Alum Ishikawa Returns as Solo Artist

Paul Mehnert

Upon returning to Oberlin, a place she once called home, touring electronic musician and 2014 alumna Rachel Ishikawa felt the bittersweet taste of self-realization and towering student loans. “I learned a lot at Oberlin and met some of the most wonderful people,” she said. “I am grateful that [the school] is bringing me back as a paid musician, but at the same time, I will be paying money to Oberlin forever.” Ishikawa, also known by the stage name Shakai Mondai, will perform at the Cat in the Cream on Monday with supporting act Uxvie.

Students may be familiar with Ishikawa from her work in the band Peaks. The indie and alternative rock quintet was a staple of the Oberlin student music scene before its members graduated in 2014. The group also recorded an album, an EP and some singles during its period of activity. Ishikawa formed the band with friends during her first year at Oberlin and cited the group as an important source of support during her time at the school. “Peaks and the Asian American Alliance were really my rocks during my four years at Oberlin,” she said via Facebook. “School would have been a lot harder without them.”

While her former band boasted a catchy, whimsical style of indie rock, Ishikawa’s sound has transformed with her transition into solo artistry. Her moniker is a Japanese phrase that translates to “Social Problem.” “My music is really a negotiation between my dreams and my social reality,” she said. “I am a Pisces and end up spending a lot of time in my mind. At the same time, I am a very aware person and notice a lot of the interactions around me. Music is kind of the in-between. I can make my own world. There’s some escapism there but also a lot of reimagining.”

Ishikawa’s influences bleed into her music. Her songs feature lush, dreamy vocals that drift seamlessly across backing instrumentation, a quality reminiscent of Bjork and Cocteau Twins. The electronics that underlay her songs are equally impressive, taking a winding, minimal, hypnotic approach and interlocking beautifully with the accompanying vocal melodies. Her latest project, an EP titled Bad, was released last year as part of the Odd Castles music collective and is available to stream online. She recently released a cover of “Hikari,” a song by the popular Japanese-American songwriter Utada Hikaru.

Ishikawa also expressed some anxiety regarding her return. During her time at Oberlin she played one solo show at Fairchild Chapel, which she said did not go terribly well. “It was such a mess,” she said. “I only really started composing music using my laptop … after I graduated, and I really was so ill-prepared for that show.” She expects this upcoming performance to go much more smoothly, however. “I feel a lot more confident with making electronic music now,” she said.

Shakai Mondai’s alluring, electronic-tinged R&B and pop music is sure to capture the attention of curious students when Ishikawa hits the stage next week.