Before their first gig in the Netherlands, the second-largest anime convention in The Netherlands, Abunai! 2019, we had the chance to speak with the cyberpunk band HighTechLowLife from Okinawa about the background of the band, their first European tour and tour buddies FAKE ISLAND, but also what you need to see when you go to Okinawa.
Get some coffee or tea with a delicious treat and find a comfortable spot to sit down. Now you are ready to read this interview!
AVO: First of all; how do you write your band name? We have seen it written down in different ways but which one is correct: is it HighTechLowLife or High Tech Low Life or?
Remy: Reason for that is depending on how it is written is purely for design purposes. When it is written with upper case and lower case combined, it can be symbolized as a word, like a catchphrase or a tagline or something like that. But if it is written in all capitals (HIGH TECH LOW LIFE), when you will put it all together it makes it hard to read. So that is the reason why we but spaces in between them. Either way is okay, but it is purely for aesthetics. It depends on the font, is it easy to read? The official spelling is all together, but we are not super particular with it.
AVO: We were a bit worried about how to write it.
Remy: I know how it is. When I make flyers for bands, I always want to double-check with them: Is it alright to write it like this? Can I capitalise it? Sometimes they do write it all lowercase or all uppercase, some bands are particular with it.
AVO: Okay, let’s really start at the beginning. How did HighTechLowLife exactly start?
Tony: This is a project we started when we were in another band and we were looking at a way out. We were looking at building a band that was flexible. So if I and Remy are maintaining the band, we can keep the other members can be flexible as people going in and out of their music career. And we didn’t want to be locked in a too specific line-up, genre or style but having that room to grow. So we started with us two as the writing team and imagining adding members later.
Remy: Our very first idea of the band was just the two of us, almost like a Daft Punk, DJ kind of thing. And as it got going, it became as it is now. Before we did our first show, Misa and Mikey joined as members of the band. She did the vocals and Mikey was our stage DJ. That was our first show: three vocals and a DJ. Deathco en Iwao came to our first show to watch. Deathco was active as a support vocalist in a band of one of our close friends, a metal band called Illuminati. It was around the same time (of when we planned to make HighTechLowLife) this band did two shows at my live house and bar called Remy’s, we first talked to them about the fact that we have this idea for a band and that we were looking for members. That is when they started thinking about it (to join). Not too long later, another mutual friend had a wedding, we talked to each other, what impression they had of our band idea and invited them to join the band. And they said: “Yeah, let’s go for it! Let’s make it big.” Then they came to the first show of HighTechLowLife and they said that they were in. The very next show they officially joined as part of the band.
Tony: They all have several experiences. Iwao drummed in a couple of bands before, so he could easily pick up the songs. So we are now at six people now.
Remy: And now it feels more like a music unit. It feels like a band.
Tony: The energy is so much more with a full band.
AVO: You don’t only fill the stage, but all together working towards making a great show.
Remy & Tony: Yes!
Remy: That is something that is important to us as well, that the show is enjoyable to watch. There is a lot of visual information, we have costumes, everyone has a bit of their character and moves in a different way. There is a lot of information (in our show), sounds, sights… It supposed to be captivating.
AVO: A total overload, maybe?
Remy: Yeah, it is an information overload. (Haha)
AVO: Do you share the same music taste or is it a bit of a mix that ends up in the songs?
Tony: We have a crossover in a lot of music.
Remy: Yes, there is a lot of overlap. When we first met, Tony was doing projection mapping at an event in Remy’s and when we were setting up and I was playing some music. He said: “Oh, I love this song!” and that is how we start talking about all kinds of music we love. We found out that we like a lot of the same kind of stuff. We got along really well. The first band we were in together, before HighTechLowLife, I knew that I wanted to be in a band with this guy. So, that is how we got first started. But as far as for music taste for everyone, there is a lot of overlap between what we listen to. But everyone has their own things.
Tony: I think Remy brings in more the synthwave, 80s, powerpop. I listen to industrial, like Atari Teenage Riot and Nine Inch Nails. So we brought both these big themes musically. But the rest has a very different music taste.
Remy: Everybody does have a different musical background. Iwao and Deathco come from metalcore and deathcore.
Tony: Mikey is also a techno DJ in Okinawa and plays a lot of shows.
Remy: The biggest difference in our band is Misa. Her background is a lot different if you compare it to everybody else. She has been a vocalist in house bands that do a lot of oldies music from the 50s, 60s, 80s.
Tony: She has that voice.
Remy: I agree
AVO: What is that something in your music essence that makes it unique?
Remy: The way that we combine a lot of electronic sounds.
Tony: Remy crafts a lot of the analogue synthesizers from scratch. I do a lot of editing of the waveforms itself. I am a producer, so I chop stuff up that he gives me and add live guitar to it. But crafting synths from scratch, starting with an oscillator, that becomes the bass tone.
AVO: You introduce yourself as a band from the year 2069. What does the year 2069 actually look like or what should it look like according to you?
Remy: There could be a lot of different timelines.
Tony: That’s the problem, there are many timelines.
Remy: Yes, so there is not one specific future, there are a lot of different ways the world turn out. There are a lot of different ways it can go bad. There are different ways that the machines can take over or the computers can take over or the world explode.
Tony: The entities that are coming through us are coming from different timelines, but all from that same year, that is 2069. So they keep coming to somehow fixing their own timelines. But that is the only unifying thing, it is all happening in that same year. The characters are telling their own perspective of their world.
Remy: So many dystopian futures.
AVO: Very intriguing!
Tony: It is a combination of a little sci-fi and psychedelic. The timeline thing becomes an issue, because we can have multiple timelines.
Remy: The tropes that are out there about cyberpunk, they are broad and we are all of them. We don’t want to stick to one. We want to cover a lot of things, we like all of them. From AI, to The Terminator to Bladerunner, there is all kind of different elements that we use. And having this time travelling narrative gives us the chance to really explore all of those.
Iwao: Like the Avengers coming to you from the past.
AVO: Let’s talk about the conventions. Have you ever performed at a convention before today?
Remy: This has been our first convention.
AVO: Are there even conventions on Okinawa?
Remy: There are…
Tony: We have matsuri festivals.
Remy: There is a Comic Con, that is on base in Okinawa. They don’t have musical performances. Maybe we should talk to them. Although they don’t have a stage, yet. So, maybe in the future.
Tony: We should go back and fix that timeline.
AVO: You are now at a convention whose theme is the same as your band name. Various aspects related to cyberpunk can be found at the convention, including anime series. Which anime and/or manga series falling into Japanese cyberpunk is your favourite (and why)?
Remy: In terms of anime, I used to watch a lot more when I was younger. Since I came to Japan, I don’t watch that much anymore. I got too busy with work. But when I was younger, I watched Evangelion, we recently rewatched it. Also, Trigun, they have high tech and living like cowboys.
Tony: With the timeline thing in mind, I had to think about Aeon Flux (animated series got aired on MTV in the 90s). All the episodes were different timelines. For me, the influences are more novels from William Gibson and Neil Stevenson.
Remy: We do have a lot of non-anime cyberpunk influences.
Iwao: Akira. Ghost in the Shell. We are probably otaku.
Deathco: What about Cowboy Bepop?
Iwao: We are into anime and have seen a lot of shows. Being able to put all of those kinds of feelings into these kinds of performances, is kind of a dream. We can share a lot of the same backgrounds. The word otaku, can make you feel like you are discriminated if you are into this kind of stuff. But it is really not that different from being into everything else, whether you are into music or movies. That is just what you are into. Just because some other subcultures might be more socially accepted, this is still a way of expressing ourselves. We were surprised at how active everyone was in the cosplay community. People here are more open with their subculture they are into, from cosplay and their love for anime. It feels good. We want to spread that in Japan more.
AVO: What in the cyberpunk genre appeals to you?
Remy: It feels like, this is the world now.
Tony: Yeah, all those William Gibson novels are coming true.
Remy: This was something that was sci-fi in our childhood, and becomes a reality in our adulthood. It’s real, it wasn’t made up! Every day it feels more and more like our life is from a novel. We wouldn’t imagine that future 20 years ago, because everything is changing so quickly. We are going to live those things that we saw as dystopian.
Tony: It is like living in Japan in a small room in a very urban location, but have all the information we need in our pocket.
Remy: It is crazy. If you take a step back and think about it, how much our lives have changed and how fast it is changing, it is mind-blowing.
AVO: Everything is connected to our smartphone.
Tony: And those eventually will move into our bodies.
Remy: That’s the next step. It comes first on us and then in us. This is the way it is going.
Tony: We are relishing in that future shock that everyone has. Everybody has that feeling: this is getting crazier and crazier.
Remy: It is happening! *laughs*
AVO: With all the cyberpunk related bands that have existed and still exist today. Are there musical act(s) that are your greatest example? If yes, who are they and why?
Remy: Not maybe a specific example, that we can see as the greatest example. Because we take elements from a lot of different acts, also outside music, so there is not a lot that we think that are specific cyberpunk bands, but more like industrial, electronic, techno acts or synthwave. But in terms of bands that coin themselves as cyberpunk bands, I guess I would say that they are more influences, like Nine Inch Nails and The Prodigy. I draw influence from a synth artist, Klayton, who is behind acts such as Celldweller and Scandroid and he is a very well producer of industrial kind of future rock.
Tony: They are any of those producers or groups that are taking the chaotic elements and really precise digital elements and mixing them together.
Remy: We even use their names as verbs, when we are making songs we say: “Take that riff and Celldweller it.” That means that he uses the guitar riffs and will cut them, paste it, move them around and alter them. But in terms musically, not so much in the genre cyberpunk or the people who call them cyberpunk as a genre, because the genre isn’t really that defined yet. We would like to think that we are helping it by getting defined.
Tony: When we honestly look at our lifestyles, we think: “We are high tech, low life.” *laughs*That is literally how we live.
Remy: That is how it is.
AVO: When we look for other cyberpunk bands to get a better idea about the genre, we can see that there are elements used that can fit in the cyberpunk story, but the bands cannot be fully be stamped as 100% cyberpunk.
Remy: Right, because who decides that? It is, however, the scene moves. Who gains the most notoriety, so we can say: “This is what cyberpunk is!” and that is what it becomes. And hopefully, there will be musical acts that will follow us someday.
Tony: That is the best feeling, to influence other people.
Remy: Right, and that is how the cyberpunk genre will continue to grow. That is where we would like to position ourselves.
AVO: You are in Europe for the first time and tour Europe with FAKE ISLAND. What does it mean for you to be in Europe now?
Remy: I know Reiji for a while, he lives in Tokyo, but works in Okinawa a lot. So he comes to shows, we met each other, he was also at the same wedding I mentioned before. So when he started the band, he told me about his new band, because I do a lot of metal shows in Okinawa. He told me that he wanted to play in Okinawa, so I set up a show. The show FAKE ISLAND played in Okinawa, last year, was at our event. We invited them from Tokyo, to play with us at the event called Chaos Factory, they were our guest along with two other bands from mainland Japan. It was a big party and a great event, all the bands were amazing. It was great then and it is great now to be able to play with them. It is really interesting how it all came together, we ended up joining FAKE ISLAND for their European tour. So, they were happy, we are happy, everyone was like: this is a perfect group for us to tour together with. They are another band who are really working hard and trying to put themselves out there. They are going for the full 100%. Those are the kinds of bands that we want to work with and build a good relationship with, because you need all the help you can get. We help them, they help us, that is how everybody gets stronger. It is teamwork.
Tony: As soon as Reiji started with FAKE ISLAND, we started to see the marketing of them and I was like: “These guys are serious!”. It is good to be involved with a group like that.
Remy: And the fact that we are in Europe playing a convention that says High Tech, Low Life…
AVO: That is just perfect!
Tony: We couldn’t plan it better.
AVO: You have produced several tracks, some of which have their own music video. Can we expect a release of High Tech Low Life soon?
Remy shows a tape with HIGH TECH LOW LIFE written on it, but it is, in reality, a USB with media on it.
Remy: This is it. It is a mixtape and it came all together, the night before we went to Europe. We had four computers lined up, copying all the data to make complete this. It felt like dubbing cassettes when we were younger, while were just putting the information on the USB. When I was a kid, that was how we shared the music. We put a cassette in the player, borrow another cassette and start recording one at a time, even a song at a time, even from the radio. It was the same concept when we made this mixtape: plugging the USB and copy the data.
Tony: It is mixed media, there are videos on it, photos and songs. We love spreading this to anyone who is into this cyberpunk culture.
AVO: So, this is the new release?
Iwao: You can see this as our album release tour.
Remy: We just didn’t had the time to advertise it.
Tony: We are touring in Europe for our mixtape.
Remy: There was a short time span before the tour, compared to a lot of events that we do, so we wanted to have everything done, so everyone was working so hard up until the last minute. We worked 12 hours a day, Tony was in the studio, the girls were signing the cassettes, I was reconfiguring the rig, everybody did all kinds of work to get everything ready.
Note: In the meantime the band has done a number of digital releases via Spotify.
AVO: Did you started the European tour all tired or?
Remy: We could sleep on the plane. Everybody was at their limits, but here we are. That is how it is, up until the deadline you work your ass off.
Tony: Otherwise, we have anxiety about it and think if we have done it right or not. We can now be confident about it.
Remy: In Okinawa, we have an expression: ‘Nankuru nai sa’, it has a meaning of things will work themselves out. A lot of people misinterpreted it as you don’t have to work hard, because things will work themselves out. But the way we interpreted it as if you do everything you can to prepare for something, then that is all you can do. After you have done that, then you can say that expression. Now we are in the ‘Nankuru nai sa’-part of it.
AVO: Your home base is the island of Okinawa. For those interested in coming to the island, what do you really need to see or do on Okinawa?
Remy: First of all, come to our show.
Tony: Watch Eisa, that is Okinawan traditional performing arts, dance and drums. They do that out on the streets, during Bon, the Festival of the Dead.
Remy: They even have 10.000 person Eisa, where they were filling the entire streets for several kilometres from start to finish, full of Eisa dancers all dancing together. It is really something special to see.
Iwao: There are people with big drums, small drums, girls dancing, dragon, clowns dancing. There are a lot of different things to see.
Remy: And tug of war, they have the biggest tug of war of the world. Even in the Guinness books of Records. Two meters. They do it in the middle of the streets, in the biggest and busiest street of Okinawa. They have to close it down for this. 1000s of people are pulling the rope. I have been there for a couple of times and it almost looks like a moshpit. There are also beautiful beaches to visit, they are getting a lot more touristy lately. You can visit the castles, they have a very big aquarium where they have a whale shark in there and all kinds of dolphin shows.
Remy: Habu is a poisonous snake on Okinawa, but I do not recommend visiting any habu.
Mikey: You can make alcohol out of it.
Remy: There is a liqueur with a snake inside of the bottle and it is cured into the alcohol. It has a little bit of a bite.
Iwao: You can also try Okinawan beer, named Orion.
AVO: Remy, you also run your own business in Okinawa city, called Remy’s where HighTechLowLife mostly performs. Running such a business and being active in a band, how do you combine this?
Remy: Well, it is hard. There are a lot of ways to complement each other. One thing of having a band is that everyone got their own business in a way that I can combine them, from using the band to help Remy’s, to get myself out more. Tony is a producer for other local artists and artists from mainland Japan and overseas, so he can show that we have a legitimate band and that we are serious. The band can be a vessel for that. At the same time, on the other way around, because I have a venue, it is easier for the band to have a place to perform. I can make shows, other bands have to wait to be invited or have to make their own shows which are a lot harder if you don’t have all the resources. Using the recourses I have, from both sides and try to stack everything together, to pull everything up at the same time, it makes getting a band started a lot easier. But it is a lot of work to juggle it, because you need a certain separation. HighTechLowLife and Remy’s are two separate things at the same time, but there is a lot of crossovers, the others work as staff at Remy’s as well. Is it easier to communicate, everyone is usually there, everyone’s schedule is easier to control. That is a problem a lot of bands have, they don’t have the same schedule to coordinate practice. Basically everyone here has the same schedule. The hardest thing is that if we will perform somewhere, there is no staff at Remy’s. I do have other staff, but this is the core. It has a lot of advantages, some disadvantages.
Tony: And I am hiding in the studio all day. As a producer, I am producing marketing material, not only for the band, but also events that are happening as well. So we are covering all the different angles and at the same time, we are being a part of the scene.
Remy: We are positioning ourselves in all the areas of the scene, on stage, behind the stage, in the studio. In the writing room, behind the bar, putting the events together. All the different aspects that go into the music community, we have someone in each of those spots.
AVO: Which are your expectations and dreams as a band? Future plans?
Tony: Save the future.
Remy: Exactly. We are just going as hard and as far as we can. We just keep ratcheting up, climbing, seize every opportunity and see how far we can go.
A big thanks to HighTechLowLife to take their time free in their schedule to answer the questions for this interview, thanks to Anouk from Abunai! to arrange the interview. Keep an eye on the website and social media (Facebook, Instagram and Twitter) to stay up-to-date for any news from HighTechLowLife!