YUKA OTSUKI is an audio visual artist of immense scope. For the past ten years, he has been mixing video images, audio recordings, graphics and animations to produce stunning audiovisual installations and live performances.
‘If you need a real answer to your big vital issue, go to a Japanese noodle bar’, says OSCA’s co-founder Matthias Erhard.
It was in front of a steaming bowl of noodles in Berlin in 2009 that Erhard, classically trained pianist, met German-Japanese singer and violinist Yuka Otsuki. ‘Matthias and I just connected. We both come from a classical background and somehow we found each other seeing pop and classical music the same way’, recalls Otsuki.
At the time, the two were both looking for their ‘particular artistic counterpart’, explains Erhard. Together, over the course of several years, the duo developed a particular idea of pop, cosmopolitan, beautifully decadent and influenced by classical and jazz sonorities: Hyper-Pop. A cinematographic and emotional direction, ‘film music without the film’, as singer Otsuki puts it. That was the beginning of OSCA, a journey into music whose first album, Opus I, was released in late 2015, and with which the two were stably joined by drummer and trumpeter Dominik Scherer.
The album, which has been defined ‘a total work of art’ by the press, is perhaps best understood by also looking at the visual component of OSCA’s production. In line with a true artistic openness, the same allowing for different elements to converge into their sound, the band also developed their unique stage persona, a provoking mix of uniforms, glitter and masks paired with oriental atmospheres and stark rhythms. Inspired by the ever-changing cultural melting pot of the roaring twenties, they aim to take listeners to “OSCAland”, a sort of vacation from reality. ‘A concert should be a 75-minute trip that makes you forget about your daily life, your problems; and the funny thing is, us on stage, we do the same’, explains Otsuki. The concept of decadence comes to mind. ‘Decadence means to live your life in all the facets you want’, says Scherer. ‘There’s no tomorrow in our music’ adds Erhard.
Different scenes, different feelings thus intertwine in the band’s sound, delicate and strong, opulent and essential, fun and serious, soft and loud, celebrating a multifaceted human authenticity. Surely, emotions are a doorway to our true selves, and evoking them, as singer Otsuki puts it, is exactly OSCA’s purpose. ‘Not only happy emotions, rather an extreme of all emotions. [We want to] Make people forget about their everyday lives either by laughing a lot, or crying a lot, being sad, happy or angry. Just an intense version of everything. I want people to feel’, she says. The message is ‘be wholehearted, generous and listen to your desires’, adds Erhard. ‘[By] Creating OSCAland every time we’re on stage, we want the audience to step aside from their lives and go through all the aspirations and emotions they have. They are invited to ‘come to the other side’’, explains Scherer.
That ambition, mixed with equal doses of self-irony, party galore and extravaganza, results in a refreshing and at times transfixing production. ‘It’s very orchestral, a larger-than-life feeling of music, opulent and overloaded’, says Otsuki. It doesn’t come as a surprise, then, that over the years the band has played at venues such as the Expo Milan and the Berlin Philharmonic.
Classical sonorities in OSCA are a clear reference, especially in tracks such as the ode to Sehnsucht ‘Staying is nowhere’, Erhard’s favourite song from Opus I and a great example of Otsuki’s expressiveness. ‘There’s not a lot of music that brings tears to my eyes. I SO remember the moment when Yuka and I composed it; it really was as if someone else played through my fingers’, explains Erhard. So is the opulent storytelling, as in the explosive ‘Run Faster Run’, the first single from Opus I. The song, which captivates with its solid rhythm and smooth atmospheres, is accompanied by a video directed by ‘cinematographic poet’ Hakan Can, featuring hypnotic dancer Ahmed Soura (Deutsche Oper Berlin). For Scherer, it’s ‘the most powerful and mysterious song. It has all the shades of OSCA combined and carried to extremes.’
Listening to OSCA’s production, one has the distinct feeling that the scenes narrated by their music must be out there, somewhere to be found. This aspect finds its origin in their creative process: ‘Yuka and I always have a visual idea of what we’re composing: we’re permanently talking in images’, says Erhard. ‘We talk a lot in stories, in atmospheres, in situations, it’s like the film in our heads is there before the music’, explains Otsuki. Composing might start with piano and vocals, or even a drum pattern, as in the case of ‘Run Faster Run’, while the lyrics – in English and Japanese – are mainly the work of Otsuki. Also the surrounding environment is important: ‘Solitude, no internet, nature, good food and wine are the best stimulus to animate our musical glands’, explains Erhard. Which is why the band will spend time in Spain this summer, as artists-in-residence in preparation for their new album, before playing in Germany and France over the autumn.
We asked OSCA, from their unique perspective, to provide a piece of advice to would-be artists. ‘The more I talk to other artists the more I realize that there is really no conventional way to do what you want to do, and no guarantee it will ever work out. So the only advice I would give is: don’t overthink it. Just do as much as possible’, says Otsuki.
After all, your artistic counterpart might only be a bowl of Japanese noodles away.
Review by Livia Formisani
Album cover Photos by Thomas Sing
Retouch by Chiara Padovan
Hair & Makeup by Selina Spittler
Costume by Jasmin Lepore
Polaroids sponsored by IMPOSSIBLE