The VOCALOID Collection Special Feature #1: DECO*27 & Kairiki Bear: Why We Keep Using Vocaloid After Ten Years
The VOCALOID Collection ~Winter 2020~, an event involving various projects related to Vocaloid, will be held from December 11th to 13th.
To commemorate the start of The VOCALOID Collection, Natalie.mu will be posting a series of features putting the spotlight on creators supporting the event. This first article is an interview between DECO*27 and Kairiki Bear, who have been posting Vocaloid songs for nearly 10 years from their debut to the present. While they've branched out into other fields in their careers, music using Vocaloid has remained a core form of expression for them both, so we had them give their thoughts on Vocaloid culture.
— When did you two first meet?
Kairiki Bear: It began with me saying hi to him when I was asked to perform for NicoNico Chokaigi in 2016. I covered a DECO*27 song at that event, and I remember figuring "if the man himself is in the green room, I should greet him!", looking up pictures of him on my phone to make sure I didn't have the wrong guy, then going to talk to him.
DECO*27: I get that. (laughs) Vocaloid producers don't reveal their faces, so sometimes you don't know who's who in the green room. I'd listened to your songs for a long time before we met, and my impression was that you were a very edgy kind of person. When you greeted me in the green room, I believe we promised to go drinking together. I was worrying "what if he's a punk with a rough personality?", but I was relieved to find once we went that he was a very mild-mannered sort. (laughs)
— What do Vocaloid producers talk about when they go drinking together?
DECO*27: Generally, it's mostly about equipment. I think I talked with Kairiki-san about guitars.
Kairiki Bear: I'm a guitar-lover, so I assaulted him with tons of questions about "what kind of guitar does DECO*27-san use to make those famous songs?"
DECO*27: I haven't gotten that many opportunities to meet and talk with others in person, but it's pretty common for fellow Vocaloid producers to ask each other to do jobs for them. Just recently, I had Kairiki-san do a remix called Two Breaths Walking (Reloaded) on my album Undead Alice. Two Breaths Walking is a rock song that goes hard with guitar, so I knew Kairiki-san was the only one I could count on to take that even higher.
Kairiki Bear: There was no turning down a request that wonderful from DECO*27-san. (laughs) To tell the truth, I've gotten a lot of commissions lately, and it was a little tight deadline-wise. But even if I had to squeeze this one into my schedule, I was able to do whatever I liked with it...
DECO*27: When I request a remix, I'm throwing it at them thinking "wreck the original song!" And Kairiki-san, he wrecked it in a good way, and came back with something entirely different. (laughs) It's got poetry in it, the melody's changed, and while you were at it, you even redid Miku's vocals, huh?
Kairiki Bear: I did. But it's not entirely my Miku. I used the Vocaloid track DECO*27-san made, and mixed in my own tuning of Miku's voice.
DECO*27: It's a fusion. I'm really happy for that!
Kairiki Bear: Since I was trusted to do a remix, I figured I'd change it all, and even the chords are different. But at the very end, I relistened to Two Breaths Walking and thought "Yeah, the original song's chords are cooler." (laughs) I mean, the original just had it most right, you know.
DECO*27: No, no, your remix ruled too. As a creator, it makes me super happy to ask someone "please do whatever you like" and see them really do whatever they like.
— On the VOCALOID Collection event site, there's stem data from prominent Vocaloid producers being distributed for the remix contest being held during the event. DECO*27-san published the data for Spark and Girl Dissection, and Kairiki Bear-san published Darling Dance. Why did you pick these songs?
DECO*27: Huh? You're distributing the data for Darling Dance?
Kairiki Bear: Yes. I've written a lot of songs lately, and chose Darling Dance because I actually had the rights to publish it, plus that it was a recent song.
DECO*27: It hasn't even been 3 months since it was posted, right? You'll reveal your most cutting-edge techniques, Kairiki-san.
Kairiki Bear: So I will. But there are still aspects you won't understand if you don't have a good ear. I did a bit of ego-searching after the stem data was released, and not many people could concretely describe what was amazing about it. (laughs) I have some confidence that even if I reveal my hand, you can't just imitate it so easily. Why did you pick your two songs, DECO*27-san?
DECO*27: I simply picked the two songs that are listened to most. I thought I'd pay back my feelings of "This is what you think of when you think DECO*27, right? Thank you for listening!" in data form.
Kairiki Bear: DECO*27-san released two of his most powerful songs, so I downloaded them immediately. (laughs)
DECO*27: I'm really curious how Darling Dance was made too, so I'm going to download that as soon as I get home.
— Are you both welcome to having your songs remixed?
DECO*27: I'm happy for it. That feeling like the song's "reincarnated" is really neat. A song I've completed is nothing more than my own best. I can make a rearrangement or the like to tamper with the song myself, but it's not going to go beyond my internal impression of what the song is. But when another person remixes a song, they're bringing an entirely different way of thinking in their edits, so it can objectively face against my song as a separate song.
Kairiki Bear: It's not just remixes - for instance, in a cover, just knowing how they arrange the guitar or bass can be a good reference. Looking at that expands your own breadth of expression, plus it just promotes your song to fans of that person, so I'm very glad when people make remixes and fanworks. I haven't done much releasing of stem data in this way before, but I thought to myself, maybe this isn't an era where I should keep concealing my hand out of my ego as a creator. (laughs) I should release what I can if it'll benefit Vocaloid culture.
DECO*27: Right, right. You want to get the community excited!
Kairiki Bear: I want to keep posting songs, and reaching new people. So I feel like distributing some stem data is no big deal.
— You brought up Miku's tuning earlier. I take it fellow creators are extra aware of the individuality of their Vocaloids.
Kairiki Bear: Strange as it seems, we're all different despite using the same software. I released a remix album called Venoma in January this year, and I asked each creator "if you can, I want you to redo the tuning of the Vocaloids too." That's because the vocals really do differ depending on the creator, and that makes the texture, the feel of the song itself change. Which is why when DECO*27-san asked me to do a remix, I knew I had to retune it into Kairiki Bear's Miku. (laughs)
DECO*27: Indeed you did.
— Can you define that "Kairiki Bear's Miku" you just mentioned?
Kairiki Bear: I'm not sure how to define it myself. (laughs) Since I'm not trying to do something special, I'm just tuning a Vocaloid...
DECO*27: Kairiki-san's Miku is something that's closely linked with Kairiki-san's typical guitar sound. I feel it's a tuning that has less to do with special characteristics of Miku, and more like "the Miku that you want when you have Kairiki's style of twanging guitar." People balance their mixing differently as well, so maybe that also shows itself as individuality in their Miku.
Kairiki Bear: If I had to describe my impression of DECO*27's Miku, it'd be "THE diva." I have a strong image of her singing emotions powerfully over a straightforward rock sound. There are many Vocaloid producers out there, but DECO*27-san is so quality it makes me feel like no one can surpass his Miku with that mainstream rock style.
DECO*27: Wow, I'm glad. Sometimes you can sort of tell whose Vocaloid it is just by hearing Miku's voice.
Kairiki Bear: I agree. But like I said before, I really don't know what to say about my own individuality. So I'm always uneasy whether I'm properly expressing my flavor when I post my songs.
DECO*27: You're all right. You have tons of personality, Kairiki-san.
DECO*27: I had this thought listening to Darling Dance, but Kairiki-san doesn't use guitars as guitars. I mean that in a good way, of course.
Kairiki Bear: I guess you're right. In a lot of cases it's like "is that a guitar making that sound?"
DECO*27: I'm someone who thinks "Power chord, braaang!" "Octave playing, yeaaah!" when he plays guitar, so your treatment of guitar feels very unique to me.
Kairiki Bear: I love guitar, so I always want to use guitar in anything. Taking a step away form music theory, I often put in noise-like percussive guitar on the beat. When you strictly follow the notes, it can be super dissonant, but if you play it like a percussion instrument on the beat, it comes off as smooth. And that dissonance feels like a poisonous element, something that you get caught on.
DECO*27: Those elements make Kairiki-san's songs addictive. I think some off-ness is super crucial for music. People won't listen to it again if you don't get them thinking "oh?"
Kairiki Bear: Hold on, do you mind if I take notes?
DECO*27: (laughs) No need to take notes, you already embody it.
— How do you add off-ness to your songs, DECO*27-san?
DECO*27: I try to bring it about in titles and lyrics. For instance, the title Girl Dissection. That's not a phrase that would really come up in daily life.
Kairiki Bear: Right. When you first see the title Girl Dissection, you're like "What's going on there?"
DECO*27: I think we're both creators who value off-ness, even if we deploy it differently.
Kairiki Bear: For my next song, I think I'll add some off-ness to the lyrics too. (laughs)
— How do you think encountering Vocaloid and choosing to do Vocaloid has affected you as artists?
DECO*27: I think it's expanded my level of freedom when making songs a ton. I've been singing my own accompaniment to guitar since middle school, but when you do everything yourself, you have habits, and your singing range is limited too. And also, when a human sings, they have to take breaths. I was making music because I liked to do it, yet before I knew it, various factors were limiting me. Meeting Vocaloid took away all those limitations. Not needing it to be singable by a human changed what I could write, and luckily there were many people making music with Vocaloid, so I got more opportunities for my songs to be heard.
Kairiki Bear: The fact I was in a band was big. A band generally has around 4 or 5 people, and when you're making songs or performing, your views clash. You grew up in different environments, and people can be imagining different things like what direction the band should take, so your opinion won't always be followed. And even if it is, it's hard to be confident if someone asks you "is that going to make us catch on?" For someone who had those sorts of difficulties when doing music, Vocaloid means no one getting in the way, and being able to make music taking all responsibility upon yourself. That suited my style. It's easier on me when whether I catch on or die is entirely up to me.
— Some Vocaloid producers have stopped posting Vocaloid songs as their careers go on. Why do the two of you keep making Vocaloid music?
DECO*27: For me, it's completely "because I like it." At first, I became fond of Miku as software, and also liked people involved with Miku. I believe producers, creators of illustrations and videos, people who do covers, and fans of all these things make this community prosper. I think I keep making songs because I like this place surrounding Vocaloid. Though lately, I've felt it might be bad to like Miku too much - I feel it's because I like Miku, in fact, that it's important to keep the perspective of Miku as a tool.
Kairiki Bear: What do you mean by that?
DECO*27: When you get affectionate for Miku, you start thinking "maybe these lyrics aren't suitable for Miku." I realized one day that this was just like those limitations on expression I was feeling before I encountered Vocaloid. When I stopped thinking about "Miku-like" or "not Miku-like" and went back to those feelings of having no limitations, I found that was more fun.
Kairiki Bear: That's super enlightening.
— Why do you keep writing Vocaloid songs, Kairiki-san?
Kairiki Bear: I'm with DECO*27-san in that I like this culture. I also think having rivals means you both push each other to improve. When you watch Vocaloid songs on YouTube, it usually suggests Vocaloid songs with a similar amount of views. And at right around 100,000 views, there's a lot of new producers making good songs. Seeing things like that can help my own motivation.
— How do you two find Vocaloid producers in the younger generation?
DECO*27: I do deep dives into who producers are following on Twitter. If I find one good producer, I'll often go to their following list and find people they're friends with in the community.
Kairiki Bear: I often go through follows too. The same goes for singers, not just producers. I do research on all sorts of generations and all sorts of groups that way. (laughs)
— During the VOCALOID Collection event, there'll be a project putting a spotlight on the new generation of creators using a ranking system. I'm sure there was a culture of checking the Vocaloid rankings until at least a few years ago, but...
Kairiki Bear: Lately it's gotten easy for existing songs to dominate the rankings. When I started posting Vocaloid in 2011, lots of new songs would appear in the rankings, and a variety of producers would get attention. But the number of famous songs goes up every year, and there's a tendency for old songs to get attention again when their anniversary comes around, so it's tough for new songs to get into the rankings now.
DECO*27: Even besides what it's been like recently, there were periods like around 2010 - when I released Mozaik Role - in which wowaka-san's Rolling Girl and Hachi-kun's songs would dominate. I was happy for it, but I wanted attention to go to a variety of people's songs. Though I did like when one song would get popular and your other songs would get noticed too, so it felt like people were partying like they were at a festival.
Kairiki Bear: There have been times I was disappointed to realize I'd uploaded at about the same time as a famous producer. (laughs) Because I try my best to avoid having conflicts like that.
DECO*27: But you and I tend to overlap, don't we, Kairiki-san?
Kairiki Bear: We sure do!
DECO*27: Even just the other day, we posted songs around the same time. (laughs)
Kairiki Bear: Very sorry about that.
DECO*27: No no, it's fine. In fact, since YouTube is the mainstream now, it seems like overlap leads to more views for both. There's a tendency for fans of the other person to mention it in the comments.
Kairiki Bear: That's true, there are comments like "DECO*27 uploaded a new song too today too, it's a good day."
DECO*27: To this day, I go "waugh!" when I see there's been an overlap. Old habits and all. (laughs)
— I'm sure you've talked about the trends in Vocaloid and the internet music scene as a whole on many occasions, but what do you think of the online music scene today?
DECO*27: Lately, it feels like no one's getting outstanding attention. Not because things have waned, but because so many can achieve hundreds of thousands of views. I may have a longer history, but in terms of recent view counts, Kairiki-san and I are about the same, aren't we?
Kairiki Bear: I definitely understand that feeling. Like we're being viewed side-by-side. Yet if it gets popular somewhere, a specific song will shoot up to 10 million views.
— Indeed, Kairiki-san's Venom caught on like wildfire on TikTok, and has 20 million views on YouTube.
DECO*27: TikTok seems super big now. I think Vocaloid view counts have gone up a level. Some songs are more suited for it than others, but acquiring fans on platforms where a lot of users don't know your songs is really important.
— It may not be a trend, but short videos like TikToks feel like they're suited for Vocaloid voices.
DECO*27: I think so too. There are some videos with lots of vocal effects on them, so I wonder if someday Vocaloid might take the place of that.
Kairiki Bear: I do research into the community myself, but it seems DECO*27-san is observing it with an even broader perspective.
DECO*27: In truth, I'm taking a break from uploading videos to NicoNico for now. It's not like I dislike NicoNico or anything, but I want data. Lately I've just been posting videos to YouTube and Bilibili, and I want to know how users respond to that, and how it'll affect the numbers. And also, listener age ranges. I want to check those things with analytics, and see what their locations, ages, and genders are like, and how that differs between platforms.
Kairiki Bear: I knew you weren't posting to NicoNico lately, but I wasn't aware that was the reason.
DECO*27: I feel like I'm about the only Vocaloid producer who could pull a stunt like that. Of course, once I get the data and come to a conclusion, I think I'll go back to posting on NicoNico, so you can rest easy there. And once I'm done with this data collection, I'd like to do some experimenting on TikTok next. Honestly, it's hard to see the good and bad points of each platform from the outside, so I have to get on myself to be sure. Who knows, I might suddenly give up YouTube next.
Kairiki Bear: But you're so close to that gold shield!
DECO*27: Oh yeah, that's right! I wanna be given that gold shield. I want proof I could achieve a gold shield with just Vocaloid.
— No creator has ever exceeded 1 million subscribers with just Vocaloid songs, have they?
DECO*27: Right. Even Yorushika and Ayase have involved vocalists partway, so strictly speaking, I'm sure nobody has cracked 1 million with just Vocaloid yet.
Kairiki Bear: I absolutely want you to pass 1 million, DECO*27-san. It'll be a beacon of hope for all your juniors.
DECO*27: I'd like to if I can, but I'd also like it if someone overtook me and achieved it first. That'd make me super happy.
Kairiki Bear: I definitely want you to get it. I'll be retweeting your gold shield tweet for sure!