surrounded by all the area’s nitty gritty, the real gangsters, Yakuza, homeless and next to me was someone dressed up as Hatsune Miku. Which is pretty bizarre and uncomfortable. Still it was just so much fun, you never think that crowd, the people who will watch an intense amount of anime every day, read a lot of comics, would be in that area.

And you also don’t necessarily think they could party hard either.

Totally. And these are some of the people you see around who don’t drink and it’s 4AM and they’re dancing with a Macbook under their arm going nuts and they can’t wait to tweet about, I don’t know, someone just played a sample from an anime and they know what episode it’s from, stuff like that.

Was this the same party you’d mentioned where people could order at the bar via Twitter?

No that was another party. I got booked for that before I’d even been to Japan, it was my first time over, so I had no idea what to expect. That party was in Akihabara, at Mogra, which is a really infamous club. I got in there and it was like… that atmosphere of everyone dancing with Macbooks under their arms, everyone was friends even if they didn’t know each other. And that was really because they were all, and I don’t like saying it because it’s seen as offensive by certain people, otaku. But they’re all pretty nerdy, let’s face it.

This the kind of party where people are on the dancefloor holding their laptops open above their heads – back then those 17inch Macbooks – with Skype or Facetime open streaming to their friends sat at home, who are probably just watching anime. They’re in the rave streaming, going to everyone to get them to wave to those on the other end. That’s also where people will leave their phones to charge at the bar because the atmosphere is just so friendly. It’s such a niche thing.

Well you know Boiler Room are doing their first streams from Japan this week and it got me thinking that it’s a rather undocumented element of the scenes there, that so many of them have been streaming their events in some way or another for years now but without trying to be like Boiler Room or Dommune – it’s just the technology’s there and people use it.

Mogra has been streaming all the events it’s done for years now. And they never try and push it outside. This is really one thing I wish more people could behold, places like Mogra. Only there would you find a ram-packed club at 5AM playing the opening themes from various anime, where the club owner is the drunkest person inside and he’s throwing champagne at people from the stage while others are trying to whip each other on the ass with belts. Everyone’s got anime-themed t-shirts on and it’s just… you can’t really explain it but it was the most surreal moment for me.

It almost made normal, central Tokyo events seem boring as shit. Because that was one of the first nights I ever went to and it blew my mind. I remember, 5AM, champagne everywhere, dancefloor full and yet at the back 15 guys in a row leaning on the wall, each with a 3DS and another 5 or 6 guys in the hallway playing Monster Hunter. Stuff like that. Put Monster Hunter down and go get a couple shots and then it’s game on again.

And the funny thing is, even in Japan that kind of sub culture, anime raves and the likes, it’s all still niche. It’s got no hope of being seen by people in the west. I’ve been to anime conventions in the west, and I’ve seen DJs there who play anime music but it doesn’t even come close to what it’s actually like to be smashed at 5AM in Akihabara surrounded by a group of guys that could literally talk for 24h straight about nothing other than one particular anime. It’s crazy.

Some of the best moments I’ve had there are raves finishing at 6AM, going to get sushi and then going straight to an internet café with 10 people so we can all watch this girly anime that starts at 10 past seven in the morning, and then that’s the end of the night, once you’ve watched the episode.

Didn’t you do some video game work while you were out there?

I was working on a Square Enix project, a remix, but I left before it came about. I did remix a 9-strong girl idol group. That got a limited edition CD-only release in HMV Japan. You can’t hear that track anywhere. I’m kinda happy though… trying to remix nine idol singers isn’t fun. They can’t really sing, they just look cute.

Going back to the album before we finish, could you speak a little on the cover as I know that’s also quite personal.

Yeah, it was shot by Chad, who makes music as Repeat Pattern. In my time living there Chad’s photography was just improving like crazy. It was already amazing but he seemed to just get better and better and he did a few press shots for me before I left. I just really loved his style of photography, and with him living in Japan he was able to capture the vibe I wanted to a tee. So I reached out and gave him some pointers, including this idea that it shouldn’t be a full picture of someone but just one portion of it. He contacted Yuki, who’s a friend of ours, and she’s the model in the picture. It was important for me, with the album being so nostalgic, to have the cover be personal. The photographer and the model were both friends, both living in the place which the album drew inspiration from so it was pretty much the most suitable option. He sent so many pictures and there were a lot of incredible ones.

With you going back to Japan in a couple months, what are some things you would recommend people do when they first visit there?

Go to Ippudo and get ramen cos that’s legit. And I say no matter what you’re into get out of your comfort zone and go to one of these events at Mogra. Even if it’s not your thing, the experience of it will keep with you forever. You don’t have to know every song or know anything about anime but being in there when a track gets played from an anime everyone knows every single word to and the champagne starts flying, you’ll never find that anywhere else. I definitely recommend that.

Slow Waves is released on Project Mooncircle in late July on vinyl, cassette and digital.

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