Interview / Akio Nagase / Makedub

Akio Nagase is a DJ / producer / promoter based in Osaka, Japan. For some 20 years he hosted and ran the city’s Makedub parties and events. Akio`s been creating music for just as long, but I`ll be honest and own up that the first of his productions I heard was last year’s righteous Roots Magic E.P. – released by Singapore’s Darker Than Wax. Akio now has another top selection of tunes licensed to Emotional Especial. I caught up with Akio a few weeks ago as Osaka – after being opened up – had just been re-locked down. 

Where are you from?

Osaka, Japan. I’ve lived here since I was born. I love this city and its people.

Where are you based?

In Osaka. I sometimes travel to Tokyo and other parts of Japan for gigs, but my main base of operations is Osaka.

When did you first start DJing?

I’ve been DJing in public since 1995. It started with a small party with some friends from a vocational school.

How old were you? 

I was 18 years old. When I was a high school student, I used the money I saved from my part-time job to buy my first turntable and DJ mixer. It was also around this time that I started buying records. I used to drop out of my high school classes to buy records. I was not a very serious student (laughs). 

What kind of music were you into? 

Techno, house, breakbeats, dub and ambient. I also liked PrimalScream and Happy Mondays, Manchester rock. I also liked Krautrock and experimental music such as Cluster, CAN and Manuel Göttsching. At that time, club music was not yet so finely subdivided and that chaotic feeling of hearing everything, all kinds of music, was very interesting. It was a bit later in my life that I was exposed to Acid House.

Where were your first paid gigs? 

After graduating from high school, I went to a music school. I started a small party in a small handmade club with some friends I met there. We all played a lot of techno and Chicago house – stuff like Dance Mania and Relief, which were very popular at the time. During the early hours, there was also more experimental stuff played, dub and trip hop.

What kind of records were you playing?

I liked techno, and I used to play a lot of music that had a dub taste to it – Sabres Of Paradise, Basic Channel, The Orb, Moody Boyz, and breakbeats like Bomb The Bass, ColdCut, and Mo`Wax. And Depth Charge! J.S.Kane’s music is a huge influence on me. The ideas, the humour, and the wildness of the tracks are the best.

What clubs and parties were you going to?

I used to go to my friends’ parties in Osaka and Kyoto. If a record was playing and I hadn’t heard it before, I would often ask the DJ for the title. Also, at a club called Namba Rockets, Fumiya Tanaka was hosting a party called Chaos, and I went to every party. It was through his parties that I became fascinated by the fun and possibilities of club music. At that time, many artists and DJs from overseas were booked to play in Osaka and I often went these gigs. Some of the most impressive ones were the Sabres Of Paradise album tour with Adrian Sherwood DJing, mixing dub, then Sun Electric, Cluster, The Orb and Manuel Göttsching. It was a great for me to be able to experience these gigs…Chemical Brothers, LeftField, UnderWorld, Drum Club, 808 State, Aphex Twin, Autechre, UR, Global Communication, Pansonic…DJs, there was Laurent Garnier, Juan Atkins, Jeff Mills, Derrick May, Richie Hawtin, DaveClark, Steve Bicknell, Carl Craig, etc…I went to a lot of gigs (laughs).

akio nagase flyers 2 copy

Which DJs inspired you the most? 

Fumiya Tanaka, as I mentioned earlier, is a big influence. Also, Takkyuu Ishino was a big influence on me. When I was in junior high school, Takkyuu Ishino introduced a variety of electronic music, from classic to cutting-edge, on a late-night radio program. My friends and I recorded these radio shows onto cassette tapes and listened to them over and over again. When we went to a CD store near our house – that sold imported CDs – we looked for this music but we couldn’t find any of it. The music he played was so maniacal and exciting. From techno, house, KraftWerk, Afrika Bambataa, ZionTrain, Throbbing Gristle, Gabba …As I said before, he taught me a whole lot about the fun and possibilities of electronic music and club music.

Where were you buying your records?

At that time, there was a chain of record stores called CISCO in Osaka, which sadly is no longer there, and I mainly bought new records there. For used records, I would go to King Kong. There were also many other unique record stores in Osaka. I would take flyers and posters for parties to the record stores, where I would meet other DJs and organizers. I was very excited when I saw my first 10-inch Sound-Channel release for sale.

Can you remember the first time you heard a house or techno record? What impression did it make?

At first I was listening to a lot of German trance and rave from the early `90s. I also liked acid techno like Hard Floor and Plastikman. However, at the time, I didn’t realize that there was an whole Acid House movement before that. I still remember very well the shock I felt when I heard a 12″ called The Alien E.P, by DBX, which was licensed from PeaceFrog at the time. It was a simple track with no melody, just a bass, rhythm machine, and synthesizer oscillator. At first, I didn’t understand its merits at all because it was so plain compared to the techno I had been listening to. Then one day, I heard it in a club and was surprised at how cool it was. From that point on, I became more and more fascinated with minimal techno.

Can you tell me more about your Makedub club nights?

I quit the party I had been hosting with my friends and started a new party. It was held at Namba Rockets, a place I had known for a long time. It was a place where I had always wanted to hold a party. I had already gone through Basic Channel and Acid House, so I was looking for a heavier sound. The key really was a fusion of dub, Acid House, techno, and world music. We wanted to create a party that was more free and outrageous.

When did you start Makedub?

My first party was in 1999, when I was 22 years old. At Makedub, we were giving away mix CDs on a first-come, first-served basis to get the audience interested. You can still listen to some of them on Mixcloud. My debut 10″ vinyl, Makedub, was recorded as a theme for a personal party.

How often did Makedub take place?

Sometimes we did it every month, sometimes irregularly. I don’t remember exactly how many times we did it. You may be able to find out by looking at the flyers from those days. I was very indifferent to anniversary events. I was so focused on expressing my own music that I don’t think I did a very good job of organizing the parties (laughs).

Was Makedub always in the same venue?

Yes. Namba Rockets was in the center of Osaka, and it has a great sound system. We also held the event at a place called “United Underground Turunoma”, which was started by a member of Sound-Channel. Unfortunately both of these clubs have since closed.

Who else was involved in Makedub?

My wife, Atsuko is also involved. We weren’t married at the time though. We met at the vocational school. Atsuko`s DJ style is based on organic and indigenous house music with funky selections. We have similar taste in music, and she knows more about music theory than I do, having played in a brass band in high school. She often gives me ideas for production. I have total respect for her. Atsuko and I were the resident DJs and then we invited guests.

Could you give me a few examples of guests that you have had?

Many of the guests were local DJs and friends. Other Japanese DJs included DJ KENSEI, DJ HIKARU and J.A.K.A.M. As far as overseas DJs are concerend, we invited people like Luke Vibert, Portable, and Vladislav Delay.

Prior to the pandemic, was Makedub still running?

I took a four-year break from music after my child was born in 2014, so I hardly partied before the pandemic. I would like to do it again someday.

akio nagase flyers 1 copy

Prior to the pandemic, did you have any other DJ residencies?

No residencies, only events where I was invited as a guest.

Have you ever DJed outside of Japan?

It was more than 20 years ago when I accompanied my friend Riou on his artist tour. I DJ’d in Brussels and Antwerp in Belgium, Cologne in Germany and Bordeaux in France, and that was the first and last time I’ve been abroad – so far. Actually, before I released my first record in Japan, I did a remix for a Belgian artist called Starfish Pool in 1997. I`d just started making music and didn’t know what to expect. The staff at KK Records who looked after me on that tour were very good to me and I had a lot of fun. When the pandemic is over and life returns to normal, I’d love to play overseas.

akio nagase starfish pool

Osaka seems to be a big music city. I know there are a lot of record shops. Do you have any favourite stores? 

Newtone Records is a record store in Osaka, run by a couple of friends. It’s one of the most important record stores in Osaka, selling everything from club music to classic reissues, world music, reggae, dub, and experimental music. KingKong and DiskUnion are also good used record stores. HitoZoku Records in Kyoto, close to Osaka, is also a great store. I also run a used record store called Makedub Records, both online and based physically  within a friend’s store. It’s a parasite-style store (laughs). 

Does Osaka also have a lot of clubs and music venues?

I don’t think there are that many, but recently I’ve been going to a club called Daphnia, which has a great sound and is wonderful. I had my own release party there. Also, CompuFunk – which is run by LoveGod, a DJ and long-time friend of mine. It’s a great place to hang out – with a lot of music lovers. It has a record store and dance floor next door. The view from the window is amazing.

compufunk

Compufunk

Are there any other Osaka-based DJs and artists that we should watch out for?

There are many unique and wonderful artists in Osaka. First is DJ Ground. He’s younger than me, but he’s the one who got me back into the game. In 2018 and 2019, I released my music digitally on his Chill Mountain Rec label, which got me a lot of attention from overseas. He’s also active overseas, and I think that his own continuous efforts to send out music from Osaka to the world are creating opportunities for many other artists. In addition to releasing music from artists outside of Japan – such as Bartellow and Carrot Green – Chill Mountain also has a dedicated designer, MtChill, who creates artwork and apparel goods. Chill Mountain is a label that’s attracting attention from all over the world.

Chill Mountain Logo

Chill Mountain Rec

Then there`s DJ Yama. She is also a staff member of Newtone Records, and has a long career as a record buyer. The grooves she brings to the floor are the best. Altz is another one you can’t miss. Altz has a unique house groove that incorporates the essence of many different types of music, and his tracks are amazing. He is one of the most respected track-makers in Osaka.

There are also many other unique dub and reggae artists in Osaka. I’ve been influenced by SoulFireGreenGreen, BunBun The Mc, Hamatai, Sak Dub, and many others. Also, although not in Osaka, Taiyo, my boss from my Sound-Channel days, has recently started making music again. He has some releases coming up, so keep an eye out for them. The music he makes is also great.

When did you first start making music?

In 1994, when I was a high school student, I bought a sampler called AkaiS01 with the money I saved from my part-time job. After that, I bought a 16-channel console, a sequencer, a synthesizer, some effects, and started making music. Technics SL1200MkII, AkaiS3000XL, Roland MC50, Novation BassStation, Mackie CR-1604, Roland SC-33, etc. When I think about it now, they were all bits of equipment that I could buy cheaply. At first, I didn’t know how to do anything, so I just made copies of songs I knew. I was doing covers of Orbital and 808 State.

Have you had any formal music training? 

I don’t know if it was formal training or not, but after high school, I went to a computer music school. I learned computer programming, and how mixing and synthesizers worked in those days, but I was not a very serious student here either. It was more like I went to school to exchange music information with my friends. Later, I joined Sound-Channel and learned how to make songs from various track-makers and artists. Of course, it’s great to just make music at home, but I think that having a proper release ahead of me has changed my attitude towards music production.

What kind of equipment do you have now?

Software: Ableton Live11 Suite, Korg Gadget For Mac, AudioRearism ABL3, Roland TB-03, TB-3, TR-8, Bheringer TD-3, Crave, UnoDrum, Yamaha Reface CS, E-Mu Planet Erath, Novation A-Station, Vestax DDG-1、MicroKorgXL, Yamaha MG20XU, ZENDELAY, etc. Also, LoopCloud and Splice are a must. I don’t have any special preferences, so I use whatever hardware or software I think is good at the time.

The Roland TB-303 seems to be an important instrument for you. What is it that you like about the 303?

The fact that I never get tired of touching it. The 303 was originally just meant to play the bass, it was only by chance that people discovered all these other things it can do. Usually, instruments that have a lot of different sounds don’t have the right kind of sense of space. But the 303 does, you can feel it. The 303 has such a different character when used in the bass part, treble and midrange that it`s hard to believe that it is the same instrument. The addictive sound and the groove of the sequences is something that no other instrument can express. I think this feeling is shared by  many people who are fascinated by the 303. The price of the original machine is too high, so I am satisfied with the clone.

Dub is also very important to you. Can you remember the first dub record you heard?

I was introduced to dub not through its Jamaican roots but through the UK techno sound. Really it was through Andrew Weatherall. Tracks like Sabres Of Paradise`s Wilmot and his work with Primal Scream on Screamadelica. From there, I went to ON-U Sound and then Basic Channel. But now I also love the roots sounds of Lee Perry, Joe Gibbs, King Tubby and others. It’s amazing to think how that dub was invented by engineers like them in the 1970s.

Can you remember the impression it made on you?

Rugged heavy bass and drums. I was fascinated by the way they used delays, reverbs, phasers and other effects – how they used mixers as if they were instruments. It was even more amazing to experience it in a club. Dub and acid house are two completely different approaches to music, but they are both the product of coincidence – the rooted in bass, and the application of certain equipment. The application of this equipment has created a genre. I feel that they both have some things in common, that they are “anti-establishment music” and “outrageous music. At the time, there weren’t as many artists who were fusing dub and club music as there are now. That’s why I was looking around for records like that.

Would you be able to share a few of your favourite dub tracks / records? 

Bomb The Bass – Dark Heart (Sabres Of Paradise Mix)

Joe Gibbs – African Dub: Chapter 3

Aisha – The Creator

Rhythm & Sound featuring Tikiman – Never Tell You

Sabres Of Paradise – Ysaebud

Lee Perry & The Full Experience – Disco Devil

The Orb Featuring Lee Scratch Perry – Golden Clouds

African Head Charge – Stebenis Theme

Manasseh – Skenga

How did you hook up with Singapore’s Darker Than Wax?

I was contacted by Dean from Darker Than Wax after he heard my Like A Acid House E.P. – which was released digitally on Chillmountain in 2019. He offered to release my music which resulted in the Roots Magic E.P. The music has influences from not only acid house but also dub, deep house, and Detroit techno. I put together a collection of songs that I would like to use as a DJ. I’m very happy that you like it. I think Darker Than Wax is a great label that is very sincere and passionate about music. I would love to do a gig in Singapore.

How did you hook up with Emotional Especial?

Emotional Rescue and Emotional Response are among my favorite labels. I sent them the promotional URL for Like A Acid House, and they then got back to me, offering to release it on vinyl. I was jumping for joy. There are so many great releases on the label. I’m truly honoured to be joining them. 

Your recent E.P. fuses house and techno with traditional Asian musical elements. What was the idea / concept behind  this? Do you plan to make more tracks in this style?

There is one song that is epoch-making for me. It’s called This Is Ska by Longsy D’s House Sound. It is a representative of the “Skacid” style of music that was popular in 1989. My song, This Is Dub, is a straight homage to this song. Acid house was born in the U.S., but when it crossed the ocean to Europe and it was mixed with music from other genres – creating something new.  I believe that we can create a new musical world by combining acid house with Asia, Okinawa, and many other elements that are not considered to be related. I think this is also true for dub. There are still many more fusions I want to try, so I’m sure I’ll be making many more tracks like this in the future. Please look forward to it.

You have a track called Smokebelch Dub. I recently shared this with an Andrew Weatherall on-line fan club, called The Flightpath Estate. Everybody loved it. Are there any plans to release this track? Would you be interested in licensing it to a label?

That news makes me very happy. Smokebelch Dub is the very essence of my love for Andrew Weatherall and Sabres Of Paradise. I came up with the idea to make it probably around 2007 or 2008. Of course I love the original track and its roots in the music of Elbee Bad. I still can’t believe they’re both gone. I’d be happy to license it to a label. By the way, I played the pianica (melodica) and had my brother record it.

How has the lockdown been for you? Have you managed to be creative? Have you made a lot of music? 

The pandemic was unlike anything anyone had ever experienced before. A lot of gigs have been canceled, but we have more time to make music. I think it’s important to always have ideas in order to keep making music. For me, the source of these ideas is often the interaction with music and music people at clubs and gigs. In order to have good output, good input is essential. I really hope that the situation will improve soon and we can get back to having fun with music together like before.

Do you have other any new music about to be released?

I would like to make as much music as I can. But the reality is that I have to play with my daughter, I have to do housework, and I can only do it little by little. My family are very supportive of my music – but it’s important for me to keep my wife and daughter in a good mood (laughs). At the moment my pace of production is not very fast, but I will continue to work.

All being well what plans do you have for this year? 

We`ve received several requests for releases. However, due to the pandemic, I think everything will be a bit delayed overall. I will be working on some dub tracks, and I’ve submitted some mixes to a few mix shows, so please look out for them. I hope to have something new to announce soon.

For a little more from Akio Nagase you can discover his top 10 Japanese Acid tunes here. 

Akio`s Roots Magic E.P. is available on Darker Than Wax.

His Global Acid E.P. is available on Emotional Especial. 

For more music from Akio please check the Chill Mountain Rec and Makedub Records Bandcamp pages.

Someone please license Smokebelch Dub. 

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