Love Letter To A Record: Bag Raiders On Susumu Yokota’s ‘Grinning Cat’

Many of us can link a certain album to pivotal moments in our lives. Whether it’s the first record you bought with your own money, the chord you first learnt to play on guitar, the song that soundtracked your first kiss, the album that got you those awkward and painful pubescent years or the one that set off light bulbs in your brain and inspired you to take a big leap of faith into the unknown – music is often the catalyst for change in our lives and can even help shape who we become.

In this series, Music Feeds asks artists to reflect on their relationship with music and share with us stories about the effect music has had on their lives.

Bag Raiders – Susumu Yokota’s Grinning Cat

This record, more than any other, takes me back to an exact time and place in my life. I so clearly remember buying the CD from a record store in Sydney’s Bondi Junction. It had a sticker saying recommended. I liked the look of it, I liked the name and I was trying to discover new artists, new genres, new music—not so easy in the days before we had everything available to us with the push of a button, people forget that—so I bought it.

That was the beginning of a love for Susumu Yokota that I still hold nearly twenty years later. For me, there’s no more evocative music. It’s a funny way to describe it but I view him almost as a sculptor or a sound-collagist instead of a musician. It’s like he assembles music rather than writing or creating it, something I find both fascinating and inspiring. It feels like outsider art in some way. I should say that it’s Yokota’s ambient music to which I return to again and again. He had a long and prolific career (sadly he died just a few years ago in 2015) and dabbled in dance music and other more beat-driven styles. But it’s the 3 or 4 ambient albums from around or close to the year 2000 that are his best work and that hold special meaning for me.

It’s a bittersweet feeling re-listening to this record now. At the time I was about to finish high school and that period of my life is a bit like a dream or a movie as I look back. Perhaps that’s a common feeling—there’s a lot going on at that point in everyone’s life I’m sure. I was listening to Grinning Cat almost daily, as well as other Susumu Yokota albums, especially Sakura which came out in 1999 (if you haven’t heard the second track from this record, ‘TOBIUME’, do yourself a favour and put it on now! ‘AZUKIIRO NO KAORI’ is another one taking me wayyyy back as I listen now). So they’re heavily linked for me to this period—my personal bildungsroman. But having said this, there’s something about Yokota’s music that is so heavily evocative of time and place that I think the music is in some way nostalgic on its own steam. To me it jumps out of the speakers as a soundtrack to life. Whether that’s mine, yours, someone else’s isn’t the point. It’s music to live by, live with, be transported by and savour.

Bag Raiders’ new single ‘Lightning’ feat. The Kite String Tangle is out now, ahead of the release of their new album ‘Horizons’.

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