Interviews Music

Trendy beats of change

{mosimage}Gocoo are a group
of seven female and four taiko drummers from Tokyo who manage to be super
trendy in a wide variety of music circles. Breaking with deeply rooted
traditions, they use taikos (Japanese drums) and other traditional acoustic
instruments to create a modern, free-spirited taiko music sound full of primal
beats and complex poly-rhythms, often accompanied by Japanese didgeridoo
virtuoso Goro

Very atypical
for a taiko group, Gocoo debuted at a techno festival, Rainbow 2000. They
reached cult status in the club scene of Tokyo, while at the same time gaining
respect in more traditional taiko music circles. They have since performed at a
wide range of events and venues, from major open air rock festivals like Fuji
Rock to rave parties, from Tokyo's cult clubs to the National Japanese Theatre,
and from big blues & roots events to traditional taiko festivals.

known internationally after they met and worked with British trance
trio Juno Reactor and were featured on the soundtracks of two Matrix
films. They performed in Europe for the first time in 2003, each year returning
for a more extensive tour, this year taking their exciting, energetic drum (and
light) show for the first time to Finland.

Kaoly Asano is the lead
drummer and founding member of Gocoo. She is by now one of Japan's most famous female
taiko drummers and also runs her own taiko school in Tokyo. Before kicking off their
European tour in Helsinki on July the 11th and 12th, she
was kind enough to give an interview to FREE! Magazine from Japan.

people here in Finland are familiar with more traditional taiko music in the
style of for example Ondekoza. Your style is quite different, and you have even
played at rock festivals and techno events. Your music is sometimes even
referred to as 'trance-taiko' or 'techno-taiko'. Can you tell us a bit more
about the difference between more traditional taiko music and your taiko style?

style of groups like Kodo or Ondekoza, which seems to be more
traditional, is not so old. In fact it was created between 1950 and 1970. These
groups transformed taiko performances held at traditional festivals into a
formal stage art performance with theatrical elements. Gocoo's style however overcomes formal boundaries which leads to a more
natural music performance. As for trance, I would like to say, that there were
times when festivals and trance were the same. So I have the feeling that
playing trance music with the taiko is just natural. I admire the beauty of
stage art performances, but I have the feeling that there are limitations and
restrictions. For example, the performers often do not show emotions while
playing the taiko. Gocoo's performances are much more
emotional. We freely bring any rhythms into play that groups considered to be
traditional would probably not use. 

"By using the softness of
the female body, we found our own taiko style" – Kaoly Asano, Gocoo

Besides the fact that your taiko music is quite
unique and crosses several different musical boundaries, traditionally, taiko
drums used to be a men's thing. Gocoo is made up of seven female and four male
drummers, with you personally clearly playing a
'leading role' in the group. During the ten years of Gocoo's existence, what effect do you think your success has
had on traditional views in Japan? Has there been a change in general attitudes
towards women playing taiko drums?

In terms of 
the relation between women and taiko in our group and the influence on
traditional views in Japan, Gocoo created a completely new and original female
drumming style that did not exist before. In other words, by using the softness of the female body, we found our own
taiko style. The traditional relation between the taiko and women was
limited for example to women dancing to the sound of the taiko. Later women
used to be limited to play the taiko either in an extremely feminine, elegant
way or in the same way as men, masculine and brave. Not only at my taiko school
Tawoo, but all over Japan the number of women playing the taiko is increasing
rapidly. I believe that today the concept of the taiko being a man's thing doesn't exist anymore. Gocoo has contributed its share in the fact that different ways of female taiko play are getting
more and more accepted. 

You have performed with the legendary Kodo
taiko ensemble. What was that like?

We performed with two members of Kodo, Ryutaro
and Tusbasa Hori. Since I have the feeling that both of them
belong to the "innovative wing" of Kodo, I think our session was quite different from how a performance
with all members of Kodo would have been. I have the feeling that if we mixed
Kodo's traditional style and Gocoo's style, spent more time together, created songs or shows together and
inspired each other in this way, there would have been very interesting
results. I very much would like to work together with them again.

You already mentioned your own taiko school,
Tawoo Taiko Dojo in Tokyo. What do you hope to achieve with the school?

Tawoo is a place where everyone, no matter how
old, male or female, can learn to play the taiko. The door is always open for
anybody, anytime. I want Tawoo to be a place where all of us can meet and
experience our own real strength (energy, ability, loveliness, health,
possibility, straightforwardness as a whole) through the taiko.

Is the main focus in the teachings at the
school also on less traditional, more free-spirited taiko music like that of

At Tawoo as well as with Gocoo I focus on an
unconventional drumming style. By allowing my students to play the taiko freely
and move their bodies freely, the restrictions which they have absorbed while growing
up begin to dissolve. In this way a mental liberation takes place, and their
real self appears. The amazing thing about the taiko is that we are able to
meet our self by playing it. And this leads us to face other people. We are
able to establish a deep communication with our self and with each other.

Do you have many female students?

70% to 80% of my students at Tawoo are female.

"We were able to meet
Juno Reactor because of a strong thunderstorm" – Kaoly Asano

In 2002 and 2003 you co-operated with Juno
Reactor, with whom you worked on the single Hotaka and later on
their CD Zwara EP. You also recorded the tunes "Tea
House" and "Tetsujin" with them for the soundtracks of The
Matrix Reloaded
and The Matrix Revolutions. How did the collaborations with
Juno Reactor come about?

We met Juno Reactor at the Hotaka-sai
festival in August 2001 where both of us were performing. Juno Reactor were
watching our show that day. A few days later they asked us to take part in a
recording session. We then spent three days recording at lake Yamanakako, close
to mount Fuji. A few songs were created with the recording material. One of
them is "Tea House" which was later used for Matrix Reloaded.
Actually, if Gocoo had performed at the Hotaka-sai festival as scheduled, it
would have been very unlikely that we had met Juno Reactor. Their show was
scheduled for the next day. But due to a strong
thunderstorm at the evening of our show, our performance was postponed to the
next day and we were able to meet Juno Reactor. To show that there is a
connection between our acquaintance and the Hotaka-Sai festival, Juno Reactor
named one of their pieces "Hotaka".

{mosimage}Do you have any future plans with Juno Reactor
or any other well-known artists?

We don't have any particular plans
right now, but we would love to work with them again one day. And not only to
record some tracks, but also to perform on stage with them. I liked Juno
Reactor's music before and we are fond of their productions
and arrangements. Gocoo's tunes, that were used for
songs like Hotaka, Zwara or Tea House, are
also very popular at our concerts. This year in October, we will work together
with Richard Yuen, a famous musician and music producer in Shanghai. In
Shanghai we are going to work together with Chinese musicians.

Your music also features on the soundtrack of
the popular role-play computer game Gothic 3. Are you yourself a game

I personally almost never play computer games.
But besides Gothic 3, Gocoo's music is also featured in
other computer games sold in Japan, such as Sengoku Basara. Usually the
soundtrack of computer games is also computer generated. So I am very happy
that some producers find it interesting to include the sound of real music
instruments into their games.

Can fans expect more collaborations from Gocoo
with well-known game manufacturers?

If we have a chance, we would love to work
together with other game manufacturers again in the future. 

"Taiko music can be
enjoyed just in the same way as rock or pop music" – Kaoly Asano

Since 2003 you have been on tour in Europe
every year. This year, for the first time, you will also perform in Finland.
What has performing in Europe been like for you?

Japan there are sometimes prejudices about taiko music. The taiko is often seen
as an instrument for traditional events, not suitable for popular music.
Although this prejudice recently became weaker, the idea emerged that only
taiko as a stage art is something that can be appreciated. 

I believe that taiko music can
be enjoyed just in the same way as rock or pop music. In Europe our audience
easily senses this and enjoys our music. The taiko is for sure a traditional
Japanese instrument. However its purpose is not only to keep traditions alive,
but to create good, modern music. To perform in Europe is a very exciting
experience for us.

Have you ever visited Finland privately?

Unfortunately not. This will be the first time.
Friends who have visited your country told me that Finland is a wonderful
place. I am very much looking forward to visiting it.


Wednesday 11.7, 7.30 pm

Thursday 12.7, 7.30 pm

Savoy Theatre, Kasarmikatu 46-48, Helsinki

Tickets: 38/35 e

Gocoo – Official website for Europe

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