In 2020, Japanese artist Toriena released a hard electronic album called “Pure Fire”, full of mostly instrumental rave music that seems to have no limits to its heaviness. It’s a great album, but I don’t want to stop at that conclusion, because Pure Fire is more than just a great music album, and Toriena is more than just a musician making this album. This is how it sounds:
In the beginning she wasn’t like this at all – she was a chiptune girl. She was in a band, realized it didn’t suit her personality, fell in love with electronic music in the early 2010s and started making her own music on Game Boy consoles. For her first live appearance she put all the music needed for the concert onto her LSDj cartridge (a program for making music on the Game Boy), pressed play once, and danced for 30 minutes straight (source). And dance she still does, and her natural passion for going nuts to her own music shows throughout all of her live shows that’s available online.
She has that kind of undeniable charisma on stage you just don’t find every day. Still she’s more of a producer than a front-person (even if she becomes a front-producer with all her dancing), and she does them both like they’re her primary profession. She has an awesome stage presence and instinctively know what to do to look cool in every moment, just out of spontaneous joy, and this kind of audience connection makes her live gig become a show instead of only music playing from a stage. Apparently she wants her live shows to look like this.
In the beginning all of her music was instrumental, with a classic minimalistic chiptune sound, a chaotic feeling and connecting stories (the first EP “Orbit” and the two first albums “Black Dance Hole” and “Space Fugitives” is roughly about “a girl falling in love with a dying lion on a bleaching earth and running away from the earth” (auto-translated quote)). They all share a unique Toriena sound that maybe isn’t very obvious, since the limited sound of the Game Boy makes all chiptune music sound alike. But the Toriena energy can’t be denied.
After hesitating from using her own vocals on her songs she eventually changed her mind and evolved into more of a producer/artist, and expanded her look at the chiptune genre after being a bit of a Game Boy fundamentalist. Instead of being tied to the Game Boy she started viewing it as a means to reach her musical goals, rather than it being the goal itself. (“Up until now, I’ve been rushing around, but when I turned 25, I stopped once and returned to the origin of my music making, “make what I like now,” and take a free stance without being bound by genre” (auto-translated quote)). But she continued to use the Game Boy and largely simulated/imitated the retro 8-bit sound with software on her 4th album “Fakebit” (“fakebit” is a term for “fake” chiptune music).
Then, after making the pretty nice and poppy album “SIXTHSENSE RIOT” in 2018, she decided to go against all advice and expectations and create a full-on instrumental rave album called “Pure Fire” in 2020.
“In the past, I’ve been told that if I don’t sing, or if the BPM is too fast, people won’t listen, etc., but this time I took off all my mental limiters and created songs that I wanted to do without caring about anything else. Only two of the ten songs have vocals, and they are mostly instrumentals. No regrets! It’s not like I want to beg people to listen to it, I’ve just done what I wanted to do, that’s all.” (https://www.korg.com/us/features/artists/2021/0423/)
With almost no vocals on the album, Toriena still manages to give the music a human feeling. It has enough variation and surprise factor for each song to have its own personality, and her honest appreciation for electronic sounds may also have helped on making the sounds sound alive (“Electronic sounds cannot be created without humans. It’s a sound that can’t be found in nature. It’s very human and full of vitality.” (auto-translated quote)). She has also stated that she sometimes simply “add a half tempo in the middle of the song to give it a little more depth”.
But I think the greater part of Toriena’s success comes from her way of thinking. She has a wide and deep perspective on what she does, and in 2015 she said this when asked about what it takes to be a successful musician:
“I think people need to clarify what it is they actually want to do. I believe that everybody has a dream, but it’s often vague. You should understand yourself and your dream really well and pursue it. Throughout the process, you’ll form your own unique style and you’ll become an artist that can’t be replaced. That said, I’m still on my way to becoming an artist like that.” (auto-translated quote)
By just listening to the chiptune music she was making around the time of the interview, it would have been pretty hard to predict that she would make an album like “Pure Fire” five years later. But with the mindset showing in the interview it’s clear that she had something great ahead of her. Reading this now there’s no surprise she’s taken such big leaps in her music that she’s done. What changes will she make in the next five years? Maybe it’s not even music (she makes a lot of other stuff, like her own album art and 3D models like “LIL ENA”), but it will surely be something cool. I think she has reached a level of uniqueness where she doesn’t really compete with anyone. She’s not in the chiptune world, nor the electronic music world, but in the Toriena world, where she is “The one and only TORIENA”:
“I do a lot of things from composing to illustrating to performing, but I don’t want to be limited by anything. I want to be a person that can’t be replaced. The one and only TORIENA. I want to be a stylish girl with various charming attributes which, like a hologram, change depending on your perspective.” (auto-translated quote)