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'Takasaki sound': Studio run by Japanese city launches music label to boost local artists

From left, Takasaki Mayor Kenji Tomioka, singer-songwriter Kie Anderson, and Tago Studio Records Takasaki label representative Kunio Tago pose for a photo in Takasaki, Gunma Prefecture, on Oct. 4, 2021. (Mainichi/Shin Sato)

TAKASAKI, Gunma -- The one and only municipal music studio in Japan has launched a music label in a bid to raise local artists' profiles worldwide.

    Tago Studio Takasaki, operated by the city of Takasaki in Gunma Prefecture, northwest of Tokyo, launched the Tago Studio Records Takasaki label this month. This is an epic initiative to discover talented amateur musicians performing in the prefecture and help them become top-class performers on the world stage through the "music city Takasaki" initiative. A song by the first musician to belong to the label has already been released, and those involved in the project are eager for success.

    Kie Anderson performs her debut song "Pink Lemonade" in Takasaki, Gunma Prefecture, on Oct. 4, 2021. (Mainichi/Shin Sato)

    "I'm dreaming of the age when Takasaki reminds people of the 'Takasaki sound,' like Memphis does of (Elvis) Presley," said Mayor Kenji Tomioka, referring to the world-class big names, during the label's launch event held at Takasaki City Theatre on Oct. 4.

    The one-of-a-kind municipal music studio was founded in March 2014. The cost to establish the studio -- 125 million yen (about $1.1 million) -- was covered by a 250 million yen (roughly $2.2 million) donation to the municipal government by a philanthropist who said they wanted the city to use the money for youth culture. Takasaki-native composer and music producer Kunio Tago, 48, known for writing "Home" for singer Yusaku Kiyama and other songs for J-pop groups AKB48 and Every Little Thing, was invited to become the operation director of the studio.

    More than 250 songs produced by major labels have been recorded at the studio. It held auditions in 2016 and 2019 to discover talented musicians, and more than 1,000 groups applied each time.

    Tago, who took the position as the representative at the new label, said about his resolution, "We will support up-and-coming musicians until their proper debut, and will transmit the 'Takasaki sound' to the world."

    The launch event was attended by Kie Anderson, 24, the label's first singer-songwriter. Born in the neighboring city of Annaka and living in Takasaki, Anderson won the top award in the 2019 audition, for which 1,027 groups applied. Having loved music since childhood, she began to play guitar when she was in the sixth grade, and has performed on the streets including in front of JR Takasaki Station since the second year at junior high school. She told reporters, "My goal is to become as big as Michael Jackson," with a big smile.

    Anderson performed her debut song "Pink Lemonade" at the launch event. The audience erupted in applause after hearing her rhythmic and lively voice. The song is available on Apple Music, Amazon Music and YouTube.

    "She was a little bit nervous," Tago said about Anderson's performance, "but when she takes a guitar while sitting cross-legged, she 'switches on.' Her performance is incredible."

    (Japanese original by Shin Sato, Takasaki Local Bureau)

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