Rich, psychedelic techno.
If you're curious to hear the very best of modern deep techno, get yourself copies of Niskala and Sekala, the most recent EPs by the Japanese artist Wata Igarashi. Both came out on the Berlin label Midgar, and both highlight his extraordinary talent for sound design and arrangements. There's a bit we particularly like on the track "Spirits In The Rain." Igarashi spends five minutes luxuriating in an arpeggiated synth line, allowing it to swell and recede over a broken kick pattern, before a bouquet of sounds blossoms across the stereo field. "He's capable of the sinister tension that is techno's most classic mode," said Will Lynch in a review of Sekala, "but just as comfortable departing from that tradition, exploring more elusive moods and atmospheres." We summarised his appeal more bluntly in a recent New Tracks post for "Lost": "The kind of track that makes you decide to stay at Berghain for another few hours." However you describe his style, it's clear Igarashi's productions are a cut above, which probably has something to do with his day job working as a sound producer on commercial projects. On EPs for The Bunker New York, Bitta and Midgar, we've heard Igarashi combine subtle drum patterns with mind-bending synthesis, the work of an artist who clocks countless hours exploring the possibilities of electronic sound.
As a DJ and live artist, Igarashi has developed into one of the leading names in the Japanese techno scene. He's a regular at Rural festival, DJ Nobu's Future Terror parties and mnml ssgs events, and beyond Japan, he can regularly be found playing some of the best nightclubs in the world. His RA podcast is an hour-long live session, giving us the dual pleasure of soaking up his productions and experiencing his live club performances. There's music from across his catalogue, plus a couple unreleased cuts that we hope will see the light of day.
What have you been up to recently?
2018 has started well. I have just released a pair of EPs, Niskala and Sekala, with Midgar, which were inspired by time I spent in Indonesia. I also contributed an acid track for The Bunker New York's 15th anniversary compilation. With gigs I have been playing in Tokyo and some other places in Japan, and recently went to Taipei for a Smoke Machine night. And of course, continuing to spend time in the studio producing new music.
How and where was the mix recorded?
This is a one-take live session. I recorded it in my studio in Tokyo, but I did everything the same as I would when I play live at a party. My setup for this was an Acidlab Miami, Roland TR-909, some modular synths, Ableton Live, as well as some MIDI controllers.
Can you tell us about the idea behind the mix?
Producing is a fundamental part of me as an artist, and playing my own music live is an important extension of that. But up until now, I have not shown this side of me online, the podcasts I have done have been DJ mixes. I felt it was the right time to share a live set, and RA felt like the right place to do it. So I wanted to do something that is a good representation of what I sound like playing live at a party. It is deep and trippy, but also strong enough to build energy on the floor as the set unfolds.
When we last spoke, in 2015, you were just emerging as one of Japan's leading techno artists. How have things changed for you in the years since?
I am very appreciative that people have been recognising and supporting what I am doing. I have been touring more, both internationally and inside Japan, and this has been making me more confident and motivated. I have been making and performing music for most of my life, but I still think there is always so much to learn. And this is what I have been enjoying. By having the chance to play in different environments, I am constantly getting new ideas and discovering nuances in how to perform and produce.
What's it like to be a techno artist living in Japan? Does the distance from Europe pose a challenge? And what's the scene in Tokyo like today?
Of course there are advantages and disadvantages with being in Japan. There has always been a strong scene in Tokyo, and we are lucky to have amazing artists visiting all the time. The quality of the clubs is good, and there have been some great record shops. These things can make it very enjoyable to be an artist or clubber in Tokyo. Japan has developed a preference for deeper, more psychedelic techno, and this matches very well with me.
Traditionally seniority and being part of a group are important in Japanese society, and these things are also often present in techno. Sometimes it feels like there is an invisible wall separating different age groups, and it can be difficult for an outsider or new person to break in. But I think this is starting to change a bit, especially with some parties trying to combine younger DJs with more established DJs. I hope to see more of this, and would love to see more young people in the crowd and performing.
The distance with Europe—both physically and culturally—influences how artists like myself develop and the opportunities we have. Crowds here can sometimes be more patient and open and this can give you the chance to dive deeper. But in other ways the distance is not so important. The travel I have to do is just as far as any artist from the US. When I play in Europe my schedule is a bit tighter with all the gigs together, but that is fine. And even with my sound, I feel very connected with artists and labels all across the world. What I am doing is not uniquely Japanese or anything like that.
What are you up to next?
My next European tour is in April, and I am looking forward to being back there. After that, I have quite a lot of gigs scheduled for Japan, Asia and other parts of the world. Later in the year, I am planning to do a live-set tour, and I am really excited about that.
As for music, I have my second EP with The Bunker New York coming soon, the title track, "Question And Answer," is in this set. I have finished remixes for Prins Thomas, Svreca & Retina.it and Mosam Howieson, and these should all be appearing during the year.
Recently I gave a techno production workshop at Compufunk Records in Osaka, where I shared some of my experiences and suggestions with younger artists. I really enjoyed doing this, and I am hoping to do another one in Tokyo soon. Many Japanese people are very good with details, and this country has great synthesiser makers, so I think there is a lot of potential for more techno producers to develop here. This is something I want to help with as I continue to grow as an artist.