Interview / Adam Oko / NTS / Second Circle

Adam Oko is a friend I made through DJing in Tokyo – specifically DJing long – self-indulgent? – sets upstairs at Bar Bonobo. Just like irrepressible vinyl fanatic, Frenchman Qpchan, Adam would get comfy, crossed-legged, on the tattered tatami mats and whilst chatting with mates play “beat-the-intro” – I-Ding my selections, and then enthusiastically offering up esoteric alternatives that I should check for additional listening. These could be anything from Zappa and Beefheart to Aphex Twin. I knew Adam had / has a long-running NTS radio show – championing his discoveries from the outskirts, both new and old – but he never once mentioned that he makes music himself. So I was super surprised when Music From Memory off-shoot, Second Circle, delivered his Diet Of Germs E.P. – a set of syncopated, but fractured funk, shaped from echoes of jungle, techno, and trance – around this time last year. Believe me most producers I know turn up with promos and mastered files, eager to give them a spin. Then in March, again seemingly out of nowhere, came K.S. Eden’s Passed Beyond – compiled by Adam for Belgian imprint, Stroom. All of this meant that Adam definitely deserved to be quizzed further.

Where are you from?

My family are from West London. I was born in Ascot, but we moved to Canterbury when I was young. It’s a small city an hour south-east from London which is famous for its Tales, archbishop, cathedral and progressive rock sounds of late `60s/early `70s – bands like Soft Machine, Caravan and Hatfield and the North.

Where are you currently based?

Setagaya-ku, Tokyo

What prompted the move to Tokyo?
I had an opportunity with my job and was ready for a change of scene. I’d never lived outside the UK and was keen to experience living in a different culture, and learning a new language.

You were a regular visitor to the city before the move. Was that business or pleasure? 

A bit of both.. I came here a couple of times to travel and buy records, but also on a few work trips. 

How did you get into DJing?

I’ve had a fascination with records from an early age, and started buying them from when I was about 10 or so. I began messing around on friend’s decks during my school years and then got into it properly after finding my way into the rave scene.

Adam 2

When did you start? How old were you? Which clubs / parties were you going to? 

I started DJing properly when I was 16. I was lucky to grow up in Canterbury while it was a hotspot for outdoor parties, and was able to fully experience rave culture before I was legally allowed to drink. I went to my first rave when I was 15, and never really looked back after that. Myself and a few friends began organising parties in the surrounding woodland, which eventually evolved into licensed events and hosting our own stage at a festival for four years. I then moved to London for university when I was 18 and used to go to all kinds of gigs and club nights, but two of note were Tomorrow’s World and Nonsense – both at Plastic People in Shoreditch. A little later down the line I started going to the Left Alone parties at the Waiting Room, in Stoke Newington, which were always great and well worthy of a mention.

Nonsense

LEFT ALONE WAITING ROOM

Where there any particular DJs who inspired you?

One chap from my early raving days called Nat Beckett remains a big influence, he had a super creative but technical style of DJing which blended various strands of techno, trance and hard dance with other obscure 4/4 music that I won’t even attempt to describe. Besides that I used to go to Theo Parrish’s monthly residency a lot after moving to London. Watching both of them taught me that you didn’t need to stay in a particular lane with DJing, you can take it anywhere you want.

What kind of music were you playing?

I started out playing mostly techno-orientated dance music, but would also play sets comprised of music I enjoyed outside the dance floor – not too dissimilar to what I do now.

Prior to the pandemic, did you have any regular gigs in Tokyo? We definitely need to have you come and play at Bonobo with us. 

I’d love to come back, it’s always a cracking night! I’ve never had a regular gig but have played at Forestlimit a lot since moving to Tokyo. I love that spot and the community around it – particularly the weekly Ideala parties which I’ve guested at many times over the past few years. 

Ideala

How did you hook up with NTS?

I had a few guest slots in the early years and they eventually gave me my own show after a little pestering.

How long has your show been running?

This is my sixth year.

Is there a “concept” behind the show? 

Not particularly, it’s a nice way for me to express my musical outlook whilst shining a light on other artists. Having a different guest every month allows me to tailor my part to where I think theirs might go which keeps things interesting for me. I enjoy making the graphics every month also. 

adam-oko-nts-february-2021-w-ruutu-poiss

Could you give me three pieces of music that you’re currently into that we might expect to hear on the show? 

Zane Trow – Part III

This is taken from a beautiful new release on Room 40. I’m a big fan of calming pieces which hold your attention somehow without too much happening and this is a nice example of that.

Zane Trow - Part III

Barnaby Keen – Cidade Nova (Hope Tape)

This is a recent cover of an Edu Lobo song by an old friend of mine from London. It’s beautifully simple, but also super eery and melodically complex.

Barnaby Keen - Cidade Nova

Ruth Garbus – All E-Lone

I only recently discovered Ruth Garbus’ music and have fallen in love with her unique style of songwriting. She uses super stripped back instrumentation and her voice sails over her songs majestically.

Ruth Garbus Art

Where do you find your music? 

Mostly record shops. I’m not an adamantly ‘vinyl only’ person but have had the best results finding interesting music in that environment – especially here in Japan. I got pretty into Bandcamp over the past year or so and really vouch for that – there’s a whole world of incredible direct-to-source music on there to explore.

When does the show go out? 

Sundays 10am-12pm UK time once a month.

What kind of guests have you had? Who do you have lined up?

I’ve been fortunate to have all kinds of artists, DJs, musicians and bands on the show over the past few years. I invite people whose music and taste I appreciate but tend not to limit it to active DJs – a few guests had never even made a mix before they came on the show. Upcoming guests I’m excited about include your good self, and a fantastic young artist called Miyu Hosoi who makes mind blowing minimal works and sound art using only her voice.

When did you start making music?

I started messing around with a 4-track cassette recorder when I was about 15 but started getting into it properly when I was given a cracked copy of Cubase a year or so after that. 

What equipment did you have when you started?

Just my family computer to start with but eventually I got my own PC and added bits whenever savings from part time jobs allowed. 

Have you had any formal musical training?

A few guitar lessons when I was a kid, but I studied Music Technology at college in lieu of A-Levels which was one of the best decisions I’ve made in life.

What equipment do you have now?

I’m pretty minimal these days since the move from London to Tokyo taught me a big lesson about hoarding gear. I use a laptop, electric guitar and mixing desk, plus a few keyboards / drum machines / controllers that I share with my wife in our home studio.

Is your music making process currently very different compared to when you started?

Definitely. In the early days I was attempting to make music which resembled what I was listening to, but these days I’m more focused on trying to convey feelings and contribute something unique back to music since I’ve taken so much out.

How did hook up with Music From Memory / Second Circle?

I’d been mates with Tako for a few years and we were staying together in a little villa in Croatia for one of the festivals there. I found a cassette of Diet of Germs in my bag on the last day and gave it to him. A few months later he texted me saying they wanted to reissue it.

How would you describe the music on Diet Of Germs? 

It’s a reflection of where my head was at the time and me trying to channel my interests into something. It’s pretty heavily influenced by `80s electronic music, minimalism and Cold Storage stuff, but I was also trying to replicate the sampling techniques I could hear in early `90s jungle and hardcore. 

You recently put together the K.S. Eden compilation, Passed Beyond, for Stroom. How did you discover the music of K.S. Eden and how did you hook up with Stroom?

I found the original 41 Degrees album, Open Heart, in a funny little cafe in Deptford run by some old squatter types – they had a couple boxes of records and I popped in for a rummage through them. A little while after that I got to know Ziggy Nosedrip – who had also found the same record in Belgium, we bonded over it and agreed to try and do something for his label Stroom if we could ever track down the musical culprit. Eventually I found a lead for him and got in touch with a little help from my pal, Jon K, who is well connected in the North West. Veerji , aka K.S Eden, sent me a wealth of music which had been sitting unreleased for the past 30 years. Ziggy and I thenslowly shaped it into a compilation. 

Are there any more compilations on the cards?

Nothing planned as yet but I’d happily work on a similar project again if the pieces come together.

Has the “lockdown” been a creative time for you? Have you been able to make plans and make music?

It has indeed. I definitely feel like I’m coming out the other end with a renewed enthusiasm, and I`ve learned a lot about myself in the process. 

All being well what are your plans for the rest of this year?

I’m DJing at the upcoming FFKT Festival in Nagano next month which I’m really looking forward to, and have plans to start a monthly event in Tokyo once things are safe again. Besides that I have a few music projects to finish off, the ever present NTS show and keeping fingers crossed I can make a visit back to Europe before too long.

FFKT Festival poster

You can tune into Adam Oko live on NTS – where this Sunday, May 9th, between 10AM and 12PM GMT, I’m very honoured to be his guest. Adam`s shows are archived on Mixcloud and Soundcloud. 

ADAM OKO - NTS MAY 2021 WITH DR ROB copy

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