Back in the 1980s Minoru Fushimi added “Hoodoo” to his name and began making music. Inspired by the opportunities afforded by emerging technology he created a unique – sample crazy – electronic world. His privately-pressed LPs sold well in Japan. But he remained close to unknown outside of his homeland. Then two years ago, Tokyo-based record-dealer, Jerome Qpchan noticed an unfamiliar piece of vinyl on the wall of a shop basement. It was pricey. More than he`d usually pay. But listening to it he was amazed that no one seemed to have picked up on it before. As those record guys do, he went in search of more copies, and with a couple now to sell, he posted a tune up on Youtube. As “hype”. The tune caught the attention of Chris at Australia`s Left Ear Records, and together they tracked down Minrou. The result is In Praise Of Mitochondria. A retrospective on Minoru`s Electro-Funk recordings. I have to confess that I had heard of Minoru. Around five years ago Stuart at Emotional Rescue / Response had asked me to find him. But at that time, there wasn`t even a Discogs listing to go on, and I didn`t know where to start. This made me doubly impressed by Chris and Jerome`s efforts. Jerome and I finally met up with Minrou at Chef Marbo`s recently opened Secret Garden. High in the hills of Harajuku. Admiring spectacular views of the city and nearby forest.
Translation by Minoru Fushimi & Rami Suzuki
Where is your home town?
My home is in Yokosuka City. Kanagawa Prefecture.
Where are you based?
I haven`t done any live sessions for a while. So I am based at home.
How long have you been making music?
In 1979, I started with two tape recorders. Ping-pong recording things like Techno music.
What inspired you to start making music?
I wasn`t interested in playing in a band. It was the overdubbing on Paul McCartney’s first solo album that captured my heart. Instruments were expensive so I started with simpler methods in 1979ish.
What equipment were you using?
What I used for album recording is shown on the back of In Praise Of Mitochodria. I kept on adding though. In the end, I had a synthesisers – Roland Juno-106, Casio CZ-5000, Ensoniq SQ-80, Yamaha CS-01, sound modules – Yamaha FB-01, Roland MT-32, Emu Proteus, Emu Vintage Keys), samplers – Korg SDD-1000, Roland S-50 keyboard, S-330, sequencers – Yamaha QX-5, Emu SP-1200, Casio CZ-5000’s sequencing part, drum machines- Boss DR-55, DR-550, Roland TR-606, Sequential Circuits – Drumtraks, Oberheim DX, Roland R-8, Korg DDD-1, Yamaha RX-11, RX-21L, Alesis D-4, Ishibashi Handclapper, Vocoders – Roland SVC-350, electric guitar, electric bass, shamisen, sequencing softwares – Roland SYS-503, Vision, Deck II, MTR=TASCAM 22-4 (1/4 inch tape), 33-8( 1/2 inch tape), TSR-8 (1/2 inch tape), recording mixers – TEAC M-09 (4ch), Fostex Model 350 （8ch), Model 812 (12ch), Tascam M-2516 (16ch), reverbs – Roland Spring reverb, Boss PRV-1, Yamaha R-1000, delay – Korg SDD-1000) and a multi-effector – Boss SE-50.
You started out with only two tape recorders but you accumulated a lot of gear.
My experience had been to be in bands. To only play solos. But technology meant that I no longer needed to be in a band to make music. To be honest, I was far more interested in having control over everything and playing everything myself.
I found something “Thanatos” in Electro-Funk. By Thanatos I mean “melancholy” and “depth of life” not only “Eros” and “liveliness”. Something I didn`t feel in regular Funk. Of course, I liked `70s Funk music. I liked the Cosmic stuff, such as George Clinton and Parliament. Electro-Funk seemed to exaggerate these Cosmic, Futuristic features. I could hear something very very new in it.
Can you explain more about what you mean by Thanatos?
In the modern Western music, minor scale and chords are taken for “sad”. This is kind of opposite to what you find in Japanese traditional music. There the major pentatonic scale is regarded as sad and signifies sorrow, while the minor pentatonic is for “brave”, “wild”, “sophisticated”. In the Electro-Funk I was hearing this pentatonic was being used for riffs and phrases. Thanatos refers to Death and “The Afterlife”, and many cultures have music and dances which celebrate these things. Such as the Japanese Bon Dance, New Orleans Jazz, etc.
Was there an Electro / Hip Hop scene in Japan at the time?
Yes. In several waves and with different magnitudes. Electro / Hip Hop has been popular since 80s.
Was this music played on the radio?
What were the big parties / clubs?
I was just recording. So I never went to anything of that kind.
Did you know the Major Force guys?
I don`t know them, but I have heard their music.
Were there any other Japanese artists making this music?
I am probably eccentric, so no. No others like me (laughs).
Hoodoo comes from that Junior Wells album title Hoodoo Man Blues, which I liked very much.
Why In Praise Of Mitochondria?
On the A-side of my first album I wanted explore my ideas and at that time I was very interested in Science. I was not gifted at Mathematics or Science at school, so Science seemed very mysterious to me. On the B-side I wanted to show my different tastes in music: Blues, Rock, Rap. When I learnt of the important role mitochondria play in the cell, I was very surprised and I wanted to “praise” them. My heart – Shinzo-san – the same. My songs are based on my experiences. You know I had a heart problem decades ago. I felt that my heart had its own independent life. I was not controlling it. It was working against my will. It was working very hard and I wanted to pay my respects. We take these things for granted.
Ai Wa Nohshintoh( Love Is Like a Concussion) is also based on my bad experience of having concussion after being hit from behind. But it would take too long to tell you the full story here (laughs).
With Haemoglobin, I had a tooth problem. When they came to remove a wisdom tooth they severed something and I would not stop bleeding. I nearly died. Many doctors gathered and they didnt`t know what to do. When I saw the red blood, I thought why is it red? The red must have some meaning. I wanted to explore this.
How difficult was it to start your own record label in Japan?
It wasn`t very hard.
Did your records sell well in Japan?
I sold what I made. At the time of third album, rental business was popular, so that`s how the CD circulated.
Did you play live?
Are you still making music?
My son is a high school student, and he is rapping. That energized me (laughs). If you search in Lick-G, you will find articles and sound sources.
Does your son like your music?
He does now. Before he thought it was too old school. But the rappers he likes started to talk about “old school” so he likes it now. And he’s also got more interested in other genres of music, not only Hip Hop.
These days I am making instruments. I`m making traditional instruments but also new instruments. Biwa and oud, but also combinations of Biwa and oud.
I got more interested in traditional instruments because I was sampling them. I was sampling traditional singers and thought it would be better if I learnt to sing myself. So I found a master. He was 93 years old. Can you imagine? He was awesome. He sang and played perfectly. I found a secret in Japanese music, that the older you get the better your music is.
About twenty years ago, I began to learn the Biwa under this 93 year old master, since I wanted to learn more about Japanese traditional music. Another reason was that the Biwa was familiar to me. It had been part of my life since I was very small. My paternal grandfather, who died before I was born, was a doctor of Chinese medicine and acupuncture. I hear he was so famous that many patients travelled great distances to visit him. He was also making, playing and teaching the Biwa at the same time. After my Grandfather`s death, the Biwa was given to my uncle, and as a boy I was fascinated by it. My uncle later gave the Biwa to me as a wedding gift. That was a few years after I released my fourth album, and I got more interested in playing the Biwa, rather than making my own music. When my Biwa master died, I got interested in the oud which is a relative of the Biwa. So I went to Turkey and learned the oud.
My maternal grandfather was a high school teacher of English and Spanish, which might have influenced me in also becoming a high school English teacher. I guess I inherited something from both of them (laughs).
Where are your current favourite places to play and party?
A few years ago, I was playing and next day I developed a heart problem. Ever since, I have been going to a specialised clinic. So no evenings out. No alcohol. But I am healthy now.
Why did you stop making Electro-Funk productions?
The real reason was that after `93, after my fourth album, I moved to computer-based production. I bought a new Mac and software – I visited L.A. for that – and I struggled for a long time. In the end I wasn`t able to deal with the software, and it was too late. I had sold all of my old equipment. I couldn`t complete one single song on the new set up. Always the computer crashed, and I lost everything. I bought six different bits of software, but it was always the same.
That sounds like fate telling you to do something different.
If I hadn’t switched to computer production I would have definitely continued with the Electro-Funk. I had many ideas, but they vanished in my frustration. As I was struggling. I deeply regret switching.
But if you hadn`t you might not have learnt the Biwa and the oud.
That`s true. Electronic music. Of course we compose the music, but the sequencer works by itself, like Shinzo-san. The machine sometimes shows you the way. Gives you the next step. For example, if I make a mistake inputing data, the resulting pattern the machine produces might be very fresh. Something new. Better than I was expecting. Better than I could do on my own. There is a dialogue between us two. I am interested in electrons, atoms, quantum physics. The relationship between molecules. People say electronic beats are repetitive but I can feel something more organic. The electron is natural. Drum machines, a TR-909, an 808, each one has its own unique rhythm. The machine is an entity. It is a being.
That`s like a modern Shintoism.
Minoru Fushimi`s In Praise Of Mitochondria is in shops now, care of Left Ear Records.
Minoru hand makes his own instruments which you can purchase here.