Sometimes it takes a brush with mortality to find your true calling. In the spring of 2011, Kinuko Hiramatsu was your average Japanese university student, preparing to graduate and hunt around for a run-of-the-mill desk job. Then an earthquake hit Toyko, and the mood of the city she’d been living in for the past four years turned somber. “I was changed by the sad experience, and I was getting to think that I should do what I really wanted to do,” she says. So Hiramatsu—who was already a devotee of Toyko’s frenetic club scene and a fan of the underground dance music on labels like Warp, Kompakt, 100% Silk and Not Not Fun—adjusted her priorities. She bought some gear from a nearby junk shop (some old Casio keyboards and an ’80s-born Yamaha RX-15) and spent late nights experimenting in her bedroom.
“I didn’t have any knowledge [about making electronic music] so I groped, combined many kinds of sounds,” she says. Over the course of several weeks, she recorded True Breath, her gorgeously groggy debut EP as Sapphire Slows, and a few months and some serendipitous emails later, it was released by one of her favorite labels, the LA-based Not Not Fun. “I studied hard after that,” she laughs, recalling how the well-received EP suddenly led to email-based friendships with other DIY electronic artists and label heads halfway across the world. “I really needed to improve my English.”
Clearly, she’s hit the books pretty hard. In a series of messages she sends from her place in Tokyo, Hiramatsu writes lyrically and introspectively about her home and its influence on her music. “I’m inspired by the crazy atmosphere and energy in Tokyo,” she says. “Everything is changing very quickly, covered with lots of feeling and anonymous people, high technology, a flood of information, many different [lifestyles] and many small communities.” Songs like “Cosmo Cities” and “Spin Lights All Over You” pulse with the kind of dynamic, luminous energy she describes. Since her music explores the tension between personal desire and the anonymity of digital life (“The internet has everything but it has nothing,” she says, “It gives us everything. . . but it never [really] teaches us anything”), Not Not Fun labelmate Maria Minerva’s murky, pixelated disco is an obvious reference point. But Sapphire Slows’ music feels less hermetic than a lot of her contemporaries’ bedroom pop: it moves with the rushing rhythms of a city, like so many neon lights and unfamiliar faces blurring past.
As she preps the demos for her upcoming debut LP, which she says will draw equally from house, dub and ambient sounds, Hiramatsu draws inspiration from like-minded musicians at home and abroad. She’s tight with the Japanese electro label Cuz Me Pain (“We are inspiring each other… they are like my big brothers”), and she’s also forged a friendship with Damon Palermo, known to 100% Silk fans as Magic Touch, with whom she just recorded a collaborative EP. But even as she looks abroad for kindred collaborators, Tokyo remains her muse. “It’s hard to say it is always comfortable and easy to live [here],” she says. “But if I moved back to Hiroshima [her hometown] or to a chill city like Kyoto, maybe I’d quit [making] music because it’s too comfortable. I need and am attracted to such a crazy, momentary atmosphere.”