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#19 Satoshi Tomiie

Interview with Satoshi Tomiie

Satoshi Tomiie is a producer, co-owner of SAW RECORDINGS, and simply one of the best DJs in house music. Ever since his striking debut while he was still in college, his groundbreaking new styles have continued to captivate and demands the respect of music fans around the world. We interviewed him to learn of his visions and how he regards his fundamental roots, as well as his exciting new collaboration of music and contemporary art through the party at Le Bain he will hold for Japan Society Gallery’s upcoming exhibition.


– How did you become interested in house music?


I never was interested in music until I suddenly had the urge to play an instrument and started playing the piano at 2nd year in Jr. high school. Back then in Japan, YMO and Ryuichi Sakamoto were all the craze, but it was not until college that I went into electronic music when all that elaborate equipment became slightly more accessible. Loads of talent and effort are necessary in becoming a successful pianist, but then I encountered hiphop that was interesting because of how you can use a turntable as an instrument, which up to that point was merely a device one used to listen to records. In the early days of hiphop in Japan, we had minimal information, so I was trying to figure out how it works from what I saw on TV. I attempted to do scratch, and made tracks by having my friends rap. Although significantly smaller in scale than now, there was a scene, a form of culture amongst those who were in hiphop back then in Japan, which I was not necessarily in to. Right around then I came across house music, and it clicked for me. House music consists of a combination of sounds, a more simple way of creating music through rhythm rather than songs.

–What is the secret of success for staying at the best in house music world wide?


There are certain types of dance music that are heavy on the song elements, but mine focuses on rhythm and repetition, which I think allows it to be more accessible internationally because of the lack of the language barrier. I was also lucky because when I started, there were not as many DJs out there. Nowadays becoming a DJ is so competitive, because everyone wants to be a DJ, and it’s easier to make tracks; all you need is a little bit of knowledge & ideas, and the equipment is much more accessible. It must be much more difficult for those who started as a DJ now. Luck and timing do come into play.

– Would you say your roots are in Japan?


Absolutely yes, my fundamental roots are based in Japan. Although there might be a slight disconnect because I have been living abroad for so long, but still, I was raised in Japan till college, so it’s fair to say the basic part of me is Japanese. The part of me that is not too Japanese are superficial things I gained throughout the years of being out in the world, such as knowledge and experience. They are necessary in order to make it out here in the industry – almost like a technique, but my roots are undoubtedly Japanese.

–Would the fact that you consider your roots as being Japanese have any impact on the music you create?


Not really. I mean, yes, I probably am influenced by the TV and radio I was exposed to during childhood, but I would never use traditional Japanese musical instruments for my music. When I first started house music, there was a Shakuhachi sampled track which was very cool, but for someone with a Japanese cultural background to do the same thing and make it work would be impossible. The person who made the track with a Shakuhachi probably has no idea what the instrument looks like or how it’s played, but simply regarded the sound objectively as an interesting element to go with the track. If someone can intentionally do it and pull it off, the person has my respect.

Of course I can probably use something typically Japanese and get away with it, but I find it more interesting to see how people from outside of Japanese culture see Japan. It fascinates me to see how something I grew up being accustomed to is presented in a completely new way. I am inspired by how people recently have been remixing music I used to listen to, which shows the diversity of perspectives.

When you’re in Japan and see something Japanese, that becomes a norm. There is nothing special to it, but I think it is so much more interesting to mix things. It may be that I just don’t like things too straightforward, which is perverse of me and I can’t help it! But when I listen to music that’s too straightforward, I can’t help this urge to throw in a curve ball. Instead of just playing what the audience wants, my style would be to do something a little unexpected.

– Any advice for those who are trying to make it in the music industry?


At first glance, it might appear that the music I make has become very different, but if you ask me, my taste has been consistent throughout the years. Like eating Italian or French in Japan; it’s supposed to be a completely different culinary genre, but no matter what you eat, it’s Japanese. My style might have changed because I’ve been doing this for so long but my taste has been the same, so the music I made back then or what I make right now have no difference at all, which I think is a very important thing to keep in mind. It took a lot of experimenting to get to this point, like when I like something I hear and try to do it the same, it doesn’t always work – hiphop back then was kind of like that for me. There are a few factors, like, what you can do, what works for you, what you enjoy doing and what you want to do… basically to know what you love and to know if that’s actually for you, or if that’s something you think you can continue to do. There are a lot of things that come into play, and I think the most important thing is to be able to recognize those factors. It’s not about how you make music, but to know yourself.

I enjoy the balance of making music in the studio and to perform in front of a live audience. I adjust tracks according to the reaction I get when I play my songs – adding a few more beats etc. Having both ways of being a musician is fun; interacting with the audience and secluding myself in the studio to make tracks.

– Does art ever inspire you to make music?


Prism vision is one of those tracks. I chose Backside wave from a few pieces I made that I thought works well with the artwork, but it’s not that I made the track for the work. I rarely ever make music for specific artworks.

I like contemporary art though, because of its similarity to electronic music. For instance, you can chop off the top of this tripod and put a vase on top and associate it with a meaning and call it contemporary art, the sampling method of music is the same in the sense that you cut, select and combine sounds to create something. The big difference is though, that for music you have to make it convincing without explanation. Another thing is that in terms of being “contemporary”, traditional art and music that are called the classic”s” were all contemporary back when they came out. It must have been radical to combine certain musical scales or for a painting to be done in a certain manner. Now, a new type of sound combination can become a mainstream trend. It’s very inspirational. Since it’s not my field, I also enjoy going to galleries and museums, because it’s easier to get into it and enjoy – it’s hard to not be in work mode when you go listen to other people play music lol

– Do you have any comments for your fans who are coming to the party at Le Bain?


I look forward to sharing the deck with Alex from Tokyo – it’s my first time playing with him, and I’m also excited of my first attempt at collaborating music with art for JS Gallery at Le Bain.

Satoshi Tomiie

Satoshi Tomiie has been not only Japan’s but one of the world’s most successful DJs. Thanks to his seminal dancefloor anthems, pop remixes, headliner DJ sets and constant reinvention, he has constantly remained at the forefront of the global house music movement. A student of jazz and classical piano, Satoshi’s influential debut single ‘Tears’, was co-produced in 1989 with Chicago’s ‘Godfather of house’ Frankie Knuckles, which is considered as one of house music’s most important moments. Then in the early 1990s, he toured and played keyboard for Japanese composer Ryuichi Sakamoto (of Yellow Magic Orchestra fame) and remixed some of pop’s biggest names including U2, Mariah Carey, Photek, Simply Red, and David Bowie. At the turn of the millennium in a reinvention move typical of his DJ career, Satoshi introduced his groundbreaking new club sound in the album ‘Full Lick’ featuring dark twisted electronic rhythms, haunting vocals, and hypnotic grooves that came to set the benchmark for a new developing house scene. As a producer, Satoshi and Hector Romero’s record label SAW.Recordings has continued to refine the Chicago and New York City house blueprint. A fine supporter of new producers, SAW has championed a new generation of European-based house talent. In 2012, after a two-year absence from music production (Satoshi used the time to build a dream music studio in his NYC apartment), Satoshi came back with his brand new project – the “Popup” party series where he plays his new music catering specifically for small intimate parties. The world rejoiced to see his return to the deck as the ever evolving maverick and pioneer of music.

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