Image Courtesy of Apple Music
Review by JD Calvelli
“In Japan, hip-hop is hip-hop, jazz is jazz, soul is soul — that’s how they’ve been received. But in actual fact, they’re more connected than that. There’s more interplay.”
In late 2017, keyboardist Ayatake Ezaki shared these words with The Japan Times in an attempt to encapsulate what the up and coming Tokyo based quartet WONK, of which he is a member, strives to create.
As a group over the years, their ethos has evolved to transcend genres, styles, and norms, so as to foster new musical coalescence. The group eschews traditional classification, and opts instead to describe themselves as an Experimental Soul Band.
Their most recent project, Gemini:Flip Couture #1, released in the summer of 2018, serves both as an excellent entry point into the culture of WONK, and an excellent example of WONK’s transcendental style, exemplified by their self-description.
As a remix collection of their prior project, the simultaneously released album duology of Castor and Pollux, the work as a whole demonstrates the extent to which WONK experiments. In their sights this time? The ideal of the completed, released album.
Gemini:Flip Couture #1 not only includes traditional remixes of their work by outside artists, but also reimaginings of their prior work from the particular and distinct perspectives of the members of the collective. Each member took up a song to transform.
Lead singer Kento Nagatsuka took up Castor’s “Gather Round” and created an exploration of the human voice through a transformation of all instrumentation into either nontraditional vocal chops and syllables or novel, off kilter beatbox.
Drummer Hikaru Arata took up Pollux’s “MVP” and created a boom-bap, head-nod, hip-hop piece reminiscent of MF Doom’s style and vocal delivery that sounds like it came right off of a Brooklyn bound Q train.
Bassist Kan Inoue took up Pollux’s “Give Me Back My Fire” and created a wubby, seemingly crunk inspired yet still low-key dance vibe driven by biting percussion and a pulsating 808 that jumps and slides in manners reminiscent of modern trap anthems.
Keyboardist Ayatake Ezaki took up Castor’s “Dance On The Water” and created a jazzy juxtaposition between a resonant piano and a plucky harpsichord both jockeying for position while underscored by muted percussion and supported by Nagatsuka’s strong, yet floaty vocals.
The transformative nature of Gemini:Flip Couture #1, especially with regards to these reimaginings through the distinct lenses of the group’s members, gives the project virtue as a standalone work, perfect for introducing new listeners to the, well, wonky world of WONK