Pullers of the Vocaloid Scene: "What Happened Back Then?"
The Hatsune Miku-themed compilation album Re:Start will be released a day before the 10th anniversary of Miku's release, on August 30th. Natalie, hearing this, decided to hold an interview with wowaka, who contributed with his first Vocaloid song in six years, and another artist who similarly took part, DECO*27.
DECO*27 in October 2008, and wowaka in May 2009 - both were influenced by livetune to begin as Vocaloid producers. Alongside Hachi (Kenshi Yonezu), 40mP, Pinocchio-P, sasakure.UK, and the like, they fired up the scene in their day. In this interview, we had both speak about the ten years of Vocaloid culture from their respective viewpoints.
— When did the two of you first meet?
wowaka: Maybe at Vocaloid Master in 2009? (Vocaloid-Only Doujinshi Event "THE VOC@LOiD M@STER")
DECO*27: Hachi-kun was there, too. That was about 8 years ago now?
wowaka: Ancient history. (laughs) DECO-san started Vocaloid a little earlier than me. Hearing DECO-san's songs as a listener, I thought "So there are songs like this? Man, that's cool." Though after that, I soon started making them myself, and we ended up in a similar timeframe going head-to-head.
DECO*27: Yeah, it was fierce. (laughs) Something I distinctly remember is, when I released a song called Two Breaths Walking, wowaka-san also released Two-Faced Lovers. That was a super good song, so I was going "yeeeek!"
wowaka: Yep. (laughs) It was at about the same time.
DECO*27: That level of band-like sound hadn't been in the Vocaloid scene before then. Sure, you had Supercell-san or Baker-san, but it was a little different. I first uploaded a Vocaloid song in later 2008, and some time after that, people who played guitar before starting Vocaloid, people who were in bands, a lot of them entered the Vocaloid scene. Among them, wowaka-san's songs especially made me think "oh dang."
wowaka: Me and Hachi-kun and Furukawa Honpo all started super close together. There was a flow there; shortly before we began, there were people - starting with DECO-san, then JimmyThumb-P-san, and Jakkan-P-san - who posted songs with a Japanese rock approach to the "band" sound. I think part of our interest getting piqued is owed to those pioneers who were doing that kind of stuff with Vocaloid.
DECO*27: I also played guitar since middle school, and made songs, so I thought "if I'm making Vocaloid songs, maybe they should have a band sound?" I liked Supercell and livetune as well, but doing the same thing would just cause an overlap. By looking for something nobody else was doing to put myself out there, I settled on having that kind of sound.
— Why do you think you were so charmed by Hatsune Miku at the time?
DECO*27: At first, her voice drew me in. The first Miku song I heard was livetune's Packaged. The song was great, and I found the voice great too. I didn't know anything about it at the time, so I thought "What a unique, adorable voice. Is this person an idol or something?" Then I looked it up and realized, "Apparently she's not a person at all." From then to the present, I've always loved Miku's voice.
wowaka: Like DECO-san said, the number one thing that makes Hatsune Miku Hatsune Miku has to be her voice. What with the fact that it's not a human singing, it entered my ears in a way entirely unlike the music I'd heard before. Regardless of the song or the lyrics, it felt like it was pressing on a new stimulus. At first, I didn't know who was making songs, so I thought "Maybe there's a Hatsune Miku Composing Committee, and they crank all these out?"...
DECO*27: What an organization that must be! (laughs)
wowaka: (laughs) But upon further research, there was no such organization, just individuals all across Japan doing every little thing by themselves. My first thought was "Hey, I do music too, can't I do this?" I think the threshold was very low then, too.
DECO*27: If you made music, then all you had to do was learn how to use a DAW and Vocaloid, and anybody could do it. It was probably especially easy for people who'd been in bands, they'd more readily think "I can do this too." From there, Vocaloid producers multiplied like crazy, and the scene got really exciting.
wowaka: Right. I feel like some amazing things happened from the end of 2008 to around 2010.
DECO*27: It was really stimulating. Everyone was rivals, and pardon the expression, but we thought "I wanna beat the crap outta everybody." We posted videos wanting to be the best, and when other people uploaded good songs, it really was vexing. It wasn't just that we were in the same scene, but also that we were all using Vocaloid. So if I saw a song that drew out Miku's goodness better than me, I'd be like "Aaagh! I've been bested!" (laughs) That would stimulate me to make better things. I couldn't have given it so much effort if if weren't for the other producers.
wowaka: Right. I, at the very least, was horribly aware of other Vocaloid producers. And as far as DECO-san, all the moreso when I found out he was around the same age as me. (laughs) DECO-san's songs just made me think "man, these'll be hits."
DECO*27: Real bangers, huh? (laughs)
wowaka: Yes. (laughs) As a gloomy college student, I felt an aura of light from DECO-san's songs, and thought "I'll fight with my own style, and get even more famous than this guy!"
— The Vocaloid scene has affected Japanese pop music on the whole. How did you feel about that at the time?
DECO*27: I wonder... I hardly looked at much of anything that wasn't NicoNico Douga or the Vocaloid scene. My only concern was posting the best songs in that field. Only in the past few years did I start thinking about stuff like the influence on other scenes. Like, I could finally look back and think "Wow, I was in a pretty amazing place."
wowaka: I also had a very narrow view. Though, at some point, there was a change in me. My songs would be listened to in the Vocaloid scene, but I had a feeling like I was making waves in a walled-off place. My songs were starting to walk on their own, but what was I doing living here? Soon enough, I thought "Maybe singing with my own fleshy body is the only way I can save myself?" That was part of the motivation to start my band Hitorie. It wasn't like I was looking at the Vocaloid scene objectively, but felt more like a blind "Me, me, me... What about me?"
— That sounds like a very severe situation.
wowaka: Oh, it was seriously bad. Once I started thinking like that, I didn't have any social contact for about half a year... I had all my meals delivered, and drank, and that's it. I thought "It'll be really bad if I keep on like this," so I started talking with my now-band-members. Shortly before that, I made a Vocaloid album called "Unhappy Refrain." Releasing that, it felt like I'd fully experienced the sensation of "posting a Vocaloid song, and it flies out from your hands."
— Unhappy Refrain came out in May 2011. The following year, DECO-san also took a temporary break from making Vocaloid songs.
DECO*27: Right. I stopped posting new songs in 2012. I did nothing but Vocaloid up to then, but finally started to think about challenging other things, and did commissions and collaborations. At that point, I'd operated as DECO*27 for about 6 years, and had posted quite a lot of songs, so it felt like I'd done it all. "Maybe I don't have to write songs as DECO*27 anymore." That was around 2013, but I was thinking "Maybe that's enough" about music itself.
wowaka: I read an interview where you stated "I might quit music." I was shocked. Like, "for real?!"
DECO*27: Up to then, I was able to preserve myself as DECO*27 by writing songs, but it no longer felt like it was like that. Some time after, I thought "Maybe there'd be some good in doing something new?" Later still, seeing my songs performed at a Miku concert in 2013, I thought "Maybe I'll give Miku another shot." By then, making songs with Miku had become something new.
wowaka: I see.
DECO*27: Then I made several songs, and made an album called Conti New in 2014. But then I didn't upload new songs again for about 2 and a half years. I was always struggling to find how DECO*27 and Miku could express something new.
— I had the impression that the overall Vocaloid scene was slower without wowaka-san and DECO*27-san uploading new songs.
wowaka: This is going to be personal again, but I was feeling a bit traumatized. With the common point of Vocaloid and Hatsune Miku, lots of people who just wanted to express themselves assembled, and the scene exploded... From 2010 to around 2011, I felt like "I'm in a really cool scene here." But slowly I began to see things to make me think "it's not exactly like that, huh?" It seemed a little cheap, maybe. Increasingly often, it would feel like "I just have to do it like this, right?" "If the song's like this, you'll like it, right?" Both with songs themselves, and the way I expressed myself. I expect people won't like me saying this, but...
DECO*27: Go ahead.
wowaka: It was like "All I have to do is write a wowaka-like song, right?" (laughs)
DECO*27: I get that. Like "I just gotta give it a fast BPM, right?" (laughs)
wowaka: Right, right. Naturally, I couldn't make anything with my motivation being like that.
— So there came to be a template of sorts. "Fill these requirements, and lots of people will listen."
DECO*27: Right. People who saw the Vocaloid scene at its most bustling came in thinking "I want more views," "I want to be famous." That's fine and all, but I think it clearly resulted in more songs where you don't get a sense of "I like Miku" or "I like this culture" at their core. At least in my opinion.
wowaka: That's true. It felt like an important part of myself was lost, and at the time, I couldn't digest that idea of "wowaka-esque" in a positive way. I had done all this as wowaka because I simply liked to, so being repaid with that kind of stuff was very, very saddening, and really exhausted me. I think that's also why, after releasing Unhappy Refrain, I was in such a terrible mental state.
wowaka: Putting some "distance" between me and the Vocaloid scene was also to protect myself. I feared that "If I stay here forever, I'll have to see even sadder things." But that was just a premonition; it's not like it was anyone's fault.
DECO*27: Not only wowaka-san and I, but Hachi-kun also stopped uploading Vocaloid songs around the same time. But personally, I was kind of excited to see how the scene would change after we were gone. So during that time, I'd look at the scene and think "Hmm, how's this doing?" In a business sense, I think it was healthy. It was keeping on the rails, selling things, spreading names. Because the popularity of Hatsune Miku and Vocaloid has shot up.
— In 2016, DECO-san posted his first Vocaloid song in 2 and a half years, Ghost Rule. People talked about it saying "DECO*27's returned to the Vocaloid scene!", but how did you personally perceive it?
DECO*27: Myself, I felt I was always in the Vocaloid scene. But sure, there were periods where I didn't upload new songs.
wowaka: It's my opinion as well that DECO-san has always continued to be a part of this scene. I feel that more strongly than with any other Vocaloid producer, and I have nothing but gratitude for it. There are lots of people who, like I said earlier, may have had a similar bad feeling of "maybe I'll have to see more sad things," yet remained there with love and faith. Those are the people who protected the scene I loved... or at least, was very charmed by. Even after I stopped posting new songs of my own, I listened to Vocaloid rather often. I found a lot there, but DECO-san always standing at the forefront of the scene and pulling it forward was really inspiring.
DECO*27: I'm happy to hear it. And I'm glad to have done it. I would say the same for someone who listened as a user, but it makes me especially happy to hear it from a "war buddy" who did it alongside me. As for the reasons I've stayed in the scene... well, I like Miku, and the songs I make with Miku are my favorites. I believe Miku is the one who can make the most of DECO*27's goodness. Also, I wanted new people to join in making Vocaloid songs. I hoped that people of the new generation would become aware of Vocaloid's culture, and produce more and more works. I thought to myself, "to do that, you'd have to turn back time." So I didn't give Ghost Rule a video, I just used a single illustration.
DECO*27: Around 2013, a lot of songs got attention for having amazing music videos. I felt that might have been putting people at a disadvantage who could write good songs, but didn't know any video creators, so they couldn't have good videos. It wasn't that way when we started. Even wowaka-san always just had single images.
wowaka: Right. I never once gave my Vocaloid songs a video. Though I did think "I'm jealous, I wanna make a cool video too..." (laughs)
DECO*27: As did I. (laughs) But your illustrations were cool. Simple, and you could tell "It's wowaka-san!" just at a glance. I think the hurdle for posting was much lower than it is now. It might sound strange for me to say this, but when someone who's been in the Vocaloid scene for a long time and is sufficiently popular comes back and does something in the spirit of challenge, I think new people will think "Ah, so it's okay to do this" and come join. If creators don't spice things up, there'll be less content, and watchers will get bored. Though, of course... (Staring at wowaka) My power alone isn't enough.
wowaka: I could feel the strength of your will there, DECO-san. (laughs)
— And do you in fact see new creators appearing in response?
DECO*27: That's something I choose not to check very actively. Though I've always wanted amazing people to show up, I think I shouldn't go looking myself, but rather wait to hear word from someone else, like "This amazing person's showed up to take things by storm!" Because I mean, how great is that?
— You really have an affection for Vocaloid culture, I see.
DECO*27: Yeah. (laughs) I honestly have strong feelings about this scene, and that's probably the whole reason why I can keep it up.
wowaka: People's relationships with the scene will vary, so it's not like a certain one is "correct." But you can't underestimate the power that comes from being captivated and deeply moved by something good. Not that it's limited to Vocaloid or anything. I don't care for works that feel like they're "taking the piss," and I don't like the atmosphere that comes with it.
— The band scene is exactly the same way.
wowaka: Right. It's been 5 years since I started Hitorie, and I've seen a lot in the band scene. I think I'm the first person to really put his feet in both the Vocaloid scene and band scene, and there might be things I can only do because of that. Such as the song I made for this compilation album (Re:Start), Unknown Mother Goose. Because it's a song I made, having distanced myself from Vocaloid and worked in a different scene, with the thought "What can I do with Hatsune Miku now?"
— DECO*27, you contributed the new song "Spark" to Re:Start. How did you feel when you got the offer?
DECO*27: I don't know if this got passed on to wowaka-san, but I asked "Who else have you spoken to?" And they said "We also asked wowaka-san," so I was like "Oh! Just what I wanted to hear!"
wowaka: Hahaha. (laughs)
DECO*27: I intended to write a song from the start, but I said "If wowaka-san's participating, I'll do it too." It was Hatsune Miku's 10th anniversary, and he has a love for Vocaloid, so I figured wowaka-san would also write a song, but I thought maybe my words could convince him to step forward.
wowaka: Yes, I was told all about it. (laughs) I thought "DECO-san's giving me a jolt, huh?" So I fell for the trick, hook, line, and sinker.
DECO*27: (laughs) I also just wanted to hear for myself what it'd be like if the present-day wowaka-san made a Miku song.
wowaka: I believe Pinocchio-san said something similar.
DECO*27: Everyone's just curious about you, wowaka-san.
wowaka: I'm grateful there are still people who would say that about me. Even after I stopped uploading new songs, I did think "I want to write a Vocaloid song" numerous times. But I didn't actually write any; I suppose because I was waiting for someone to push me in the back.
DECO*27: Another reason I'm glad you participated in this is that it let me feel that old "not gonna lose to you!" feeling. However, what makes it different is that I don't just think "I won't be bested by the others," I also feel gratitude toward them. I'm really happy we could be on the same CD together. That we made Miku songs at the same time.
wowaka: It was my first time seriously touching Vocaloid in six years, so I started by buying Hatsune Miku V4X.
DECO*27: Fancy! I also bought V4X around the time this came up. It's her 10th, and I wanted to have Miku do new things, so I made a whole verse all English. Since I don't think there are any Japanese Vocaloid producers who have that many English lyrics.
wowaka: Seems like an ordeal.
DECO*27: Yeah, it was super rough. (laughs) I was fiddling with just that part for three days or so. Fun, though.
wowaka: I had quite a tough time, too. On top of remembering how to use the thing, there's also "my brand of Hatsune Miku voice." Like, "My Hatsune Miku sings like this, and that's the coolest way." It took about a week to get that sense back. I've been singing for myself for about 5 years, so getting used to it was huge. Going from "expressing my song with my own voice" to searching for the meaning in having a Vocaloid singing took time as well. Ultimately, I found reason to express it with Vocaloid, and believe it turned out to be a good song.
— It'd be wonderful if Re:Start helps to invigorate the Vocaloid scene once more.
DECO*27: Yeah. I hope students with nothing to do on summer break hear this album, watch the videos, and think "I'll do it too!" After all, that's what I did.
wowaka: That's the way starting with Vocaloid goes, really.
DECO*27: Right. You find a stimulating song, and it lights a fire of "I want to do this too."
wowaka: I personally don't think things like "I want the Vocaloid scene to get fired up again"... because honestly, I don't think this scene ever "cooled down." Also, much like this talk today, it's always about me, me, me, so I don't have much time to be concerned about the scene. (laughs) Still, my love for the scene has never changed. And popular people of a new generation that doesn't overlap with my era at all - for example, n-buna-kun and Orangestar-kun - I'm glad they're also contributing to this album. As I said before, they're the people who didn't stop making songs even through the times that traumatized me, who protected the scene. In fact, I'm only able to contribute to this compilation now because they kept keeping on, so honestly, it really is a culture that's supported by the will of a ton of people.
DECO*27: That's right.
wowaka: I heard the theme for this compilation is "gratitude," but personally, I made a song themed around love. It's a bit embarrassing to say, but this is the first song I've ever made in my life themed around love. I never gave it a second of thought ten years ago as I posted songs, but no matter how you look at it, Hatsune Miku is the one who got me to start music. Miku is sort of like a mother figure to me.
DECO*27: I think of Miku as something like a daughter. When I started, she felt like "a girl," but as I grew older, I started to see her as being my younger. So that makes wowaka-san my grandson!
wowaka: We're some family, all right. (laughs)
— (laughs) Do you normally ever talk about the Vocaloid scene like this?
wowaka: In the past 2 or 3 years, I've actively met with people I knew from the Vocaloid scene. The people from this neighborhood feel like old classmates. People you've known since middle school feel a little different from the people you meet later, right?
DECO*27: I get that. Both of us knowing what we used to do, it's nice to talk about like, "How are you now?" and "What are you planning on doing?"
wowaka: Right. Some people have kept working as Vocaloid producers, some have become writers, some work as artists. It's really fun to talk with those people and ask "So what're you doing next?"