Another Generation: Makoto Interview
Makoto Shimizu is an artist that’s been stamping his mark on d&b, and electronic music in general, with soul infused classics ever since he was first signed to Bukem’s Good Looking back in 1999. Based in Tokyo, he’s become an ambassador for the Japanese d&b scene, going from strength to strength with a slew of singles and Ep’s, as well as features on the incredible multi genre Earth and Progression Sessions series, before releasing his debut album, Human Elements, in 2003.
Nine years on, he’s started his own label, utilising the name ‘Human Elements‘ once more and has a second album under his belt entitled Believe in My Soul. Having departed Good Looking in 2007 after that release, he’s had a string of releases on a whole host of seminal labels leading up to his latest release, the Another Generation EP on the mighty Apollo Records. A 130bpm release, he joins the ranks of Electronic heavyweights such as Aphex Twin, Blawan, James Blake, Pariah and Synkro with a four tunes that stray away from his classic style slightly.
Pushing a side the jazz and the soul, he’s adopted a futuristic space age sound scape where sonic waves shimmer over warm basslines and meticulously sharpened drums to create bouncy, upbeat tracks that are infectiously funky. The opening, and title, track demonstrates this beautifully with fluttering atmospherics bouncing around and between rising whistles like something out of C3PO’s dreams before dropping through the vocal sample into a stomper of a bass line that balances fluidity and heaviness delightfully.
Summer Nights is perhaps the jazziest offering, throwing a nod back to Makoto’s signature sound with shuffling drums with open hats that could be straight off a Marvin Gaye record setting the tone and less hectic atmospherics allowing a Good Looking esque melody to really shine through. Lovely track! Moving onto the second vinyl, 73 almost acts as an interlude. A fairly short track at just two and half minutes, Makoto forsakes the drums for a beatless education in arpeggios where pianos and pads swirl around effortlessly for a meditative break before Skyline balances out the timings (at 7 minutes) and returns to the dance floor after a long, tension building intro that rises masterfully. Once it drops there’s no stopping the throbbing bass line and ear catching melodies as it progresses slowly but surely through a euphoric end to the EP.
Makoto may alarm some with this stray away from a style we’ve all come to love him for, but given the chance it shows a really nice development on his sound. It still references older influences (such as Theo Parish, 80s Boogie and synth pioneer Jean Luc Ponty) and artfully showcases his mastery of layers, composition and progression within tracks, something the synth that comes in after the second drop of Skyline demonstrates perfectly. We had a chat with Makoto to get his take on how his sound’s developed…
Hi Makoto, how do we find you today? What have you been up to and what’s on your mind right now?
I’m feeling good today, thank you. Right now in Japan it’s so hot, so I’m not doing much at the moment.
What do you think you’d be doing in life if you weren’t making music?
To be honest with you, I have no idea. I can’t imagine life it’s something I’ve been doing for almost half my age.
I read about your photography, can you tell us a bit about that? What photographers influenced you and how would you describe your style?
It’s just my hobby really, nothing too serious. I mostly take landscapes, but I don’t have particular photographers that have influenced me.
I find music and photography are quite similair; both are art. I just try not to go as deep into photography as much as I do in music as I know I wouldn’t stop!
You were born and grew up in Tokyo, what’s the d&b scene like out there? Is there a particular style of the genre that people prefer, or have you noticed any differences in taste when compared to the UK?
D&B has been always here for the last 15 years or so and it has stayed relatively the same, never becoming massive and never being too small. After the earthquake in March last year, something has changed and it seems like people are enjoying D&B in clubs more.
Hip Hop used to be massive here, then house, then electro and I’m not sure what’s next. People like melody or chord progression more than bass lines, whereas in the UK people pay more attention to the bass and love that.
Are their any other Japanese artists you feel we should know about?
Heavy 1, Ena and Velocity are upcoming artists in d&b/bass. It’s really good for our scene when people within it do well so I’m hoping for more in the future.
What are three tracks, from other artists, that you feel have influenced your musical development or defined points in your taste?
It’s really difficult to choose just 3 tracks, so I’ll choose 3 musician who have influenced my music the most….
Mizell Brothers (Blue Note producer)
Similarly regarding your own tracks, what do you think have been the three most important or defining of your career?
Take My Soul Baby
Golden Girl with MC Conrad
Tower Of Love feat. Paul Randolph
Your production is fairly hardware based, what’s your favourite bit of kit and what are other essential studio comforts?
It has to be my Fender Rhodes, I don’t think that will change as I love it so much and nothing to compare to the real one. I think I would be quite happy with just having a computer and the Fender Rhodes to make music, so these two are the studio essentials for me.
You signed to Bukem’s Good Looking Records back in 1999, releasing Enterprise/Sweet Changes as the first of a string of 12”s on that label. How did that link come about?
I just sent Bukem a demo and he sent me back a letter telling me that I needed to change the beats a little bit as it was a too frantic. After I’d sorted that I received a contract by fax and it all stemmed from there.
You started your own label as well, Human Elements. Is there a particular manifesto or sound for that?
It’s kind of for my own output, I’m not trying to be a big label. I just wanted to have a label which I can control fully and that allows me to put out whatever I like, whenever I want to.
Have you always wanted to go go into the business side of music? What made you realise it was time to make that move?
Not really. I still wish that I could just make music rather than doing the business side of it. I’m sure everyone knows the music business has changed so much in the last decade so I kind of had to do it and adapt to it. I do music for my passion and luckily I’m earning just enough to live off from it so I can’t really complain.
Despite initially making predominantly d&b, you’ve released on a variety of tempos, your 2011 album Souled Out showcasing this in particular. What was it that drew you to 170 originally, and then why the decision to branch out?
The first track that got me into d&b was Goldies “Innercity Life” and Bukem’s compilation “Logical Progression Level 1” back in 1996.
It’s nothing strange to me to produce at other tempos as I’ve always just been like that from when i first started my carreer at Good Looking Records, mainly through their famous Earth series. I just love making music on different tempos and I think tempo can limit the sound sometimes. I feel more free at tempos lower than d&b.
Speaking of which, your latest release, Another Generation, is around 130bpm and showcases a slightly different style from you, with more space age sounds permeating throughout. Was this a conscious decision to make something a bit different or did it just flow out? How would you personally say it’s developed from your previous releases?
Those tunes just came out really naturally, I didn’t plan them or anything but just sat in the studio and it flowed. Lately I’ve been really interested in 130bpm as it’s not too fast so there’s a lot I can do while still retaining the energy of d&b. Also I love djing at this tempo as there are so many options to play.
That’s released on the mighty Apollo Records, both as digital and vinyl. The breadth and style of the label seems to really suit you, but how does it feel to be on the same platform as electronic music contemporaries such as Aphex Twin?
Well, I still can’t believe it! Being on a label like Apollo is kind of another dream come true. I’m really pleased with this release!
What else is planned for the rest of 2012?
I’m planning another EP on Apollo in this year and a remix album from my previous Souled Out album. I also might be releasing my live show recording album with the band.
Thanks for the time Makoto! Any last words?
I just want to say thanks to everyone that supports the music!