Skyline: interview with Sparkly Night

Sam: You're going to move to Japan to be an English teacher? That’s what I used to do, haha!

Sparkly Night: Yeah, I hope it'll be good. I have lots of plans coming up! Once I get to Japan I'm going to go meet up with クリスタルKITSUNE. Maybe you've heard of him? We're going to meet up with Pink Neon Tokyo and we may or may not be playing a live show in September.

I have like a whole list of live shows that I want to see, people I want to meet. Cities I want to go to. This is just one of the starting points, but I'm so lucky to go there. Initially, I’m going to Japan for one year and we’ll see how things turn out!

I’m also about to graduate from art University, so actually, my first step over in Japan is going to a typography and design conference. But as much as I love art, music has always been my biggest hobby and something that I really aspired to do.

I was revisiting your discography before this interview and one of the major trends is the strong Japan influence in the music you make. Both audible and visually. It’s clear that it inspires you, so it’s cool you’re going to be able to move there.

I mainly get inspired by real-life idols and music from the ‘80s in Japan. My main goal to...let's say promote that classic style of idol music and give it a new touch. For sure I love things like anime and manga. That fashion and aesthetic. But I mainly like to focus on the retro style of Japan in general. Like City Pop for instance.

I'm not an expert on the history of idols, but I know they’ve changed a lot throughout the years. From their roots in the ‘60s, through the ‘80s and into their modern iterations. Your focus is on the ‘80s and ‘90s era?

Yes, that period is my main inspiration. I actually started a Twitter contest for the best girl idol of the ‘80s and ‘90s. Just like as a fun thing to get like more attention on my Twitter. I'm probably I'm going to do another idol duel soon! The first one was… Anri and Miki Matsubara. Miki Matsubara won by 1 per cent. So I'm really into that kind of retro Japanese culture.

How does City Pop play into this? I know as a genre it’s had a big influence on a lot of Future Funk.

At first City Pop was not really called “City Pop”. It was just Pop music. But whenever someone says “City Pop” now they’re usually referring to Japanese Pop music from that main idol era of the ‘80s and ‘90s. Musicians like Seiko Matsuda and Mariya Takeuchi. Obviously, everyone knows her. Tatsu Yamashita too. All of these artists were incredibly popular. Making the super accessible pop music of their day that was present on the radio, television, bars, everywhere.

The City Pop sound is very commercial, catchy, fun. It was very corporate and released by the big music industry companies, Sony, BMI, etc. In the modern era, ‘City Pop’ has become kind of an Indie-Pop thing, like a niche subgenre. But back in the day, it was the mainstream music of Japan.

Then you get kind of outgrowths like Shibuya-kei which emerged in the 90s. Shibuya-kei took the Pop nature of City Pop and added in more experimental elements, like Jazz, Funk, ‘60s Prog. I need to actually do some more research on Shibuya-kei, because I have one friend who's really obsessed with it.

So City Pop itself has a really rich history- it’s actually what I wrote my graphic design diploma on. 

How do you go about incorporating these City Pop styles into your music? Like what's your process? Do you search for things up on YouTube? Do you go ‘crate diving’? How do you get the sounds that you then turn into Sparkly Night?

Lots of people hit me up on Discord to give me suggestions. Like: “Oh I’ve got the perfect sample for you!” and then I'm like: "No, I'll can’t use it." This is the number one thing that I take very seriously. I can’t just take any random song. I have to find the samples, the right samples.

Personally, I like to keep the Japanese element in all of my releases, so I really dig into discovering new music. I don't use YouTube for that. I use a couple of specialist Blogspots. I'm not going to give out the name of the Blogspot (trade secret). But there’s a specific type of a sample I always look for when making a track. Usually, one that has a sax. It's not something that 100% has to be there, but a saxophone is definitely something that always gives extra quality points to the sample.

Or maybe I’ll even choose a sample which has a little bit of a weird or even bad structure so that I can alter the structure and make it better. Maybe a track that has potential, a very cool synth line or a bass line or something that I can build on later, and convert into my sound.

How important is it for you to be using original source material? I did an interview with Mélonade for Ʋ’s May's Album of the Month and he was saying that if he finds a good song, he'll go on to and check who else has used it. For him it's like; “if I do use this sample I want to check no one else has sampled it before. If they have, maybe I won't use it. Or maybe I’ll make myself use it in a dramatically different way.” How do you kind of relate to that?

I always check WhoSampled and if anyone else has sampled the song I’ll probably drop it and go and spend another five hours looking for another perfect song. I would say it's very important to me that nobody has ever sampled the song before. This is what it's about, right? It's not a remix contest, it's a song making contest. That's the game. One time I actually went onto WhoSampled and submitted a record of a unique song I’d sampled, so that nobody else steals it. It’s Flashy Nights and the sample is, I know many people have been asking for it so I’ll tell you, Night Lights by Noriki.

I’m studying these topics for my degree, which is why I spend a lot of time researching all of these artists and listening to their interviews. Sometimes they mention their colleagues who also make music and I find new artists that way too. It just kinda makes me find new things constantly, so I try to stay fresh and active and always researching. 

Let’s talk about your new album Paradise Break that you've got coming out. It’s got a fresh new look. You’ve got a person on the front cover- it’s very different from your previous style. Are you looking to get more accessible with this new release?

Yes, that’s actually me on the cover!

I would say that with this album I was kind of trying to follow through with my idea that we don't really have to limit ourselves to the anime aesthetic and not really showing our face. Let's say that I always kind of try to follow in the footsteps of those 80s Japanese idols I talked about earlier.

So I kind of wanted this image for myself as well, as a musician. This is one of the reasons why I had that photo shoot with my friend that produced the cover image. We used an analogue camera, to kind of pay tribute to that original City Pop retro aesthetic. Maybe it’s different from most Future Funk visually, but I still want to preserve the Future Funk sound: just promote it with a retro look, the real vintage feel.

Music wise I would say... well I've been told that my style of a Future Funk is quite different from others in the scene. But at the same time, it also has those classic influences. I’m glad people think that since that blend is something that I’ve always wanted to achieve. So I'm mixing these elements a lot with Paradise Break. Some tracks are more like Hip Hop. Some might be Vaporfunk and then others are really funky and real Future Funk. I would say that Lady Paradise is the iconic sound of the album that I'm trying to showcase. There’s a bit of everything in that song and I think. And then you also have the outro song Illusion which is an all original track. Illusion actually premiered in China, at a live gig of the artist who I collaborated with to create it. I also always like to include one or two completely original tracks on my albums. So that people know that I'm capable of not just using samples, but I can also make something of my own.

Original music is also a really interesting area. From what I’ve observed talking to artists, there seems to be a kind of trajectory where they start off making sampled music- and then as they grow and develop they start to experiment with making original tracks.  

Like you get into these sample-based genres. “Okay, I'm gonna get good at sampling and get good at finding and using music.” But then a few albums down the line you start to think, “Oh, I want to make these sounds myself.” I want to custom make them exactly how I want them to sound.

Yes, I think so. That’s definitely the case for me. That’s why I always like to include one or two tracks that are all original for the whole album. So I had two of them with my Beaches E.P. And then on my Flavours album I had Vistula

The concept behind the album is I’m trying to create the aesthetic of a very Paradise-like sound. 

Everything is alright and Life is great. We’re not really nostalgic for things since we’re so happy at the moment. We have the sax. We have the funk. We have the parties, we have everything. And on then the last track... It's kind of like the Break from the title. It's not just an album about paradise, it's the Paradise Break which can be understood in two ways. One of them is like you’re taking a break in Paradise- to get away from your daily stresses. But the other is that something has happened which has changed Paradise, and because of this, you want to leave somewhere that you previously enjoyed.

That’s why the last track Illusion is so important- and maybe why it’s an original composition. It’s the key to the concept. It’s a very different sound to the rest of the album, I don’t think anybody will expect what’s coming. It’s very electronic, sung entirely in Chinese. It’s me inviting you into the idea like, “what if Future Funk, City Pop, even life itself, what if all these things that we love and are so pleasurable, what if they were just a simulation that could change at any time.” It’s kind of melancholic.

Wow, so with yourself on the front cover and the focus on your original compositions, you’re taking the Vaporwave mask off and saying, “Hey, this is me as an artist with my face. I'm not going to hide behind the pseudonym any more, I'm not going to hide behind an avatar anymore. I’m going to make something that’s genuinely boundary pushing and genuinely me.”

Obviously, there are some artists I really love, like Sui Uzi, who still keep that anonymous aesthetic. And He'll probably continue just doing so. I don't even know what he looks like and he's in our club, the Seaside City Squad.

Actually when George Clanton had his “face reveal” I was only familiar with him as ESPRIT. So when I started seeing this guy around I was like, “Who is this guy?” And then obviously I learned that this guy was ESPRIT. Taking that into consideration I think it's a great step forward for the Vaporwave and Future Funk community. We’re not acting like an obscure genre anymore, but as a regular, growing electronic subgenre. To me, it’s like, let’s push this familiarity and try and make it more mainstream. But obviously like cool, mainstream not lame Billboard 100 mainstream.

The Live Shows tie into this too. In the US you’ve got 100% ElectroniCON coming up. And here in the UK we have Groove Horizons in July.

It just seems like artists are getting out in public a bit more, and, as you say, the scene is acting more like other electronic music genres with merch, live shows and personalities.

I feel that's fine because I used to obsess with the thought that, “Woah, no it's gonna get out in the mainstream, it's gonna be an MTV and it's gonna ruin everything for us!” But later on, as I started seeing the reality of things for myself and perhaps even seeing music as a career…that changed. 

This is when I thought to myself, “Okay, maybe it's time to get out of our comfort zone and see where it takes us. Let’s focus on these Vaporwave and Future Funk channels on YouTube for instance, and just see where it takes us. For instance Spotify, like one year ago nobody would even think about putting something from the Future Funk genre on Spotify but now it's daily bread for everyone.”

I remember having this exact problem back in the day. I’d be out and want to listen to some Vaporwave on my phone, so I’d load up Spotify and there wasn’t much there. A few Luxury Elite albums and some Telepath maybe. But now you have things like Spotify’s own Virtual Reality playlist- so Vaporwave is really an official part of the ecosystem.

Now all of these sites, SoundCloud, Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube, everything’s in the mix.

SoundCloud monetization is also a big one.

Actually, now you remind me. There’s a really big Future Funk playlist called the The Sound of Future Funk on Spotify. It’s no longer something which is unheard of and is actually an acknowledged genre right now. (I think I’m even on it actually haha)

I think there is a chance that Future Funk will actually make it big on Spotify. We just need to give it some more time. I hope that with my new release I will get more listeners because there is like a big gap of listeners, a big difference when you compare my SoundCloud to my Spotify for instance. But it's slowly starting to build up and I think that at some point the genre isn’t going to be defined by just a few huge artists who are already big on Spotify, like such as Macross 82-89 or Night Tempo. But you’ll also see smaller and up-and-coming artists blossom on the platform too.

But we’re still a long way from someone like Jingsang from the Lo-fi Hip Hop scene.

Maybe there’s an element of “big fish in a small pond”. Vaporwave is big and growing for sure, but when you compare it to something like Lo-fi Hip Hop there’s still a lot of room to grow.

Yeah, I agree, but I'm content to say that that growth will work. Mark my words: I think it will work.

So what are your ambitions for Sparkly Night in the future? Obviously, you've got Paradise Break coming out. You've got a big discography behind you. Where do you see yourself going and maybe a couple of years time or just later this year?

So for this year, I have high hopes for the next couple of months. Honestly, in terms of my growth on social media as well and I think this is going to help me as an artist raise awareness of what I'm doing so I’ve also got plans for that.

When I move to Tokyo at first and I'm going to travel around Japan a little bit. I’d even like to play some live shows in Japan if possible, tour around a little bit. I just want Future Funk to be big. Like I say, I think we're on the right track.

I also want City Pop to be a significant genre in the next couple of years. I want it to grow in popularity, and as it does I want to be a part of it because I really just love that sound. I made a post on Twitter recently about how crazy it is that something like City Pop exists in our world. I know that it's the exact aesthetic that so many people can relate to, it's exactly what we want subconsciously. Those sounds are just perfect for us. So I want myself to grow, and I want the genres I love to grow.

I also want to get onto a higher level of music making. To make progress in terms of making original music. My ambition is to release a full original Future Funk City Pop style album, collaborating with Japanese artists.

I like your international outlook on this. You’re from Poland, you used to live in the UK, you teach English, you’re collaborating with Chinese artists, you’re moving to Japan. You’ve got a real international mix going on.

Now that you mention it, at the moment I'm remixing a K-Pop song. So there is also a Korean influence in there too!

It’s kind of funny, and it might contradict my image of loving retro City Pop, but I really love K-Pop. I love K-Pop choreography. Especially lately, it's no longer like the groups such as AKB48, which I used to like many years ago. Right now I'm more into the electronic sounds and bands like Seventeen, like boy bands. Seventeen or Stray Kids or Blackpink for that matter. 

K-Pop artists are heavy on the club music right now. It’s good because that’s kind of like what Future Funk is, right? Mixing the retro aesthetic with the club music. That kind of mixture is what I want my Future Funk to be. I want to blend the retro idol aesthetic with these really cutting edge electronic K-Pop sounds.

So I really do think Future Funk can be inspired by the sounds that are present in the K-Pop. More underground artists like YUBIN and Yukika, but also the mainstream stuff. As I said, Seventeen. I love it, sometimes when I work out I actually dance to it haha.

I like that, you've got your retro interest in ‘80s idols combined with a modern interest in K-Pop.

You’re bringing the best of the old and giving it a fresh new twist. So you’re able to take in older, obscure references, while also being dynamic and progressive.

Yeah. This is what I would say Paradise Break is. This is actually one of the reasons why I enjoy the idol concept and the concept of the musician as a figure that people can look up to. Maybe because the artist is especially cool or knowledgeable about music or a great producer. But at the same time, they’re also a very outgoing person and fun to be around. This is the image that is often being put out there in the K-Pop scene. All the artists in the bands I like are promoted by the media as being cool, fun likeable.

I kind of dig that concept and want to incorporate it into Future Funk.

Giving it a bit more polish. A bit more visual flair and style.

Also in terms of cool things happening in the future. I want to say that there is a cool channel on YouTube called Yotsu. I’m going to have one of my songs debut on there very soon. It’s a really cool track that hasn't been released yet. It’s called My Best Tomodachi. It’s going to have a really cool Japanese movie edit for the video. So if you subscribe to their channel you’ll be one of the first to hear that track.

It’s going to be dropping on Yotsu on June 14th - the same day as the Paradise Break premier on Æ2 and Business Casual.

Once Paradise Break is released it’s going to be on all streaming platforms, Spotify, Apple Music, SoundCloud, Bandcamp, everything. Like I said earlier it’s important to have it everywhere!

But honestly, I’m very thankful to be able to release my music on Business Casual. It’s a great milestone for me. I mentioned this on my Instagram earlier. I feel really lucky to be given this opportunity. I always looked up to Business Casual as a label. But I guess I was kind of nervous to approach them. I actually did submit something when I was just starting out, just as a test thing right.

I think I made a typo in my own email or something because when I asked about it recently they told me that they never received it. So when I approached them properly before Paradise Break they were like, “whoa, it's the first time I hear your music, but it's cool so let's release it.” I was like, “OK, thank you!” 

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