On March 27th Danish balearic institution, Music For Dreams, will release a compilation called Oto No Wa. The album contains a selection of Japanese music which spans 3 decades. Music chosen by my friends Ken Hidaka, Max Essa, and I. Three of the 14 tracks were licensed from another musical institution, Tokyo`s Flower Records. Founded and owned by Eitetsu Takamiya, Flower Records has been supporting Japan’s dance music underground for well over 20 years. The label has released vinyl and CDs, thrown parties, and even published a free magazine, called Phono. The interaction around Oto No Wa gave me the perfect opportunity to ask Takamiya-san a few questions.
Where are you from?
I`m a Korean but born in Japan. Born and raised in a suburb located to west of Tokyo center, Tachikawa.
When did you start DJing?
When I was in high school, I often went to discos in Shinjuku, and I started DJing professionally in 1989. My first gigs were at a local block party, called Jungle Night, that I organized with my friends. I was playing stuff like Soul 2 Soul, Cold Cut, Jungle Brothers…
What made you start DJing?
I started buying records when I was 12 years old. Around the age of 20, in about 1985, I started to get interested in underground, less commercial, dance music. It was at this point that I began DJing at house parties with my friends.
What music were you listening to?
When I was 7 or 8 years old, I`d watch Soul Train on the TV. I`d watched this show with my cousin’s sister, who was into James Brown, Motown, Philadelphia International….We`d watch and listen together. When I was 11 or 12, I was into The Beatles and Deep Purple, Kiss, other rock acts. But then one day, in a record store, I heard Earth, Wind & Fire`s All ‘N All, The shop was playing it as “BGM”. I was shocked.After that, I was disco, soul, crossover and so on. I also listened to the AOR that the radio stations played.
What clubs were you going to?
Discos in Shinjuku, places like B&B, Xenon, New York New York, Black Sheep, and GB Rabbits. Then I moved on to Nishiazabu and Shibuya – Toros, Red Shoes, 第三倉庫 (Third Warehouse), Hip Hop, Club D, Mix 69, Bank, etc.
Did you go to clubs like Gold?
I went to Gold to party, and sometimes to DJ.
Can you remember the first time you heard a house record?
It`s a kind of vague memory. I was hearing a lot of squashed square beat tracks being played in the clubs, and a friend told me that this was “house music”. Then, on the recommendation of the stores we went to, we started buying records on TRAX, DJ International, Nu Groove, etc.
When did you start making music?
I’ve been playing synths for some time now, but I started making it in earnest after getting an AKAI S950 in 1990.
What other equipment did you have?
At that time, I had the AKAI sampler I just mentioned, but also a Roland TR-808, a Juno 106, and a Roland MC500mk2 sequencer to run them. I have almost all of this gear, plus a lot more. Now I keep it in a warehouse. These days, we we`re usually working with a combination live musicians and computers. Oh, the 808 was stolen in around 2000, so I don’t have that anymore.
Did you have any musical training?
No. I`m self-taught.
When and why did you start Flower Records?
I started the label in 1995. I was DJing a lot, and making a lot of new friends – all of whom seemed to be making tracks. I`d been doing some remix work, so I had some studio experience, so I decided to help them get their music out to an audience.
Who were the first artists signed to the label?
It was Reggae Disco Rockers, a band started by myself and my brother.
Were the artists on the label all close friends of yours, or were you also releasing demos from unknowns?
At first, we all knew each other, either friends or friends of friends. But then a club magazine called Remix asked me for a DJ chart, and with the chart there was some text, where I asked people to send in their demos. And so many demos arrived. Jazztronik is a good example of an artist we found through demo tapes.
Did you know other DJs like Marbo, Nori, Kaoru Inoue, or Kenji Takimi?
I knew DJ Nori because he was one of the DJs at Gold, and later we were properly introduced by a member of staff at a record shop. From there an exchange began and Nori supervised 2 compilations for us, Flower Records. I also co-wrote his E.P. for the label.
I think I met Marbo met at Loop, in Aoyama. He wanted to buy some speakers from me. Kenji Takimi, of course, I knew because of Crue-l Records. I did some mixing / remixing for him. Kaoru Inoue started releasing music under the name Chari Chari, and again I was introduced to him in a record store.
Were you involved in The Gallery parties, and the David Mancuso Loft Parties at Kay?
Of course. I then end it wasn’t easy for me to find the time to go, but before that I always went and I often played. I did a live show there as Little Big Bee. The Gallery’s compilation album was released on Flower Records.
In London, Vinyl Junkies on Berwick Street was the only place where you could pick up Flower Records releases. What was the connection with Vinyl Junkies?
I forgot his name (Toru Yo – thank you Chuggy Leath), but there was a Japanese member of staff at Vinyl Junkies, and he contacted us directly. So we sold to them wholesale.
Did you visit London?
Yes, but I`ve been there only once. I think it was around 1999 or 2000, Me and Toshiyuki Goto – who at the time was working for Flower – he now has his own label called Unknown Season. We were traveling and playing with Yoshi Horino. We had gigs in London, Brighton, Glasgow and Manchester. Sorry, I don’t remember the names of the clubs.
Were there other shops in other cities, in other countries where you had a similar connection?
In Chicago there was Dusty Groove distribution. In New York we had a P&D deal with Soundmen On Wax. We also had a contract with a Korean label.
My connection to Ken Hidaka is through Flower`s Phono magazine. I have an issue that features an interview with Phil Mison. Can you tell me more about Phono?
Phono was a free paper dedicated to the club scene. The first club magazine in Japan was Remix, then there were others, such as Loud. But gradually these magazines began to publish more and more commercial, paid for, articles, and they no longer reflected what was going on in Japan’s underground dance music scene. I hired a writer, Toshihiro Okamoto, to act as editor-in-chief, and we set out to accurately cover the underground, in depth. We avoided publishing any articles that were simply advertisements for equipment or large clubs and record companies. Phono had a very good reputation – we did our very best for years. But in the end it became too much and we stopped. I am, however, very glad that we did it. For people interested in the club scene at that time I think provided a lot quality, meaningful information.
We`ve licensed Scuba and Gradual Life from you for the new Oto No Wa compilation. Both are taken from your Silent Dream mix CD. Can you tell me more about Silent Dream? When and why did you make it?
I think Silent Dream was either 2006 or 2007. We were talking about new release ideas, and there was a suggestion from one of the Flower staff that we should like to do a Mix CD. I’m not interested in a very straight mix CDs, but I thought it would be interesting to make a chillout Mix CD using versions of Flower songs. There are 2 volumes. Volume 1 is me, Volume 2 is Masanori Ikeda. This year, or next year, I hope to release Volume 3.
Did you know that Scuba and Gradual Life are both sought after tracks in the west? Did you know that it was Maurice Fulton who popularized Scuba?
No, I don’t know at all. DJ Nori and Hikaru were playing these tracks a lot in Japan, but I didn’t know. That’s made me very happy!
I always associated Flower Records with “Jazzy House”. Was jazz an influence?
Rather than straight jazz, I think the influence of fusion is certainly there.
Do you have any favourite artists, or favourite pieces?
When I was in junior high school, it was usual to listen to fusion and jazz-funk, in parallel with disco and soul. Artists like Herbie Hancock, Bob James, The Crusaders….Also, Sadao Watanabe and Terumasa Hino. Their music was used in commercials so you heard it everywhere.
Since Japanese music is currently being rediscovered by the west, have you considered releasing a “best of Flower Records” compilation?
On our 10th anniversary we released 2 compilations, 10 and 10R. But a lot of time has passed since then and I would like to release a new one. At the moment I’m not sure whether to do it myself or ask a guest to be the compiler.
Are you still making music?
As a label, of course, we are making many releases. Me, I`d really like to produce again but working with other artists, providing direction, mixing and mastering takes priority. I`d really like to make something this year!
Are you still DJing?
Yes. On the first Saturday of every month, we have a party called Emerald at Club BALL in Shibuya. Just the other day, we celebrated our 20th anniversary. Also, every Friday in Hatagaya, Shibuya-ku, I run at night at a bar called SCUBA.
Do you have any favourite venues for listening to music?
Right now I like listening to music with my 5 year old son at home.
Do have any favourite places to go dancing?
I don’t have so much time, so I can’t go out often, but you can sometimes find me a places such as Shibuya Bridge、Hachioji Shelter、Shibuya Ball, Shibuya The Room, Asagaya Cafein…
How has the sound of Flower Records changed?
BPMs have both got faster and slower. In addition, selling a certain number of 12 “in the Japanese market is quite a hurdle, so we’ve been focusing on 7” releases – which means songs are limited to about 4 minutes in length.
What artists are you working with now?
This hasn’t really changed – Reggae Disco Rockers、Slowly、ONEGRAM、Cruisic, Coastlines and Masanori Ikeda. I’ve been working with them all for a long time.
Were you surprised by the success of Coastlines?
Of course I expected some reaction, but yes I was honestly surprised. I was very happy. I’ve known Masanori Ikeda for a long time, always working together, but I think he’s now getting the recognition he deserves. I`d also like to say thank you to the Lone Star crew – for your support from day 1. Thank you very much.
What do Flower Records have planned for the rest of 2020?
I am currently working on albums for ONEGRAM and Slowly. Because of the coronavirus, no one knows what’s going to happen, but I’m hoping that these will both be announced later this year. I`ll do my best to make that happen.
Oto No Wa will be released on Music For Dreams on March 27th.