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Tomoyuki Tanaka interview: Fantastic Plastic Machine Splits Imagination

Author: Andrez Bergen
Friday, March 3, 2006
Tomoyuki Tanaka is a busy man these days. He deejayed in Seoul over New Year and in Paris in January. He's currently counting his CDs and records, which number in the vicinity of 30,000. He's also been busy remixing Earth, Wind & Fire and James Brown, while being himself remixed by Masters At Work and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo of Daft Punk. Right now he's busy promoting his new album Imaginations.

All of which help explain why Tanaka was almost too busy to do this interview.

"I'm planning the promotion [for the album] and starting the deejay tour," he offered by way of explanation on a response faxed from Osaka between gigs.

Tanaka's fifth Fantastic Plastic Machine album, 'Imaginations' follows on from some classic work on 'Beautiful' (2001), 'Luxury' (1998), and 'Fantastic Plastic Machine' (1997)--along with countless EPs and remixes. More recently, his has been the deft hand responsible for mixing the 'Sound Concierge' selections.

This gentleman's Web site claims he's a specialist in movies, art, and fashion--and more.

"I hope to be the most interesting artist myself," Tanaka said in response to a question regarding his favorite producers. "I want to continue being the biggest fan of Fantastic Plastic Machine."

The Machine itself emerged in Kyoto in 1997 from Tanaka's previous deejay outfit Sound Impossible. It also marked his move from the decks into the studio, a shift ostensibly inspired by Towa Tei of Deee-lite fame.

The following year Tanaka provided the track Green Door for the Suck It and See compilation on Howie B's Pussyfoot label. It was a mesmerizing fusion of kitsch and cool: camp '60s samples and hip '90s beats. But what made the track more special was its complexity, spontaneity and irreverence. While proud to have been included in the selection, Tanaka said, "It's an old track now--F.P.M. has developed musically over the years [since]."

Which brings us, eight big ones later, to the new album.

"It has potential as dance music, but also has an intellectual quality which dance music doesn't necessarily require," Tanaka wrote lyrical in the aforementioned facsimile message.

"The theme of the album is that human imagination provides the finest entertainment, as well as the biggest fear."

Yes, these days Tanaka is a busy man--but it may well be that this hectic schedule translates into some of his more recent productions sounding rushed. While there are moments when 'Imaginations' positively glows, there are others where it sounds half-baked. You'd swear that there are two Tanakas here, both fighting for control of the Machine.

Tracks like Tell Me, French Kiss and Dance Dance Dance Dance are obviously aimed at a house music dance floor, but their reasonably catchy rhythms are misleading moments that fail to sustain themselves. A World Without Love introduces a world of promise, with sweeping and melancholic piano chords, but drops back into languidly familiar R&B territory.

The best numbers are the nutted-out free-form ones, like the seriously charismatic track Paparuwa, with its quirky funk line, the standout track Obsession, which really does live up to its moniker, and other gems like Take Me Away and Slippin' On Down.

If only the whole album took note.

Tanaka, however, is much more optimistic about it all, even if he is on the run.

"Fantastic Plastic Machine is the sound of a reality that hits you on the dance floor, as well as in your own living room," he enthused. "People may think artists who combine pop music and underground music like F.P.M. are common, but they actually are not."

'Imaginations' is out now on Cutting Edge.