dj kiki kudo is serving up kitchen wave techno beats
i-D interviewed the Japanese musician about her infamous downtown NYC dinner parties and the release of her debut EP ‘Splashing.’
Photo by Naoko Maeda
It’s not easy to define Kiki Kudo. She’s a DJ, a chef whose ginger ratatouille is absolutely divine, a novelist and arts writer, a sometimes fashion designer, and she knows how to throw a mean dinner party. While Kiki only started making music last year she’s captured the attention of house music labels across the globe and she just released her first full length EP, Splashing, out today via Incienso. It’s a self-described mix of “nanotech pop, synth jams, kitchen wave, and listening techno.” She also calls it feel good, mellow, or sentimental techno. When should people listen to it? “All the time,” Kiki says.
Kiki grew up just outside of Tokyo, coming of age in the city’s 90s dance music scene. She was into Japanese new wave, punk rock, and Madchester, a genre coming out of Manchester, England that fused alt-rock with acid house culture, psychedelia, and 60s pop. Japan’s birthed some of the most exciting talents in electronic music, and the 90s was when the underground flourished and nightclubs started popping up, often in Shibuya — the neighborhood most record stores called home. Kiki met many DJs and producers, partying late into the night and often into the early morning. “We don’t have a close time, so it went very late,” Kiki says. “At eight in the morning, we were like, ‘Here’s beer.’ Morning beer.” But despite her desire to learn through her peers, Kiki often felt discouraged. “[The scene] was kind of macho, but not with gender,” she says. “More like, if you have knowledge we can talk and you can play.”
All the while, Kiki was writing. She’s published two Japanese novels, Parody of the World and 3 Sisters Sensation, which she describe as “avant garde pop,” experimental works inspired by the late East Village punk writer Kathy Acker. One thing led to another and Kiki moved to New York in 2011. She wrote art reviews for NYLON Japan (she still does) and DJed at Pianos on the Lower East Side to make extra cash. This is where she met many of her “party friends,” when she’d be the last one standing at 4am. “Crazy times,” she says. Kiki was fired from Pianos, but no matter, she’s now playing sets throughout the city and making appearances at international festivals. Through mutual friends, she met her partner Brian Close, a fellow DJ, multimedia artist, and designer. He encouraged Kiki to start making her own tracks and can often be found leading a drum circle in their soho apartment.
Kiki might be most well known for her vegan bento service that she started four years ago and once made daily out of her apartment. It was called Chiso, meaning “earth layers” in Japanese, and carried at the popular restaurant Dimes. She layered plant-based ingredients in tiny glass jars, inspired by traditional Japanese sushi. Recently, she catered a five course meal for Special Delivery, an invite only downtown dinner party with the aim of bolstering the city’s arts community. It was featured in Vogue. Like her music, cooking has allowed Kiki to be inventive and play with different textures.
“It’s so creative. I didn’t know that,” she says. “Some people think it’s kind of punishment to be in the kitchen…. Even small things, like cutting vegetables. It can be unique or fun.” Kiki only recently stopped making Chiso, in favor of a new gig — cooking meals for artist Marianne Vitale’s studio in Long Island City. It’s fitting that her album art is a photo of a futuristic kitchen, designed by Brian. That’s where she’s most at home. Though Kiki spends many of her free hours cooking, she also has a foot in fashion. She’s made time to design a little black stretch dress for the brand EVERYBODY.WORLD, and the Japanese streetwear brand Cav Empt will release a special edition t-shirt to celebrate Kiki’s album release. It’s a big deal.
On an average night, Kiki can be found in the kitchen cooking for Brian (“I love to cook for my lover,” she says) and often a number of guests. The couple likes to invite people who’ve never met each other before to dinner parties, sparking interesting conversations, and they often rearrange the furniture beforehand. Friends note the loft-style apartment is always set up differently each time (“It’s good to always feel change,” she says).
One chilly Tuesday night in October, Kiki cooked up a massive amount of Karaage fried chicken, grilled cauliflower with tahini, ginger ratatouille, Japanese sweet potato salad, artichoke rice, and kabu radish pickles, for a late night dinner party with over 30 guests — many of whom were local musicians and artists. She seamlessly mingled with everyone, while being the perfect host. There were only chopsticks, not a fork or knife in sight, and at 11pm, guests were still showing up. An impromptu drum circle, that anyone was welcome to join via instruments laid out on the floor, continued late into the night.
A few hours earlier, Kiki and Brian both played a small set at Commend, a record store on Forsyth Street, where a sign touts the shop as “a place to praise and graze and laze.” The event was in celebration of Good Morning Tapes, a small French electronic label. Kiki released her “Mineral Sequences” cassette with them last year. It’s 60 minutes of self-produced jams and collected “field recordings,” and like a lot of Kiki’s music, it was made from her couch. Much like her Chiso, there are many layers to Kiki’s signature sound. “It’s not like I’m making techno or I’m making dubstep,” she explains. “I like those things, but I’m never thinking in categories. It’s more like a feeling. Like oh, I’m making like a sparkling kind of sound.”
Maybe the best way to define Kiki Kudo is an accidental musician. She’s certainly not an accidental DJ. Kiki’s had every intention of learning to spin since her days partying in Tokyo, but she never really planned on being discovered for her self-produced beats. Last year, Kiki played a set at Meakusma Festival, which celebrates “unclassifiable, contemporary experimental electronic and club music,” as part of their “dublab sleepless floor,” featuring 50 hours of non-stop DJing. “I wanted to play my songs during my DJ set — kind of secret, kind of sneak it in,” Kiki says. Next thing she knew, she had labels like Incienso and Workshop approaching her, asking, “Oh, Kiki, what’s this song?” “I was waiting for this moment,” she says. “And I was like, these are my songs… I was like, ‘Oh my god, my dream is coming true.’”