Kawasaki-based Kiyotaka Fukagawa aka Calm has been DJing and making music for close to 30 years. Composing and creating with a small collective of close-knit friends. The latest results of this collaboration can be heard on the magical album “Quiet Music Under The Moon”, released on Calm’s label, Music Conception. In 2008, Calm joined forces with Italian imprint Hell Yeah! for a series of vinyl releases, and remix projects. Hell Yeah! founder, Marco Gallerani, calls Calm his “Senpai” or “teacher” and is on a mission to get Calm’s music out to a wider, international audience. This month sees them issue the “Big City Takes” E.P. – a co-production with Finnish genius Jimi Tenor, that also includes high quality reworks by digidub maestro Tapes and Gary “Vendetta Suite” Irwin.
Outside of Japan, Calm is best perhaps known for his chilled out sounds. However, while he frequently plays in this style, at events such as Tokyo’s “Sunset The Marina” and Kagoshima’s “Afterglow”, Calm also hosts the long-running dance party “Bound For Everywhere” at Aoyama Zero, and his roots lie in house and techno. Here we delve a little into those roots, as Calm kindly answers a “few” of my questions.
Where are you from, and where are you currently based?
I`m from Kumamoto, in Kyushu, about one and half hours west of Tokyo by plane. I am currently in Kawasaki, 17 minutes by underground from Shibuya.
When did you first start making music?
I formed my first band when I was in my second year of high school, and I started writing and arranging music from then on.
What kind of music inspired you to start making music?
The Beatles, John Coltrane and Miles Davis made the initial impact, with Talking Heads, Beastie Boys, Cars, The Smiths, Kool & the Gang, and dance music quickly following behind them.
Do you come from a musical family?
My parents were ordinary civil servants.
Do you have any formal musical training?
No. I’ve never had a single lesson. I have nothing but gratitude toward my parents. My only complaint is that they didn’t let me learn to play the piano.
The music that you currently make is very chilled. Were you ever into house and techno?
Techno and house music is like my skin. Who, as a music lover, especially an impressionable teenager in the `80s and early `90s did not go through techno and house? I still DJ dance music at my party, “Bound for Everywhere”, at Aoyama Zero. My album Calm presents K.F. “Shining of Life” still sells well on Bandcamp.
Which clubs did you go to? Which DJs did you like?
I was everywhere in my twenties. Parties of all genres. I ended up liking a venue called ‘Loop’, which was the predecessor of Aoyama Zero – because DJ Nori was always spinning there. But then I was all taken to the Precious Hall in Sapporo. This is the best club. They have the best local DJs. I felt that everything there was great. They have something special that Tokyo and other cities don’t have.
How would you describe your music?
FAKE. What I mean by this is that it`s inspired by something, but not the real thing. The Japanese are good at taking outside ideas, copying them, and building on them to make something beautiful, wonderful. I am Japanese, born and bred, so I can only follow in my race`s footsteps.
The music that you currently make seems to have been made with sunsets in mind. Have you ever visited Ibiza, or the Cafe del Mar? Do you ever meet Jose Padilla? Have you ever met Phil Mison, Cantoma?
I’ve never been to a sunset party abroad, I think Phil was around 2002 and we first met at Roskilde Festival in Denmark. Sadly I never met Jose. Jose and David Mancuso are the people who taught me to set my song selections free, I would have loved to have heard Jose play at Cafe Del Mar in his prime.
You recently DJed with Jon Sa Trinxa. How did that go?
I thought he was very good at entertaining people, and he loved it. There were a few moments when he strayed a bit from the chill, but I think the music selection had a resort feel that the Japanese don’t have. Personally, I would have liked a bit more romanticism.
How long do your pieces take to compose?
Sometimes, the music comes quickly, and can I make three or four songs!
Is there a story behind your latest album? It seems to be dedicated to the moon.
It is dedicated to my son, born in 2021, and my mother, who died last year. They were never able to meet each other due to the Corona situation. The concept is all yin and yang: joy and sorrow, beauty and tranquillity, past and future, tears and smiles. There is the sun, and the moon shines. My son’s name is Tsukito – Tsuki means moon in Japanese.
Do you have a favourite piece of equipment, or something that is central to how you create?
With a notebook and Apple Logic X I can make songs forever. I’m not really interested in the having the most popular or expensive equipment, but if I find something that has a tone and sound quality I’m after, I’ll try it out in a heartbeat.
In the end, it’s not what you use, but how you use it, so I’m not interested in trends, and Logic X, Juno 106, Antelope Audio Amari, Focal Professional Shape65 and Wuritzer have been sitting in my production room for years now, working as they always have. I’m not interested in trends.
Can you please tell me more about the other musicians that appear on your albums? Toshitaka Shibata, Yuichiro Kato, Tomokazu Sugimoto, Kakuei. How did you meet? Are you all old friends?
We have all been friends for 20 years. Many of them have a jazz background, but are open-minded and interested in playing different kinds of music – which is why we`ve been able to work together for so long. We also play together live.
Where do you buy your new music?
Since COVID, I do a lot of mail order, but before I would usually buy from records from shops in and around Tokyo. I use Bandcamp a lot, but still buy 99% Vinyl. Before Corona, I was selecting background music for hotels and cafés, so I used to buy a lot of CDs and files, but during the pandemic I lost that job, so I have less reason to buy music in a data format.
Are there any venues that you visit to see new live acts?
Liquid Room, in Ebisu, is the one I visit most often.
Are there any up and coming artists that you recommend we check out?
Not a really an “up-and-comer”, but Valentina Magaletti has done a fantastic job.
Do you have any all time favourite artists?
Too many to mention, but if I had to pick just one. Pharoah Sanders – whose songs are equal parts strong and gentle. Some of his songs push you away, and others gently embrace you. When I’m in trouble, listening to Pharoah often solves it.
How did you connect with Marco & Hell Yeah?
Marco’s wife, Mari, emailed me out of the blue “Nice to meet you”. She attached a photo of Marco holding a vinyl copy of album “From My Window“, which was only released in Japan, and only 300 copies were pressed. Marco was like ‘I’m coming to Japan’, and then when we met I was just dragged along by his humanity.
Do you have any personal favourites on the Hell Yeah?
Again, I have many, but if I had to pick one, I would have to say Enzo Elia “Balearic Gabba Edits 2” is my favourite. I like the fact that he doesn’t just edit, but builds the song by adding things to it.
Have you ever visited Hell Yeah in Italy? Do you have any plans to do so?
I want to go!!!
Can you please tell me more about your Kagoshima sunset residency, Afterglow? How long have these sessions been running? How did they start? Will you be holding the sessions again this year?
The sessions have been going for around eight years, and it’s a very important party for me – along with Sunset The Marina, which takes place twice a year in Shinkiba, Tokyo. Unlike Sunset The Marina, which is made up of me and various guest DJs, including some from overseas, Afterglow is a party where I play alone from the opening to the end. I had Marco play as a guest one year. It`s currently held in the autumn at a spa resort with an amazing view of the sun setting into the sea. Of course I think I will do it again this year. The idea is that during the party we just want people to do nothing but enjoy the music, food, conversation and sometimes the hot springs. It takes about two hours by car from Kagoshima City, into the countryside, but we have a good number of people who come to the party every time. Incidentally, the main area around there is called Hioki City, which in Chinese characters means ‘sun’ and ‘set’, and I think this is an area where people have lived for a long time with an awareness of the sunset.
Do you have any other regular gigs or DJ residencies?
I have the dance party at Aoyama Zero – the third Sunday of even-numbered month, from 5 to 10PM – and a listening party at Bar Music in Shibuya – the first Sunday of every month from 7 to 11PM.m
I know that you are very popular on the Japanese festival circuit. Do you have any festival gigs planned?
At the moment there is nothing scheduled. With the birth of my son, these things might have to wait a while, but 2027 marks the 30th anniversary of my debut, and I would like to get back live shows before then.
When you play at festivals do you DJ, play live, or a mixture of both?
It depends the festival booking, but really I’m more of a DJ.
Are you working on any new music at the moment?
Apart from my own productions, I also do mastering work, so I am always involved in something new. Of course, I’ve also started work on my own new album.” Before“, then “Quiet Music Under the Moon” and now the next album will be called “After“.
What are your plans for 2023?
I want to find more and more great records, although it’s a bit of a struggle now that I am raising a child. I want to be big part of my sons childhood. I also want to make a new type of music that I haven’t even made yet! I want to secretly release something really weird, under a weird name, without anyone knowing!
Calm’s Quiet Music Under The Moon is out now, on Music Conception. His collaboration with Jimi Tenor – Big City Takes (a Ban Ban Ton Ton review is imminent) – can be purchased directly from Hell Yeah!