095 – Alex From Tokyo

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Alex From Tokyo may have made a name for himself as an artist in Japan, releasing under Tokyo Black Star on labels like Innervisions and remixing the likes of Carl Craig for Planet E, but the nomadic French born DJ is now happily residing in New York, as Japan’s club scene is experiencing its darkest hour. Opening up about his experiences, it’s clear Japan still plays an integral part for him artistically, but NYC has become an exciting new playground, with releases on Golf Channel imminent plus a label of his own to follow soon.

Alex takes us on a wonderfully eclectic journey for his addition to the series, recreating some of the vibes from a recent 5 hour set he played at a rooftop party in New York.

Where have you been and what have you been up to recently?

I have been in NYC a lot more these days, enjoying it a lot actually. There is a really good energy, vibe and dynamic in NYC right now. There is a lot going on, the Red Bull Music Academy was here for a month in May and they threw some amazing events all over the city. I got to see this conference by Brian Eno which was fascinating. It was really inspiring to see Giorgio Moroder live and François K rocking it out at Deep Space, a real dance music history moment.

I have been DJing regularly in the city, between Le Bain, Nublu and Susanne Bartsch’s super fun and extravagant “Catwalk” party at The Marquee. I have been busy working on different music projects. I have been doing some sound design work. I have been working closely with the fashion brand Y-3 for the past 5 years helping them coordinating the music for their NYC fashion shows, and I just directed and coordinated a music project celebrating the 10th anniversary of Y-3 producing special vinyl and CD box sets featuring exclusive music from some of our favourite Y-3 related producers.

It is going to be a promo only box set, we just got them and they look amazing! As Tokyo Black Star we made an exclusive track called “X” which has been selected as the online show music of the latest show. I have been in the studio here with my great friend the super talented musician Bing Ji Ling finishing up a track we made for the compilation of our friend Gian Franco for his restaurant Mangiami in the Lower East Side which closed down last December, that is coming up on the NYC label Golf Channel.

I am also finishing up putting together the tracklisting of volume 10 of the great compilation series “Originals” on the London based label Claremont 56 which is planning to come out in July. And finally I am in the process of starting my own label by the Fall this year.

I still do travel a bit, I just came back from a great week end DJing at the Paris first underground music Weather Festival at the great Concrete party and DJing in Moscow for the very first time, it was interesting. I have also been busy working from NYC representing our new pro/high end audio brand from Tokyo called Phonon which I set up with my music partner Isao Kumano of Tokyo Black Star 2 years ago, which is another exciting adventure!

I know you’ve been living in New York for close to 10 years, do you feel as though you are a part of the new underground movement over there in places like Brooklyn etc as you have been and still are in Tokyo?

I have been in NYC for 8 years now. Before that I have been coming to NYC at least once a year since my very 1st time in 1989. I have had over the years lots of music friends in NYC. I was always very inspired and influenced by all the different great music, street culture and art scenes in NYC. The real underground dance music sound of NYC is my roots.

Going to David Mancuso’s LOFT in 1993 was a real eye-opener compared to all the other clubs and parties I had been before. I still go there today, it is one solid family over a couple of generations. It is beautiful! You really realise the power of music, how music makes you free, how music connects you to people. It is magic. I met my wife and most of my friends through music. We are one big family over the world! Moving up here I found my place, we have a great close family of music friends, I definitely feel part of some kind of a big underground music family for sure from the Lower East Side to Brooklyn.

There is a lot great music coming up from NYC and a lot of great parties happening here in NYC. It is truly fascinating! After all those years, NYC is still so inspiring. I have been working lately regularly with Bing Ji Ling, which has been such a great learning experience working with such a super talented and open musician. There is definitely this free and creative spirit and funky vibe in NYC which stimulate me constantly.

There is of course such a deep and rich history in music and in art which is truly inspiring. From the beginning I was never part of one specific family or group, even back in Tokyo, I have always been part of some many different families crossing over, I always had my unique distinctive style coming from my french/japanese international up-bringing. I am very lucky to have in NYC, Tokyo and Paris some very faithful and solid music friends.

By the sounds of it you have some pretty fond memories playing as a resident for Timewarp at Eleven in Tokyo which was recently forced to close its doors for the last time. Do you think the Japanese club scene is in the worst shape it has been in right now, and can you see things improving in the near future?

I still go back to Tokyo and Japan every 3 months to tour, to do our Sunday Afternoon party “Gallery” we have been doing for 15 years with Dj Nori, Kenji Hasegawa and Fukuba, to do my Timewarp party with TR: and Ryo Watanabe at club Eleven which unfortunately just closed its doors after 3 years.

The last time I played at eleven was 2 months ago with Hiroshi Watanabe aka Kaito and Vince Watson. eleven is where Yellow used to be and was one of my favourite clubs in the world to DJ. The golden era of club music in Japan is definitely gone. Times have changed, Japan has been going through an identity, political, economic and social crisis for the past couple of years, especially following the 311 disaster which has been a major blow.

Japan hasn’t yet recovered and is still struggling these days, a bit lost, going through a transition. Japan is pretty much in a bad shape today. And on top of that the crackdown of the authorities in certain regions like Osaka on the nightlife and dancing has been very tough for the club and music scenes to operate through the “Act on Control and Improvement of Amusement Business” law from 1948 which regulates late night dancing to 1am making most clubs illegal in Japan , and giving “clubs” a bad image.

The situation is so bad that it can only get better. Some music people in Japan are starting to react, getting active to imply changes like the “Let’s Dance” association, and they are calling upon the Japanese government for change and put an end to this outdated non sense law. Actions and movements are happening now to change Japan from its super old school and conservative system. It is crazy that in tough times like now when people need to be together in Japan to reconstruct for a better future, the authorities are hardcore, cracking down on clubs to control the nightlife, and young people don’t have anywhere to go to gather etc. This is a pretty dangerous situation. I am very affected by this.

We recently got to check out some pretty amazing record stores in Japan.. Which spots do you regularly frequent and have close ties with? You have a solid collection of ‘Japanese’ music as well by the sounds, where do you like to shop for those records when back in Japan?

Tokyo and Japan definitely have amazing record stores. There used to be more of them and they were better but they were pretty expensive with no listening turntables back then! Times have changed. I love digging in Japan. Osaka has some great shops. I learnt so much about all types of music and records in Japan. Japanese people study a lot, they go deep, they are sophisticated in their tastes and they appreciate so much. There is a real spiritual connection to it.

I worked for 3 years at the Mr.Bongo record store in Tokyo in Shibuya in the second half of the 90′s, when club music in general exploded in Japan. We were the first record store in Japan to provide listening turntables. We changed the game. It was a very important time for me in my music education: I learnt a lot about jazz, fusion, latin, world music, reggae, disco, japanese music etc.

We were importing all the latest sounds from London and Europe. I grew up in this eclecticism and it was a very exciting time considering all the amazing music coming from all over the world, and we were right in the middle of it, in the crazy centre of Shibuya with all those crazy vinyl otakus! I will of course not tell you about all my secret places but some of my favourite I visit every time are Lighthouse records, Disk Union, Jet Set, EAD Records in Tokyo and Japonica in Kyoto.


Japonica, Kyoto

Where is your production project Tokyo Black Star at right now? What have you guys been working on and are there any plans in the works to release more music with Innervisions?

As I mentioned earlier, we have a new Tokyo Black Star exclusive track called “X” for the Y-3 music project. I am super happy that we recently did a remix of the song “The Right One” by the NYC band Phenomenal Handclap Band which is coming up on July 8th on Tummy Touch. I am planning to launch my label by the fall with a new Tokyo Black Star EP.

We’ve been busy with our audio brand phonon, and have done mainly remixes the past 2 years, we did a special remix of Carl Craig’s Psyche project track “Neurotic Behavior” for Planet E’s 20th anniversary which is kind of a dream project, and we collaborated with Ken Ishii on a track…So it is time for us to focus now on a series of new original music. Hopefully we will be able to have some music to propose to Innervisions. It has been so great working with them!

What can you tell us about this podcast, how and where was it recorded?

This podcast has been recorded live in NYC in my music room with 2 turntables and 2 CD-Js. I recorded it early this morning reminding myself about beautiful and magic last Sunday was with friends when I played a 5 hours sunset set on the rooftop of Le Bain in NYC. This is why I end my mix with this old french song “C’etait un beau dimanche” (It was a beautiful Sunday).

I start with this lovely (japanese balearic aka walearic) spoken word soundscape by the great japanese musician Yasuaki Shimizu which is a great opening track. The mix is more of an listening journey telling a story expressing my feelings of the moment mixing up old and new eclectic music I am into right now compared to a straight up club mix. I love making mixes. I hope you will enjoy it as much a I do!

What else do you have coming up?

I am going on a blues trip in Mississipi for a couple of days at the end of the month which I am really looking forward to. It will be my 3rd time. It is such a special and soulful place. We will be celebrating this August the 15 years anniversary of our Sunday afternoon party “Gallery” in Tokyo.

Besides, I am planning to be more in NYC, to do more things, I would love to start a DJ residency and I would love to spend more time making music here too collaborating with musicians and people.They are so many talented people around! And I hope I will be able to visit and to go play soon in Australia, I have heard so many good things! Thank you for your support.

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