Photo by Dan Reid
The members of Japanese Popstars are neither Japanese nor popstars. The three men behind the moniker—Gareth Donoghue, Declan McLaughlin and Gary Curran—come from Northern Ireland and make aggressive electronic dance tunes, featured in abundance on their second LP, Controlling Your Allegiance, released June 21 on Astralwerks.
CMJ spoke to Curran, on the phone from London, about making remixes, unintentionally sending threatening emails to Jon Spencer and how America is due for a dance music revolution.
Japanese Popstars – “Let Go (Luke Walker Remix)”/Download here.
This April marked your fifth year as a band, but you and Declan have known each other for a while. When did you start making music together?
I was always playing about with new music programs and stuff like that, and I just started writing my own stuff. And then I was presenting it to other people, and I was offered a record deal off of one of the tracks. I didn’t just want to be a DJ producer; I wanted to be more of a show. So I let Declan hear the stuff, and I got Declan involved, and we decided to take it out live and got Gareth involved as well. So it was a gradual process.
What was your first show like as a trio?
We got booked to play in Limerick in April 200- I think it was 2006? It might have been 2005. We were booked off the back of one of our tracks, which was called “Rodney Trotter.” We only had a few other bits and bobs floating around, so we didn’t really have a set as such, and we had four months to get a set together and prepare. So, it was kind of good in a way because it made us work for it. By not having a set but agreeing to do the show, we had a deadline in order to get a show together, and we managed to do that. And we were received really well, and we ended up getting five or six gigs off the back of that, and it just snowballed.
Were the ’06 releases that you put out mostly singles?
Well, we actually were signed to a label called Dozer first off. What happened was there was a DJ called Paul Jackson who heard two of our tracks. We were actually sending out our tracks through Myspace. He heard “Rodney Trotter” and “Dirty Pop Stars,” and they seemed to get a lot of response. And Paul Jackson was doing a mix, and he actually put the two tracks in the mix. And that was released, and then he signed us to the label Dozer, which then folded a short time after. And after Dozer folded Matt [Stuart] from Gung-Ho! asked if we wanted to move across to their label and put out a full album.
And that was the LP that came out in August 2008? The Star?
Was it after that release that you guys started getting remix requests?
Oh no, we’ve always been remixing. But when we moved to Gung-Ho!, we started getting bigger remixes and people like Beyonce and Depeche Mode and stuff like that. More recently we’ve done Gorillaz and Daft Punk, so we’re always open to doing remixes, and when the right one comes along and we like the track, we’ll try it, but it definitely helped being on a different label, being on Gung-Ho!. It had more contacts and more opportunities.
Was Groove Armada the first big remix request that you guys had?
Yeah. Groove Armada. Strange enough that came through the same guy that booked us to do the gig in Limerick, our first gig. So, it was the same promoter, and he was speaking for Groove Armada, and Groove Armada actually approached us for a remix, so we just stayed on and remixed “Get Down.” I think it was about two or three years ago or four years ago over Easter ’cause I remember sitting on Easter Sunday, Easter Monday just trying to get the remix finished where as everybody else was celebrating Easter.
That’s always how you want to spend your holiday.
Yeah, sacrifices have been made. You know, Jesus was sacrificed and … I’m going to hell, I’m going to hell.
Controlling Your Allegiance is your first one on EMI. How did you guys pick out your guest vocalists for this album? You’ve got a pretty awesome roster.
We were actually very lucky. Morgan [Kirby] was actually the first one we approached, and she sent back our idea, and she agreed to do it. When she sent back her first vocals, we actually knew then to go after everybody else because we needed to have vocals on all of our tracks because the first album we didn’t have as many.
We knew we had to up the game a bit, and next was Jon Spencer, and our management really liked Jon Spencer, so they contacted him, and we had a track sitting ready called “Destroy.” So, we sent an email and that went through. Jon Spencer said he was afraid to open the email because it said “Destroy Jon Spencer.”
And then we were writing a track that actually reminded us of part of a Cure track, so we approached Robert Smith and sent him the track, and it came back six months later because the email was sitting in his junk box so we hadn’t heard anything back. And the next thing he comes back saying “Oh sorry, I was just getting this email; it was in my junk folder. Yeah, I’d love to do it.” We were over the moon.
Dance music is definitely more popular abroad than it is in the States. Is it hard playing in America?
Yes. From experience in Miami doing Ultra, and we played Webster Hall in New York, I feel in order for our sales to work, I don’t think we can go and do stand-alone shows. It’s best if we’re in festivals. It was just a learning experience for us. We ended up playing Love in Miami a couple years ago, and it just wasn’t for us. We just knew we shouldn’t play live unless people knew our stuff, so we opted to DJ instead. From my experience America is really taking off with dance music. Where as we, in the U.K. and Ireland, we’ve already had the kickoff. I think it’s brilliant in America.
There are a lot of strong clubs in America. We would love to play in various states. Like we played the Beta Club in Denver. And if you’re put in the right place then dance music is one of the biggest hypes at the moment. [America] is where most of the guys want to go and play, and there’s always a lot of cool producers coming from America, so definitely we’ll be there.