The artist known as Knox the Dog just dropped a mixtape tailored to sync with the 1988 sci-fi epic Akira and it could scarcely arrive at a better time. Anime and electronica fans have been starved for diversion since the pandemic hit, and Knox's new release, Akita, brings the sustenance they crave.
Akira, the landmark anime classic directed by Katsuhiro Otomo, is a graphic tour de force that set a new standard for hyper-kinetic, nearly wordless storytelling when it came out. Akita updates the film's original soundtrack with a mostly contemporary tracklist of curated bangers. Its title subs a "k" for the original's "r," turning a proper noun into a Japanese dog breed. Otomo's delirious vision of a post-nuclear, cyberpunk Neo-Tokyo circa 2019 now unfolds to an expertly sequenced playlist of reggae, dub and electronica tracks that mingle frosty nihilism with hedonism to make you dance.
Knox the Dog is a nom de turntable for Arcata-based DJ Brian Curtis, aka Pandemonium Jones, whose work behind the wheels of steel is known to local listeners through his regular pre-pandemic sets at Richards' Goat and the weekly show "Mixed Messages" he hosted on the late, lamented KHSU. Knox notes unexpected synchronicities and "layers of contextual meaning" among Akita's side effects, reporting: "Unsurprisingly, it's fun while high."
Synchronicities do compel attention from Akita's opening moments, when the first notes of the Upsetters' "Underground" chime out in sync with the ominously flashing buttons that initiate the film's action. Its initial scenes unfold against that disarmingly measured sonic backdrop, amplifying discordant vibes already latent in the spacey reverberations. Tracks pair up with scenes in ways that sound entirely right in the moment, even if they seem counterintuitive on paper.
Brilliantly creepy episodes in the film's second half that pinpoint the pathology of its nameless fascist state within the dysfunction of its ruling nuclear family (sound familiar?) are now paired with tracks by Big Youth ("Children Children") and Atomic Dog ("Natural Born Killers"). Meanwhile the psychedelic metamorphoses experienced on screen by an elite cadre of telekinetic psychics are now scored to Remarc's "Thunderclap," DJ Rashad ("I'm Gone") and the shivery tones of Rob & Goldie's "The Shadow (Process Mix)." Cuts from the original soundtrack by Geinoh Yamashiroguni, heavy on gamelan percussion and themes from Noh theater, appear near the film's beginning and close it as well.
It's the summer of 2020, and pairing these classic anime images with contemporary sounds updates the experience with unsettling new inflections. The iconic red motorcycle ridden in Akira by iconoclast biker and freedom fighter Shtar Kaneda bears corporate logos for American and Japanese brands, including Citizen and Canon, as well as the insignia of the U.S. Air Force. Projecting a future United States of America whose economic power and global prestige are ranged in opposition to the forces of fascism might have been a no-brainer in 1988, but watching Akita now is a reminder of how much things have changed.
Otomo's paranoid projection of a 2019 dystopia looks more and more like social realism. Maybe that's why it feels like the culture is on the cusp of an Akira moment right now, with an electronica soundtrack remix from Bwana called "Capsule's Pride" released in 2016, an Akira-themed Kanye West video ("Stronger") from 2018 and a hotly anticipated live-action adaptation from director Taika Waititi scheduled for release in May of 2021.
It's undeniably weird to be watching an animated Japanese film about people fighting in the streets against the paramilitary forces of a fascist state at a time when the American news cycle is filled with similar images of protesters battling federal agents in the streets of Portland, Austin, Seattle and Washington D.C. The contemporary voices of Vince Staples, Young Thug, Fatima Al Quadiri, FKA Twigs, Tinashe and others seem to acknowledge this dissonance as they emerge from the sonic textures of Knox's mix. These voices constitute a gnomic chorus that provides a running commentary on current events, a compilation of the alternately dazed and frenzied chants, spells, threats and exhortations the moment deserves.
You can get your paws on this mixtape in multiple ways: watch on Veoh, listen on Mixcloud, download via WeTransfer, or buy a cassette or USB drive on Bandcamp. The USB that ended up on my desk came in a sleek little box featuring original album art and a jaunty, suggestively shaped pink cap for the dongle.
To order, watch, download or listen to Akita go to www.knoxthedog.com.
Gabrielle Gopinath (she/her) is an art writer, critic and curator based in Arcata. Follow her on Instagram at @gabriellegopinath.