Red Bull Music Academy has come to Asia for the first time in its 16-year history, with a diverse, brilliantly curated mix of events, concerts, DJ sets, and talks all over Tokyo from Oct. 12 - Nov. 14. While celebrating the culture of Japan for a month—and giving one-of-a-kind musical experiences to the city's residents—they've also given 60 young singers, rappers, producers, and instrumentalists the opportunity to come to Tokyo and learn from veterans (Just Blaze, Dorian Concept, James Holden, Om'Mas Keith, Holly Herndon, TOKiMONSTA, Dave Smith, and more). Through lectures, access to multiple recording studios and state of the art equipment, and putting these newer artists on bills with established acts, RBMA continues to have a successful, authentic artist incubation program that nurtures the careers of tomorrow's musical innovators.
For RBMA, it's not only about the music; it's a focus on all art that contemplates the present and how it becomes history. This year, at the Red Bull headquarters in Tokyo's Shibuya district, they've mounted a stunning contemporary art exhibition curated by Kenji Kubota, in a space designed by the architects at Kengo Kuma. Kubota was tasked with representing Tokyo through works by 20 artists on four floors containing a lobby, recording studios, an office space, a dining room, and the lecture hall.
The "Academy Exhibition," as they call it, is not only decorative but meaningful, showing Japan as "a city of futuristic architecture and traditional culture," as Kubota says. Works like Chim↑Pom's BLACK OF DEATH film connect the past, present, and future, reflecting on the devastating 2011 earthquake and Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan with alternating scenes of present-day Tokyo. The crows in the film represent a historical superstition (that crows are bad luck), and there's video footage of restricted areas in Fukushima, making the viewer question how citizens deal with their present reality in the aftermath of such trauma.
The exhibition also compliments Kengo Kuma's architectural aims for the overall space. Kuma partner Javier Villar Ruiz says, “Each floor has different character and a different concept. We had this idea of bringing the outside to the inside. We wanted to do more than just traditional architecture and try to see how we could do an outside-inside concept within a building.” Ruiz describes the materials they used in the interior as "humble, rough, and natural," such as left-over wood from the building's exterior construction, to create the appearance of a wooden home where the eight individual recording studios exist. To further bring the outside in, Kubota chose artist Tetsuro Kano to create Savage structures, an installation using tree branches, bird cages, and live birds that gently fly around the recording spaces.
For a musical artist who's flown across the world to learn more about the history and practice of music-making, experiencing visual art in these educational spaces is certainly a treat. Check out many of the pieces on view at the Red Bull Music Academy Tokyo headquarters with commentary by curator Kenji Kubota and watch a mini-documentary of the four-floor HQ in Aoyama below.