By Dan Grunebaum
Tomoyuki Tanaka explores the thematic
possibilities of a DJ mix compilation in his Sound Concierge
|Courtesy of Air
Ever since the rise of the DJ as superstar
a decade or so ago, record companies have been shoveling an
endless stream of mix compilation albums at consumers. Mix
comps not only allow labels to capitalize quickly on a DJs
fame without funding time-consuming new productions, theyre
an easy way for labels to squeeze a bit of extra revenue out
of back catalogs. Most of them, sadly, are forgettable.
Tomoyuki Tanaka, the burly, bearded artist behind the Fantastic
Plastic Machine moniker, leans forward in a retro-modern chair
at his studio in trendy Daikanyama to explain how he went
about doing something that would stand out among the stream
of DJ mix comps.
I wanted to put together a different kind of mix, and
just so happened to arrive at the Sound Concierge concept,
he explains about his new series germination last year.
As you know, a concierge is someone who assists patrons
at a hotel. Tanaka says he approaches DJing as a service
industry: Listeners are customers, and the customer is king.
I wanted to do something that would conjure a certain
situation, he continues. Rather than compiling
my own favorites, I wanted to do something thematic. It may
seem like a natural idea, but I dont think anyone had
done it yet in Japan. Themes create their own logic. For example,
a mix based on the theme of sex immediately creates various
Launched last year with Sound Concierge #401 Do Not
Disturb and followed by three more releases in 2004,
the series picks up where it left off with Sound Concierge
#501 Blanket, and the associated Sound Concierge
Annex Contemporary Love Songs, both out this week
on major Japanese label Avex.
As its name implies, Blanket establishes a cozy,
comfortable atmosphere. The selection is indicative of Tanakas
vast record collection, which lines the walls of his studio
lounge. Artists included among the 20 tracks range from obscure
60s soft-rock act Bunky and Jake to French heartthrob
Benjamin Biolay to Brazilian guitarist Sebastiao Tapajos to
mellower tracks by more familiar names like Todd Rundgren
and Ryuichi Sakamoto. Just about any guy will at some
point in his life have put together a tape of his favorite
songs for a favorite girl, Tanaka explains. I
put together Blanket with this sort of idea in
Contemporary Love Songs, meanwhile, is a bit of
a vanity project. Consisting exclusively of FPM remix work,
the album adopts more of a dance music approach, including
remixes of James Browns Sex Machine and
Chics Le Freak. When you remix something
you make it your own, says Tanaka. When I remix
tracks I tend to give them a romantic vibe, and I put Contemporary
Love Songs together with this in mind. Theyre
almost all love songs. I tend to be a romantic myself and
I think it shows in the album.
Sales figures in the 2,000-3,000 range constitute a respectable
showing for a Japanese DJ mix compilation. Each of FPMs
Sound Concierge discs has sold over 20,000, making them bona-fide
hits and testifying to the appeal of his thematic approach.
While many DJs here eagerly await the latest vinyl pressings
from New York or London, Tanaka approaches his craft more
like a historian of pop musics near-history. He first
got into DJing in the early 90s in his hometown of Kyoto
by launching a club event, Sound Impossible, devoted to kitschy
soundtrack music from the 60s.
At that time, rare groove was happening in London, and
there were DJs playing exclusively old stuff, but there wasnt
anyone doing soundtracks, Tanaka recalls. From
there one thing led to another. I got to know artists from
Tokyo, and they encouraged me to record. Thats why I
started Fantastic Plastic Machine. I wanted to do something
that couldnt be heard in clubs or wasnt available
in mainstream record stores at the time.
As it turns out, the taste of Tanakas mixes and recordings
coincided with the burgeoning Shibuya kei scenes stylistic
collage of acid jazz, lounge, bossa nova, French pop and soft
rock, and soon found a ready audience. Now theres
a whole section devoted to lounge music, he notes. At
that time there wasnt anything, but I hoped there would
at least be a few people who shared my tastes.
Tanakas vision, however, wasnt rooted exclusively
in the past. I wanted to create something that would
pull together not only soundtracks, but also bossa nova, and
contemporary styles like house and hip-hop. Since no one was
doing it, I decided to do it myself, and luckily it turned
out there were people around the world who felt the same.
As FPM began to take off, Tanaka issued a steady stream of
both original artist production albums and DJ compilations.
Initially signed to the like-minded Pizzicato Fives
Readymade Records label, Tanaka has been with Avex since 2000.
His music has also found overseas distribution via independent
Emperor Norton records.
In addition to holding down a regular residency for five years
at Tokyos legendary Yellow that regularly draws over
1,000, the DJ has been venturing further abroad to Europe,
America, and increasingly, Asia. On New Years Eve he
played for a crowd of 4,000 in South Korea. Recently
Ive been getting a lot of invitations from Asia,
he says. China is still into techno, but like South
Korea, which began with techno and moved on to different styles,
I think it will evolve. In Japan, European and American DJs
are tops, but in Korea, Japanese DJs are most in demand. They
treat us really nicely.
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