Satoshi Tomiie - Japanese Master
From piano to jazz to hip hop to house, Satoshi Tomiie’s musical history is one of natural progression. 3D’s Cyclone speaks to Japan’s premiere house DJ, in Sydney this week.
Though he departed for New York back in the day, Satoshi Tomiie is Japan’s first superstar DJ. He wrote himself into the dance music history books when he worked on Tears with new ally Frankie Knuckles in 1989. Today the Tokyo native, while still affiliated with the Def Mix crew, is reluctant to trade on the past, forever evolving with the scene. Tomiie’s latest project, another mix-CD in Renaissance’s Masters Series, is no exception. It reveals his predilection for progressive house – as well as the encroachment of German minimalism.
Tomiie’s second Masters encapsulates his current sensibilities – and not just as a DJ. “It represents my musical tastes – the music I’m into,” he explains from Dubai. “With mix-CDs, I always try to make them tell people what I’m up to, and this is what I’m into. I think, throughout my career, my basic taste has never changed. [But] I’m really into the new stuff, what’s going on – I’m always curious about it.”
Tomiie’s departure from a traditional house paradigm may have upset purists, but he’s proud to be described as a chameleon. His own definition of house music rests on its mutability. Does he feel frustrated to be baited by old schoolers not into progressive- “Yeah, but this is our job – to change their minds,” he says. At any rate, Tomiie is excited about the contemporary electronic landscape, applauding a younger generation of music-makers. “It’s very instrumental-oriented – which I don’t mind, actually,” he says.
While Tomiie isn’t inclined to embark on a nostalgia trip, decrying dance music’s loss of innocence, he does miss the time when house music was house music. Tomiie began spinning in the ’80s, playing hip hop and then picking up on Chicago house, influenced by the music he heard on imported mixtapes. He befriended New Yorker Frankie Knuckles when a Japanese cosmetics company threw a promotional party. Tomiie was commissioned to compose a special track that impressed Knuckles. This led to their collaborating on the Underground Solution record, Tears, featuring Robert Owens. Tomiie was studying law, but his life soon changed course. Post-Tears, Knuckles invited him to join Def Mix Productions and so the Japanese DJ relocated to NY. Tomiie forged a rep remixing big pop acts – Mariah Carey, U2 and, er, Simply Red – but it wasn’t until the start of this decade when he seriously devoted time to the studio. In 2000, over a decade on from Tears, Tomiie finally aired his debut ‘artist’ album, Full Lick, through the Sony imprint INCredible.
In 2009 he’s non-committal about a second album. In the meantime, his SAW Recordings, established to foster “dirty and dark tribal house,” is going strong. Tomiie is introducing another alias, MES, with a forthcoming issue – the late morning Madrugada, which opens the second CD of Masters, will surface with a Toby Tobias remix.
Tomiie lived in Sydney for a year as a child, his father, a professor, accepting a research post at Sydney University. After his imminent Oz tour, he’ll experience one of two annual visits to Japan. “I don’t miss much – that’s enough for family and friends. It’s always good to go back.”
WHO: Satoshi Tomiie
WHAT: Plays Club Club at Chinese Laundry & Ladylux / Renaissance Masters through Renaissance / Stomp
WHEN: Saturday 11 April / Out now
MORE: jammusic.com.au / myspace.com/satoshi_tomiie