Shinichiro Yokoto: Interview
The rise of Japanese inspired house music in Europe has been prolific. Amsterdam label Rush Hour Records has been at the forefront of this charge, thrusting the likes of Hunee to the forefront of the UK scene and propelling Soichi Terada and Shinichiro Yokota’s mesmeric, synth-inspired house music into UK musical airwaves. Whilst these two have collaborated on well-known tracks like ‘Do it Again’ to enormous success, Yokota’s new record, Shinichiro Yokota Presents…Do it Again and Again, is the undoubted winner of the lot. It is an album written over the course of 20 years, inspired by ‘synthesizers, cars and ways to survive in South Tokyo.’ We were lucky enough to talk to him and ask him about his childhood in Japan, the new album and what’s he’s got lined up in the future.
The soundtrack of Yokota’s youth is far cry from the kind of music he produces today. ‘When I was a child,’ he says, ‘there were many groups who imitated the Beatles in Japan…none of that excited me though’ and it was not until the arrival of the the synth playing Yellow Magic Orchestra and the likes of Isao Tomita that Yokota started to pay attention to Tokyo’s music scene: ‘they were the first group that really impressed me musically. From there I had a dream to become a musician.’ After YMO broke up in 1984, Yokota recalls how American hip-hop took over and he was swept along with it; ‘I soon gave up synthesizer music for a while after listening to late night hip-hip shows in 1985. I started to focus instead on turntablism. We used to listen people like Sugarhill Gang and Deftjam and imitate them – rapping, breaking, DJing, all aspects of the culture. They were making funky rhythms with cheap rhythm boxes that I had never heard before.’ Indeed, hip-hop was not the only black music that influenced Yokota - the birth of house music in Detroit was a big moment for Yokota, citing artists like Lil Louis as fundamental sources of inspiration.
The album itself was recorded over almost two decades with the beginning and end of the record sounding entirely different – the first ten tracks are high tempo, upbeat numbers. ‘Gotta Have House’ and ‘Night Drive’ are classic house bangers while tracks like ‘Sora’ provides an oriental twist, with this duality stemming from the sheer length of time it took to make the album. As Yokota notes, ‘it is an album that I started making around 1990. The first nine tracks I made before 2000. Since 2000 though I began to dislike fast beats and started to make only slow-tempo songs.’ While the tempo slows however, it retains it power and the production improves throughout. ‘The reason why the sound changed,’ Yokota explains, ‘was due the evolution of electronic musical instruments. Music production was limited back then but now it is better and making music is fun again.’ Tracks like ‘Orange Moon’ and ‘Way of Jungle’ show off Yokota’s fantastic production talent. He combines a wide array of instruments with tremendous subtlety to produce tracks that still surprise no matter how many times you hear them.
With the success of Yokota and Soichi Terada, I ask him why he thinks Japanese house music is so popular in the UK? ‘I don’t know the reasons for popularity in the UK. I think that there is an environment in the UK that can accept new things and old things. As for Hunee, Terada and I, Asian blood is flowing so perhaps there is a feeling for exotic work right now.’ He realises that his recent success at the age of 51 is unusual yet his experience allows him to remain grounded. ‘I was completely unknown in Japan but now my name is known around the world. If you keep doing it without resigning, something may happen. It is important to keep learning though. For example, I sometimes participate in jazz and fusion sessions. It is important to keep challenging yourself.’ Sadly, it may be a while till we next hear Yokota live in the UK – instead he remains in Tokyo focussing on another career altogether. ‘I am currently managing a company called Night Pager that makes custom parts of cars. I design the products and manufacture them also. To live in Tokyo, make music and make custom parts of cars is my life style.’ The album seems to be a representation of that lifestyle – an eclectic mix of classic house music in today’s Tokyo, let’s just hope we have more music from him on the horizon.