Currently on tour in Japan, promoting his latest solo album which comes out Friday on Project Mooncircle / Flau, our writer Conor McTernan hooked up with kidkanevil in London recently to spend an afternoon in Soho, explore some low-key manga hideouts, talk Tokyo, music and everyday life…
It’s a sunny April morning in Soho and the streets are bustling with people buying lunch from street vendors as I rush past on my way to Phonica Records where I have arranged to meet Gerard Roberts, better known to the music world as kidkanevil. As I approach Poland Street, I see him waiting outside on his phone, he’s also arranged to meet a record seller to pick up a record which he’s been seeking after for a long time. After talking shop with the seller for a short while, we take a leisurely pace through the winding streets to go and visit one of Soho’s best kept secrets and get myself a crash course in the fascinating world of Japanese manga. On the way Gerard fills me in on his roots and entry to music.
Having grown up in Leeds, soft spoken and chatty Gerard maintains a mild Yorkshire accent blended with the colloquialisms of a long time Hip-Hop enthusiast. “I read a piece in New Scientist recently about the end of the world, if the apocalypse does come, myself and my mates have agreed that we will all move back to Leeds and everything will be alright. Just because it’s Yorkshire, innit.”
He comes from a musical background, his father and uncle were both musicians, his mother a writer, his brother an artist and even his Grandad was a record collector so becoming a musician himself was the most natural path for Gerard.”I draw all the time, I played guitar from around age 12 and began Djing and ‘attempting’ to make Hip-Hop beats around 16,” Now 33, he’s been making music quietly for the best part of 20 years. “Wow, yeah I guess so, I should be doper!”
It would have been around Wu Tang’s ‘Enter The 36 Chambers’ era when he started buying vinyl. In those pre-YouTube days, Gerard would listen to Wu-Tang records and try to figure out how RZA made his music. “I got super cheap turntables, and I would play classical stuff on one turntable and try and cut up beats in time on the other. I read an interview with Pete Rock once where he was discussing the MPC, that’s when I found out about samplers. I managed to persuade my mum to let me use the money she had put away for me to go to college to buy an MPC instead. I found a display model at a music store, it had screws missing so they sold it to me for cheaper. It didn’t even work for three days! It was my first tutor in a way.”
His first big break was with First World Records, the Leeds based modern Soul imprint, “They used to book me to play at their nights back home. I was just making beats for myself at the time, then they set up the label and said lets put something out.” After a few years producing, Gerard was accepted into the 2010 Red Bull Music Academy in London. Timing was right and he decided to move to the capital permanently. This is where he met another academy attendee, Japanese beat-smith Daisuke Tanabe and sowed the seeds for their collaborative album as ‘Kidsuke’. With a profound love for all things Japan, he had wanted to visit the land of the rising Sun ever since he was a small child, but didn’t have the opportunity to go until this encounter. “We did the Kidsuke album and an Asian tour in 2011, was my first time to go and I’ve been quite a few times since. Daisuke is like a comic book character, he just sits in his house, makes beats, goes fishing, listens to his beats while he’s fishing and then comes back and makes more beats…Every now and again he does illustration and he also makes children’s toys. Somebody should make a film about Daisuke.”
Gerard had wanted to make an album with toy instruments for a while, “I had been collecting and had accumulated a big box of random instruments. When Daisuke came over to London we set up a mic and put the toys all around a room, we just jammed on everything and recorded it all in one session. That’s pretty much how the Kidsuke album came together.”
At this point we reach our destination, What I see before me a low-key manga store/karaoke cafe, disguised as a bland laundromat in the heart of Soho. Inside we discover a treasure trove of beautifully illustrated artwork and rare authentic editions of hundreds of manga series which I’ve never heard of before, Gerard informs me that
“This is pretty much the best place for manga in London.”
The only visitors in the shop, we begin to rummage around while a tiny lady watches us from behind the counter. Gerard begins to explain Japanese cartoons were a childhood favorite of his on TV as a kid. “As I grew older and began to piece it all together I found out that it was anime, which I became really into anime as a teenager. There was a magazine called Anime UK, which I used to subscribe to. I drew a picture and they published it, I was super proud!”
The first thing I pick up off a shelve at random is a small edition with illegible symbols and a smiling blue cat character on the cover. “What’s this then”, I ask expecting it to be nothing. Gerard laughs, “That’s Doraemon! It has to be the most popular and well known children’s manga character going. Basically the equivalent of Mickey Mouse to Japanese children. His image can be found everywhere all over Japan”. I was impressed. Sadly the store owner maintains a strict rule of not allowing photography in store. We browsed for a bit and he filled me in on everything like a true expert. “I don’t usually buy the small editions, I go for the bigger books, they have the best artwork which is what I am into most. I don’t get into all the figurines. That stuff is endlessly obsessive, and I would end up being a very strange forty year old one day! You’ve got to find that balance between healthy interest and obsession.” We chat about a few other recognisable anime titles such as ‘My Neighbour Totoro’ and ‘Spirited Away’, directed by Hayao Miyazaki, one of the biggest names in anime. “I named my family cat Miyazaki after him, he has a thing about putting out positivity in his films and that’s what I was trying to do with the new album.”
Cutting our losses we decided to re-locate to a nearby Forbidden Planet to take some photographs. Here I recognise Akira, the seminal 80’s anime blockbuster on the wall. Based on a 2000 page manga epic it holds cult status in western culture today. The books weren’t cheap, “I bought the Akira box-set in Tokyo for the equivalent of £15. It’s an authentic edition reading from back to front, which is the right way. It’s kind of crazy once you’ve been digging for Manga in Tokyo, nothing can really compare. It’s in such an abundance and it goes for so cheap. You would pay £10 for something imported here which you could get in Japan for less than 50p.”
There’s a striking cultural difference to be experienced in going back and forth between different worlds but that doesn’t phase Gerard, who’s squarely focused on the music. “Anywhere you go when there’s people with an interest in music, it’s easy to click with them. My route into Japan was through the music scene and the people involved there. Because of this It felt quite homily for me almost immediately. Growing up and watching anime, I think that Tokyo is the closest that you can get to feeling like you’re in a film, maybe it’s like going to New York after growing up with Ghostbusters & Wu-Tang Clan. You somehow feel like you’ve already been there because of that familiar social connection. When you get there, it’s amazing for it to actually be real.”
To record ‘My Little Ghost’, Gerard spent six weeks in Japan last summer to met with artists and other producers, with most of the album recorded there before being finished upon his return to London. “The main influence for me was just being there in a real way. I got super inspired by the producers that I met over there, the standard is so high and and it was amazing to be able to work with artists like Cuushe. She’s an artist on a label called Flau, which is one of my favourite labels and doing the CD edition for the release.” “For the track with Submerse, I was doing some work on the album at the Red Bull Studios London when he came by to listen, I played him some of what I was working on and we just vibed and ended up working on a track, pretty simple.” The album cover art was done by an artist named Kotaro Chiba, “my girlfriend recommended him, we were doing research for potential contributors and his work looked perfect. He really liked the artwork from the Kidsuke album so I sent him a draft of the album with a general theme and told him to do his thing.”
There’s a lot of natural wonder and a sense of childhood amazement to be found on the new record, but Gerard doesn’t have an answer to where it comes from, it’s just been a natural progression in his sound. “It started with the Kidsuke album, I had become tired with club-heavy beats and wanted to make something completely different, this is a continuing process.” This is why he has found a great home at Project Mooncircle. With a beat-tape aesthetic, Asian-centric artwork and an organic touch, the Berlin-based outfit suits his sound perfectly. “II first met the guys at Project Mooncircle through my friend the singer Amenta, at a show for Finest Ego. As an artist I’m really happy to be working with them, they’re a tightly-knit family and have a great workflow. They can put everything together for a great album release in two months. Not many labels can do that to such a high standard in such a short amount of time.
With no plans to slow down the production output, he’s bubbling with ideas. “We’re hoping to do another Kidsuke album, I’m hoping to go to Japan again in the autumn to collaborate for an extended period of time. I also want to make a bugged-out Rap album. I really like this dude called Onoe Caponoe, he has classic Hip-Hop qualities but his stuff is also really trippy and psychadelic. We’ve been in touch about working together before and hopefully something will materialise in the future.” I would love to soundtrack an anime film at some point, myself and Daisuke have been talking about doing it and there’s some avenues which we’re pursuing. STUDIO4°C is my favourite anime production house. They created ‘Mind Game’ which is pretty much my favourite anime ever. They also do short films, these were super inspiring for me on the album. I would love nothing more than to work with them…”
‘My Little Ghost’ is out on Project Mooncircle this Friday 9th May. Pre-order your copy here.