At the edge of East Asia, vastly separated culturally and geographically from London, the Japanese dubstep scene is flourishing. Although not much older than the mecca-like London dubstep scene, Tokyo's dubstep culture is growing fast. Japanese and foreign DJs, promoters and producers built the scene from the ground up and are beginning to export Japanese dubstep to the world, here are their stories.
Goth-trad, one of the original dubstep DJs in Japan, is also the promoter of the renowned Back To Chill parties in Tokyo which he started three years ago. He recently opened a new BTC night in Osaka and runs a BTC radio show.
Goth-trad - short for "gothic traditional" – roots his artist name in the European cultural and art movement: "It has very dark images. I often write downtempo hip-hop and dark dance music."
He produced, released and performed live experimental music for ten years before moving into dubstep in 2006: "When I found grime music I heard Morgue by Wiley. It's very deep and like downtempo hip-hop but has more bass. Maybe we could call that dubstep but back then it was called grime. The first image was 'deep'. The music totally fit some vision in my head. I felt something from that music."
Since getting into dubstep he has released five 12"s in the UK on labels such as Deep Medi, Skud Beats, Soul Jazz and Pop Group. In addition he has played at DMZ in London and toured France, Hong Kong and Canada. But one of his most important projects is BTC, held monthly at Club Asia right in the heart of Shibuya – Tokyo's hyperactive centre of youth culture.
"I do the parties not only for dubstep – it's for Japanese underground music. The underground connection is very important. The dubplate culture is very important. In the UK a lot of DJs hook up young guys and I saw that there are good relations between people and no jealousy.
"In Japan I think producers in the underground scene don't want to talk about producing because they worry about guys stealing their ideas. In the UK people talk about it – 'what do you use?' 'I use this, I use that'. They share information and support each other.
"We don't have that yet in Japan but it's starting at BTC. I put one newcomer to the scene on at every party. It's important to play on the stage and to listen on a big sound system and to watch the styles of different DJs. I'm looking forward to seeing how they change and what music they'll make. But this style is very different from the way things are usually done in Japan."
And the way things are done here determine so many differences between the London and Tokyo scenes. Many foreigners in Japanese clubs notice the apparent lack of energy. As Goth-trad explains: "Japanese crowds are a bit quiet. When I started the BTC parties people didn't really move, they were too slow. But now it's getting better. I think that Japanese people don't listen to bass very much; they listen to the beat mainly. Maybe it's Japanese culture – maybe because of Taiko drumming. Japanese venues have good sound systems but aren't very good for bass."
The physical form of music – a touchy topic in the UK dubstep scene – also sets Japan apart. Partly because the dubplate culture that grew out of the British reggae and dub scenes didn't develop in Japan, the vinyl vs. digital debate in electronic music tends to settle towards digital in Tokyo. And as Goth-trad laments, "I love to play vinyl and when I tour in Europe I cut my tunes onto dubplates but there are no good dubplate studios in Japan. When I play in London – I've put some of my tracks only on MySpace and on dubplates but people in the clubs there know my dubplates but here they don't know as much."
So where is Tokyo dubstep heading in the future? Goth-trad highlights getting the music out there at parties: "Some dubstep labels in Japan do releases only but no parties. They're sort of killing the music because it takes time for producers to make music, but no promotions means no parties. After releasing it's important to make chances for playing. Maybe they'll lose money but it's an important thing. I want to make sure I can do that for them."
Words: Blair McBride
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