Man and the Machinery
Japan's techno ambassador
at-large Ken Ishii tells Metropolis why he's getting back
to the basics of dance music.
It's been over a year since we last talked. What
have you been up to?
Working hard and traveling quite a bit. I visited
over 50 cities in Europe, South America and Asia. Also, I've
been writing my new album when I've been back in Japan.
What stood out in your touring?
I did Brazil again, Rio and Sao Paulo. My music
isn't released in South America, and I'd never
done any interviews there, but there were still good crowds.
Also, I went to Finland for the first time this year, and
the scene there is quite new and the press attention was huge.
It's interesting to play new places and see how the crowds
react, and it affected my music quite a lot. I realized over
the last two years how strong basic techno still is. The simple
beat still works.
Did that affect your approach to
the new album?
Exactly. With the last album, I was challenging
new styles of dance music. But looking back over the last
two years, the dance community has not been so receptive.
Playing in new territories I see more and more how strong
techno is, and how basic techno can still expand its frontiers.
That encouraged me in a good way to make a straightforward
dance album. Actually, this is the first time I have done
a straightforward, one hundred percent dance album.
What did you have in mind with the
title Future In Light?
I feel very happy with what I've been doing,
and I've been feeling very positive towards my career,
so I wanted to make something simple because my feelings are
quite simple now, in a positive way.
You've also started a new
label with the album?
This is the first release from 70 Drums. I debuted
in '93, so in the last decade I've been learning
about the music business. I felt that now was the time for
me to set up my own thing. I was signed to Sony for just one
album, while all the other previous albums were on R&S,
a regional Belgian label. My relationship with R&S had
finished, and the relationship between R&S and Sony had
also ended, so it was a good time to start something new.
How has going independent affected
the making of your new album, now that you don't have
Sony throwing money at you?
Actually, I didn't get much money from Sony.
All the royalties came from R&S. Sony just spent their
money on promotion. The biggest difference is that I have
no deadline now. I feel very free-no rules, no deadlines-so
this album was very natural for me.
I will also be interviewing Jeff
Mills today (see After Dark) in relation to his residency
at Luners. Do you have any words for Jeff?
We're playing together on the 31st of this
month. This will be the second time. The last time was in
July in Utrecht, Holland. It was a very nice night. The place
was a proper club and Jeff and I played not just banging stuff
but more adult sounds, so I'm looking forward to playing
with him because I think it is going to be a bit more experimental
night but still based in techno in a good way. A sample copy
of Jeff's new album [At First Sight] came to me, and
the record company asked me to write some promotional copy.
I felt that the album had old Detroit elements, so I thought
that we are thinking the same way. Probably our aims are similar.
I get the impression Detroit techno
is more popular in Europe and Japan than in the US....
In general, younger crowds prefer harder stuff,
while older crowds prefer funkier stuff. In the last few years
trance has become big everywhere and provided a good chance
for a younger crowd to come into the scene. And probably those
younger kids are now tired of the same trance music and are
getting interested in real techno. One example would be Detroit
How do you find the Tokyo scene
as compared to Osaka or other cities in Japan?
I play the big five cities: Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya,
Sapporo and Fukuoka. They are basically similar because Japan
is a mono-directed country. Culturally, everyone looks to
Tokyo. But in local cities, you might want to play harder,
more direct music. Some people say the scene in Tokyo is going
down, but I think it's OK. Local cities however, are
going down more and more over the last five years. Five years
ago a lot of Tokyo DJs traveled to local cities, but not so
much any more.
So deflation is affecting the club
In a big way. I'm still waiting for it to
You've been quite successful
internationally. Do you find it difficult to stay connected
with the underground?
Personally I don't think so, but people
may think like that. Some fans might think Ken Ishii is commercial,
but I can maintain an underground aspect. Some of the stuff
I do might be more commercial, while some might be experimental.
I don't care about it but some may.
You've been in the club world
for ten years now. Do you still go out?
Yes. Compared to ten years ago it's better:
wider choice, greater frequency of international DJs, and
homegrown DJs have gotten much better. We have some negative
points-more shitty records-but in general I
think it's better.
Are there any clubs or parties you
I still go to Maniac Love because Wada and Yama
are there every week. The place is the easiest for me to go.
I also like Womb and play there quite often. But maybe I need
more time to find good clubs in Tokyo.
Will you still be DJing when you're
Maybe once in a while, but not regularly. I will
not be young, and sometimes my throat gets damaged from the
bad air in clubs, or sometimes I catch a cold. So for physical
reasons I may have to stop.
Future In Light is released October 30 on 70 Drums/Music
Mine. Ken Ishii DJs at Luners with Jeff Mills on October 31.
See After Dark for details.
credit: Music Mine