Exactly 20 years ago I played in Japan for the first time. Since now, I have travelled 26 times to Japan, made many friends and built a strong bond with that amazing country. Sometimes I am asked, how this all happened. I’d like to share this story with you today.
I was invited to perform at Club Quattro in Shibuya by Dai Sato, and Kengo Watanabe, who where running the label Frogman Records at that time. My friend Toby Izui aka Tobynation had already introduced me to the music of that label and also made the contact to Kengo and Dai.
I was more than excited to visit Nippon. I just had discovered Manga and Anime, (partly because of the movie Akira) and was amazed by the fact that people on the other side of the microglobe knew and loved my music. I didn’t know yet, that this would be the beginning of a love affair.
One of the first things I heard in Japan is that “Maiku-ban-daiku” sounds like “good carpenter”. The party was happening on December 29th 1994 and I played a live set. Tracks from my album Afreuropamericasiaustralica, my 4 Seasons Of The Mind EP and some LoopZone tracks. Kengo & Dai would DJ, and also a new name on the scene, a DJ called Dove Loves Dub, who was actually Takkyu Ishino, one member of Japanese electronic pop group Denki Groove. He had been encouraged to start a career as a Techno DJ by his friend Fumiya Tanaka and would later become the host of WIRE Festival and the most prominent Japanese DJ.
The party was amazing and I enjoyed the hospitality of my new-won friends. Especially Toby tirelessly showed me bars, clubs and restaurants, temples, shrines and Akihabara, the electric city.
Kengo, Dai and Toby asked me if I would also like to DJ on the New Year’s Eve party at On Air West, a concert venue in the heart of Shibuya. In retrosprective, that party was the birth date of the Japanese Techno nation, since the Japanese Techno kids finally realized how many they were and how much they could achieve. All the Japanese Techno DJs played, like Ken Ishii, Fumiya Tanaka, Takkyu Ishino, Toby, Kengo, Dai and I was the only non-Japanese DJ involved. Each DJ played a current and a classic set. Unforgotten, how Fumiya Tanaka started his classic set with the KLF’s What Time Is Love and immediately burned the house down (yes, that track was already concidered a classic in 1994). I remember this moment, every time I play this track.
I spend two more weeks in Japan, interrupted by a short trip to Seoul in South Korea and made friends and experiences for a lifetime. I met Finnish writer and media scholar Sam Inkinen, who was visiting Tokyo to write reports about Japan for Finnish magazines. My Manscape duo partner Joshua Kirkby from Sydney was living in Tokyo for two years already, almost speaking fluently Japanese already and being the mascot of the scene. Hiro Masakazu would be one of the heads of Office 7, Sony’s Techno Department that was releasing productions by R&S, Warp and selected Techno artists like Jeff and myself in Japan.And on the last days of my trip, Sven Väth arrived in Japan. In fact this should become almost like a running gag: very often Sven Väth would arrive in Tokyo upon my departure and we spend more time together in Japan than elsewhere, not even Germany.
On the night before my departure I played another spontaneous party with Toby at the Gamer’s Night, organized by Kengo & Dai, where people would not only dance to the music but also play video games on consoles. Being a huge video gamer myself, I loved that idea and my final track that night was he original of Niji by Denki Groove, which was just released on their Dragon Album. Toby played that album on repeat in his Toyota Supra, when we were driving through Tokyo at day or night and it sort of became my soundtrack of that first trip to Japan. I loved the peaceful vibe of the track, the delicate arpeggio and the beautiful vocals.
Back home in Berlin, I urged Mark Reeder of MFS Records to license the tune and have remixes done. My Mijk van Dijk for Girls Remix became a classic in Japan, that is still now desired by my fans.
My personal experiences of this first trip to Nippon inspired my Tokyo Trax EP on Superstition Records with tracks like Gamer’s Night, which is also still a huge fan favourite in Japan. I still remember how I played that track to Kengo Watanabe during Love Parade 1995 in Berlin and he said, that the whole structure of the track resembles the timeline of a video game.
But that’s a different story…. 😉
Here’s a gallery of pictures from those days, for you to enjoy!
BTW: Dai Sato is now a very successful screenplay writer for anime and movies who refers in his work to a lot of influences he experienced as a DJ, label owner and Techno supporter. Here is a super-interesting article on a lecture about his work.
Toby Izui is still doing what he’s doing as a DJ and producer, being an invaluable ambassador for the Japanese electronic music scene – and my best friend in Japan.