The first time I met Hunee was many years ago, in a Berlin record store where he worked at that time. Of course. He noticed the Disco stuff I chose from the crates and soon we were talking. And also soon we were playing gigs together. I was actually looking back on many years of playing out then, and I was not that determined to keep on keeping on. But you cannot act reserved around Hunee, particularly as far as music is concerned. Hunee’s enthusiasm for music is astounding. For every special record he learns about, he will find several other special records in return. It would be a waste of time for him to feed on the beauty of sounds and not share.
And then Hunee the producer emerged, to add to all the other music around him. At first, his very own music showed the restlessness he so often displayed in everyday life, plus nocturnal endeavours. There were wonderful ideas, almost too many of them. It seemed that Hunee took in so much music that his own artistic persona had to fight its way out. But it did. Yet after a few acclaimed releases, Hunee the producer disappeared again. I do not know why exactly, he never told me, and I never really asked. Apparently a debut album was ready to go, but it never saw the light. I felt that was quite a respectable and brave move, and I was very confident that he would not give up so easily. He never does. But for an avid vinyl collector like himself, it is quite difficult to achieve that all the inspirations do not divert from your own signature, yet still shine through, and the album is still a format much superior to others. And so while he continued to drop platters that matter week in way out, he went supposedly Kubrick on his own. I am most probably not exaggerating. Why? Because I’m listening to this album while I am writing these lines.
And this album is rather special. Even the opening title is special. It does not show off some unjustified pretension, it sets a perfect mood, a misty Eastern mood, full of drips, whirls and sweet ambience. Ending in one of the catchiest melodies I heard since I first fell in love with Japanese Synthpop. Not the easiest task to transcend this blissful mystery to something you can dance to, but Crossroads does exactly that, adding a cinematic aura that feels like elements unknown are tearing the roof off the to display a panoramic view of something you have never seen before. Influx, let me touch it. It feels acidic, and it has the glory. You will consider devouring it. Desire takes up the trip, and throws it around. A mean little groover, if I may say so. Burning Flowers in all its fury may be Fitzcarraldo’s ship sliding all the way back down, with the fat lady still singing. And if they pull that ship back up, this track will send it down again, instantly. Error Of The Average follows suit adequately, like a Sci-Fi orchestra whipping a round dance of lost souls into oblivion, all swirling drama and voodoo frenzy. I’m still trying to unlock myself from it. Movement takes its time, with string melancholia unfolding into a precious downbeat stroll. And is the exotic setting in Gabun Mind really crashing into that several minute psychedelia breakdown that then finally explodes into those revolving basslines and HEAVY beats? They may plant flowers and gardens through the deep and chaotic furrows this has left behind, but the idyll will never be the same again. And it keeps going more places. The jazz-fuelled interlude that is Amo reprises the Eastern atmosphere from earlier on, but in a puzzling way. We are talking suspense. Bruises is just baffling. Do not even try to tell me you have ever heard one of the most famous vocal samples of the Paradise Garage legacy accompanied by a heart-wrenching string quartet. No, you did not. And you will probably not hear anything like this again. And then… the End of The World, which I indeed did not know yet. If this is the afterworld, I am not afraid. It feels a bit feverish to me, even a bit uncertain. But I can hear a light at the end of the tunnel. Exaggerating? Me? No. I was just listening to this album while I was writing these lines.
You should try it yourself.
I am an avid longtime collector of 70s/80s Japanese Synthpop music, and being based in Europe that always proved to be quite some task, particularly in the pre-internet shopping days. You had to start from scratch, mostly starting with Yellow Magic Orchestra and their affiliated labels like Yen, Monad or Alfa, and you studied the credits of every record and learnt about new artists, crosslinks and local scenes. But finding those records in some continental crates was a rare and lucky occasion, and then when internet offered more purchasing options, it appeared to be a rather pricey habit because of shipping costs and Japanese sellers who were perfectly aware that their items were considerably out of reach beyond their own soil. But it also became very apparent that their was way more to discover, and it was well worth trying. Still, the Japanese music scene was frustratingly hermetic. I had gathered a collection over the years, but regularly you came across sellers with pages and pages of offers, complete with listening clips, and you had to admit that you were not scratching the surface, you were not even near it. I could have bought the bulk of it if possible, it all sounded fantastic, but it was not possible, and as I tried to at least learn about the artists I read in the item descriptions via web search engines, information was very scarce. For a nation so obsessed with technological progress and cultural information, there was mysteriously little given away to the outside world, only a few hideously designed websites by American or European enthusiasts who lived in Japan and fell in love with what they heard. I was really glad they made the effort, but their discographies, as thorough as they were, offered not much beyond artists I already knew about, and sooner or later every such site disappeared from sight again, only to be replaced by, well, not much else. I’m perfectly convinced that a well researched book about Japanese music would sell profitable quantities, there must be more people like me, but it can only be written by a Japanese author.
And then it always fascinated me that it was well acknowledged that Japan contributed a lot to electronic music in said period of time, but once House came along in the mid to late 80’s, and Techno shortly after, there were so few notable Nippon producers reacting to it. And as the Chicago pioneers operated mainly on musical equipment built in Japan and later neglected for the international bargain market, it was even more curious that those sounds originated so far away from where they were originally developed. No matter how hard you tried, the Japanese equivalent to the early House music masters was nowhere to be found. But you had this feeling there just had to be someone.
Years later a good friend of mine, a serious Deep House completist collector, pointed out that there were some interesting releases by Japanese artists on Hisa Ishioka’s King Street Sounds, a New York based label established in 1993, which was inspired by the Paradise Garage experience. He investigated further and found Ishioka’s sub-label BPM Records, which from 1991 on showcased a small wealth of Japanese producers taking on the trademark mellow but crisp Big Apple Deep House style established on imprints like Nu Groove, Strictly Rhythm, Nervous and a plethora of smaller labels. The producer with the most credits was Soichi Terada, and he also seemed to have the most distinctive signature sound. It is known that Larry Levan toured Japan at the end of his career, and even shortly before is death, and there must have been some interaction with the local scene, as he remixed Terada’s gorgeous 1989 track „Sunshower“ two years later, as did fellow New York DJ legend Mark Kamins. So there he was at last, the House music master from Japan. He even had his own label, called Far East Recordings, and though it only had a small back catalogue the few sound bits I could track down had me locking target on every single one of them. Terada’s sound admittedly owed a lot to its US prototypes, the whole lush smoothness of it, but it also had a weirdly bouncing funk, and more importantly, it had all this charming humour to its melodies and arrangements, and this all-embracing both respectful and freeform use of Western influences interpreted with Japanese music traditions I so fell in love with the first time I ever heard YMO.
But the other parallel was that it was as hard to find as any other record I had in my Nippon wantslist, or even worse. At least the releases pre-House were pressed in suffcient runs, but these were only done in quantities of a few hundred. Enter this fine compilation, which although interest in Nippon House had increased over the years, appeared a bit out of the blue. It was put together by my friend Hunee, a DJ and music enthusiast with a fine tendency to dig that little deeper, and he managed to secure all the essential tracks by Soichi Terada and his frequent collaborator Shinichiro Yokota. And even when reissues of rare records are quite common these days, this is really something special. Now someone please do that complete collection of Koizumix Production tracks, and make me an even happier man.
I really don’t like all these convenience product edits of rare or popular Disco and Synthpop material. With a bit of experience and practice you can learn the skills necessary to handle the original irregularities of drummers or sloppy rhythm programming, and maintain the already well executed aspects of the original arrangement over the DJ service straightness of most edits. I like people who deconstruct the source material and turn it into something else, even if it is only a respectful variation. I just do not see much merit in keeping the original and just streamlining it for better mixing. I am perfectly aware that this criticism may seem pointless, as most of today’s club setups for mixing are designed to have the choice what to play next as the only task left for the DJ, if at all. I have Zager and Evans’ In The Year 2525 in my head, predicting “some machine is doing that for you”.
When DJs began to make their own edits of tracks they liked to play in the late 70s, better mixing purposes admittedly played a role. But mostly the editing process was determined by personal preferences concerning the arrangement of a track, not determined by the aim to reduce every track to the same groove and functionality, regardless of arrangement. So they took out tape and scissors, and made intros end up in a kick drum in time, extended or cut breaks and other parts, dropped instruments or vocals they did not like, and often improved the source with individual versions and interpretations.
Many daring edits of that era were officially released, but the most radical approaches were to be found in the catalogues of the remix services. Disconet led the way in 1977, and soon all over the US and Europe DJs and producers were splicing reel-to-reels to let a certain track shine in the best possible way, and the remix services like hot Tracks, Razormaid, Ultimix, Art Of Mix, C.S., Landspeed and countless others gathered the results and distributed them back to the clubs. The records compiling the edits often contained original tracks and medleys as well, and tracks were segued to make the work for the DJ easier, who often played for hours on end in those days, several nights a week. The selection of the tracks per release was often frustrating. With a few sublime reworks there were also tracks included that were well cheesy to begin with, and did not get better after being worked on. Eurodance cheese, weird rock songs trying to cross over to the dance market, and lots of one hit wonders, with questionable hits. There was no other reason for the tracklisting than songs being pushed regardless of quality, and of course the individual taste of the editor at work. The edits also varied in quality, a lot were even rather crude, or as forgettable as the original material. But there were also a lot of edits that reconstructed what they were given to work with to a whole new level. Take Razormaid’s edit of the Pet Shop Boys’ West End Girls for example. The intro is easier to mix in their version, but were the official Shep Pettibone remix arguably sacrifices the song’s special appeal for dancefloor credentials, Razormaid manage to keep the tension by rearranging the elements and still achieve a track that works a treat in a club context.