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Satoshi Tomiie interview: Tears Reworked

Author: Terry Goldfain
Thursday, 2 March 2006
Japanese house DJ/producer Satoshi Tomiie is one of the stalwarts of the scene, having produced classic after classic. But he's lived in New York for many years. Confused- Read on...

"I'm in Tokyo…rainy Tokyo," Satoshi Tomiie announces with a laugh when I ask of his current location. "I've been based in New York the last 16 or 17 years, but my real home is still Tokyo. So it's always good to be back, hanging out with friends. When I started DJing it was much easier to do what I do in New York, partially because of the opportunities that weren't available in Japan and partly because a lot of people thought that unless particular styles of music came from particular countries they weren't any good. I can't remember the exact reason I left Japan, just that something forced me to move to New York. At the time there were a couple of clubs in Tokyo playing house music but New York was really where the scene was at."

Tomiie's career flourished in New York, quickly seeing him become an integral member of Manhattan's prestigious Def Mix collective and his collaborative effort with Frankie Knuckles, Tears, revered to this day. Our conversation turned to the current situation with Japan's house music scene and why it hasn't found the success other genres have. "In order to get the good gigs outside of Japan it's not enough just to be a good DJ anymore," explains Tomiie. "At the very least you have to be a good producer too. Take Japanese techno producers and DJs, for example, who are making a name for themselves overseas. While there are plenty of good house DJs in Japan, we don't really have the scene for house production right now. Ability to speak English might also prevent some DJs from receiving the publicity they deserve. However, as long as you're producing good music and people like it, then I don't see why they can't succeed."

As a veteran DJ and producer on the international circuit, Tommie takes his role as a mentor for the next generation of Japanese producers seriously. However, he doesn't allow this to cloud his judgment. "I'm definitely listening to their stuff and keep getting demos and give them advice to improve. However, I still believe there is a need for quality control. I'm happy to release material by Japanese producers on Saw Recordings [Tomiie's label], but it has to be of a certain quality for that. We don't care where the artists come from or what kind of music they play. The main element we look for in Saw's artist roster is that they must play quality music regardless of style. It's all about the music! It's more important for me to help Japanese become good producers then to give them publicity for the sake if it. I'm not some kind of government organisation set up to fund music projects, but of course I always try to help them out."

While the production standards of Japanese producers might not be world class, the clubs and educated audiences certainly are. In previous interviews, the likes of Phil K and PQM have raved about the scene and Tomiie agrees. "Yellow and Womb are two of the foremost clubs in the world," he enthusiastically affirms. "And perhaps this strong clubbing scene is the first step to an increase in the popularity of Japanese DJs and producers internationally. I know how much I've brushed up on my skill when you're actually in the scene, watching producers talk to other DJs. That's something that's hard to get for those DJs living in Tokyo as they only see the DJ when they come to play for a couple of days and they talk to them, but it's not on an everyday basis. Some people believe that when they move to London or other places their music really improves."

Satoshi Tomiie last visited Melbourne in 2001 where he played at Room 680, an event that is still talked about to this day and which Satoshi rates among his best. His Australian tour coincides with the release of 'Renaissance Presents 3D', a new series, the first of which is mixed and compiled by Tomiie over t