Japan is famed for its futuristic technology. Go to a convention in Tokyo and you’ll witness gadgets only previously existent in your childhood fantasies. Hover boards, AI and Playstation 6s: all are par for the course.
It’s the same with music. The Japanese musician’s psyche is wired up to this fascination for and brilliance in technological advancements – not only in terms of the actual kit that is employed, but in the way it is played. Yellow Magic Orchestra are widely considered the originators of modern electronic music, having blown the minds of listeners with their experimentations in the 1970s. Satoshi Tomiie pioneered house music in the 1980s, and continues to produce crazily good albums today. And, more recently, the Mule Musiq label has been pushing the finest deep house around, with strong support from shamanic house producer and academic DJ Sprinkles.
Self proclaimed ‘modern traditionalist’ Anchorsong joins this long line of producers. The term ‘producer’ might undersell Masaaki Yoshida from Tokyo. He composes, really, armed with his MPC2500 and a menagerie of samples weaved together to create an intriguing blend of house, hip-hop and electronica. His latest release came on the brilliant Tru Thoughts label, home to Bonobo and Alice Russell. Not wishing to rest there, he invites a four-piece string quartet to join his live set – adding that dash of inventive Japanese flavour, and making it one of the most widely acclaimed shows on the scene.
The band joins us for this weekend’s Sunday Joint at the HiFi Club. We e-mailed Masaaki ahead of the gig to find out more about his curious approach to music.
When did you first become interested in electronics? Did you ever play acoustic instruments?
I used to be in a band and played the guitar. We started as a strictly rock band, then started experimenting with samplers and synthesizers. I decided to go solo after the band broke up and bought MPC2000XL in 2004. It was a blue one rather than the classic white.
How has Tokyo or Japan influenced what you do? Would you agree that Japan has a general fascination with technology, or is that a stereotype?
Japanese people are surely obsessed with technology. In terms of electronics, Japan is always 5 years ahead than the rest of the world. You’ll be amazed if you go to electronics shops in Akihabara. I don’t think I’m particularly influenced by it though since I’m not that good with technologies. Some people think I know inside out about electronic instruments, but I don’t.
How did you settle on your current live set up?
I make it a rule using only hardwares for live performance. Majority of the electronic producers nowadays use laptop for their live set, which only makes sense considering its capability, but I’d rather keep my set up primitive. The concept of my live show is very simple so that audience can easily figure out what’s going on. What I do is just hitting pads and making loops, and MPC is a perfect tool for the purpose.
How did you come to employ a string quartet? What does this add to your live set?
I met a violinist when I was in Tokyo, and she put together string quartet for my live show back in 2007. Strings are the most versatile instruments among all, and it fits the concept of my live show very well. It can be both powerful and subtle.
Does your name come from the Bjork song? If so, how did she influence you?
Yes indeed, it’s named after “The Anchor Song”. There’s not much similarity between her music and mine perhaps, but I admire her stance as an artist. She gets inspired by all kind of music, but the outcome is always nothing but Bjork. I take the same approach for making music.
Your music seems to blend elements of hip-hop and house. What music influenced you growing up?
I grew up with mostly rock and pop actually. I came to like other type of music including hiphop later, and I’ve been expanding my musical background. Currently I’m digging 70’s underground soul a lot.
Your sound also consists of some traditional elements. Are you a man of tradition? Or do you want to live a futuristically driven life of change?
I consider myself as “Modern-traditionalist”. I get inspired by the music from the past, especially 70’s, but I want to express it with the sense of modernity. I don’t believe in revival or nostalgia.
Did you do anything differently with the album you released in January?
Before I started working on this record, I disposed an album which was supposed to be the follow up to my debut LP. It wasn’t bad, but there wasn’t much difference from my previous works. I was bored with my old methodology and wanted to try something I hadn’t done yet. I’d just begun to get into 70’s african music, and thought I could make something inspired by it. That was the start point of this record, and the rest is history.
Do you enjoy coming to England?
Totally. One of the many things I like about England is that I can feel the long history the country has and make me realise I’m just a tiny part of it. You don’t get that feeling in the city like Tokyo where everything looks new and modern.