Founded in 2014 by Japanese musician Tomo and Go from Kikagaku Moyo, Guruguru Brain was founded in Tokyo and then relocated along with the band to Amsterdam in 2017. Upon launching, the label quickly grew into a hub for underground music across Asia and beyond.
As a purveyor of some of the most exciting and innovative music coming out of Asia, the label is home to a blend of sound that features traditional Asian music, avant-garde experimentalism, mind-bending psychedelic rock, and everything in between.
Taiwanese artists on their release archive are Mong Tong, Scattered Purgatory and Prairie WWWW. Fr0m an overseas label angle they have heavily promoted Taiwan’s music. We noticed that Go was in Taipei for a vacation from his Instagram, so we grabbed the chance to sit down and have a nice talk with him:
— Could you talk about your first connection to Taiwan?
We got to know about Scattered Purgatory through a mutual friend.
Back then, we were organizing a small festival called Tokyo Psych Fest, in around 2013, where we had a monthly showcase of psychedelic music. As one of the special events, we invited bands from Indonesia and Taiwan to tour Japan. That’s when I first saw their performance. They start playing with candles on the stage as if it was a ritual. We were amazed at how they found unique sounds from where they were from, yet it still sounded familiar.
We immediately felt this needs to be heard by more people. Later on, we released their debut album, “Lost Ethnography of Miscanthus Ocean,” as our first physical release for the label. We got to know Prairie WWWW and Mong Tong through their networks.
— You’ve been in Taipei for a while and have been to many performances. Culturally how would you describe Taiwanese music? And what's the difference between Japan and Taiwan regarding the music that you’ve observed?
I noticed that Taiwanese live mixing tends to focus on higher frequencies in the live mix. There are prominent cymbal sounds and sharp guitar sounds, whereas in Japan I hear more mids. I prefer more muddy warm sounds than clear, sharp sounds as you don’t only listen to music but want to feel the vibration in the chest, especially with live music. Also, the scene is much more mixed up than Japan’s. Many people are in several bands or have side projects.
Japan has been seen as having the most developed education system for music. We seemed to be the only country that has certification for sound engineering. But the consequence of having this mature system is that the majority of music releases follow standards set up by major music labels. I feel Taiwan has fewer limitations compared to Japan in this sense.
— Guruguru Brain is the overseas label that has released the most Taiwanese artists. Among those releases, what’s unique about these artists?
When I listened to their music it sounded like nothing else − although you could tell they reference certain bands from the West, they mixed it up and made a whole different kind of music out of it
Each band has a strong concept behind it which makes their music unique. I feel the concepts are deeply connected to their identities yet, you can hear their references from Western music. Also, I notice they are free from the separation of genres. Scattered Purgatory and Mong Tong explore the realm of bass sound and percussive sounds, while Prairie WWWW is more aggressive in terms of rhythmic patterns while maintaining the transparency of the sound texture. Other bands I found like Bremen Entertainment Inc., Cold Dew, or Forest are unique in that sense.
— As an experienced DIY musician, what do you think is lacking on the Taiwan music scene in terms of artists promoting themselves internationally?
I don’t think they are lacking anything at all. It is a younger scene compared to the Japanese scene, so it has less context outside of Taiwan. I have heard several times that Taiwanese artists say we are “catching up.” I think it’s important to think, "What are things that can be done by us," instead of thinking we are not there yet.
When I was living in the USA, there was a showcase organized by Japan Foundation called “Japan Nights” where they hosted some Japanese bands and did a tour. I saw that most people who went were either music nerds or people who are really into Japan and like anything coming out from Japan. From a musician’s angle, I’d like to connect with people through music not because of where we’re from.
— What is coming up on Guruguru Brain?
There will be Mong Tong’s new album and Maya Ongaku’s new album is coming out. They will tour Europe together in November this year.
Besides label work, I have started working with younger musicians to help them move on from their home base. Instead of industry-standard managing, I hope to share what I experienced through our DIY approach, so artists can control what they want and achieve their goals.