The first time I saw Love Spread, the insanely energetic musical collaboration of Ryota Machida and Narumi Iyama, their basic outline seemed sort of familiar. There was something vaguely familiar about the two figures hovering over their respective laptop and home-rigged, glitchy electronics setups, clutching old Playstation controllers and Gameboys, facing one another and glaring, at-the-ready like two Tekken fighters preparing for a brawl. But then everything I expected from an electronica set, even an experimental one, was thrown out the window.
“When I press that button, it’s all over,” Ryota told me after the Aviv show. “I push all my depression into my music so that I don’t have to deal with it in everyday life, and it really comes out when we’re performing.”
“It’s so chaotic,” Narumi agreed. “But it’s like rehab.”
“We break our instruments, we usually bleed, we have shit-tons of bruises, we jump off the stage,” Ryota explained of their live performances. “I pour beer on myself, we jump into the crowd. We just go apeshit.” He laughed, estimating they’ve broken around ten microphones so far. “No one ever seems to get pissed off, though, not even the sound guy– it’s really surprising. I guess there’s a unique balance of us being good people and the shittiest people ever.”
Even Narumi, the much quieter of the pair (she admitted she’s a “really shy person”) has an aggressive, almost epileptic stage presence. At the show, she was doubled over, her long black hair obscuring her face, bopping around furiously to the beat, in a dance that looked like a collapsey toy on Angel Dust.
Ryota has a much larger frame but somehow proved nearly as limber. He started out with a boxing-like stance squared with the audience, releasing sweaty roars into the mic, and eventually started thrashing about. All of this frenetic movement kept the audience a safe distance from the stage. There was cautious head-nodding at first, but by the end of the song everyone was entranced. Both Narumi and Ryota supply the vocals, which are are almost impossible to distinguish from one another since they’re jolted through jittery, dog-whistle-level bit-pop filters and shattered into pixelated, burbling abstractions.
Given all this insanity, I found it sort of funny that Love Spread was ever concerned about being misread as anything other than total punked-out catharsis. “I was worried about being seen as a DJ, you know because Love Spread is electronica,” Ryota explained. “I do appreciate electronic music but I never thought I could do that Output shit.”
I’d be lying if I said I was completely won over by Love Spread’s music the first time I heard it. Shudder. More chip tunes, I thought. Several weeks later the band popped up on my radar again, and I gave them another go. And I’m glad I did, because beneath what I’d dismissed as gimmicky, there was an impressive deconstruction of familiar pop-music tropes, and a warped take on what this sort of massacre even means. Something hinted at a truly manic critique of both J-Pop– as two kids Japanese kids, Ryota and Narumi have strong feelings about the expectations people have for them as Japanese musicians– and what’s become a static DIY music scene here in Brooklyn, one that they understand as adverse to real experimentation, and worse one that’s given up on having a real future.
Ryota and Narumi are still starry-eyed in their adoration for the lo-fi music that inspired them to move to New York City and the energy of their new home. And yet, unlike a lot of what we’re hearing out of Brooklyn right now, Love Spread, with their glitchy blend of bit-pop and noise-punk, is doing their best not to fit in.
Take, for instance, “Sayonara Forever,” a teen-ish sort of suicide sob song, Love Spread sings: “Standing on the platform edge with you/ We’re waiting for the L train to arrive/ We couldn’t be cool like everyone else/ Say goodbye one, two, three, four– jump!” Suicide is certainly a topic that should never be taken lightly, but this might be the catchiest song about self-murder I’ve ever heard.
“How many tracks do we have on the EP? Seven?” Ryota asked Narumi of their latest release. She nodded, “And five or six are about drug abuse, suicide, and depression.” Ryota laughed, before adding, “And one of them is instrumental.” He recalled recording a track at their home studio. “I’m just screaming in my bedroom, ‘I want to die!’ and I was so worried the neighbors were going to call the cops on us.”
I met up with the two at a noisy coffee shop in Chinatown, just around the corner from their favorite arcade spot. The two are super-close friends, both with roots in Japan. Narumi moved from Japan to New York City almost immediately after finishing high school to attend college and has been here ever since. Ryota, whose whole family is Japanese, was living in San Diego up until a couple of years ago. They now share an apartment, and a cat, in Bed-Stuy.
From what I could tell, the two friends are almost complete opposites. Ryota is boisterous and laughs easy– he’s also an open book. “The first year was really tough here,” he told me. “I overdosed on cocaine three times.” Though he has a good heart, and is self-assured without a flash of pretension, he can occasionally come off as a friend’s annoying little brother. It’s that part of Ryota that contains a special kind of energy. It might occasionally splash over the decency rim, flooding the deck and causing all sorts of frustrations, but it’s also the same one that’s responsible for all the bubbling and churning fun that is half of Love Spread’s appeal.
The other portion comes from Narumi, whose polite demeanor and withdrawn, nerdy sensibility when I met her, betrayed nothing of her stage personality. When she saddles up for a performance, there’s a palpable mix of nerves, concentration, and a very real sense of rage.
Interestingly enough, it was Narumi who inspired Ryota, the more traditionally-trained musician of the two, to access this ecstatic side of himself. Narumi, who wrote for a Japanese music blog before moving to the U.S., described herself more as a “really good audience member,” a fan of music “sub-cultures” and noise. She recalled that when she and Ryota first began collaborating– he was still in San Diego, preparing to move to New York– “I’d ask him, ‘Can you sing a little bit worse?'” Ryota, who said he’d been playing in a “J-pop-Afro-prog-band,” was used to making music that was more “complete.” “With prog, it’s about hitting all the notes correctly,” he recalled. “I was into singing falsetto, which kind of threw Narumi off.” She laughed, giving Ryota a sideways glance.
But Narumi also admitted that she’s learned a lot from Ryota. “Before we started this band, I didn’t understand why people like pop music, but now I understand that making straight-up pop music is the most difficult,” she explained.
“I guess we have a really good balance. She’ll tell me, ‘This is too good,'” Ryota said. “She forced me to sing shitty.”
The pair met for the first time when Narumi was visiting California, and Ryota’s best friend suggested he pick Narumi up from the airport and take her to a Beck show in LA. “I love Beck so much,” Narumi said. (See Love Spread’s seriously wacky cover of Beck’s “Loser.”) They didn’t exactly click right away, both agreeing that it was “really fuckin’ awkward,” but Narumi did turn Ryota on to a kind of music he’d never heard before.
“I had no clue that even Pitchfork existed or anything,” Ryota laughed. “I still remember driving up to the Beck concert and she showed me Wavves and I remember thinking, ‘What the fuck is this shit? These people are making money off of this?’ I had no clue about lo-fi.” He conceded that he was into “underground hardcore” back in San Diego– “but that’s a different kind of lo-fi”– though it’s certainly had an influence on Ryota’s vein-popping, mic-chomping stage scream.
The two reunited some time later when Ryota was visiting New York City, where Narumi was living, going to school and playing trombone in a brass band. At this point, Ryota was just about ready to quit pursuing a music career. “I kept thinking, ‘Should I just stop playing music and live a real life?’” he recalled. “My family is Japanese, so they have an expectation of me.”
Nevertheless, the two decided to go jam at Narumi’s band’s practice space, returning a few times to play music together. “We were just messing around, girl on drums, guy on guitar– it was some White Stripes shit,” Ryota laughed. At one point, he ended up whipping out his laptop to show Narumi the stuff he’d been working on after the J-pop-Afro-prog-band had broken up. “It was actually the prototype of what we’re doing now with Love Spread,” he explained.
Narumi was into it. “He had potential,” she laughed. The two decided to start a band together and Ryota was so serious about the whole thing, that he returned home briefly to save up the necessary funds to move to New York and split town. “I literally disappeared from my old job, I didn’t tell anyone,” he said.
The friends have embraced their home in New York, and it’s become an integral part of their music. Love Spread always seems to be on the bill somewhere, whether it’s at Aviv or Palisades, and they’ve even remixed “Cut Knuckle,” a song by their fellow Brooklyn band, Big Figment. Many of Ryota and Narumi’s songs are about their experiences within the city’s landscape– “Myrtle-Wyckoff,” for instance is named after the area in Bushwick Ryota called home for a few months. “I had this huge argument with this old Japanese lady I was living with,” he recalled. “I just told her to fuck off.” Since then, he and Narumi have lived together, where they maintain a practice space and studio as well.
Still, they both admit that life in New York City hasn’t been easy, for a number of reasons, but maybe most profoundly, the fact that the Brooklyn music scene was something of a letdown. “Before I came here, I wanted to find the indie culture– MGMT was in Brooklyn, Animal Collective, Yeah Yeah Yeahs– but when I came here four years ago, it’s just gone, everything,” Narumi laughed darkly. “Still, I was lucky, because I saw 285 Kent, Glasslands, so there was a little bit left over. But everything was decreasing. I heard about there being so much energy at the live shows, but then when I came here, it was disappearing.”
Even Ryota who moved here several years later said that he was disappointed. “To be honest, I was really depressed when I moved here, there was no relevant scene when we started, and it doesn’t feel like there’s one now even,” he said. “Everyone’s just lost. No one has an actual idea about what comes next.”
Both friends find it frustrating when people harp on the DIY glories of Brooklyn-past. “Everyone keeps saying, ‘The past is better, everything was better a few years ago,’ and they’re satisfied with only their memories,” Narumi said. “Why don’t you start a new thing? Why just keep complaining? ‘Do you remember, blah blah blah?’ No, we just want to start a new thing.”
And with Love Spread, the pair really have started something new. “We do everything DIY,” Ryota said. The two recorded their own EP, and have staged photoshoots and even a music video on their own with a green screen and a timer. But their sound is so new and so out-there, that they can feel pretty isolated from the larger DIY scene and are often grouped in, rather awkwardly, with J-pop-inspired bands. They’re even described as chip-tunes. (Love Spread describe themselves more accurately as “post-J-pop.”)
“We don’t fit in at all– I’m jealous of all those scenes, because it’s so easy to market yourself as a band that sounds like Mac DeMarco or something. But we really don’t have that,” Ryota explained. “At first it was super hard for us to even break into the music scene here, none of the promoters could figure out where to book us. We still get booked to random-ass shows and end up in a room full of people who are spaced out and like, ‘What the fuck just happened? This is not really Japanese!’ So we’re still looking for a place where we can fit in.”
The fact that Love Spread also dabbles in legitimate darkness also might contribute to a sort of wariness when people first hear them. I asked Ryota and Narumi if their lyrics came from real experience. “Oh yeah, personally I’m a really depressed person,” Ryota answered. I asked Narumi if she felt that living in New York City– a place that she admitted she’s still “struggling with” due to “cultural difference”– with all its chaos and anonymity, made her feel lonely. “Always,” she laughed.
But they both emphasized that Love Spread has become a way to channel their frustrations and anxiety into productivity and art. The pair say they’ve really just set out to have fun– and maybe rattle some spectators while their at it. “We try our best to be entertaining when people come see us, because personally I fuckin’ hate when DJs just stand there,” Ryota said. “It’s so disrespectful to people who payed money to come see you.”
Narumi agreed. “You should really engage the people, our concept is to entertain people during the show, first.”
As much as Love Spread has doubts about the life-expectancy and vitality of the DIY scene in Brooklyn, something they had very high hopes for moving here, they’re appreciative of the outrageous things they can get away with here. This summer, they plan to tour Japan, and it will be the first time they play live music there together as Love Spread.
“I worry about it, they’re culturally so different,” Ryota said, an unusual flash of prudence. “Would Japanese venues even allow us to do the same things that we do here? Are we going to get kicked out or are they actually going to call the cops on us? Straight-up, for no reason, I think it’s a good thing to push down the PA sometimes, and smash the mic on the floor. But if I do that in Japan would that be a problem?”