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by Don Crispy

TOSHIO MATSUURA

THE FORMER MEMBER OF FAMED CLUB JAZZ DJ UNIT UFO EXPLAINS WHY HE WENT SOLO

“Some people think of clubbing on the same level as karaoke.”

EVEN WITH THE EXPLOSION IN REMIX ALBUMS since the ’90s, it’s not too often that the opportunity arises to remix the Godfather of Soul himself. So when Toshio Matsuura got the call from Universal Japan at the end of 2002 to participate in a James Brown remix album featuring Japanese producers, needless to say he jumped at the chance.

“The negotiations with management were quite tough, and there were lots of checkpoints. We couldn’t edit the lyrics or add too many effects on the vocals, but I really enjoyed it,” says Matsuura in an interview at a noisy Aoyama café.

He says that he chose the track “Give It Up or Turn It Loose”—not one of Brown’s familiar hits—in order to give younger listeners a taste of an early, jazzier James Brown. “It’s not a really clubby track. I tried to mix it so it could be played in club, but also keep its musicality.”

Matsuura says that when iconic UK tastemaker and DJ Giles Peterson put it on his Worldwide compilation series, the track became key in introducing listeners abroad to Matsuura as a solo artist at a point when he had just left his longtime DJ collective United Future Organization.

The obvious question then arises: Why did Matsuura leave UFO after 12 years during which the trio not only introduced club jazz to Japanese audiences through their signature Jazzin events, but also released a series of influential albums worldwide?

Matsuura says a near-death auto collision forced him to reconsider his direction. “I’ll be 40 soon, and I got tired of waiting for people to come to the studio. After I nearly died I decided life is short and I don’t want to wait. I don’t want to lose time and by myself I can act more quickly.”

Since leaving UFO—with whom he says he’s still on good terms—Matsuura has been dividing himself between DJ tours that have taken him to more than 25 countries, production work, and party planning. In addition to the massive New Year’s Eve parties he’s put on at Ebisu Garden Hall, he’s brought neo-tango unit the Gotan Project to Roppongi Hills, and produced parties for the British Embassy. He also hosts a regular show, “Seven Eleven,” once a week on Shibuya FM that is syndicated around Japan.

Matsuura recalls the dozen years he spent with UFO as ones which saw an explosion in lifestyle choices, among them clubbing. “I believe UFO really changed the scene in Tokyo. No one is writing about it, but by introducing new music and the attitude of enjoying clubbing and fashion we wanted to show how much choice was out there. We wanted to teach people how to choose for themselves, and teach them how to have fun.”

With the explosion of club culture over the past decade and its resultant commercialization, Matsuura laments that it has become just another mass culture product. “In a short time it’s become too popular. Some people think of clubbing on the same level as karaoke.” Noting the growth of house, techno and trance, Matsuura says he’s trying to rejuvenate the club jazz scene.

The situation seems far from dire. With Matsuura and his former mates in UFO still active along with influential outfits like Kyoto Jazz Massive, not to mention the popularity of jazz/jam band events such as Organic Groove and young Japanese jazz guns Pe’z, jazz is continuing to establish a new role—not as a whisky-sipping, sit-down experience for ojisan, but as a booty-shaking soundtrack for the mating rituals of the young (and young at heart).

“Seven Eleven” can be heard every Monday night from 7-8pm on 78.4 Shibuya FM. Info: www.standard-works.com/toshio_matsuura M

Credit: TAKAY

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