2021 marked the tenth year since the formation of Da-iCE (pronounced “dice”). The artist group consists of five male members; vocalists Yudai Ohno and Sota Hanamura, and performers Taiki Kudo, Toru Iwaoka, and Hayate Wada. After leaving the label with which they made their major debut back in 2014, the group joined Avex Trax in August 2020, and released the single CITRUS. The song gained attention from a wide audience as the theme song for a popular TV drama and later went on to become the first tune in Japanese history from a dance & vocal group to reach 100,000,000 streams on a subscription platform. Not only that, it received the 63rd Japan Record Award! 2020 to 2021 has been a wonderful year for Da-iCE, full of feats suitable for a ten-year anniversary. We sat down with the group to find out more about the path that got them to this fruitful turning point as well as their hopes for the future.
"They provided opportunities for our music to reach even more people, beyond our concerts."
Ever since August of 2020, Da-iCE has managed to keep up the same jam-packed high-paced schedule, doing their best to accommodate pandemic related restrictions, as could be seen in their daring nation-wide tour "Da-iCE ARENA TOUR -SiX-" set alongside their six-month consecutive single release streak. Now, after a decade of singing and dancing in the major leagues, the members look back on a career defining year with perspectives that are simple, neutral and realistic.
Ohno "There was a period when we couldn't perform to a live audience because of the pandemic. It depends on how you look at it, but there were many things that we gained through the trial and error in putting together online concerts. I feel we really learned a lot that will help us from here on out as well."
Wada "After we joined Avex during the pandemic, they provided opportunities for our music to reach even more people, beyond our concerts, like the idea for the six-month consecutive release, the theme song contract, the performance on THE FIRST TAKE, which we are so grateful for. That's not to say we weren't itching to perform live on stage."
Iwaoka "The arena tour is what did it for me. After our online concerts throughout 2020, when we were finally able to perform in front of real life people, they told us we were going to do two sets a day, nearly 50 songs in total, across the entire country. It was a daunting challenge and I wasn't even sure if it was possible or not. Looking back at it now, it was a wonderful experience and just a great tour for our tenth anniversary."
Kudo "These two years really made me think about a lot. As an individual and as a group. If it weren't for all of the regulations and cancelations, I think we probably would have continued on at the same pace as we always had. We were able to aim in a better direction and try things we never had before. We gained new perspective on how to approach things."
Hanamura "I actually had a fortune teller tell me on a TV program that 2020 and 2021 would be harder years than ever before, but personally they were the best. So I hope to make 2022 such a good year that it makes last year feel like it was almost terrible."
“It was intriguing that a staff member would purposely choose a song that didn't have that signature Avex feel to it."
The single CITRUS and its record making 100,000,000 streams in 2021 (as of March, 2022, it has now more than doubled that) was also a definitive feat for Da-iCE, establishing the group as serious contenders. The importance of this song to each of the members goes without saying, but the success of the song writing stands strong despite its lack of the Avex feel—one that has become a signature of the dance & vocal group producing giant. The members attribute this to the change that is happening within the label.
Ohno "I feel like the composition of the song was an attempt to disregard the tendency that people have to choose genre, or category before choosing the song. If it were up to us to choose the song out of the dozens of candidates we had, I don't think the world would have heard CITRUS. You could say it also taught us the importance of breaking the mold."
Hanamura "At the end of the day, it wasn't us who chose this song. Of course we all talked it through and decided to release the single because we thought it was amazing, but when all is said and done, it was an Avex employee who made the suggestion. The staff was set on getting rid of the whole Avex-esque mindset that we had conjured up inside of ourselves. I could tell they were trying to change things up as a company. I think they're the most flexible of companies in the entertainment industry. I also found it intriguing that a staff member would purposely choose a song that didn't have that signature Avex feel to it."
Kudo "You learn a lot from the unique viewpoints of new employees fresh out of collage. There are some veteran employees that suggest these kinds of mold-breaking tunes too. It's very interesting being able to bring each person's viewpoint to life. I think another big factor is that we've never really been a group that has taken the orthodox Avex road. We weren't produced through some large-scale audition process; we didn't have this flamboyant debut as a junior member to an existing group. We've been completely independent as a group while being graced with opportunities from various people. In that respect, we've always been about keeping a diverse array of new elements that we and others have harvested from all over."
"The cool thing about groups is that they're an amalgamation of different tastes."
Avex has entrusted Da-iCE with a tide of change. This is probably thanks to the group's resourcefulness that has grown and matured over the past ten years. "We worked hard on what he could do while exploring what was required of us," says Hanamura, looking back on their early years. At the same time, he says that they are currently deeply involved in the creation process and self-production, and that this "operation style is quite similar to how it was back in the Indie days—there's a sense of going back to our roots." In fact, Da-iCE's continued drive to polish both skill and artistic value—something on a completely different vector from the catchphrases they've come to be associate with as idols—is demonstrated in the response and voices of their fans. So what makes Da-iCE Da-iCE?
Kudo "I think one thing that the five of us have in common above most other things is an interest to perform on entirely new stages. And I think the cool thing about groups is that they're an amalgamation of different tastes. We bring together the different encounters and discoveries that we've each experienced outside and incorporate it into our work, which is something we've been doing subconsciously for a long time. We may not even attach that much importance to being on the same page. It's just that since we've been together for ten years, things fit into place when we need them too and we got things locked in with each other, so I can say something like, "if it were Sota, he'd come from this angle," you know? So, that's the kind of stuff you cultivate over a long time together."
Ohno "We try to be routine and talk about simple and stupid things, like what the other members are thinking about recently, what we're interested in, and such. These things can naturally rub off on each other and we stay caught up. So my answer naturally differs when I speak for myself and when I speak for Da-iCE. When it comes to choosing songs, I think it's natural to talk within the lines of what we need as a group."
The taste of the individual becomes the groups weapon. One can also tell how much Avex supports Da-iCE and their methods, and how this trusting relationship shows in the purity of the group's creations.
Hanamura "I am very grateful to the company for the environment they've provided. For instance, the choreographers we suggest and song arrangements we propose, they are quick to pick up on our ideas and give us advice on things that are difficult for us to judge on our own. They support us in ways that allow us to concentrate on our artistic expression. They've given us a level of freedom that would be difficult to realize in most other situations. For example, from our standpoint as singers, it is very difficult to measure the difference in how we feel towards the song at hand. But when you hold back on individuality, the edge of the group as a whole goes dull. Right now, we have the discretion as artists to do as we please regarding this. While some people may listen to our music and feel that our amplitude as singers lacks continuity, I think there are many people who enjoy that instead, as a musicality unique to Da-iCE."
"Identifying what you don't need, and implementing what you want."
In February this year, the group launched their first-ever popular TV program "Da-iCE music Lab." They've also decided to host the "Da-iCE arena tour 2022 - REVERSi-" this summer based on the concept EP "REVERSi" released on Wednesday, February 16. At the end of the interview, we asked the members how they see Da-iCE in 2022 and beyond.
Hanamura "What we are doing hasn't changed at all over the years. The only difference is that we are now in a situation where we can reach many more people in various places, other than performances. And having more staff behind us to help spread the word even more is one of the best things that happened from winning the Japan Record Award. As a group, I hope to be able to get our name out there even further in the future, and that no matter what kind of music we put out, we will be able to maintain our image; "Da-iCE = fashionable". 2022 is the year I plan on challenging myself at various new things, so I'd like to take good care of my throat and continue pushing myself at creative expression.
Ohno "In terms of broad-scale outlooks, there is a part of me that wants to be the kind of house-hold group that would allow us to do a dome tour, but we're the type who puts all we have into what's right in front of us, so I would like to enjoy the arena tour first and keep the momentum going. Personally, now that we've been at it for a decade, I'd like to take my time to refocus on me and my singing. I've been working on the building up process for a long time, so I hope now to hone in on what it is I don't need and put in the work of incorporating what I want."
Iwaoka "My primary goal as a group and as an individual is to complete the arena tour. Regardless of individual activities, at the end of the day our home is on the concert stage since that's where we grew and matured as a group. Now that we've scaled up quite a bit, I think the goal for this year is to take another good look at ourselves, avoid injuries, and build the physical strength in order to run this ride to the end. I must be honest though, mornings are getting harder these days and every now and then I'm like, "today is the day I quit."
Hanamura "The group is supposed to be home, isn't it?" No giving up. It's the five of us or none of us."
Iwaoka (laughs) "That's why I want to create a healthy body. So that it doesn't come to that."
Wada "I still feel that it's important to keep moving forward without stopping. A lot of things have progressed suddenly now that we've won the award, and I think this year I will have to work very hard, but if I get flustered and give up, then everything we've worked so hard for is gone. I hope to keep a steady head and take one step at a time. Oh, and to take a good at myself, and don't get injured... hahaha"
Hanamura "Everyone is taking a look at themselves then, huh? Well then, I guess I will too!"
Ohno "Okay, let's all do exactly that! And be careful of injuries."
Kudo: "It's been kind of a bumpy road up until now. At the same time, it could be exactly times like this when things start to get sloppy. It's when you start to receive praise and a lot starts happening that you need to pay extra attention and focus on the things that will carry you forward. I think it's time we think about what it is we really want to do.”
Lastly, let's take a look at the origins of the group's name, Da-iCE. The name is a fusion of "dance" and "dice," a six sided whole, consisting of one side for each member plus one for the fans. With a solid identity that has been built over a decade and recognition that continues to grow, accelerating especially over the past year, how will the potential of Da-iCE expand from here on out? The dice have already been thrown, as the group bets on the future and their dreams. What numbers will they surprise us with next? We'll have to follow them along to find out.
(Photo from left)
Toru Iwaoka / Sota Hanamura / Hayate Wada / Yudai Ohno / Taiki Kudo