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ChesterBeatty talk Japanese life and techno.

Traditionally, Japan has been a place where art and culture are entrenched in every day community. Interestingly enough, it is also the breeding ground for an electronic music outfit who go by the moniker of ChesterBeatty – and no less, a duo who are at the forefront of the Japanese techno scene. I had the chance to speak with Kunihiko Chisaka-san (one half of the duo) as he embarks on his first Australian tour.

I was particularly interested in how techno developed and prospered in a country as small and remarkable as Japan. Indeed, the joint seems so far from everywhere – much like Australia – yet apparently they have a thriving techno scene! Further, it is greats like Dave Clarke and Jeff Mills who consistently cite their favourite outings at the famous Liquid Room in downtown Tokyo. Kunihiko tells me the scene is bright. “I think techno in Japan is very good – many of the clubbers purely enjoy the music and a night at a club is stimulating as well as influencing to many producers and artists here”. And much like everywhere, he goes on to tell me about different scenes – one commercial and one underground. But neither compete – rather they tend to foster a positive relationship and compliment constructively rather than destructively.

The group itself consists of both a male and female colleague. They are Kunihiko Chisaka and Eri Nagai. They formed in 1993 and along with Eri, who was sixteen at the time, they started playing around their home turf in Kanazawa, Japan. Their first demo tape was brought the attention of Chicago techno don, Robert Armani, which led to the release of their EP, Gajyoken. And in the same year, at Liquid Room they played their first live set – which was praised very highly in prominent British magazines like Mixmag and I-D. Around the same time they also produced a track for Casio Baby-G, which was praised highly by the don of Underground Resistance – Mad Mike. Praise indeed.

In ‘97, they released BeatBoxx on Robert Armani’s Cloned Vinyl with Japans DJ Shufflemaster and it was post this release that they changed their unit name to ChesterBeatty. Since then, their music changed dramatically from acid house to hard minimal techno with admiration for their work coming from dizzying heights – Surgeon and Jay Denham.

In 2000, the label Disq was born and Melbourne favourites Goldenball and Levannon made their debut. Furthermore, the group will release a compilation album on Swedish label Speaker Attack and another on Germany’s Convex. Newer work combined with DJ Shufflemaster is meticulously produced and always well received on dancefloors – for example, the Specular Hallucination EP is a monster!

So where did all of this come from? As children, he tells me they were normal. “We were into cars, TV and girls – no different from ordinary kids”. He goes on to add that “my father was in the music business, so I was Interested in equipment at an early age. When I was in elementary school, I was constructing an amplifier with my dad with having Miles Davis as back ground music. I think that kind of childhood affected me to what I do now”. I bet it did!

Growing up in Japan seemed to be little different too. “We enjoyed extensive reading – books from Stevenson to Jacques Lacan”. And of music? “I listened to funk and disco. As an extension of that, I started listening to all the house stuff. I also listened to a lot of rock stuff such as Bob Dylan, which I still do now”. Much like a number of electronic music artists he cites influence from the UK and early electro scenes, stating “in the 80’s I went through techno like others did, but in ‘92 I got into the whole UK house movement. At the time I was in a rock band as a guitar player, but after the whole rock thing, I started using an 808 drum machine that I was using for rock practice and I eventually started making acid house tracks”. Interesting.

And the evolution to techno and electronica was simple. “We go through fads and phases within us, so our sounds are coming from those phases that we go through. The reason I started producing dance tracks was by the influence from people like Todd Terry, as well as the whole UK house movement, so I always wanted to make house music”.

We digress here and have a short discussion about world politics, such is the intellect and mental power the man possesses. “The whole confrontation in Israel continues to influence me. On Sep 4th, 1997, a 14 year old boy died by committing a suicide bomb attack. But the Israeli government led by Sharon has learned nothing over this event, and this upsets me. And this continuing frustration was one of the main driving forces for me to create the next album that will be released out of Tresor”.

I also asked about his music and certain tracks I have danced to on many occasions.

Indeed, Levannon is groovier in feel yet one of their first productions, Beat Boxx is harder and far more minimal. I asked him to explain the difference. He asserts, “all of our track titles have meanings. With Beat Boxx, we didn’t use drum machine at all. So by limiting ourselves and not using the drum machine, we wanted to know what the track would sound like. With Levannon, we wanted to satirize the whole madness that was going on in the world by making the track very disco-ish. As you can see, we first have an idea, and the outcome is in the track we produce. Therefore, we do not think in the sense of soft and hard”.

He also tells me of a new EP to be released in this month. “People can listen to these tracks and use it as a sample of what to expect for my full album, which will be released later this year. Also, a track is on the Maniac Love Anniversary Album, which will be released at the end of this month. In December, I will also be collaborating with T-Kitani (to be out on DISQ in Nov). His Chicago style will add spice to my sound! In January, another EP will be released on Phont.

In conclusion, I asked what Australia could expect from his live set. “We normally perform with two or three members together. This time I am performing alone but I it will be full of fun and cool ideas, which I hope Australia is looking forward to. Enjoy my music!” Damn straight.

You can catch Kunihiko Chisaka of ChesterBeatty at:

Teriyaki in Melbourne on Thursday November 14th.

Tech-ni-kal in Sydney on Friday November 15th.

LiquidBass in Brisbane on the Saturday November 16th.

Check ITM whatson for more details.