Ken Ishii Says Tokyo’s Techno Scene Has Gone Back Underground

Tokyoite and techno legend Ken Ishii made his debut on R&S in 1993 and soon went on to gain international notoriety. In 1995, the animator of legendary Japanese Anime movie ‘Akira’ agreed to direct one of his videos, which went on to become MTVs Dance Video of the year.

Hi Ken, that was a pretty big achievement back then considering how popular dance music was becoming! What have been some of the main highlights of your career looking back?

Ken Ishii: One of my first 12”s on R & S being charted top 1 on NME’s techno chart, the MTV Award thing, an European rock festival tour including Reading, Roskilde, Pukkelpop and Lowlands, and producing the official theme track for Nagano Japan Olympic Games, and being on a cover of US’s Newsweek magazine – all these happened within a few years after my first record was released. It was a rush and I was more like confused than enjoying the situation.

What or who made you want to get in to dance music?

Ken Ishii: The Belleville Three – Juan Atkins, Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson. I had been originally into ’80’s electronica like YMO and D.A.F. but when Detroit techno came up, the music, especially what was produced by the guys above, totally attracted me and changed my musical direction.

How difficult was learning to produce for you in the beginning and what equipment were you using?

Ken Ishii: At that time, in the early ’90’s, there was nobody around me who was producing this kind of music, which means nobody was able to teach me how to do it. No textbook and no internet either back then. I had to learn it step by step by myself. I was ignorant and I first bought KORG M1 because I was told by a music shop guy that this was the first workstation ever which enabled you to make music without anything else. Then I added secondhand KORG DDD-1 rhythm machine, AKAI S612 sampler and small BOSS effectors etc to make it closer to what I wanted to produce.

Where was your first gig?

Ken Ishii: In ’89, I organized a dance party at my university (in Tokyo)’s annual festival with friends and I DJ’ed. That was my first gig to play in front of crowd. As a professional, my debut gig was a rave called ‘Hellraiser’ at RAI in Amsterdam in ’93. Its capacity was 30,000 so it was a bit too big for a freshman!

Which artists have been big huge inspirations to you throughout the years?

Ken Ishii: In addition to the Detroit techno originators, IDM artists like Black Dog Productions were my big inspirations in the mid ’90’s.

Asia Music are about release “Buffer Overflow” as part of their 10th anniversary celebrations, which also marks the label’s 50th release. Tell us more about it and your relationship with the label.

Ken Ishii: First I had a chance to play at TIME club in Manila, The Philippines last year and met the boss Pav. He told me he also ran the label. Then I became one of TIME’s international residents, so I thought I should be a part of this special compilation together with other regular artists related to this club.

As well as producing techno you’re also producing film and video game soundtracks. Are there major films or games that we will all know? Are you writing them independent of seeing the finished product?

Ken Ishii: No writing in progress at the moment, but a game called ‘Rez’, which was originally released in 2001 and included my tracks and sound parts, has just been reissued with new features as ‘Rez Infinite’, and there will be some discussion with the producer Tetsuya Mizuguchi quite soon for a special performance to celebrate it together.

What’s the music scene like in Toyko and how often are you playing?

Ken Ishii: The techno scene in Tokyo has had it’s up and downs since the 90s but it seems to have gone back underground now. I play here and in other major cities like Osaka and Nagoya a few times a month on a regular basis.

What are your preferred labels at the moment?

Ken Ishii: Tronic, Transmit, Alberto Ruiz’s Stick and Satoshi Fumi’s Unknown Season.

Tell us about your DJ setup

Ken Ishii: 1x DJ mixer, 3x CDJs and 2x turntables.

What can we expect from you soon

Ken Ishii: EPs on Different Is Different, Metodiq, Pornographic and Code, a collab EP with Van Czar on Bonzai, remixes for Rolando on R3, Satoshi Fumi on We Play House and Man With A Mission on Sony Japan etc etc.


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