CHOKE is a unique unicorn living in a limbo between a plethora of genres, both musically and visually. As we get further into the interview, it becomes apparent that slapping an all-around label on this band is not an easy feat, but that’s all right. We’ll leave the explaining to the members instead.
Get to know the raw mindset of CHOKE and what it is that makes this setup exceptional.
Could you tell us the concept of CHOKE and what trap metal is?
REON: To make it easily understandable, I would say that our concept is “A totally new style of rap metal band you haven’t heard until now”. But instead of locking ourselves into a particular music genre, we sometimes incorporate whatever elements we like into our music.
When it comes to trap metal artists, I would say Scarlxrd is a famous rapper. His music is dark, crazy, and extremely cool.
KVYA NONO: We started from the pursuit of originality. Our band is a mix between rap metal and djent, combined with an eccentric appearance.
Our most recent works have been influenced by hard-core and trap-core, extending our range even further and letting us grow like crazy.
Trap metal is a music genre composed of “trap”, which is a sound you hear a lot in newer hip hop tracks, mixed with metal. It’s very difficult to reproduce live without computers, but with the evolution of concert technology during these recent years, I think we reached a point where we can reproduce that style with great accuracy.
B5: I wouldn’t say that we had a concept, we simply wanted to do performances and create the music we liked without being restricted by anyone or anything—that’s all. Because life is once. About trap metal, you will find some great information on the internet. We live in a pretty convenient era, don’t we?
What is the motivation for trying to create a new formula for success rather than trying to emulate already successful acts?
REON: Focusing exclusively on success wouldn’t allow us to enjoy music, it’s a terrifying thought. Of course, success is one of the goals we strive for through our activities, but more than aiming for “The way to success”, the more important quest in my opinion is “The way to create a unique sound as CHOKE”. Our style organically arose while following that philosophy.
KVYA NONO: Since we started with the concept of “A mix between rap metal and djent”, we simply started feeling around in the dark.
Actually, we are still finding our way, but we are all having fun with it.
It’s definitely not an easy path, but constantly facing challenges has strengthened our spirits and our will.
B5: I don’t see any point in aiming for success. Not only in music, no matter what you do, there is no such thing as “The method for guaranteed success”.
Aren’t you afraid CHOKE’s music can be too complex for most people? Does that matter to you?
REON: Indeed, depending on which song, there are some sections that may be difficult to understand, but I hope that listeners can still enjoy our music including those parts.
KVYA NONO: There are a lot of worries, obviously.
I sometimes ask myself “What is the right balance between the music we want to express and the music our listeners want to hear?”.
In addition, trending music follows a fast cycle that keeps changing, so I constantly pay attention to the new emerging sounds.
But I’m sure that what we want as a band, and what the listeners want, will perfectly align in the future.
B5: There was never a time where we thought “Alright guys, let’s make a complicated song!”, but on the other hand, we would never think about creating a composition as cheap and tasteless as instant ramen.
Who are some of your musical influences on the hip-hop side of music? And what about the rock and metal side?
REON: There are a lot of hip-hop artists from Japan I love that influenced me, but my foundation is definitely freestyle culture we can feel through artists performing in the streets or parks.
KVYA NONO: I personally like hip-hop from America and I’ve been influenced by a lot of artists from there. Eminem, Drake, Cardi B., Nicki Minaj, Logic, NF, DAVE, Scarlxrd, the list is endless. But maybe XXXTentacion, and 21savage are the hip-hop artists I listened to the most in my life.
In terms of metal, I like aggressive sounding music so I enjoy what’s close to hardcore music. Jesus piece, Code orange, FEVER 333, they have had a significant impact on me.
B5: My first musical shock was Metallica, I’ve been influenced by countless metal and hardcore bands through them. However, it’s mainly the groove metal, rap metal, and crossover music from the 90s that had the greatest effect on me, and I think this impact clearly appears in CHOKE.
The first hip-hop artist I listened to was 2Pac, and more recently I’ve really been enjoying Gucci Mane, and Awich.
REON, typically, what kind of lyrics do you write and what purpose do they serve? Could you also tell us more about the lyrics behind your solo work “Shut the Fuck Up and Die”?
REON: My lyrics are mostly based on the theme of crushing dissatisfaction and anger. The reason why is because there is a lot of anxiety and fear in my life, and it requires a lot of emotional energy to conquer these feelings.
About the “Shut the Fuck Up and Die” lyrics, this is my criticism towards the people who arbitrarily create an image of me and impose it on me. The theme is resentment towards people who have been blinded by social media and who lost their ability to reason.
The hook line “Urusee damare shine (Shut the Fuck Up and Die)” is something I’ve been told when I was a student. It suddenly came to mind when I was writing lyrics and since it fit perfectly with the theme, I decided to use it.
REON, we know you have an amazing ability to freestyle rap. What was the process like in developing this skill and why did you decide to pursue this talent?
REON: When I practice my freestyle, I always do it without any breaks. Even if the quality of my freestyle gets worse after a while, I keep practicing without giving up and eventually, my chest will gradually focus itself on freestyle only and I will finally enter into “The zone”.
Vocals aren’t only words and tones of voice, it’s also about involving your own heart and soul. That’s why I think there’s such a significance in allowing my heart to express itself through rapping—which is why I trained hard for this.
Not only is your music unique, but your visual look too! How did you create your trap metal look?
REON: Indeed, even regarding our appearance, we wanted to create a style that is unique and characteristic. Personally, I love outfits which force strangeness and catchiness together, however, we didn’t really think about something such as a “Trap metal look”.
KVYA NONO: It’s about keeping our visual kei roots while adding nu metal look components.
We are aiming to extend our activities to the whole world, so it’s important for us to catch the attention of people from outside Japan.
Combined into a new sound, I think CHOKE can become “Only One”.
B5: It happened without us realizing it [laughs].
We feel like your appearance has evolved with time, especially when compared with your past looks. Would you consider yourselves visual kei today?
REON: I’ve been greatly influenced by a lot of visual kei bands in the past and even now as well, so I have a lot of respect for them.
In Japan, cosplay culture is very popular. Cosplay may be the answer to that desire people have to become something else, a “Desire to metamorph”. For me, doing my hair and makeup as part of band activity, is a way for “The normal me” to become “REON from CHOKE”.
KVYA NONO: I’m not really aware of it. If you feel that our appearance has evolved, it may be a change in our sense of self that you’ve noticed.
Since our formation, we’ve been in touch with artists of various musical genres with people from many different countries, so I think our field of vision has extended.
I came to a point where I didn’t care about little things. No matter in what way we changed, I think there is no other band like CHOKE in this world.
B5: Personally, I don’t feel like we changed that much. Since the very beginning, I’ve never considered us as visual kei. Moreover, I’m still not exactly sure about what kind of music is defined by the word “visual kei”.
Do you feel like there is any benefit or importance of establishing one’s band as “visual kei”, or does it not carry any significance or meaning in reality?
REON: I think it’s of very limited importance. However, we were able to meet new friends and fans related to visual kei, so I don’t think it’s necessary to purposely get rid of this label either. We never had the intention to be defined as a visual kei band though.
KVYA NONO: I never really cared if we were a visual kei band or not. Either is fine. Or I should say that I don’t really care in which category I’m put in.
The thing is, 80% of people who watch our videos on our YouTube channel are men.
Since I think there are a lot of women among visual kei listeners, I just don’t really know how CHOKE is perceived by the world.
B5: If “visual kei” means doing makeup and putting on some specific clothes, shouldn’t American bands such as Rob Zombie, IN THIS MOMENT, and LACUNA COIL from Italy, or RAMMSTEIN from Germany, be considered visual kei as well? But I don’t think these bands are defined as such.
They are amazing bands appreciated for their music, and I want us to become like them. That’s why I’m doing my best.
With this unique combination of your sound and appearance, what kind of fans have you attracted?
REON: One word wouldn’t be enough to describe them, but I guess we have a lot of “Individual” fans. Even inside this individuality, our fans are all very different from each other, but I feel that there is at least one common trait where they converge which allows them to bond. Their love for music is genuine, it’s something beautiful.
KVYA NONO: We have a lot of male fans and received lots of reactions from abroad. I’ve been really surprised about that ever since we started CHOKE.
Not only from America or Europe, but also people from South Africa, UAE, Barbados, Russia, Brazil, and many more have bought our CDs; about 40 or 50 different countries.
When someone from a foreign country buys our CDs, I usually do some research about the country.
Despite having a different ethnicity, a different culture, a different language, when I think that someone from a country so far from Japan bought one of our CDs, I feel euphoric.
Among these fans from abroad, some of them came to see us in Japan, so one day I want to go and meet them.
B5: I am happy to see that various people are listening to our music without distinction of age, gender, or nationality.
CHOKE is proactively embracing digital distribution, why do you think Japanese bands tend to be more reluctant with this and why are you more open to it?
REON: The great advantage of digital distribution is you can listen to the releases without any delay. It’s especially helpful for listeners from abroad.
KVYA NONO: Since Japan is an island country, and since Japanese is a language solely spoken by native Japanese people, I feel that Japan’s communication power towards overseas is pretty weak.
I think that Japanese artists tend to aim for the domestic market, and that very few bands have the desire to conquer the foreign market through digital distribution.
Since the very beginning, we have constantly been thinking about the way to connect with our fans from overseas.
Without utilizing any existing streaming services, we made our very own online shopping website, we also send goods to foreign countries as well.
B5: Looking at the global market, there are actually fewer bands who don’t use digital distribution than those who do, there are plenty of opportunities to buy music digitally—even we purchase our music digitally.
I feel sad to see that almost everything has turned into digital. However, in such a sanitary crisis where physical distribution and postal service are heavily affected, online sales and digital distribution are currently absolutely essential for bands.
In Japan, there are more and more bands that have recourse to digital distribution, especially independent bands—like us. It’s true that in Japan, we tend to stick to our old habits, but I think it will change pretty quickly from now on.
Additionally, your interview conducted by club Zy. was recently translated and distributed in English. Is this a further push into the western scene?
REON: We want to attract the western market as much as possible. It’s an ambition, but also a goal that we’ve been pursuing since our formation.
KVYA NONO: CHOKE has constantly kept the idea in mind of integrating our activities to the overseas market, but we have always delayed it.
But then the coronavirus pandemic happened, our activities to the national market were limited. However, I feel like it brought us closer to the world, and I think I want to aim for overseas once more.
From now, I will do my best so the dream of touring abroad can become true, therefore I beg our fans from the whole world for your support. Do not hesitate to share if you have some nice ideas regarding this.
B5: I’ve personally met a lot of foreigners who have an interest in the Japanese music scene, however, I felt like the information didn’t reach them properly, and clearly most of the time. Only people who can understand Japanese can catch the information, in consequence, its range is naturally very limited.
If a band can make the effort to get their music to more people, they should. There are lots of people out there who love rock after all! I discovered many bands in magazines and on the Internet from interviews and other translated content—from English to Japanese—so I want to do the same.
With the current state of the world, live events are being canceled left and right. How has this affected CHOKE?
REON: Some of our shows have been canceled, which is disappointing, but it’s also the chance for us to think again about our music. From now, we will have to be careful regarding our activity management style, but no matter what form it will take, we will keep creating, so please check it out.
KVYA NONO: As REON mentioned, we have seen some of our shows being canceled. But it was also the opportunity to take time and think about CHOKE’s future, so I really want our fans to look forward to it.
The current situation can easily be seen as a mess, but if we change our way of thinking, we can also see it as an opportunity.
We plan to turn things into opportunities.
B5: The situation is very different depending on the country, so we try to stay positive. But to be honest, I have no idea about what’s next.
As a more tech-oriented band, what are your opinions on livestreaming your performances?
REON: I’m wishing for the days when we can do live performances again, but livestreaming has also some advantages, so I think it would be nice that in the future, people are able to freely choose the way they prefer.
KVYA NONO: I don’t understand the point of livestreaming real-time content.
When we perform live, we’re able to create that atmosphere together, which is good. When it comes to streams, I think it’s not a big problem if there’s a delay in the feed itself. But I think it’s better to pre-record live content and distribute that instead. We could decide the direction, choose a place we like and create it as we please.
Actually, we previously announced our live film “Pizza and Cola”. You can purchase it on our official webshop so please take a look.
Livestreaming will probably be a part of our activity in the future, but I don’t think it will become the main part of it.
B5: I think livestreaming can’t be called a “show”. I guess people who have attended shows in the past will understand. The feeling of presence, the sound pressure with your body, the heat of other people; if you can’t feel these things, then I think it’s not a show. However, there is still the possibility that we will adopt that system as a new way of enjoying music, and I am not totally against it.
Please leave a closing message for your overseas fans.
KVYA NONO: Nice to meet you, we are CHOKE.
All countries in the world are currently in a very difficult situation. We, living in Japan, can’t imagine from here how terrible this suffering is, and are very worried.
But there are also many other problems outside COVID-19 in the world, which still remain unsettled.
Let’s hold hands and live together.
We will do our best so one day, we can meet and laugh together.
B5: I am very happy you discovered us through digital distribution, YouTube, Facebook, and of course through this interview. I am grateful that our paths have crossed.
One day, I want to hold a show in your city.
Call us out in your country! We’ll show you the best concert ever.
Big thank to CHOKE for sharing their ideas with the world and we hope they’ll keep pushing for the international market!
If you’re interested in picking up their music, head to their foreign-friendly webshop and explore what the band has to offer.