Label Spotlight: Kitsune Blends Music & Fashion From Paris to Tokyo

Kitsuné Musique
Courtesy of Kitsuné Musique

The French-Japanese brand has released tunes from Two Door Cinema Club, Parcels, Digitalism and more.

There are a lot of hardworking people behind any given dance project, and record labels can often serve as ideological families, tied together by taste and style within which interesting ideas and fearless experimentation can thrive. You might be surprised how many of your favorite artists are all in the same crew, or who's made a one-off appearance on a cool boutique. Reading up on labels is a great way to discover more incredible music; that's why Billboard Dance is spotlighting the labels we love.

Today, we celebrate Kitsuné, a French-Japanese lifestyle brand that runs on limitless imagination. You've most definitely heard their music: They released landmark works by Two Door Cinema Club, Parcels, Klaxons, Yelle, Digitalism, Pat Lok and others. Much more than just a label, Kitsuné branched out into fashion, events and even coffee.

Baptiste Sallibartant manages the label and runs its A&R. He's been with Kitsuné for three and a half years, and he still sees the job as an adventure. We caught up with Sallibartant to learn more about how Kitsuné creates a multi-dimensional lifestyle, from Paris to Tokyo and L.A.

Who founded Kitsuné? When and what inspired them to do so?

Kitsuné was founded in 2002 by Gildas Loaëc and Masaya Kuroki. It's a French-Japanese brand. In 1995, Gildas opened a record shop in Paris. It became a popular spot for house music lovers. Masaya, Daft Punk, and a bunch of people would just hang out, and that's how they met. They took a trip to Japan for a music video together, and Masaya was there to help translation. They came up with the idea of launching this lifestyle brand not confined to one discipline. Music and fashion was always in the back of their minds. They did a lot of DJ sets to promote the brand, then came the first T-shirt, shirt, dress and then full collection.

What are all the ways the label comes to life for fans?

Compilations have been part of the label's DNA from the beginning, and a compilation is now a called playlist. It's the main source of discovery and consumption for fans. We have 25 playlists that we update on a regular basis on all streaming platforms. We have all the events. The Kitsuné club nights go from midnight to 6:00 a.m. in some of the biggest clubs around the globe.

Kitsuné Afterwork is another series which understands some people have to work in the morning. We create peak Saturday night in a crowded club, but on a Thursday night at 7:00 p.m. You go home before midnight, but you feel like you've had an amazing party. Those are more R&B and hip-hop. We've had Princess Nokia, Tommy Genesis -- a lot of different artists on these. Then we have the Kitsuné Showcases with regular live performances in a venue with bands, including Two Door Cinema Club, Hot Chip, Parcels, and Years & Years.

The fashion brand is booming. With 90 percent of the revenues, it's already become the main focus. The music comes to life in our stores and cafes where we try to create a unique musical atmosphere. You're not going to hear anything but the label releases in context. You can find our in-store and cafe playlists on streaming platforms. The label doesn't have physical goods anymore -- it's only in the cloud.

It goes back to the roots of the label, everyone hanging out in that record store.

Exactly, and the last thing is the cafes. Developed in 2013, the first opened in Tokyo and now we have three in Paris. We just opened a roastery in Okayama, we opened a cafe in Seoul and New York. Listening to music while having a coffee or lunch is definitely something that people do a lot. We created its own compilation, Cafe Kitsuné, that we put out once a year. This one is created and mixed by an artist or friend of the label to create a smooth listening process without this short silence between tracks. It's more chill, laid back and cozy.

Where are you based? Does that affect the musical output at all?

The label is fully based in Paris, but we do have offices in New York, Tokyo and recently Shanghai for the fashion side and cafes. Paris is definitely the origin of the brand. I'm sure it influences the music in some ways, but we're one of the only French labels that has an international roster. We do take into account that heritage. The Kitsuné Parisien compilation puts the light on who we think are the next French artists to watch.

Are you an indie or a subsidiary of a larger label?

It's indie, and the founders managed to keep it that way so we can do whatever we want. That's how they manage to do a clothing brand and cafes. They are planning to open a hotel in Bali. They just do whatever they're passionate about, and it resonates into the name Kitsuné. I don't want to say something that's not entirely precise, but in the Japanese culture, it means it can have different facets. It can become whatever it wants. We go through a distribution with Believe Digital for the releases. We also have a publishing company called Edition Kitsuné.

How many employees does Kitsuné have?

The company itself is over 100 employees, but the label is five full-time employees. We have one intern helping us out a lot, too, and then two full-time employees for the events. We share all the legal, finance and HR teams with the rest of the brand.

Do you have regular office hours, or do you keep an unorthodox schedule?

Having an international label and roster means that we have to work either really early or really late. In the same day, we'll have to speak with Tim Ayre based in Sydney, and with Pat Lok based in Los Angeles, so we manage a 10-hour delay and being nine hours ahead. We do go to the office, and we share it with the fashion and the cafe. It's really cool to share the offices with the other part of the brand, because you have different conversations every day, different from the challenges we face on a daily basis.

Who is on the current roster?

Current roster is Parcels, an Australian band based in Berlin, signed to a French label. That's how we say it. We license the album to Because Music, so we work with them on the release.

We have Pat Lok here as well, a Canadian producer from Vancouver now based in Los Angeles. We put out a few singles and did his debut album in 2017. We're in the process of releasing his next EP and actually just put out a track called "Freefall."

We have Tim Ayre, who is a singer-songwriter from Australia. He has a bedroom-pop kind of style, like Tame Impala but more happy. We just released his debut EP in November, and we're going to be releasing a new single really soon. He's also stuck at home and doing weekly cover releases from his bedroom.

Last one is Matvei, who is also a French producer based in Montreal right now. He's really influenced by Latin music right now, but blends dance and hip-hop.

We also release three singles every week with artists on a single deal basis. When streaming arrived, it changed the world to the better for the music industry, but it also really changed the way we put music out. The compilations, we used to do more than 10 a year. We adapted these models to single releases and we put all these singles in one playlist. The more people come in, the more artists they discover, and the more artists talk about it, the more other artists discover it. It's building a community of fans and artists. You don't have to sign a full record deal to be able to release music on a label.

Is there a common sound or ideology that ties releases together?

Not really, as long as it's a good song. The label is dance, indie, pop, hip-hop, R&B, rock -- it's everything. It's more the art or design that really ties our releases. Back in 2015, when we launched that single releases project, we wanted to create a unique experience where the world of music and design meet. We work with a different visual artist every month to create all the artwork. We've worked with illustrators, photographers, designers, and magazines even. We've collaborated with over 40 different illustrators so far. We wanted to create this online streaming art gallery, so when you discover music, you can also discover visual artists.

What are some essential tracks?

We've released over 2,500 tracks, but songs from the current roster are essentials. The track called “Nothing” by Tim Ayre is one of my favorites. The track “Overnight” by Parcels, which was co-written and produced by Daft Punk, is definitely one of the essentials. The track “IknowhowIfeel” on the album is a personal favorite of mine. “Might Be on Fire” by Pat Lok is good. “Get Lost” by Matvei definitely shows the genre blending he's doing.

The tracks of Two Door Cinema Club, Is Tropical, Years & Years, Citizens!, Digitalism are essentials to us, and the compilations as well. With Kitsuné Parisien, I want to say these are the 15 essential tracks in France for the year coming. The Kitsuné America computation also was a fun project. The collection for Winter '19 of Maison Kitsuné was inspired in part by the house music of the '90s. We wanted to link the collection with a release, and we come up with the idea of classic tracks from that era covered by new up-and-coming artists -- Mija doing “Gypsy “Woman,” Allen French doing “The Whistle Song.” These are cool tracks, and it also reintroduced them to young listeners. They don't have many streams, which is too bad. It was a way to put them back on the map and reinterpret them in 2020.

What's one piece of advice for aspiring producers who would like to get on your radar?

There's really no magic recipe. It's always good to do something different. It stands out to me when I hear something that I haven't really heard before, but that's not easy. There is so much music now out there. As long as the song is good, and the melody is there -- that's definitely key in a song. Good lyrics as well. It doesn't need to be mainstream -- it can be underground. It doesn't need to be anything as long as it's a good song.

Kitsuné Parisian was released March 25. Listen to it below, and follow along with the label's New, Hot and Fresh playlist on Spotify or any streaming platform.