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by Dan Grunebaum

Takkyu Ishino

With this weekend’s WIRE, the veteran Denki Groove producer brings clubbing to the masses

“I don’t want to go in the direction of experimental or difficult electronica”
Dan Grunebaum

When Takkyu Ishino was a kid growing up
in the ’70s and ’80s, holed up in his room imitating early electronic music innovators, he was thought to be a bit eccentric. “I liked experimental stuff like Einsturzende Neubauten,” he recalls in an interview at his record company Sony’s offices. “My parents were worried I was losing my mind.”

Little could his parents have imagined that a few decades later their son would be an elder statesman of the pop movement known as dance culture. Through his clever techno-pop unit Denki Groove, his harder edged solo material and club night Sterne at Womb, and his marquee WIRE raves, Ishino cuts a high profile on both Japan’s commercial and underground dance scenes.

But with this weekend’s seventh WIRE, which takes place this Saturday in Yokohama, the 37-year-old is determined to be as inclusive as possible. “It’s not an underground event, but something that can appeal even to people who haven’t been to a rave before,” Ishino maintains. “I don’t want to go in the direction of experimental or difficult electronica, but to maintain the color of WIRE as it’s developed so far.”

WIRE has earned a reputation for no-nonsense techno that emphasizes, in particular, Ishino’s long ties to Germany. In fact, the genesis for the event grew out of a gig he did in Berlin. “In ’96, I played Berlin’s Mayday party. There wasn’t anything like it in Japan at the time, and I thought it was strange since there was a big Japanese audience for techno.

Denki Groove Toca Schadaraparr

“I’ve liked German music since my teens,” Ishino continues. “And when it comes to electronica, Germany is more advanced than many countries. Germans often say that while the British and Americans invented rock or hip-hop, Germans invented techno. And Germany is also the country that I tour the most. I feel close to it, so it’s natural for me.”

This year’s WIRE features a number of veteran German DJ/producers, like former Ishino collaborator DJ Hell. Also on the bill are new-to-Japan acts such as The Modernist, who appears for the first time. The common thread is a 4/4 beat and a minimalist approach to sound construction, meaning that breakbeats, broken beats and other more complex dance rhythms will be few and far between.

Also keeping Ishino busy this summer is Denki Groove’s new release, Denki Groove Toca Schadaraparr for Sony’s Ki/oon imprint, which pairs the unit with old-school Japanese rappers and longtime friends Schadaraparr. The album welds Ishino’s infectious beats to Denki Groove partner Pierre Taki’s antics and Schadaraparr’s rhymes. The result is a hybrid sound that’s neither techno nor hip-hop but a made-in-Japan amalgam of both. The self-deprecating “Saint Ojisan” (Saint Fuddy Duddy) pokes fun at aging pop stars, while the first single, “Twilight,” is an infectiously danceable number that should have plenty of legs in the charts.

While Ishino’s solo work is determinedly underground and oriented to hardcore clubbers, he and Taki take a frothier approach with Denki Groove, winning mass approval with their sly broadsides at Japanese pop culture. “I’m a DJ, so when I record solo, I’m thinking about DJ music, not pop music. I don’t sell very well as a solo act, so I just do what I feel like doing,” Ishino says. “With Denki Groove, it’s more of a pop approach with a wider range of listeners, so we use more vocals and elements that appeal to more people. Denki Groove requires a bit more conscious thought.”

Childhood friends Ishino and Taki (who is also a television tarento) bring a sense of youthful play to their music. It’s a partnership that translates kids’ play into the pop music medium. “The interesting thing about Denki Groove is that Taki doesn’t actually make music,” explains Ishino. “He creates the atmosphere, which is actually very important. There’s no lack of musicians around, but none of them could replace Taki.”

While Ishino is happy with the way WIRE has been going, he’s less sanguine about the overall state of Japanese club culture. “I don’t think it’s as healthy as it was a few years ago,” he says, noting that he was only able to feature guest DJs from abroad at his monthly event Sterne by teaming up with superclub Womb. “There are fewer kids, and they’re spending their money on cellphones and other media instead of going out to clubs. Rather than spend their money on cellphone ring tones, it would be better if they actually went out to clubs or bought a CD.”

As a respected DJ and producer, Ishino gets a lot of demo tapes in the mail. But he has mixed feelings about the spread of digital recording technology, which has turned everyone into bedroom house music producers. “The technology has improved to the point where just about anyone can make something of a certain quality,” he says. “But that has also meant that a lot of it sounds alike. There’s not a lot of originality.”

Takkyu Ishino performs at WIRE on July 17 and the Fuji Rock Festival July 29-31. Denki Groove are on the bill at Summer Sonic Aug 13-14. Sterne takes place every first Friday at Womb. See club listings for details.

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