“I’m in this artform because I desperately want to connect with people”, says Akiko Haruna. The themes of connection, meaning and community crop up a lot in our conversation. They’re integral to Akiko’s reasons for making music, and how they conduct themselves as an artist. (Akiko uses both ‘she’ and ‘they’ pronouns.)
We first heard of Akiko Haruna back in 2019. Her debut EP ‘Delusions’ on Where To Now? was striking for its use of texture and vocals, twisting and stretching sound to its limits. But then things went quiet. Last November, she resurfaced with the track ‘Die & Retry’ on Timedance’s ‘Sharpen, Moving’ compilation, and her debut single ‘Raw’ on Glasgow label Numbers, home to artists such as the late, great SOPHIE.
Now, just over one year on from their re-emergence, Akiko’s new EP, ‘Be Little Me’, is out. It’s a melting pot of worlds — some parts epic film score, some parts pop, EDM and hardcore. It beams bright with Akiko’s unique perspective on sound design. “When I produce, some of it is synthesised, but a lot of it is just me taking recorded sound and processing that over and over and over again,” Akiko explains. “I like working with audio. For some reason, it feels the most meaningful to me.”
It was during her sound art studies in Brighton that Akiko was introduced to the principles of sound design. “We’d go on these ‘sound walks’ and listen to the environment,” she remembers. “You’d listen to the sound of a footstep and think about things like, ‘Is that really one sound? Or is it multiple sounds?’ I started getting really into spatialization and feeding that into my production.”
Akiko always wanted to work in the creative industries. As a dancer, they experienced certain “big career breaks”, landing parts in pop music videos before they were 18 years old. But the image-centric pressures of the job took a toll, and they switched their focus from dancing to music. “My downfall with dance was when I started worrying about my image too much. I wasn’t focused on dancing, the artform. It was paralysing,” they explain. Her first ‘big music break’ came in 2018; she was selected to join Red Bull’s Music Academy 2018 edition in Berlin whilst rounding off her final year at university.
“The main thing I took away from Red Bull Music Academy was that I really missed a sense of community. It was a really validating and inspiring experience.” The Academy had instilled in her a hunger to work in music on her own terms. “I knew [after The Academy] that there’s no room for ego in this. I just really wanted to make good work and honour the craft.”
When she was back on British soil, Akiko started to form a network of friends and artists from her local community in Brighton. First up was stylist and visual director An Nguyen, followed by animator Ben Chan, stylist and jewellery designer GuGu, and graphic designer Oscar Cheung, to name a few. All of them worked on the visual language for Akiko’s ‘Be Little Me’ EP.
“I’m just a wet wipe!” she laughs, referring to how emotional she feels about working with the crew. “I want to feel connected and have my friends with me! We’re all spilling our hearts out and expressing how we feel through all these different mediums. That’s really special.”
Photo credit: KT Allen
Creative direction: An Nguyen