It’s a bit like talking to Elvis, interviewing Japanese hip hop pioneer DJ Krush.
DJ Krush has nothing in common with Elvis (and would probably think this comparison is hilarious), but there’s this sense of unreality when holding a conversation with a cultural icon, a person of almost mythical presence. That’s what Krush has been to me – this man from the opposite end of the world who used alchemy to blend philosophy, rhythms, a delicate touch and a streetwise vibe into the most remarkable recordings. It’s hard to believe that he’s a real person that walks the Earth.
And it’s a strange and unusual tribe, those of us who have followed Krush from one recording to the next in his career. Many of us jumped on board in the 1990s, when he was often referenced with DJ Shadow and other emerging artists that treaded the same ground – artists mentioned together in a single breath, as distinct parts of an organic whole. And it was maybe the undefinable qualities of his music that hold this tribe together. DJ Krush’s sound has been characterized as hip hop, trip hop, breakbeat, acid jazz and/or ambient by different people at different times, and all of them are sort of right while still being completely wrong about it.
In the end, it all comes down to beats and grooves. Nobody makes beats like DJ Krush. In the era of mass duplication with mostly identical tools, Krush’s beats sounds like Ginger Baker’s drums: you know them the minute you hear them, it’s all thunder and lightning mixed down with soft rain. And he’s still got it: his new album Butterfly Effect (Vinyl, CD and digital from Amazon or from Vinyl Digital) is his first in 11 years, and this may be the last album worth listening to from these quarters until 11 years from now or when Krush gets around to making another one.
Krush is on tour promoting Butterfly Effect this Fall, and pulls into The Mid on October 9 2015 with Zebo and DJ Intel and host Check It from Chicago Tribe; there’s also a Free Soul 4 on 4 open styles dance battle with a $400 first place prize. Tickets are available via clubtix.com.
So if you had the opportunity to ask six questions of Elvis, what would they be? Delivered through a translator, this is what they were.
You’re on tour now. Question: do you get a good idea of the state of the musical scene in the various cities you travel in? Oftentimes DJs on the circuit can be in a bubble of airport-hotel-venue-hotel-airport & repeat 24 hours later.
Just like you say, transportation take a lot of my time and I don’t have enough time to get the idea of the state of music scene in each city.
You released a lot of material in the last 11 years. Many artists might have gathered together some of that material – say your “monthly singles” series from 2012 – and packaged it as an album and everyone would have been okay with it.
It just didn’t happen to be an album and I guess I just didn’t have the opportunity. Gathering those monthly singles now and making it an album feels like getting across the old Krush sound. I need to get across my current feelings and reflect them into a certain theme to make an album.
To Butterfly Effect in particular: I think this is a phenomenal album. I could tell sight-unseen who made it – it sounds like DJ Krush from beginning to end – but it branches out into new vistas and areas you hadn’t visited for long before. Is it important to you that it’s “understood” or “received well,” or is it enough as an artist to have created it?
I think both aspects are important. But for me, the most important thing is to make the Krush sound that I feel inside directly into real sound. I can never imagine what the outcome is going to be, but I think I’m a type that creates as an artist.
There is a song on Butterfly Effect that is as stunning and as sensual as any electronic ballad I’ve heard, “My Light,” with Yasmine Hamdan. What can you tell us about the writing and performance?
Very delicate and refined. Yasmine’s vocals melted into the world that I painted, and new picture came into life. And the result turned out to be some very distinct scenery.
I saw an interview in which you mentioned that whatever equipment you used, you tried to show your “presence in the album,” and “whatever track you make, you have to be there.” It is a very Zen-like notion – I can understand what it means if not how you’ve done it! Can you elaborate on that for the help of musicians using similar tools as their peers but finding their own voice drowned out by “painting from teh same palette,” so to speak?
[quote align=”right” color=”#999999″] “Face yourself first and never run away. Start searching and try to find out who you really are. I’m still searching myself.” [/quote]
I think everyone has a purpose of making music. For example, you genuinely want to turn who you are into music. Or you might make music to make people dance. There are a lot of purposes and each and everyone has one.
I think you should question yourself: “What I’m making music for? What’s my purpose?” Is it to making a living with only music? Or do you just want to make music for fun? You need to set a goal and make it clear. And think what you need to do to achieve the goal. If you want to a pro and live off of music, uniqueness would be an important factor.
I think it’s important to face yourself first and never run away. Start searching and try to find out who you really are. I’m still searching myself.
You also talked about a change in perspective after the Fukushima disaster. I was moved when you talked about the awareness that it can all be gone tomorrow, and of there being no such thing as “wasted” time.
You ended by saying that this had nothing to do with music, but doesn’t it? It sounds a lot like what has been said about the great Jazz musicians who lived hard and rough. It sounds also like the perfect philosophy of a creative DJ, being certain of the next record but also relying on intuition, feeling, and other things that focus on the present and carry some uncertainty.
The stream of moments moves ahead from here. From looking at the past and future from here – right now – the past is something that starts from infinity and the future is also infinite and there is no goal. I think things happen in space and time. Not putting too much pressure on yourself, look ahead and just move forward one step at a time. I think that’s all you need to do. Work toward the future and and outdo your current self… If you can get ahead of your current self even just a little, I think that’s enough and that’s what I had been doing.
Children around the world are living the present of the Earth and accept the good and the bad environment. And they have no choice but to be influenced by various things from their environment…
I want to leave something good for children.
The past, present and future is something that we can never run away from, and I think there is a desire to move forward hidden in space and time.