Japanese producer Daisuke Tanabe may be gentle and un-intimidating in person, but upon listening to any of his music, one realizes that he's got an edge and is a shining star in this generation's flood of electronic producers. Somehow, he's able to take inspiration from UK garage and drum and bass, mix it with the kind of ambient, experimental sounds you'd find on an Aphex Twin album, and add his own spin—all with a minimalist sensibility. In talking about his most recent album, Floating Underwater, he mentions the importance of giving it a "Japanese sound," ensuring this through the mastering process. In doing so, it may be his most expressive project to date, and it is certainly his most impressive.
Daisuke was born in Japan before moving to London in the 2000s. There, he was exposed to the roots of UK dance music and got his music critiqued for the first time. Previously, he had kept his work to himself, but being in the UK helped him open up and realize the public function of music in culture. After five years, he came back to live in Kashiwa City just outside of Tokyo, becoming a participant in Red Bull Music Academy in 2010. Ultimately a life-changing experience for Daisuke, it was also where he met producer Kidkanevil; in 2012, the two formed Kidsuke, making a more danceable fusion of their two sounds.
At this year's Red Bull Music Academy Tokyo, Daisuke Tanabe played at EMAF, the Electronic Music Arts Festival, on a bill with Holly Herndon, Lone, Addison Groove, Luke Vibert, and his friend Kidkanevil. We got a chance to speak with him about England vs. Japan, how he achieved a "Japanese sound" on Floating Underwater, and why he originally felt more secure in his life as a graphic designer.
How did living in London impact your idea of being a producer?
Before I lived in London, I was making music for myself. But after going to London, and experiencing club nights, and seeing that when you go to clubs, music is actually for people, my mindset changed. I began to have the mindset that I should be communicating with people through music.
Why did you move back to Japan?
It was never really a musical reason. London is very expensive.
When you moved back, what made you feel like being a full-time graphic designer, instead of a full-time producer, was a more viable career option?
As far as music, it’s a world that doesn’t really have clients in the way that graphic design does. I can really freely express my music in the way I want. The graphic design I was doing was mainly client work, so there were clients behind that creative process. Whereas with music, it was more personal; I had creative freedom. Of course when I make commissioned music for television commercials, it’s very similar to graphic design, because there are clients, and they change all the sounds. By the time it’s done I can’t even recognize it’s my own music, because it’s changed so much. In that sense the production of music is very similar to graphic design. With both of those arts, once you reach a specific level or stage and name, you get the creative freedom to do what you want, whether there’s a client or not. So when you hit that stage, you can express your art in the way you want through graphic design and music.
Do you feel that young people in Japan feel discouraged from pursuing music?
The younger generation isn’t necessarily discouraged or not inspired to make music or become music producers. The software has become affordable. You don’t really need money to discover new music. If you have the Internet you can discover as much music as you want. There's lots of inspiration. You can make music without any costs or money, so it's easier to dive in. But on the other hand, there are probably less people trying to make music their career; it might be more of a pleasure thing.
You’ve said that it was important for you to instill a “Japanese sound” on your Floating Underwater album (Ki Records). Can you explain what that sound is in the context of making something very new and how that might pertain to the mixing or mastering?
As far as the mastering, I had Yosi Horikawa, a Japanese artist, master the album. His mastering process is very Japanese, so having him brush up the sound of the album had an influence on the Japanese sound of this album. Because I decided the creative direction of this album myself, it naturally has a very Japanese vibe in the composition itself.
What would you say distinguishes the electronic music being made in Japan right now from the electronic music being made elsewhere?
Because I incorporate field recording sounds often in my music, the environment for that matters. It depends where you are when you get the sounds for the field recordings. Those elements distinguish the difference between the locations where I make music. Because there is the Internet, and the boundaries are gone, everything seems relatively flat after the Internet generation. More than geographically, there’s a difference between people who rely on the Internet as a source of inspiration and those who look elsewhere. That's probably the biggest difference in electronic music, beyond any geographical difference.
Would you say Aphex Twin is your biggest influence or the reason you decided to make music? What do you think of his new album?
Yes, he is. I was just listening to his new album on the way here. I like it. It’s kind of...outrageous almost.
Looking back, how did RBMA help you as an artist, since participating in 2010? What do you hope the new participants are getting out of it here in Tokyo?
By participating in RBMA, I realized that there are so many people who come from so many different countries that I couldn’t even imagine. I met so many amazing musicians who flew from different places. Usually I would gather information from the Internet, but my eyes were opened, and I realized there’s more than what I could find on the Internet in reality. I was able to discover that through RBMA. I hope that the new participants also realize that there is so much to learn on the Internet, but there's even more out in the world.
Watch a video of Daisuke Tanabe at the YouTube Space in Tokyo: