Dribliyj Nunez, music writer
‘may contain trace elements of Aldi Hobnob’
It turned out there was no more fitting way to be introduced to Takatsuna Mukai than with an air of anonymity. An untarnished relic of London’s underground culture at the turn of the millennium, we reflect now on how his peculiar puppetry helped shape a cultural revolution of sorts – one that history seems to hold few records of.
Hiding in plain sight between Hackney and Shoreditch for nearly 30 years, his focus remains simple -to connect people and ideas beyond traditionally established boundaries. “History shows that over and over again; when a city, or a country is financially bankrupt, incredible culture emerges from that rubble.” He explains, “Currently, London does not allow this to happen.”
Upon his arrival from the eastern lands of the Rising Sun, the highrise estates of North East London were host to a vibrant counterculture of despair, wretched out of Thatcher’s Britain in the 1980’s. Straddling the intricate worlds of both art and music in equal measure sat a figure who has seemingly seen it all:
When you’re squatting and living on potatoes, you’re basically buying time in return for some comfort and convenience that you give away. In my opinion, the existence of this option is absolutely crucial for culture to grow.
As was so often the case, in times where cities would otherwise have been rotting around them, squats provided sanctuary for those who would otherwise have nothing, their potential un-nourished.
Early 90’s dabblings in hybrid electronics (Machine Intelligence) alongside rogue poet Timothy Turnbull solidified a face-first awakening of ‘The Last Squat in Hackney‘ which set the tone for it’s own contemporary relevance, while also firmly looking to the future. “I normally reside in the Art world, but my main medium is music and sound”, he explains, and through participating in art collective ‘Luna Nera’, so spread a network of collaboration, which built upon a multimedia unveiling with British sculptor Malcolm Poynter, and a debut EP that featured famed folk trio The Tiger Lillies.
During that period, I met British sculptor Malcolm Poynter. Band members’ friends were assisting him to cast human skulls.
The delirious and bewildering acceleration of artistic forms was reflected in this particular pocket of London around the turn of millennium. Timing was everything as its spark exhilarated all it touched before becoming tainted by its own satire. Exhibiting all the macho nonchalance of a ‘diamond geezer’, the notorious Phil Dirtbox had become something of a legend in London club circles since the 80’s. Through Luna Nera, together they ended up forming Crabladder (later, Roosterfish) with Lina Ikse on bass and Andy Ireland on drums (of famed Pippi and the Butcherbirds).
In a time when clubs like Kashpoint, Electrogogo and NagNagNag sparked the uprising of Electrokrash, Shoreditch was honing its edge as the flourishing petri-dish of the Artworld. Fashion houses such as Charles of London, headed by Mark Charles and ‘the diamond’ Sue Mihalski saw opportunity in bringing their own creative faculties to the stage. Through being introduced to Gary Asquith (Renegade Soundwave, Mass, Rema Rema), Gob$au$age was born: “First of all, G$ is more of a performance art piece...On stage were Mark, Susan and I, plus a bunch of pole dancer friends, including Kirsten Neil, all dressed up (or lack thereof) in Charles of London stylings.”
Due to the way in which entertainment industries are structured, this was always a piece that was destined to be misunderstood. “It was basically a piss-take on pop music; we intentionally mimed the whole show, nothing was live, like many mainstream pop acts do, the difference was that we did not hide it and made it rather obvious.” Takatsuna explains that, “the general public tend to recognise a group of people who are on stage doing something that involves music as “a band”, even though the act’s intention is at an entirely different place.”
As a musician, I am forever trapped by time, because music as we know it can’t exist without it.
Side-project Ten Minutes With My Dad was then conceived alongside Gob$au$age cohorts Tree Carr and Nisha Thirkell – a mud-wrestling tag team who had approached Takatsuna to cover a German black Metal song mixed with hip-hop beats to be used in their super-sexy spectacles. “The concept was; two inbred teenage trailer-trash girls fresh from escaping from a Trans-Atlantic human-trafficking cargo container land in London and start preaching to unsuspecting Londoners the power of trailer-park incest and bad taste 80s hair metal. And so we did.”
Oblique projects (for example, Noblesse Oblige, with Valérie Renay and Sebastian Philipp) sprung up spontaneously and individually, unware of what others were doing until the scene grew naturally and flourished into ‘mob of likeminded spirits’. As times shifted, Shoreditch became gentrified alongside a wave of trendy media companies, perpetuating the cycle of economy. Takatsuna explains “When people start creating something in order to fit into their perceived ‘scene’ (which is an illusion created by themselves), that’s when you know that the scene is dead.”
Sensing that the vacuous nature of sub-culture was destined to take this fairly obvious route, in 2001 Takatsuna got together with Mixmag’s editor at the time and pitched a TV show to BBC. “It was a mix of a satire on the vacuousness of the idea of ‘cool’ Shoreditch. We shot the pilot, and showed it to BBC, who rejected it because Shoreditch was ‘too niche'”. However, “fast forward 3 years, I got a small cameo part in a TV show called Nathan Barley, by Chris Morris, which dealt with exactly the same subject matter as our pilot, but Chris picked the right time to do it!” By then, as Electrokrash went mainstream through acts like Fisherspooner and Peaches, to an extent, local history was becoming superficial, and Shoreditch was ‘niche’ no longer.
Echoed through the title of his 2012 album, the Sanskrit word Śūnya is most often translated as ‘zero’ or ‘nothing’, but from the perspective of any given matter having become infinitely over-bloated, and thus becoming ‘zero’ as a result. The same can perhaps be said for the cycle of trends and therefore becomes a fitting frame for the contextual influence that one can have over this kind of hedonism and hysteria. The album itself is a project conceived behind this ideal and was offered as a muse to its collaborators, whose names are littered with those he has worked with in the past, from all over the world.
Upon releasing the album, I used my name as the artist name because I couldn’t think of anything better, but essentially I see this as a work of Collective Consciousness so that it belongs to everybody and nobody at the same time.
All things considered, the world must work harder to keep up with Takatsuna Mukai. As our eyes adjust to the mere glimpses we’ve seen, even these belie the true spark of pragatism. While the dust may have settled, the beat goes on, but its context that gives the heart its frame to beat in. Perhaps, in a world saturated in the decadence of self-absorbtion, it’s okay to be understated: “As a musician, I am forever trapped by time, because music as we know it can’t exist without it.”
‘Śūnya’ by Takatsuna Mukai is out now
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