YMCK has come to be a name associated with some of the highest quality chipmusic ever produced. Their ‘Family’ albums are by and far a series of the most influential music within the chipscene, and several songs off of their releases have gone viral. Known for their incredible live performances that utilize pixelated visuals, detailed and impressive music videos, as well as lighthearted and impressively composed, jazz-influenced music all combined with Kurihara’s stylistically unique vocals, YMCK has broken the mold with every single release. Now, two years after the release of their last smash hit ‘Family Days’, ‘Family Dancing’ has been released through iTunes for the world to hear. Let’s take a look at some of the tracks from this phenomenal album!
The album starts with a bang as ‘Los Colores de la Vida’ reminds avid listeners of the chipmusic that drew them to this marvelous group in the first place. The track fades in to Kurihara’s familiar vocals while 8-bit voices run seamlessly through numerous octaves. A simpler backbeat emphasizes the vocal segment in the beginning of the track, but by the chorus becomes extremely intricate, and only increases in detail from there on out. Being as fun and energetic as one would expect YMCK to be, ‘Los Colores de la Vida’ sets the bar extremely high for the remainder of ‘Family Dancing’.
‘Neo Identity’, the second track of the album, begins with a clearly jazzy vibe, emphasizing trills and a smooth percussive pattern. The interaction between the instrumental melody and Kurihara’s vocals is cleverly executed; sometimes the two voices follow the same tune, while a majority of the time they harmonize with one another, creating a beautiful contrast and division of attention for the listener. Numerous aspects of Nakamura’s music video for ‘Neo Identity’ can be appreciated, as well. Referencing social media outlets such as Twitter and Facebook, and utilizing interesting visual comparisons such as the scanning of one’s brain in order to create a virtual identity for oneself, Nakamura has created another excellent video to capture the feeling of YMCK’s music.
The latter half of the album features one of my personal favorite songs from the album, ’52 Futures’. The build-up during the midsection of the track is written incredibly, featuring a danceable melody that doesn’t conform to modern electronic music standards; this is extremely refreshing given the genre’s almost single-minded focus on bass. YMCK definitely possesses a vast amount of musical expertise, and each voice throughout the song has something different to offer, whether it be a stuttered combination of noise percussion and triangle toms, or the rolling trills and arpeggiated runs of a square channel. Guest artist BAB’s music video for ’52 Futures’ portrays each member of YMCK working in a more mundane reality; Kurihara unpacks moving boxes, Nakamura works through stacks of paperwork that his co-workers bring to him, and Yokemura cleans up a messy airport. A side-scrolling classic shooter is shown, and it’s revealed that the members of YMCK, significantly younger, are all playing the game or watching it. By the end of the video, Yokemura leaves the airport in uniform, Nakamura leaves work as the sun rises, and Midori is seen packing her Famicom and games into a suitcase. This video definitely evokes a sense of nostalgia within me; emphasizing that the important things in our lives – especially work – can distract us from the things that we love. So, revisit your past every once in a while, and don’t get too stressed out over your obligations as a member of society.
The second to last track, ‘Unity’, features a memorable melody that you’ll find yourself humming along to after a few listens. The chorus is beautifully written, and minimal usage of the square channel gives it an extremely relaxed feeling. During a later rendition of the chorus, the bass is cut out at first, making the refrain even more sensitive than it is when it’s initially established. One detail in this song that some older YMCK fans may hear is a reference to ‘Finale – Welcome to the 8bit World’ from ‘Family Genesis’ at the 1:16 mark; I find this to be an incredible integration of old and new…a true unity.
The motivational finale of ‘Family Dancing’ is the extravagant and fantastically composed ‘You Can Be A Star’. This is arguably one of the best closing tracks to any album I’ve ever heard, as its positive message leaves the listener feeling warm and fuzzy within themselves. This song in particular is the most danceable track on the album, with the sawtooth bassline being particularly prominent. Additionally, the percussive rhythm doesn’t deviate too much from its simple, well-executed motif. The track’s only adherence to EDM convention is a focus on bassline and rhythm; the entirety of the song has YMCK written all over it, however. Their characteristic trills and overall synthpop-esque flavor are combined with vibes from modern electronic music, creating something unheard of. Nakamura’s video for this track features the members of YMCK dancing along to the music, with the stars in the sky shimmering and a city’s lights flashing on and off. It’s incredibly cutesy, in typical YMCK fashion, and is a perfect fit for a fantastic closing track.
I’ve been presented with the honor of interviewing Yokemura Takeshi, the music writer, arranger, and lyricist for YMCK! I’m absolutely ecstatic to be able to present this ChipWIN exclusive interview to all of you!
Aydan Scott: How did you, Midori, and Tomoyuki end up forming YMCK?
Yokemura Takeshi: Midori and I knew each other from before, and Nakamura and I got to know each other by joining the same band as temporary members. In the very beginning, it was an instant band we formed to cover the sudden absence of a band at an event. At that event, the organizer booked 4 or 5 bands, but one of them had cancelled a few days before the performance. Having heard that story, we came up with an idea that we form an instant band, with our own existing songs as [our] repertoire.
At that moment, the songs weren’t chiptune. But we already had the ideas that we’re using even now, like using the colors Y (yellow), M (magenta), C (cyan), and K (key, or black) as the basis of [our] visuals, using videos as a part of the performance, and so on.
Aydan: What drew you, as a group, to chipmusic as your medium for composing and your overall aesthetic?
Yokemura: I don’t remember when, but I had a concept of blip-blop music with jazzy flavor. I guess that there remained a deep impression from old Nintendo games with jazz-influenced BGMs, like Ice Climber, Mappy, and Super Mario Bros. etc. in my mind.
A bit after the performance as an instant band, I started making what was in my mind. And then when I came to think [about] how we should perform the music as live, I came up with the idea that I “reuse” that instant band because the ideas we introduced in that band suited my new concept very well.
Aydan: How would you describe your music to someone who’s never listened to it before?
Yokemura: I always explain it very simply, like Nintendo music with vocals. If I see [that] you can’t imagine what it’s like, I’ll let you open your phone and search for YMCK on YouTube ;)
Aydan: What are some of your personal musical influences, and what are YMCK’s musical influences?
Yokemura: Each member has [their own] musical background. Mine are hard rock, jazz and Billboard Hits from the 80s. I have almost no influences from dance music. Nakamura also doesn’t have any influences from dance music; his influences are from rock and pop in the 60s-70s and game soundtracks. Midori only has influences from dance music, especially 90s house music. She also has influences from J-POP, and various kinds of movie soundtracks.
Aydan: How long has YMCK been performing? And can you describe how you do your live performances?
Yokemura: We started performing in 2003, so it’s already been 12 years. Our performance is more like a “show” rather than an ordinary live concert like rock bands do. We care very much about costumes, every behavior we make on the stage and the synergy with video that is played together with the music. Interactive attractions, like real working video games fully synchronized with [the] music, are also spectacles in our shows.
Aydan: What tools were used in order to write and record ‘Family Dancing’?
Yokemura: Basically I did everything with Logic Pro 9. The main sound source is Magical 8bit Plug.
Plus, as the only exception, I added a kick sound with EXS24. Microphone is AKG C2000, input through an audio interface UA-25.
Aydan: How long did ‘Family Dancing’ take to write?
Yokemura: I’m not sure actually because I’m not always writing songs but doing other things during the work for the album. But just subtracting the start date from the end date, it took a whole year.
Aydan: Notably, in ‘Unity’, there are references to ‘Welcome to the 8bit World’ from ‘Family Genesis’, which is a much-appreciated compositional choice, especially for older YMCK fans. Why did you choose to revisit this particular melody, and how important do you feel it is to revisit themes from previous releases?
Yokemura: I myself like anything that you can feel the connection between now and before. That old melody must be “something very impressive in the past” for many fans, so I included it so that I can make the impression of the
song even deeper.
Aydan: What ideas are being conveyed through ‘Family Dancing’?
Yokemura: In the previous album we had a clear theme, in which we tried to describe how our ordinary lives are.
In this album, on the contrary, we didn’t set a particular theme on the lyrics side. But we set a theme on the music composition side, which is namely “Make Dance Music in a YMCK Way”. We never aimed to replicate the existing dance music, but we tried to express “what’s dancable” in our own way of composition.
Aydan: YMCK’s music is quite lighthearted in nature, with numerous hints at a jazz influence in many of your solos. Did you work with music at all prior to forming YMCK?
Yokemura: I used to be in a band with jazz flavor. I played piano and there was a vibraphone player and a singer as well. I’m sorry, but you cannot get the tracks from that band any more.
Aydan: In addition to your renown in the chipmusic community for your amazing pieces, YMCK has also been credited with the creation and updating of the Magical 8bit Plug, a plugin for VSTs that allows the user to emulate sounds native to 8-bit hardware. Can you explain how this was accomplished? And are there advantages to using this over the original hardware?
Yokemura: I started developing it mainly because of a copyright issue. The only way I knew to get the “decent” chiptune sound at that time was by using NES emulators on the PC, but neither I nor anybody else around me was sure if it was legal to use it for making commercial music.
At the moment I happened to be interested in developing Mac Apps, so I decided to make a legally safe and decent sounding chiptune plugin.
I actually didn’t research the real devices’ behavior very much, but I only followed the theory which is consequently derived from 8bit processors’ general limitations. So the sound of Magical 8bit Plug is pretty 8bit-ish but is not exactly the same as any console. This might be an advantage over using real devices, besides all the
convenient merits in using DAWs.
Aydan: What song are you the most proud of with regards to ‘Family Dancing’, and what’s your favorite song you’ve ever composed in YMCK?
Yokemura: As for Family Dancing, my favorite on this album is “Unity”. It’s simply beautiful. Midori likes “Time Bomb” the best, and Nakamura likes “Los Colores De La Vida”. Everytime we release albums, we find that every song has somebody who likes it. I mean this proves that every track has something attractive, and I’m so proud of it.
Me and Midori’s all-time favorite is “Finale -Welcome to 8bit World-“. For me, the whole sequence from the previous track is epic, to be more specific. Nakamura likes “Sakana no Mabataki”, a laid-back Calypso style tune from Family Racing.
Aydan: Can you tell us what’s ahead – musically or tour-wise – for YMCK?
Yokemura: We’ll be performing in Osaka on July 26th. We can’t perform outside Tokyo very often, so we’re excited to have a chance to perform in another city.
Another coming performance will be in September as a part of a big event. The details of it are not open yet, but it’s a 30th year’s celebration of a super major game title.
In September we’re also taking part in a Stamp concert, the famous singer from Thailand. We did a collaboration with him last year, and we’ll play that song together with him in the concert.
And we already started to think about our next album. I’m sure it will be something very exciting ;)
Aydan: Is there anything you’d like to say to your fans at this moment in time?
Yokemura: I hope more and more people learn about and listen to YMCK’s music. Any offers of performance are welcome!
With each release, YMCK continues to demonstrate that no musical genre is out of their reach. ‘Family Dancing’ is just another testament to these chipmusic superstars’ talent, and their next album is sure to be even more impressive. Available on iTunes for $10.32 or $1.29 per track, I can promise you it’s worth every penny. ‘Family Dancing’ is a modern chiptune masterpiece from arguably the most influential chipmusic group of all time, and these trendsetters prove that they’ve still got what it takes – and much more – to create some of the best music in the scene.