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INTERVIEW | Japanese Musician Daoko's New Band QUBIT Makes Sci-Fi Music for the Digital Age

Artist-musician Daoko crosses borders and generations with her rap and songs. She and her band QUBIT, just announced the release date of their new single.

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The cover for QUBIT's debut album '9BIT', which was released on November 22, 2023.

Japanese musician Daoko has won fans around the world with her genre-defying mix of leftfield electronic pop and Gen-Z geek appeal. She crosses borders through her theme tunes for anime such as "Fireworks" and "Sailor Moon Cosmos" as well as writing novels and holding art exhibitions.

Now, Daoko has formed a band. QUBIT is a five-piece featuring Daoko as singer and rapper, along with veteran musicians who were part of her solo backing band. They are Seiichi Nagai (guitar, also a member of the revered Japanese band Soutaiseiriron), Shohei Amimori (keyboard, also a film music composer), Masato Suzuki (bass, from the band Little Creatures) and Kazuya Oi (drums, and a support musician for countless Japanese artists). 

The band released their debut album"9BIT" in November 2023. Their next single, "Contact," was written especially for the NHK program "Minnna no Uta." The band announced tonight (February 7) that the single will be released on February 21.

Fitting the Name to the Members

The name QUBIT refers to the smallest unit in quantum mechanics. It is fitting since the band's sound and lyrics have a strong science fiction influence. "You can't avoid science fiction if you want to understand the way people all around the world are feeling today," says Amimori.

QUBIT's music flits from electronic pop to rock to prog to jazz to the 1990s Shibuya-kei music typified by Cornelius. At times it flirts with the feelgood nostalgia of the City Pop boom, while their lyrics touch upon Generation Z politics and the stresses of life in the digital world. In the age of social media, many of us feel overwhelmed by information overload. QUBIT's songs dissect this overload, resolving chaos and conflict into fun, cool and memorable tunes.

Daoko, Nagai and Amimori sat down with JAPAN Forward over a video call to tell us about the formation of the band, the science fiction that influenced them, and their knack for capturing the zeitgeist.

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QUBIT (left to right): Seiichi Nagai, Kazuya Oi, Daoko, Shohei Amimori and Masato Suzuki.

First of all, how did you settle on the name QUBIT, and how does it relate to the concept of the band?

Amimori: "Our band is made up of members from Daoko's support band, and her music is based on modern electronic music. So QUBIT's music comes from a similar place. Our approach is 'electronic music meets science,' so we wanted to find a cool word that was based in science. 

"The word 'QUBIT' also sounds a little bit like 'cute', which seemed appropriate."

Daoko: "It's a bit like 'Cupid' as well! It's a very cute and catchy word that seemed to suit our sound."

The band was born out of Daoko's solo backing band. Why did you decide to formally start a brand new project together?

Daoko: "I was very interested in being part of a band, rather than having them as my support members. When I perform as Daoko it's my own project and the responsibility is all mine. But when we play as QUBIT I am only the vocalist, so it's a very different approach. And we've only just started, so that approach might change over time."

Nagai: "We played together as Daoko's support band for about three years. We thought that by forming a band together, we could build on our potential better."

Kazuya Oi
Masato Suzuki
Seiichi Nagai
Shohei Amimori
Daoko

What is the chemistry that binds the five of you together? What does each member bring to the band?

Nagai: "Amimori is in charge of creating the sound texture and arrangement, so he's like the band leader. We all write the songs, but Amimori is the 'control tower' in charge of the ensemble. And when it comes to conceptual things and how we present ourselves, I take the lion's share of that role."

Daoko: "The members of QUBIT range from members in their 20s to their 50s, which is unusually broad, and Masato Suzuki is the eldest member. His presence in the band helps to ground us.  And his incredible technical ability allows me to sing more comfortably."

Nagai: "Masato is a very technically skilled player, and he also writes and arranges songs and plays with multiple bands. So he's like the grown-up who brings a lot of experience to our band."

Amimori: "Kazuya Oi is a very technical drummer who performs in various bands with a focus on groove. He brings a very human feel even to music that is primarily electronic. QUBIT is a band that combines electronic elements with a hybrid sound, which is perfectly suited to his style. It feels good to play with him."

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The songs flit liberally between genres – how did you come up with that sound?

Nagai: "We wanted to release something before the end of 2023, and we wanted to make the most of the talents of the five members who are part of the band. So we listed up what each member would bring to the table. And then we asked Amimori to arrange it into a shape. That's why the album has such a range of genres. It's the sound of an album made by five musicians partway through their individual careers. We might choose particular elements to focus on next time. So this might be the first and last album to have so much variation."

Daoko: "I like lots of different kinds of music, and I work with lots of other artists on my solo songs. So my solo music is also very mixed."

Nagai: "Rather than a particular style of music, we are very keen to reflect what is happening in the world around us at that time. So next time there may be a mix of fewer genres, but there will probably still be a lot of variation in other terms."

The songs include lyrics that are quite politicized and themes that affect young people in Japan today, especially in this digital age. Tell us more about this approach. 

Nagai: "Myself and Amimori provide most of the material that is based on politics or science fiction and literature. We draw on the subculture of the 1990s and 2000s when we were growing up. And so our lyrics draw on the movies, books, music and history that informed us. But when Daoko sings it, it lands differently, and it becomes more accessible for a younger generation of listeners."

"'Big Mouth' and other songs that I was the main lyric writer on are based on what I see in the news and my social media timeline. There, everything from tiny details to major news gets jumbled up together. I wanted to express that feeling in the lyrics. I also wanted to make sure we had some fast lyrics for Daoko to rap in rapid-fire, like the information overload you get from your social media timeline."

Daoko: "These days, I feel like people get frustrated more easily and there is a general sense of gloom. I could only express this in a general way myself. But Nagai's lyrics make everything so clear."

Nagai: "Since this was our first album and we wanted to make an impression, we tried to include lyrics that speak to the current zeitgeist and would have some impact."

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'G.A.D.' is a very cool song that layers references to UFOs, Albert Einstein, Socrates and the cosmos over a spacey, expansive musical freakout that sounds amazing. What is the song about?

Amimori: "We needed a first song that would set out our stall and act as a calling card, so I wrote 'G.A.D.'. It's a song that sounds aggressive but also organic. We worked on the lyrics together."

Nagai: "Amimori asked me to come up with lyrics with a sci-fi vibe. And then the three of us filled in the blanks together."

Amimori: "You can't avoid science fiction if you want to understand the way people all around the world are feeling today. The films of Christopher Nolan have influenced QUBIT's music. And we have a reference in our lyrics to 'The Three-Body Problem' (a sci-fi novel by Chinese author Liu Cixin)."

Nagai: "I also love sci-fi writers like Shinichi Hoshi, Philip K Dick and George Orwell. And I have a very deep locker to reference in future lyrics. I want to write more progressive yet straightforward sci-fi lyrics next time. Taking in something complex and expressing it in a simple way is a challenge. These days we have tools at our fingertips that allow us to make music with a very modern sound. But sometimes it's good to have a more timeless element as well, especially when it comes to incorporating influences from science fiction."

The music video for 'Mr Sonic' uses AI to enhance its handmade animation. The effect is a little creepy and very cool. Generative AI is a controversial topic right now, but it feels like a good fit for the concept behind QUBIT.

Nagai: "The video is the type of anime that an AI tool concluded would be most suited to QUBIT, haha. We worked with a video production team called Cosmic Lab, who also created the visuals for the screen at our live shows. They created the video after discussing some ideas with us. I know that many people around the world are very much against generative AI and it is a divisive subject. We released the video right in the middle of a very fiery discourse. However, I also think the AI did a perfect job of creating animation that suits our band."

QUBIT on stage at their first-ever concert, at Daikanyama Unit in Tokyo, December 2023. (© Kentaro Minami)

I saw QUBIT's debut concert in Tokyo in December, and the songs sounded more organic and three-dimensional than they do on the album. Your songs are already evolving. Would you say that QUBIT is a project that has been designed with live performance in mind?

Amimori: "Yes, please come to see us in concert! Our songs sound completely different live to the recorded versions, in a good way. If you don't like our music, don't complain until you've seen us play live!"

Daoko: "Even if you haven't heard our music before, I think you can enjoy us live, so please come along sometime."

Do you envision QUBIT as a one-off album project, or will you continue into the future?

Daoko: "Now that we've started, I want us to do a lot together. We managed to release our first album before the end of 2023, the same year that we formed. In 2024 we plan to make more music and perform live for as many people as possible, including some festival appearances, hopefully. I also hope our band can perform overseas. 

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"In the meantime, we'll continue to make music together and to decide what that music will sound like as we go. I hope we can be very active."

QUBIT's debut album '9BIT' is out now, and their new single 'Contact' is due on February 21. For further information, visit https://columbia.jp/qubit/ 

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Interview by: Daniel Robson
Read Daniel's artist interviews and his series Gamer's World on JAPAN Forward, and find him on X (formerly Twitter).

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