Serial Rilla

If you’re in the need for some dangerous and percussive sounds, Kyoto’s Rilla has got you covered. His new EP, Yukou – 遊光, which drops today on Shanghai’s SVBKVLT records, is a moody and rhythmic soundtrack for perilous times.

The club-driven electronic project begins with “Saisei,” a winding departure into unknown territory. Bouncing subs, ringing incantations, and heavy static are mixed with blaring emergency alerts and overhead announcements that barely register. “Aoi” lifts off at a casual pace with pattering snares, growling warbles, and whirring traffic. But the turbulence becomes clear when comforting whispers are overtaken by an assault of taiko strikes and anxiously swirling pads.

Things hit full stride with “Magatama” and its chase scene energy. Violent kicks and driving metallic cables ring with immediacy while subs rattle the whole world. A sense of triumph wins out temporarily with a wailing melody, crowding out the other emotions while things settle into a feeling of acceptance. But as the melody loops and loops, it slowly escalates like a Shepard tone of growing anxiety. “A friend said I should make a bright song since the world is dark because of COVID—so I made this track,” Rilla laughs. “I guess this is as close to pop as I can get.”

Photos by Ena Yanai.

“Kiten” touches ground again but the Earth feels indifferent now. The world keeps spinning, resuming its monotonous pace with clattering tools and creaking gears despite a constant dread kicking the walls of our conscience. Muffled drums and distant screeches tug at the edges, growing steadily in the darkness. Rusty squeaks, reverberating drums, and vibrating bass are unrelenting. “Kiuchi” surveys the aftermath from afar. Dull warning sirens drift over sluggish drums while boots stomp to marching snares. A surging unease results in a final gasp as the tempo shifts into a brief run, only to spiral out into confusion and exhaustion at the finale.

Rilla has been based in Kyoto for the past 10 years and lived in Tokyo for 16 years before that. He started DJing in 1999, playing hip hop like DJ Krush and DJ Kensei. In 2004 he started working at a record shop and fell for techno, but a couple of years later dubstep crossed the shores and he sought out a style to bridge the two. He felt at home with sounds like Shackleton and Pev, who he even brought to Japan.

He started producing about three years ago and says that his education came from the dancefloor. “Japanese dance music lovers are so knowledgeable, so I’m never distracted while playing. I was trained by them.” When making a track, he’s always considering how the club might react to his sounds. “My theory is that if the low frequencies are robust, you can dance to even the most complex rhythms.”

Although many of Rilla’s tracks could easily be slipped into a gorge set, the Japanese genre revolving around big tom drums, he says he wasn’t aware of the sound. “Friends have told me that my music sounds like that. Maybe I’m listening without knowing it,” he jokes. To him, his sound isn’t part of a regional scene and is more global in nature. “Dance music is great like that, because we can understand each other even if we don’t speak the same language.”