Interview: Kenji Takimi
LN-CC: Can you tell us a bit about what you were doing prior to starting the label Crue-l?
Kenji Takimi: After graduating from high-school when I was 18, I worked for 4 years as the editor for a music magazine.
L: What was the name of the magazine?
K: Fools Mate (laughs) – you know Peter Hammill? It was initially a Progressive Rock Magazine, then when I was involved it became more focused on New Wave. The magazine is actually still around today, focussing mostly on Japanese Domestic music. I was working there from 1985-1989, first up as the editor, and finally as a writer too. I never made it to university, because when I was preparing at a kind of study school, I was hanging around with the writers from the magazine and ended up just joining them after the study school finished. Just around the end of that time, I was approached by DJ Emma, who said it would be really interesting to hear you DJ, why don’t you give it a try?
L: So when was that?
K: That was in 1989.
L: How was DJing culture and dance music scene in Tokyo during that time?
K: There was a kind of DJ boom at around 1988-1989…. That was when “DJ Culture” as such began in Japan. I didn’t have any particular interest in that, but I was interested in the idea of playing records on turntables and learnt how to do it.
L: Were there any clubs in particular that stand out at that time?
K: Let me see…. Probably Zoo in Shimokitazawa (an area of Tokyo).
L: What kind of music was getting played there in 88-89?
K: Initially it was indie-rock – labels like Rough Trade or Cherry Red… then at around about 1989, there was the birth of labels like Creation who were starting to go in the direction of dance music – we also went in that direction at around that time. I was into indie- rock for some time previously to the “Second Summer Of Love”. There was a definite “indie-rock community” in Japan at that time, and it was kind of “indie kids” who were coming to the clubs that I was first DJing in. We’d play the weirder Primal Scream stuff, mixed with rare groove.. it was musically similar to the Second Summer Of Love, but there were no drugs! They were simply getting excited by the music itself.. if kids from the UK at that time could have seen it, it would have probably been very funny for them (laughs)
L: So how about the formation of Crue-l Records? When did that take place?
K: That was in 1991 – when I was around 25 years old. For the few years prior to that I was writing and DJing. The DJing was pretty different to what I do now though.
L: What was the catalyst for the start of the label?
K: As I was DJing, I’d be receiving lots of sample tapes from bands. Also, I had a lot of friends who were making music and would give me bits and pieces. Keigo Yamada (Cornelius) was a regular in the club where I DJed. Actually, we had a mutual friend who gave me some of his music.
L: So who were the first artists on the label?
K: The first thing released on Crue-l was a compilation called “Blow Up”. There were 5 bands on there, some of them were also releasing on other labels. It included Kahimi Karie and producer Tomoki Kanda’s band.
L: Were there lots of small independent labels doing this kind of thing at that time?
K: This was kind of a turning point…. How can I say… there was a boom previously of lots of punk-style indie labels. There wasn’t anything comparable to say Rough Trade, or Creation.
L: What format were you releasing on at this period?
K: CD and 7inch vinyl.
L: How about pressing?
K: At first everything was pressed in Japan.
L: I see.
K: Then, shortly afterwards groups like Love Tambourines appeared on the label, and the whole Shibuya-kei scene emerged.. Shibuya-kei can actually be looked at as quite similar to the west-coast American / San Francisco movement of the 60’s in its “only music” approach. It’s also linked to the UK’s Second Summer of Love, but with no drugs. It was a period where a lot of youngsters, especially girls, became vinyl junkies. Its hard to imaging now but the record shops used to be filled with pretty young girls buying records and the streets filled with girls carrying around bags full of records – hard to believe now! Buying records itself became a fashionable thing. That was an era where it was possible so sell a lot of vinyl records in Japan.
L: Was there any artist who was able to break through and achieve major success?
K: Love Tambourines and Kahimi Karie.
L: When did the Shibuya-kei movement last until?
K: In the middle of the 90s was when the bubble kind of burst… everything became more focussed on domestic Japanese music and less influenced by overseas.. Do you know Julian Cope’s book the Japrocksampler about the 70s underground rock movement? This whole movement of Shibuya-kei was kind of like that, but in the 90s. By that I meant it was another period where the level of Japanese music was definitely raised up. It was a period of time where it looked realistic that Japanese music could break out overseas.. The only between the boom in the 70s and the 90s is that in the 90s it reached the mainstream and became overground.
L: Do you think that less people are making music in Japan now than in that period?
K: I think that’s true, I also think that there are few young people able to look and reference the past and make new music now. That’s the big difference. Also its a lot more commercial nowadays, motivated by the idea that you have to sell records and make lots of money. In the mid 90’s you could do whatever you wanted to do creatively and still sell records… If a minor artist made a record they could probably shift 10,000 copies!
L: So how about the next phase of Crue-l – its emergence from Shibuya-kei and gradual association with dance and electronic music and DJs such as the Idjut Boys and Harvey?
K: That started from the mid-nineties through my work as Crue-l Grand Orchestra.
L: Can you outline the concept of Crue-l Grand Orchestra?
K: Crue-l Grand Orchestra was kind of the label’s band. Do you know band This Mortal Coil from 4AD? I used to listen to them a lot when I was at high school. They are made up of lots of different artists from the label. It was done with that kind of idea in mind. The idea was to made live disco music with a band. The first album was all actually all covers.
L: When was that?
K: That was 1995. The first remix was 1996. It was really linked into what I was interested in DJ-wise at that time. Similar in the UK, at that time things went either quite trance or quite acid-jazzy, but I was interested in both.
T: Was it around that time that a lot of DJs from overseas like Harvey and the Idjut Boys started to come to Japan?
K: Harvey was coming since the start of the 1990s, but it was at really small parties.. like 100 people or so. Same with the Idjut Boys – the first time they came was probably around 1995, but there was hardly anyone there! I met Dan at one of those first parties, he heard Crue-l Grand Orchestra and straight away licenced it and did a remix. Actually I received a lot of offers for licencing the Crue-l Grand Orchestra stuff around that time, but I rejected a lot of them as I wasn’t particulary interested. I met Dan face-to-face and it felt right so I did it. Regarding the Harvey remix of Crue-l Grand Orchestra, initially I didn’t know who Harvey was, but I was really into the Black Cock releases so I wanted to get a Black Cock remix done.. and it turns out that was Harvey! That was also in 1995.
L: In terms of Japanese artist making music around that time, who was influential? Love Tamborines had already split up by then, is that right?
K: Yes, they split up in 1995. Port of Notes started in 1997. At around that time I started DJing more house music.
L: I definitely think that that’s one of the most interesting elements of Crue-l, that it has been able to move around and has encompass a number of different styles..has the label always followed what you have personally been into at the time?
K: That’s true to an extent, but its not just about that. In some ways I’m surprised that the label has been able to keep going for all this time… It’s difficult at the moment though!
L: How about in terms of the Japanese music scene now? Is there anyone coming up who you feel excited about or want to support?
K: Really I like the idea of supporting the new generation, people in their mid 20s, youngsters who have an appreciation of the past as well. As a DJ you get the opportunity to meet a lot of these people. If you look at Japan, Techno is really the main electronic or dance music. A lot of that is to do with Takkyu Ishino, he educated a lot of people about this through their awareness of his group Denki Groove, and his organization of the WIRE events. If you look at the line-up of WIRE, its pretty maniac-style, with lots of people that the crowd probably don’t yet know of, I think that’s great. I strive to do the same kind of thing and educate people, but the circle is a lot smaller – in many ways its a lot smaller because the vinyl market is now a lot smaller. Its important to keep that culture of “digging” alive. That philosophy is still alive in Japan amongst the rare groove and hip-hop guys, but not so much with house or disco.. For me, music has to be on a disc that spins… its part of the culture!! I guess I just don’t really like this “files” culture.
L: Do you feel that there is a vinyl resurgence on the cards in years to come?
K: Possibly – if you look at US Indie, its pretty strong… there’s lots of great vinyl coming from there, bands that are unaware of the term “Balearic” but have that feeling. US Indie and it’s vinyl culture are really interesting for me at the moment. I like this idea that they are not connected to dance music or clubs in anyway but they are making music that can fit there…
L: Do you think that this kind of scene could emerge in Japan anytime soon?
K: There are definitely some youngsters who are doing interesting things. If they can link and mix this to the dance music scene that would be great. There definitely needs to be a central person or a “leader” to move it forward. DJ culture is getting older and older!!
L: What are the plans for Crue-l in 2011?
K: Well, there’s the new Crue-l Grand Orchestra stuff, also I’m hoping to put out music from new artists. It’s important to have a mix of “maniac” sensibility and accessibility in the sound.