Perfume wishlist vol. 2: Producers Perfume should work with instead of Nakata Yasutaka

Perfume wishlist vol. 2: Which producers should Perfume work with? | Random J Pop

I dig Perfume. I really do. But I don't find myself loving a lot of their material post LEVEL3.

I've gone through this journey with Perfume of not really liking their music, to growing to adore it, to now thinking 'What the hell is even happening with this?'. And even when Perfume drop a song which is decent in the midst of doo-doo (i.e "Pick Me Up" and "Time Warp") I know it's a one off thing.

I don't feel as though their music is getting worse. It IS getting worse. And Nakata Yasutaka is part of the reason why. I say 'part', because as fans know, Perfume is a village. And if Perfume's managers and their A&R wanted to bring other producers in, they absolutely could.

The cracks started to show with their fourth studio album LEVEL3. But it was at least offset with a couple of songs which pushed Perfume's sound forward, as well as an acknowledgement of what their core sound had been up until that point. But these cracks became chasms with their 2016 follow-up Cosmic Explorer, which had no sense of direction nor consistency. The nail in the coffin for me was 2018's Future Pop, where it was clear Nakata just did not give a fuck about showing any form of evolution in Perfume's sound and giving them songs which were wholly reflective of who Perfume are.

Perfume have always worked exclusively with Nakata Yasutaka. Whilst once upon a time this was fine; his sound is in a free-fall and taking Perfume with it. Perfume used to have some-what of a sound, but they no longer do. Nakata doesn't give Perfume's sound any focus nor attention these days, so I'd be very much in favour of hear other producers' takes on what Perfume's sound should be and to help redefine it; because Nakata doesn't seem to have it in him to do so. And yes, "Time Warp" is cute, but it still feels incomplete as Nakata's songs for Perfume tend do these days. It also has no staying power. Even Perfume were quickly over it.

So, let's run down a list of potential candidates to produce for Perfume.

Paradis are a duo whose music is primary Dance, but their thing is evoking a mood and a sensuality, which would make them a great choice for Perfume in helping bring back the more seductive sounds they'd touched on for Game and Triangle.

Featured song: Hémisphère
I miss Perfume's electro-seductive songs, like "Take Me, Take Me", "Night Flight" and "Kiss & Music". Strip out the vocals of "Hémisphère" and you could slip it into Game's tracklist.

Perfume seem to have completely abandoned songs of this vibe, which feels strange to me; given that this sound is much more adult and more of what they should actually be doing now. Not fluff like "Baby Face" and "Tokimeki Lights". But for the girls to pull off a performance to this, their outfits would need to match. Dancing to a sexy French House bop dressed as Super Sentai rangers is not a look. We already saw how off that looked when they last performed "Take Me, Take Me".

Danish born producer Cutfather has been churning out pop gems for years. Cutfather has a great knack for catchy hooks; something that Perfume's songs used to be about until Nakata started replacing them with instrumental passages. If Cutfather is able to craft pop gems for Kylie Minogue, then doing the same for Perfume would be a piece of cake.

Featured song: Kylie Minogue - Get Outta My Way
Kylie's "Get Outta My Way" is pop perfection. A song which Nakata Yasutaka had remixed, transforming it into something which sounded Perfume-esque. Taking into account that the video itself features projection mapping and motion tracking, all things Perfume have dabbled with in their live performances once or twice; Kylie and Perfume's world's converging via producers is kind of a no-brainer. Perfume's Game pretty much sounded like a Kylie Minogue album, and Kylie Minogue's Fever could have worked as a Perfume album.

Greg Kurstin
Greg Kurstin's versatility knows very few bounds. You would never guess that the same man responsible for Lily Allen's "Hard Out Here" was the very same man who co-wrote and produced Adele's "Hello" unless somebody handed you the liner notes for both songs. The difference between these two songs showcase the spectrum on which Greg Kurstin operates. No artist nor style is off limits to Kurstin. Whether you're a singer who can run around the octave scale at ease, or a chick whose vocals barely amount to a sigh; Greg can make your shit work. And let us not forget that a-chan actually can sing, and Nocchi is far better at holding a tune and serving tone than Perfume's songs from JPN onward would have you believe.

Featured song: Sky Ferreira - 99 Tears
When I heard Greg Kurstin had produced Sky Ferreira's "99 Tears", I was gobsmacked, because it was so different to anything else I'd heard from him up to this point - even knowing full well that Kurstin was a sound chameleon. If Perfume were to work with Greg, he could give them a "Hurly Burly (Part 2)". Because, 'HURLY BURLY DOE!?'.

Tomokazu Matsuzawa aka T.O.M
I had to throw at least one Japanese producer into the list. And who other than Tomokazu Matsuzawa, known professionally as T.O.M.

Tomokazu is most known for his work with ex J-Pop star MiChi, whose debut album was absolutely fantastic. T.O.M used to have a very distinct production style which fell into two buckets:
  • High energy Pop records with House influences. 
  • Indie / Rock bops with great melodies. 
The commonality between both of these styles is that the production is always meticulous, the hooks are as catchy as fuck, and the songs always feel as though they are building, progressing and could switch at any given minute, which they often do.

The most important aspect of Tomokazu working with Perfume wouldn't just be his ability to give them a song that sits within their soundscape, but being able to give them songs that don't. Tomokazu would be one of the producers in this list that could very easily nudge Perfume into a sound that they hadn't tried before, or help them develop what feels like a logical next step for them musically; which isn't just future bass or whatever else Zedd 'n' dem is doing.

Featured song: MiChi - Surrender
This song is an anomaly for Tomokazu as its not really a style of song he does anymore. "Surrender" sounds like something from Ridge Racer Type 4 or Persona 5, fusing pop, house and elements of Jazz; all things that Perfume had delivered on their second studio album Triangle, with songs like "Zero Gravity". It's a sound which has a sensuality that I feel Perfume could do with, now that they are in their 30s.

It should come as no surprise that this list features another French producer, as France is no stranger to delivering great pop music.

20syl, born Sylvain Richard, is a French born rapper, DJ and producer. His productions intersect cute, funky 'n' upbeat, and being bangers. Part of Perfume's charm has always been that they often get these hard electro songs which contrast so strongly with their image, so a 20syl production would definitely uphold that. But it would also allow them to cross even further into the dance arena with a sound which isn't just tagged as 'EDM'.

One issue I always have with Nakata's productions is in his mixing. Songs that should hit hard never hit as hard as they could do. It would be nice to hear a Perfume song actually slap, and with 20syl there's no chance of that not being the case, because every single song of his does.

20syl started off his life as a graphic designer and has been involved in projects, such as creating a MIDI controlled skateboard ramp and other cool installations. So on a personal interest level, he'd be all about what Perfume and their team have brought to the table from a visual and technical standpoint, and would probably chomp at the bit to work with them.

Featured song: 20syl - Dust Cloud
Whilst Perfume are known for their high energy uptempo songs, It'd be nice to see them start to re-build their repertoire of mid-tempos away from crap like "Baby Face" and "Tiny Baby". One of my favourite Perfume songs is "575" and I've wanted Perfume to revisit that whole vibe and sound ever since. But as has become customary for Perfume's music, shit that works doesn't get re-visited and is confined to the archives of 'Dat shit that once was and ain't ever gonna be again'. But I'll live my fantasy here in 20syl's "Dust Cloud", and imagine Perfume giving me three-point harmonies, sweet ad-libs and smooth reverbed vocals over the top of it.

If you're a UK Pop connoisseur, then chances are that you have heard of Xenomania. A songwriting and production collective led by producer Brian Higgins and leading songwriter Miranda Cooper. 

Xenomania rose to prominence with the Sugababes' 2002 smash hit "Round rRound". The massive success of this song resulted in Xenomania being sought out to single-handedly craft the sound of Girls Aloud, the winners of 2002's Popstars: The Rivals (the precursor to The X-Factor and American Idol). Girls Aloud would go on to be named as the most successful reality TV group and UK's biggest selling girl group of the 21st century, in large part due to the hits cranked out by Xenomania, who wrote and produced near enough all of Girls Aloud's songs.

Xenomania's songs are known for their cross fusion of styles, but most notably their quirky writing style and patchwork song arrangements, which can cause one song to sound like it's been built from about three or four. Xenomania's songs are unmistakably pop, but always have an edge; as is intermittently the case with Perfume.

Featured song: Girls aloud - Untouchable
This right here is one of Girls Aloud and Xenomania's best. Not only does the video itself have strong Perfume vibes, but the song itself aligns with Perfume's darker, mood setting songs, such as "Game" and "Edge". "Untouchable" is one of many sounds of Xenomania, but the one that would suit Perfume best.

Side note: Check out the album version of this song. It's longer, more atmospheric and shits on the single version. It's not hard to imagine Perfume giving a performance of "Game", "Edge" or "Party Maker" proportions to it.

Shinichi Osawa
I feel that if Perfume's team hadn't signed a blood oath to Nakata and had been working with other producers already, that they would have crossed paths with Shinichi Osawa at some point. He has produced and remixed for numerous artists within J-Pop, including the likes of Crystal Kay ("Lost Child") and Namie Amuro ("Naked" and "Rock U").

Shinichi's known for electro and dance, but he's pretty much covered every genre under the sun. So he'd be more than capable of either giving Perfume something safe that they've done before, or pushing them into new unchartered territory. Shinichi also has the talent of being able to produce a dance song without sacrificing vocals. So, if Perfume wanted to move their sound into a space where their vocals are more of a focus, Shinichi's sound has the breadth to allow for that. Unlike Nakata's 'music first, fit the vocals in...I guess' approach.

Featured song: Labyrinth
Shinichi Osawa has many aliases, one of which is Mondo Grosso. His productions under this alias pull from Shinichi's background as a jazz musician, of which you can hear in his mesmerising song "Labyrinth". It's not hard to imagine Perfume on a song like this. Even the video has a quirkiness to it which is in Perfume's visual lane; serving a "Cling Cling" type realness. The girl in the music video even has an onirigi style bob. Nocchi's impact.

A UK production duo who exploded onto the scene in 2012 with their song "Latch", featuring the vocals of a then unknown Sam Smith. Disclosure's music is dance. But as we know, the spectrum of dance music is broad, and Disclosure have released songs which fall on just about every part of it.

Featured song: Perfume - Energy
Y'all know how Nakata gives Perfume instrumentals for their tours? We went from bangers like "Perfume no Oikite" to generic shit like "Atmospheric Entry" and "Chrome". When I first heard "Energy" I just envisioned Perfume dancing to it. I even knocked together a video of Perfume dancing to it, and it fits like a damn glove.

Madeon is an obvious choice of a producer to work with Perfume. He knows their music (he's a fan of "Polyrhythm"), he's a fan of Nataka Yasutaka and cites him as a major influence, he's even met the guy (the two of them did an interview together) and Nakata officially remixed one of Madeon's songs.

Madeon would be a great choice of producer because given his sound and production style, and the similarities that they bear to Nakata's. He could recapture the magic of Perfume's earlier material, whilst pulling and stretching it in different ways so there is a sense of growth from it.

Featured song: No Fear No More
An Madeon song which feels very Perfume-esque and tour ready is "Imperium", but there's something about "No Fear No More". As aforementioned when speaking of 20syl's "Dust Cloud", I'd really like Perfume to build their repertoire of mid-tempo songs which aren't just twinkly, nursery rhyme sounding-ass songs. And also songs which are very pop, but have a warmth, a funk and a soulfulness to them - something Madeon delivered on with his album Good Faith, on which "No Fear No More" features.

☆Taku Takahashi
The second Japanese producer to make the list. Because I know Amuse ain't out here trying to put a full time translator on a retainer whilst Perfume are in the studio cutting this imaginary new album with all these mostly Western producers.

Taku Takahashi is one half of the group M-Flo, who has always DJ'd and produced for other artists whilst being an active part of the group. If you've listened to M-Flo's stuff, then you know Taku's sound, as it's pretty much all him.

Featured song: Yun*Chi - Lucky Girl
Yun*Chi. One of the few 'singers' in J-Pop with a voice more annoying than Pamyu Pamyu and Kashiyuka on "If You Wanna". I'm always stunned when such bad vocals make their way onto a track and get released. Was the engineer not listening? Was the mixer off sick? Try to tune out Yun*Chi's nails on a blackboard vocals and imagine Perfume in the cute red outfits they wore in that commercial which featured "Tokimeki Lights", serving a routine to this beat.

PC Music
PC Music share much in common with Nakata Yasutaka to the point where it wouldn't surprise me if he was actually an influence on their approach to music. Heck, they even met the guy.

The PC Music collective have risen to popularity via their wacky off-beat productions, which sit pretty pop productions over filthy, hard hitting beats. Recently they've become more prominently known via their work with Charli XCX.

PC Music would be a great first 'new producer' stop for Perfume, as their sound has the potential to be similar enough to Nakata's better works that it wouldn't completely alienate the #Prfm fanbase, but different enough that their songs aren't just re-creations of what Nakata has already done. PC Music would do a great job of bridging the gap between where Perfume's music is now and where it was, whilst also leaving them room to define where they think Perfume's sound should go - something which Nakata doesn't seem to be placing any focus on.

Danny L Harle
PC music member Danny L Harle is a fan of Perfume and cites "Fake It" as one of his favourite songs. Danny L Harle would do a great job of tapping into Perfume's house focused sound, which kicked off with "Take Me, Take Me", but was pushed further with "Spending All My Time"; a song which "Broken Flowers" shares a fair amount in common with. I would genuinely love for Perfume to give me another house flavoured banger.

A.G. Cook
Of all of the PC music posse, A.G. is the one who probably fucks with song structures the most. Once upon a time, Perfume's songs were all about structure; but an evolution of this would be to deconstruct it.

A.G. Cook is also the PC Music member who has produced the most down-tempo songs, some of which could be considered ballads. So he could be the one PC Music member to deliver Perfume a slower number which still incorporates the electro and EDM sensibilities that Perfume's music has always had. "Superstar" is a great example of such a song. Wait for 2:12...

Gus of Kero Kero Bonito
Kero Kero Bonito are a London based pop trio, with a lead singer who is British Japanese - something that the group played on a lot for their debut album Bonito Generation. Gus, the main producer behind Kero Kero Bonito has noted that J-Pop is an influence on his sound. He even contributed to a project which featured covers of Nataka Yasutaka's productions, by covering Perfume's "Wonder2"

Songs like "Kero Kero Bonito" sounded like it could easily have been released by the likes of Kyary Pamyu Pamyu and "Big City" sounds like it could easily sit on an album with "Time Warp".

Featured song: Kero Kero Bonito - Flyway
Kero Kero Bonito's sound for their debut album was very reminiscent of typical J-Pop to an extent and some of their songs legitimately sounded like they could have been Perfume songs. But they soon transgressed into a more Shoegaze / Indie sound for their second album Time 'n' Place. However the pop sensibilities of their debut were still evident in the songs. If anything, more so. This isn't a sound that Perfume have ever done, but they've performed rock tinged songs as part of their Perfume FES shows where they feature on and cover songs by their fellow agency mates. So this is a bit of a wild card. But I would love to hear Perfume on a more guitar driven / indie style track.

Unfortunately SOPHIE passed in January of this year, but I still want to include her in this list, as she was most certainly a producer I had on my wishlist to work with Perfume for years. And I had actually written this list over a year ago, and SOPHIE was on it back then.

SOPHIE was never part of the PC Music crew officially, but she worked so closely with them that she may as have well been, and many fans regard her as such. More so than any of the PC music posse, SOPHIE is the one who has worked with the most mainstream pop acts; Madonna, Namie Amuro and Rihanna to name a few. Charli XCX, WHO!? Listen to any of SOPHIE's more pop based productions and it's no wonder why she's on this list as a contender to produce for Perfume. Her sound would suit them down to a tee.

Featured songs: Eeehhh / Nothing More To Say
"Eeehhh" sounds like a Perfume instrumentals right off the bat. "Eeehhh" sounds like something from JPN. Where-as "Nothing More To Say" is more club focused, touching on 90s house, a sound I've wanted Perfume to delve into ever since "Spending All My Time". I'd love for Perfume to give me some 90s house realness, as it's the one decade of Pop / Dance music that they've yet to tap into, which would really suit their look and their routines.

Then there's "Immaterial Girl", which even has a set of lyrics which fit into Perfume's narrative of a questioned existence and not being real. I could imagine this absolutely bangin' in a Perfume live show. AND COULD YOU IMAGINE THE CHOREO!?

Let's all just agree on this one thing. Perfume will probably never ever work with other producers. They're a group who are too far set in their ways and see Nakata Yasutaka as the be all and end all of their music, as many fans do too. This is understandable, given that he has defined the sound of Perfume since their commercial beginnings, and it's all that Perfume, their team and their fans know. But Nakata isn't a producer who always invests in the artists he produces for. There are some exceptions. Well, one. Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, for whom he tailored a particular sound for and has been pretty consistent with. But the biggest issue with Nakata is that whatever sound he's into at the time becomes every body else's sound that he works with. Even though we (me included) use the term 'Perfume's sound', they've never really had their own sound. We'd probably collectively deem Perfume's sound as Game to LEVEL3. But the sound that Perfume were given across this period was the same sound Nakata was giving to other artists. Perfume's Triangle and Ami Suzuki's Supreme Show are very similar.

The notion that Nakata Yasutaka is the only person that can produce music for Perfume is nonsensical. He is not the only producer in existence who can give Perfume great songs, contrary to what some fans and even Perfume themselves may think. It's become clear that Nakata has no interest in trying to develop Perfume's sound and create something that feels like it's actually theirs. Nakata still gives Perfume good songs now and again, but there is no consistency, which leads me to believe that when Perfume do get a really good song, that it's more of a fluke than anything. There is no actual chemistry between Nakata and Perfume and this is manifesting into the music. Future Pop wasn't about Perfume at all. It was Nakata doing whatever the fuck. The relationship between Nakata and Perfume is strange. There appears to be this barrier between them both. Perfume seem curious about Nakata, but seem afraid to get to know him and Nakata seems to have no real interest in getting to know Perfume beyond them being a client. This is bizarre as fuck considering they've all been working together for 15 years. They're still strangers to each other, so they may as well work with other producers anyway.

Perfume need a team of producers and songwriters who are going to take the time to get to know them as individuals, as a group and as performers, and give them a sound that is representative of who they are. Every song we've gotten so far has been a reflection of Nakata, not of the group. They are just songs for Perfume to perform to. There is no real attachment to a-chan, Kashiyuka or Nocchi at all.

I'm not saying that Nakata should be taken out of the equation completely. But it wouldn't hurt for Perfume to attempt to work with other producers. They've got nothing to lose. If Perfume's music does not evolve or grow, then no other aspect of Perfume will neither - because everything stems from the music. The performances. The choreography. The videos. And if the music is stale, uninspired and lacking in forward momentum for the group, then everything that depends on that will stagnate the same way, and it's started to already. Perfume's best tours these days are the ones which feature a retrospective of their music and are not album focused. The Cosmic Explorer and Future Pop tours were doo-doo. Meanwhile Gurun Gurun, 3:5:6:9 and P Cubed were all great, because they weren't focused on whatever their latest underwhelming release was at the time.

Fresh blood is what Perfume's music needs to sustain them now. Nakata seems so hellbent on chasing a Westernised sound for Perfume anyway, so why not just let Western producers handle the production? Give Perfume the chance to at least build a new legacy of music, because Nakata sure as hell ain't doing it. Maybe it'll kick his ass into gear to make better music.

Nakata is lucky that his early work for Perfume is so fucking good, because it's doing A LOT of heavy lifting right now.

Who are some producers you'd like to work with Perfume?

The Random J Pop Perfumery
📝 Perfume wishlist vol. 1: 9 things I want from their music
🎛️ Perfume megamixes: Game megamixLEVEL3 megamix | Cosmic Explorer megamix
🎧 Playlists: The Rest "P Cubed" | Perfume Pussy Poppers
💿 Album reviews: The Best "P Cubed" | Future Pop | Cosmic Explorer | LEVEL3 | JPN | Triangle | Game | Complete Best