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dustin wong and takako minekawa are the anti j-pop idols with savage imaginations

Takako Minekawa spent the 90s as the queen of Tokyo’s Shibuya-kei scene, Dustin Wong the mid 00s touring the world with his Day-Glo DIY indie band, Ponytail. After Dustin moved back to Tokyo from Baltimore the pair started collaborating together on warped, sugar-coated pop.

How did you meet? Was it with the idea of collaborating with each other?
Dustin: The first time I met Takako was the summer of 2011 when I was playing a show in Tokyo. She came with a few friends and there was a man in the group, Mr Tsunoda, a painter, he used to hang out with my parents when I was a child.  It was through him that we were introduced. I was really surprised that she was at the show since I’d been a big fan of Takako for a really long time. 
Takako: When I saw him perform, the energy the music had awakened something inside of me. It was a very special and intense experience. 

How familiar were you with each other’s music before you started working together?
D: I was a big fan of Takako's music, I had her album Cloudy Cloud Calculator when I was a teenager and it was in heavy rotation all the way through college.  I was really intrigued by her whimsical energy, its really unique and special. 

Did you find you had a lot in common when you started working together?
D: I think we tip-toed around in the beginning, played it a little safe. The first initial experiment was a lot more ambient and drone based. A few months later we came back together and practiced at my parent's house in Tokyo and there we were able to focus a lot more, to just play together freely like children in a playground.  
T: Dustin and I have a lot of conversations about Japan, living here, and what it means to be Japanese, we try to talk about it from different points of view.  We talk seriously at times, and at times it’s silly.  

What initially drew you back to Japan, Dustin?
D: I was in Baltimore in 2011 during the earthquake and the tsunami and I remember feeling helpless and guilty for not being there. After a few turbulent months I was back in Japan that December. I saw Takako a few times that month, we played some shows and did some jamming together. The day I was going back to the states we met again, we had tea and when we were saying our goodbyes she gave me a hug. That hug was so intense I ended up crying the whole plane ride back. That is what convinced me to move back.

Takako obviously has an important place in 'Japanese pop' history, but where do you think you two fit in within the current Japanese music scene? 
D: We are still probably on the fringe, there’s been a resurgence in the "Idol" movement in Japan. There is a corporate scene but also a DIY one, where girls group together to create their own grassroots idol groups. I think that is where the centre is for J-Pop at this moment.  
T: I've been on many different types of routes throughout my life and I feel very grateful for it, but there are some downsides too. The Japanese music scene is pretty complex, and we find that very fascinating and interesting. I guess what you could call the underground scene, that might be where we lie.  

Takako, how come you hadn’t recorded in so long, and what made you want to start again with Dustin?
T: When I got married I found it very difficult for my feelings to move towards music. But with Dustin I had a feeling growing inside me that made me really want to make something. It was a very different type of passion. It was a turning point for me. 

How different is it working together from your past projects?
D: When Ponytail wrote together we were really searching without a road map.  We were scrambling for things that worked and it had to be something that we were all happy with, sometimes we struck some magic and it would just happen without us really knowing what happened, it was very unpredictable. That aspect of searching is very much there with me and Takako, but the way we work together is a lot more nuanced.
T: We are often introduced as a collaboration but I have been feeling more and more that we are a band. While still respecting each other’s style and aesthetics we are always challenging ourselves.

How is your working relationship, how does the collaboration and division of labour work between you?
D: The music making is very democratic, we work on everything simultaneously. We play like it’s a kind of game and when we find something interesting we record it and see if it sticks. 

Was it different to working on the first album Toropical Circle?
T: After releasing Toropical Circle, Dustin and I played a lot of shows, we kept going and through practice and jamming it led to more songs! We got more comfortable with our gear, like our bodies have been assimilated into it. That kind of situation allowed more room for play, which was a huge factor for Savage Imagination. 

How do you feel the two albums relate to each other?
D: There are a lot more sample based songs on Savage Imagination, this really allowed us to add more colour and textures. Also we weren't afraid to let the music live on its own, letting the weeds grow, like letting a lawn become its own jungle.
T: Toropical Circle resonates with the beginning, the joy of meeting and a pure light that can't be seen. Now we’ve built up a trust we've begun to project sounds that represent our stranger sides. I think there is something more explosive with this record, our fantasies our sense of humour.

Where did you get the title Savage Imagination from?
D: When we were starting to build up a collection of songs we realised that we were creating a world without really knowing it, while we were in the thick of it we started making a diorama together from paper maché. with strange creatures, aluminium dinosaurs, monuments resembling faces, funnel like chimneys, Venus of Willendorfs. It came from our subconscious, like a dream or a myth.  We both agreed that it was somewhat primitive, from the future, or a different planet.  These conversations led us to "Savage Imagination".
T: An ancient future.