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Interview: ‘crazy artsy fartsy Japanese dude with a snare drum’

Taiwan News speaks to performance artist Ryosuke Kiyasu

(Image provided by Ryosuke Kiyasu)

(Image provided by Ryosuke Kiyasu)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — The moniker above is attributed to Kiyasu on a flyer posted to his Instagram to advertise an upcoming tour stop in Quezon City, Philippines.

It is likely something many people believe describes the solo snare drum performer to a tee.

Ryosuke Kiyasu has made a name for himself internationally through his wildly unconventional performances in which he beats a snare drum across a room using drumsticks, microphones, and whatever other apparatus he has at hand, propelled by the convulsions of his body.

Online videos show Kiyasu’s performances are spontaneous and dynamic, giving the audience little sense of what to expect next. Just as he calmly taps out a drumroll that lulls the crowd with a blanket of resonance, he takes off his shoe and starts battering it against the instrument.

The artist is an established musician, having started his career in the 90s and played solo snare drum since 2003. He has already performed around the world with his “nutscore” band SETE STAR SEPT, and free jazz ensemble Kiyasu Orchestra. This year marks the first time Kiyasu takes his solo project across the globe, however, and Jan. 15 is to be the first time it is performed in Taiwan.

Sitting down to speak with Taiwan News, Kiyasu offers an insight into his musical beginnings, inspirations, and what he hopes people will take away from his show.

Thanks for taking the time to talk to us. How did you start playing solo snare drum shows?

I was living in Canada, trying to get shows. You have to have your own kit if you want to play a show at a bar but I didn’t have money, so I decided to just play a snare drum that I brought from Japan. I started to play it at open mic shows in New York, Toronto etc. which is where I developed my style.

People initially thought, “You’re crazy! You can’t just play the snare drum, it doesn’t make sense!” But I would keep trying to express myself using just the snare drum, and I felt very comfortable doing it because you can make a huge variety of sounds. It made me realize, “Oh! The snare drum is a really good instrument, just like the piano,” so I just kept on doing it.

Who (or what) are your musical inspirations?

When I was in high school I played lots of thrash metal, covering Metallica and Slayer songs, much like other young people my age. I kept looking for more extreme music like grindcore, hardcore, etc., and then I met noise music. I was kind of shocked because noise music is just... noise.

I began to get into more extreme metal and then I started experimenting with free jazz. Free jazz is very similar to noise and experimental music because it is more chaotic and free. I sessioned with jazz musicians—a drumkit, trumpet, and saxophone—before I began playing solo snare.

I’m inspired by Japanese underground musicians from the 70s, 80s and 90s, like Hanatarashi, Keiji Haino, old Japanese noise music and noisecore bands. I was heavily influenced by going to shows when I was young. I was like, “Wow, this is a show?” I was shocked but thought, I need to start this myself.

Why did you become attracted to experimental music?

I was young so I wanted to take everything to the most extreme point. I would go to the record store and ask them, “What’s the most extreme stuff you have?” Then I would buy everything. “This is it,” I thought, “this is what I wanna do.”

What do you think or feel when you are performing?

I try to make a story using the snare drum—a detailed story. I try to make a composition of the whole set; one long song in a show. I’m always thinking about what’s next, what I should do next. I don’t plan anything, I just improvise and think about what the next sound is going to be.

How do people usually react to your performances?

Many people say it's very interesting, something they’ve never seen before, and that they’ve been influenced by my style. At shows, most people give positive feedback.

Some people are still surprised, like, “What’s happened, are you okay?” [laughs] “Do you need to go to the hospital or something?” But no, I’m fine, this is my music. I want to play new music that nobody has seen or listened to before. I don’t want to do normal stuff—it’s very boring to me. I want people to be surprised and I want to push the boundaries.

What do you want your audience to take away from your performance?

I want to encourage the audience to do something special, do new things, create new music, and try new styles and new ways of doing things—just challenge yourself. This is 2019; music has to develop.

Where is your favorite place to perform?

Russia, or Mongolia. I played Mongolia two years ago and I feel like, because people don’t know as much about international music, they just feel it and go crazy, moshing etc.—even just to the snare drum. People are very supportive of my style in Russia, too.

Places like Paris and U.K. cities are okay, but I prefer places in the countryside because people don’t know much about my kind of performance so their attitudes towards it are more pure. People react a lot more from the heart.

Is there anything else you would like to say to our readers?

Come to see my show, and what goes on there. Maybe I’ll give you a bit of a shock but it will be a new experience, so please come to my show and don’t be afraid!

Ryosuke Kiyasu is performing at Fat Tone (肥頭音樂) in Taipei City Jan. 15, Little Play (玩劇島小劇場) in Taichung Jan. 16, Bardo Pond (巴多池塘唱片) in Kaohsiung Jan. 17, and VOICE (聲音結社), Taoyuan as well as Revolver in Taipei on Jan. 18. Information regarding tickets and set times can be found on each venue’s Facebook page.

More information can be found about Ryosuke Kiyasu on the artist’s website.