I’ve always had a love for and fascination with modern Japanese music, stemming from my teenage infatuation with scratching and the early works of people like DJ Krush on Mo’ Wax. This led me over the years to delve further and further into Japan’s (and mainly Tokyo’s) underground scenes associated with hip hop and electronic, experimental music. In the mid-00s I started working with various artists – people like Goth-Trad, DJ Baku, DJ Klock (RIP) and tatsuki* – and came to the conclusion that what attracted me most to a lot of these people’s work is that it possessed a quality that was so refreshing to a Westerner’s ears. In most cases these artists had spent years assimilating sounds from the West, digesting them in their unique social, geographical and cultural environment – Japan’s location, culture and language have always placed it further away than most other countries despite the borders no longer being shut to foreigners in the 20th century – and coming back with a unique take on established ideas and genres that was uniquely Japanese, and different, as such, to what we were used to hearing in the West. Taking this idea further, with the rise of the Internet and its geographical-boundary-breaking qualities and the explosion of Myspace as a platform for musicians and artists to connect the world over, I’ve found that in recent years there’s a been a slowdown in the amount of truly groundbreaking, unique Japanese artists making themselves heard. It’s perhaps a normal result of such technological and social evolutions that innovation would at times slow down, but it doesn’t mean that Japan isn’t capable of producing truly fascinating artists.
Step forward Yosi Horikawa, a Tokyo-based producer with a unique sound and musical approach that fits directly into this tradition. Alongside the likes of Daisuke Tanabe and Quarta330, he has in recent years become one of Japan’s most fascinating musical exports in the loosely-amalgamated hip hop and electronic scenes. First appearing in 2009 on the French label Eklektik, where he released the “Touch EP”, Yosi soon became friends with French producer Fulgeance, the two bonding over a shared love of boundary-pushing music and food – two of life’s most essentials elements. It was thanks to Fulgeance and Eklektik that Yosi’s sound became popular in the West, and reached this writer’s ears. The result was arresting. I remember finding myself rewinding track after track on the “Touch EP”, enjoying the music but also mentally studying the incredible details contained within the tracks. Yosi works primarily with found and recorded sounds, and the way he blends this with hip hop and electronic stylistic references is quite simply incredible. It’s almost as if he was painting with sounds, creating worlds for the listener to delve into and lose him/herself.
Following a couple of years of growing Internet attention and the odd appearance in Europe, Yosi’s talent was recognised by the Red Bull Music Academy, who invited him as an alumni for the 2011 edition in Madrid. Having been convinced to apply by fellow alumni and close friend Daisuke Tanabe, Yosi became the latest Japanese artist to join the academy and – by all accounts – made quite a mark on all those he met and worked with. The music he wrote while in Madrid is some of his best yet, a hint of which can be heard in “Red Sound”, his collaboration with Dorian Concept that made it onto the RBMA “Various Assets 2011” compilation. All the core sounds on the track were recorded in and around the academy building, the drums made by tapping feet in the sand. You get the idea, this is a man who can craft music out of the most common and unprepossessing sounds.
2012 will see Yosi deliver an EP and debut album for London’s First Word records, home to Kidkanevil and Fulgeance and Soulist’s Souleance project – keeping things in the family. The debut EP, “Wandering”, will drop on June 19th. He’s also appearing at Sónar as part of the RBMA showcases, and so we fired over some questions to him for the occasion and asked for a mix. Read on for insight into how Yosi started making music and why he chose a path most people would never think of taking, the problems with Japanese music scenes and the best foods in both Japan and Europe. If you are attending Sónar, his live show will be an occasion not to be missed – I am biased of course (I booked him for a London show last year) but, hey, what’s the world without a little recommendation from your friends?
"When I was
knew I wanted
to make music,
but I didn’t
to make it
Hello, please introduce yourself to the readers. Who is Yosi Horikawa and how did he start making music?
Hi! I’m a Japanese sound maker and discoverer. I’ve been in love with crafting/making things since I was a child, so I’ve always tried to make whatever I wanted. This is how I ended up making music. When I was younger I knew I wanted to make music, but I didn’t have anything to make it with. One day I saw the sleeve for KRS ONE’s “Return Of The Boom Bap” album. On the sleeve he is shouting into the headphone, and listening to the album I heard something I thought was his voice through the headphone in the skits. So I thought to myself “I can use the headphones as a microphone” and I borrowed my father’s headphones and boom box and tried recording stuff with it. It worked and that was the first time I made music. It’s how I started and it’s informed everything I’ve done since, in terms of what drives me. So at the time I would try and make sounds out of anything and record those to make beats with. For example, the first song I ever made was done using a big can for the snare sound and the side of my bed for the bass drum. And I continued like this for years.
Your music blends ideas from hip hop and electronic music with found/recorded sounds in a way that is very unique. Why did you start using found/recorded sounds in your music?
As explained above I love to make everything myself, I love textures and the feelings these can create. At university I studied architecture, so things like materials, spatial elements, sceneries. I love environments, places where sounds can be found – not just musical instruments. I also love African music, the way rhythms drive a lot of African music. So I try and blend all these interests and experiences in my music and that’s how found sounds ended up being such an important part of my work.
You had releases on French label Eklektik Records and your new EP and album will be with London’s First Word records. Why do you choose to release music with European labels instead of Japanese ones? Do you think it’s better—and if so, why?
At first I sent demos to Japanese labels, but I never got any replies. So then I made an account on Myspace and I uploaded four tracks and within just one week Eklektik Records got in touch asking if I wanted to release something with them. The most important thing for me is that the label I work with has the same vision for the music as I do, and both Eklektik and First Word have given me that.
Please tell me the most interesting story about recording sounds. Where was it and what happened?
Once I went to Nagano, which is where we had the Japanese Winter Olympics. It’s a mountainous region and I went there to record birds singing. However I couldn’t get any good recordings, so I went deeper and deeper into the woods until I got lost! It started raining and the sun was going down and then all of a sudden birds started singing all around me. That’s how I recorded the sounds for the track “Wandering” – which is the title track of my next EP – and it’s also the ‘story’ I wanted to tell with the track.
Also once I went to Gifu, another Japanese prefecture. I went there at midnight to record frogs which have very unique voices. That recording will be used in my album.
What is the most unusual place where you have recorded sounds that you used in music?
In my room I once recorded the sounds of fire. I stacked over 100 pairs of chopsticks and set them on fire. The column of fire reached nearly all the way to the ceiling and the microphone holders started melting! It was dangerous, to say the least, but I got some really great sounds out of it.
they can be
they can be who
they want to
be – it’s ok"
How would you explain your creative process? Where do you start when you write a song and how do you know when it’s finished?
I start by deciding the concept of the track. Then I decide what sorts of sounds I will use, and then most of the time I start by making the rhythm tracks using the recorded sounds I’ve chosen. I then add synths, percussion such as kalimbas and other materials and elements from recorded sounds. I usually put in all the sounds I have in my head into the track and then I shape them and make them flow in a way that feels natural. Basically I always spend the most time editing tracks!
I love creating sonic sceneries with ‘concrete’ sounds. Little edits can help change such sceneries in amazing ways, but it’s not always easy. I find that once the track takes on a life of its own after I’ve worked on it for a while, that’s when it’s finished.
What is the electronic music scene like in Tokyo and Japan? What is good about it and what is bad?
In Japan we have many styles of electronic music. The sounds, the quality of the music tends to be quite good, however the problem, I think, is that there aren’t enough unique, individual voices among everything happening here. It’s difficult to find people who can find these unique talents and spread the word about them. Ultimately these issues are probably to do with who we are as a nation, as a people. I just hope that Japanese people understand that they can be themselves, they can be who they want to be – it’s ok.
Who are other interesting producers in Japan that people should check out?
Daisuke Tanabe! He is a great artist and very unique. I think we have a lot in common. And the best thing about his music is that it’s a real expression of his character, of who he is.
You are coming to Sónar – what do you expect from the festival?
Whenever I’ve had a chance to play live in Europe it’s always been a great experience so far. Every time there are people who don’t know me but after they hear my music they always tell me what they felt and their opinions, and that’s really great for me. So I’m looking forward to similar experiences at Sónar again, where people will tell me what they think and I will get a chance to see their reactions in such a great festival setting. In Japan sometimes I just can’t tell whether people hearing my music like it or not.
Lastly, because I know you’re a foodie: what are the three best Japanese food dishes and the three best European food dishes.
Well for Japanese food I think that tempura, nabe [ed note: nabe literally means pot, so nabe food generally refers to soup/broth/stew-based dishes] and any food suitable for drinking beer with!
As for European foods… well I love mussels, which I first discovered when I was staying in Trouville in France. I also like fresh baguettes, red wine, cheese and couscous. Wait, that’s too much? I also really loved it when I first ate chips with burger sauce at midnight in London!
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