Ms.Machine (@ms.machine) is the band of three women who decided to rip out everything dark and unfair that they kept inside and unleash it ruthlessly through punk. Despite embodying anger and non-conformism, his music is not fast-paced or chaotic. It’s firm, hard, structured, with spaced verses and heavy, cyclical rhythms that immobilize. Ms.Machine does not shout her complaints at you heatedly, but holds your gaze coldly and decisively, without you daring to look away until what they have to say slowly sticks with you.
Sai (@_0.3.1_, vocals), Mako (@mybf10d, guitar) and Risako (@yoineco, bass), like the rest of us, live in a world in which it’s still preferred that women be silent, smile and nod. In the context of Japan, this condition is accentuated by a tradition of submission and innocence as the essence of the feminine. That concept of femininity is the one that is still being promoted and exploited as a basis for the consumption of the female artist. They decided not to hide under a makeup of sweetness, to refuse to be considered a “girl band” and above all not to shut up, claiming a feminist message that unfortunately is still rare in Japanese artists.
Ms.Machine found in Scandinavia and its music scene a source of inspiration to materialize the darkness and coldness that they already felt. In addition to images of snow and impenetrable forests, or words in Swedish with special sounds and nuances, Ms.Machine received information about gender and equality from the Nordic countries. All this, added to the varied tastes of each one, has served to build their first self-titled album.
Fascinated by their music and in complete agreement with their demands, I posed these questions.
Chorareii: “Ms.Machine” is your first album after the EP “S.L.D.R.” that you released in 2017. Although you have been active for several years now, this first album bears the name of the band. Do you consider it your definitive self-introduction to the world? If so, what ingredients on the album are the essence of Ms.Machine?
Mako: This album is a work that represents Ms.Machine. Our essence can be perceived in the fact that it’s composed of songs with very different atmospheres. We have been able to create them because each of us has a different musical background. The songs where this essence can best be perceived are “Nordlig Ängel” and “Lapin Kulta”; they contain electronic sounds, but a band sound can also be identified in them.
Risako: As a band, we have made a lot of changes to reach our current style. Since it’s an album that includes everything from Ms.Machine so far, we titled it with our name. Hardcore, dark / cold wave, witch house, post-punk and songs that are not tied to a genre show what Ms.Machine is.
Sai: Anyway, it’s difficult to say that it’s our final introduction. I think we will get even better than we are now!
Your atmosphere is very Nordic, several songs on the album have Swedish titles. Even the song “Lapin Kulta” that you just mentioned is named after a Finnish beer, right? What is your connection to the Nordic countries and how has it influenced your identity?
Sai: From 2019 I started to be interested in Scandinavia, especially Sweden. One of the reasons is that in 2015, friends of the same generation would frequently go to BIG LOVE record store in Harajuku to create a community inspired by the Copenhagen, Denmark scene. I began to learn about the music and culture of neighboring Sweden, thinking that it would be boring to find out things about the same country as them.
Another reason is that the Nordic countries have always been at the top of gender equality rankings. I was interested in Scandinavia because I liked Börk, but I was even more interested in this fact.
After listening to all the Scandinavian languages, I decided to dive into Swedish, I love the pronunciation and the alphabet. I decided to study it, but it was difficult and expensive for me to do it in Japan, so I signed up for a language exchange app. The ex-partner I met there is the central motif of this album. It was a valuable opportunity to ask someone who actually lives in Scandinavia about the system and gender equality.
Risako: I don’t have much influence from Scandinavian culture, but I feel like Swedish rapper Yung Lean fits me because he’s decadent but not extremely dark. I like our song “Lapin Kulta” because it has that kind of atmosphere.
I remember that at the album presentation event, several of you wore merchandise from the Danish label Posh Isolation. I personally love it, so for me it was an immediate connection. Do you have any relationship with the label?
Sai: I traveled to Copenhagen for the first time in 2015. There I went for a drink with members of Iceage and Communions. I also visited the Posh Isolation store and talked to the staff. They even put my zine in the store, I was so happy!!
In 2018 I had the opportunity to interview Iceage. They were giving a concert in collaboration with [floral artist] Azuma Makoto. When I introduced myself to the band, I was impressed that vocalist Elias responded in a very kind way.
We have played several times with bands that have come to Japan. Although it’s true that I don’t speak English very well, I felt that I was not treated on an equal footing. I was impressed that a band as well known as Iceage treated me so politely (although Elias may be a Japanphile). This is another reason I like Posh Isolation.
Mako: I have not had a direct relationship with the label, but I love Body Sculptures and Puce Mary. I listen to them a lot.
Risako: Although as a band we are not related, there are points of the Copenhagen scene that resonate with us. I want to have the same attitude as these artists who share the same sense of beauty, but never take it for granted.
Can that cold and dark Nordic energy, so present in your album, be found in Tokyo? Where?
Mako: If we are talking simply about dark and cold energy, the Discipline party is the place that embodies it.
It can be hard to feel Scandinavia in Tokyo, but not too far away are the misty mountains of Chichibu, the tall white mountains of Nagano in winter, and the trees and lakes at the foot of Mount Fuji. They are natural but relatively monochromatic places. In Tokyo, the big street near the National Stadium at midnight is wide and inorganic, when there are no cars or people, the feeling is great.
Sai: There are Scandinavian restaurants and groceries shops in Tokyo, but where you can best get that cold and dark inspiration from Scandinavia is in the movies. Every winter I go to the Scandinavian Film Festival in Shibuya.
Both on the cover of “Ms.Machine”, on the band logo … your artworks seem to have a lot of symbolism. What messages are behind?
Sai: When we commissioned the illustrator Andro to design the logo, I remember asking him to use a candle as a motif. Candlelight is a Scandinavian motif.
As far as I know, there are not many bands in Japan that have taken an overt and consequently feminist stance. You did it from the beginning. Do you notice that the situation of women in music has improved in the underground scene of Japan?
Risako: I don’t think the situation in the music industry has improved from a broader perspective, but on a family level (in the underground scene), I feel like both men and women are becoming more gender conscious.
In recent years, the polarization between men and women has gradually lessened thanks to events organized by women, and events with declarations of intent in which gender awareness is present.
Sai: Within the Japanese underground scene, people in hardcore punk bands are sensitive to these issues and understand them.
However, I think it hasn’t changed that much since 2015, when I started to question that organizers, venue staff, and store managers are mostly male.
I think one of the reasons is that there is still the idea that women in Japan often become housewives when they get married. As a result, Japan does not attach importance to the facilities and systems necessary for women to advance in society.
Mako: I think there are many people around us who deal appropriately with women and minorities. However, I don’t think it’s at a general level in the industry as a whole.
As Ms.Machine, what changes would you like to see in the scene in the short and medium term, to consider it more inclusive and feminist?
Mako: I want women who want to make music to feel free with what they do. I want the scene to be evaluated by the way each one expresses himself, without having to sell femininity.
Sai: When we started the band, no one gave us equal advice. I still find it difficult to establish an equal relationship with the male musicians around me. So if any female artist or a band with younger women is in trouble, I would like us to help each other and on equal terms as much as possible.
Risako: I hope that Ms.Machine becomes an opportunity to spread within the music industry the growing gender awareness of the underground scene. I want to continue acting with a strong will and an aesthetic sense, and break with the concept of the stereotypical female artist.
Currently, how is the relationship of young girls in Japan with punk?
Sai: I don’t think there are many female punk bands that are angry or include their opinions in their lyrics. I think there are more artists who make feminist lyrics in the hip hop scene, like Zoomgals or Akko Gorilla, than in punk-rock.
Risako: I think there are few young girls in punk concerts and few really active as a band. Personally, I like post-punk bands with female members like Bush Tetras and Delta 5, so if such a band comes up, I definitely want us to do something together.
Mako: I don’t think there are many young girls who are into punk very much. I think people older than me like punk more than I do.
You have performed live in different places, but I get the feeling that Bush Bash, in Koiwa, is very present in your journey as a band. Is that so?
Mako: yes! Bush Bash offers us many opportunities to play, and as a guest I also often go to other events.
Sai: I worked at Bush Bash part-time, so there is no doubt that it feels like home to me. As I’ve already explained in other interviews, I’ve been working part-time for a long time while trying to deal with ADHD spectrum. Bush Bash was a very good place to work. When there were few customers due to COVID-19, I was writing lyrics. However, the boss wasn’t angry, as it would be normal at a general part-time job in Japan! The Bush Bash boss, Mr. Kakinuma, is a member of the hardcore-punk bands FIXED and TIALA. It’s one of the venues that I thought suited me being hardcore-punk.
I know you also have a direct connection to the Discipline party (@discipline_tyo). Tell me about it!
Mako: I am part of the organizing team of Discipline. In 2020 I was a DJ at almost every party. Ms.Machine has also performed frequently since the first edition. I became a regular DJ after performing with the band.
Risako: the band has had a close relationship with Discipline since the party started. I have a good memory of when we traveled to Osaka.
Sai: Discipline is like a Ms.Machine for me.
Finally, what would you like to say to Japanese women who, like you, want to express their message through music?
Mako: Trust yourself, always keep the maxim of being yourself doing the best you can. Look for deep exchanges through music.
Sai: If someone around you slows you down when you try to do something, don’t listen to them! My parents and a male band member older than me gave me negative opinions about myself, I’m glad I ignored them. No one can replace you in your own life, so feel free to give your opinion.
Risako: Music is equal and free for everyone, I never thought I would be in a band, but now it’s a big part of my life. If you’re starting a solo project or a band, talk to Ms.Machine! Let’s build good times together!
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