Despite the fact that there are millions of famous DJs, producers and turntable wizards dotting the horizon, Japanese DJ Krush, who began pioneering his own sound in the early Eighties, stands tall as a larger-than-life figure on the international electronic music landscape.
The latest in a growing number of high-calibre DJs to grace South African shores, he will be pulling into Carfax in Newtown, Johannesburg, on March 20.
Prior to his visit, he spoke to the Mail & Guardian about his music, something which is not as simple as it sounds since he hardly speaks a word of English and needed to have both the questions and answers translated.
Krush has released so many albums and communicated in so many musical styles that to lump his music in one category (trip-hop, acid-jazz, drum’n’bass and breakbeat have all been used) seems limiting. For him, though, it all stems from hip-hop. He was inspired to take up DJing by influential early Eighties hip-hop documentary Wild Style.
“I repeatedly played the Grandmaster Flash bit to try to copy what he was doing. I played that part so many times that the tape of that section was about to disappear,” he laughs.
“The moment I saw that film, it made me think, ‘Maybe I can do this as well. Through this art form, I may be able to express myself.’ So I tried all the art forms which are a part of the culture, from graffiti to breakdancing and rap,” Krush explains.
He admits that he was “totally talentless when it came to rapping. After the first time I tried it, I threw the mic away in the bin.” Thankfully, he soon discovered that his talents in the studio more than made up for his lack of skill behind the mic.
Starting out as a DJ in those days was a far more difficult experience than it is now. Wild Style was, in fact, Krush’s only clue of how to go about it.
“There wasn’t anyone around me who could be my role model; there were no schools to teach you how. The only way for me to learn the techniques was through the footage featured on imported videos available back then. Also, imported records weren’t available and there was no DJ equipment. I couldn’t figure out where to get the gear, and I ended up buying a mixer that was totally unusable, and I had to connect the left and right faders with a chopstick so that I could mix two records.
“In addition to that, the decks I bought were auto-returns. This means that the needle automatically leaves the record and goes back to its original position. As you can imagine that doesn’t help when you’re trying to DJ,” he laughs.
DJ Krush’s music may stem from hip-hop, but while the world’s top-selling genre has become increasingly rigid and formulaic, Krush’s style remains experimental, with hip-hop seeming merely the base from which he creates his dense, hypnotic soundscapes.
“I’m not a rapper; I have no rapper of my own and my tracks are instrumental, so I have to express myself without words, using only sounds. This naturally necessitates a variety of sounds, so eventually the situation becomes one where the framework of hip-hop isn’t enough if one is going to be able to fully express oneself.
“So, as a musician, you start looking for what best fits your concept and chosen imagery regardless of genre. It’s that slight difference in sound texture and nuance that makes a track totally different. But, if anything, I’m pushing the frame of hip-hop wider, rather than transcending it.”
Pushing hip-hop’s framework wider is something that Krush has definitely managed to do, on more than 10 acclaimed albums, including classics such as Meiso, Krush and Zen. His most recent full-length album, Jaku, even sees him using traditional Japanese instruments and styles.
“I didn’t grow up listening to traditional Japanese music, so it wasn’t natural for me to use traditional Japanese instrumental sounds at first. It was only at the time I was making the album Jaku that I was able to accept these influences naturally and incorporate them into my music.
“But the main Japanese influence on my music is not the instruments themselves, but the general feeling. It is my minimalism, my use of the ‘space in between sounds’, that makes my tracks very Japanese. That’s in my blood and is something which is out of my control, which I do unconsciously.”
This use of “space in between sounds”, though, evokes the music of Miles Davis perhaps more directly than it does traditional Japanese styles. “I’m sure you know, but I’m a big fan of Miles Davis,” he enthuses, before I even ask. “The minute you hear his trumpet, you immediately know that it’s Miles. To me, his music represents originality in its ultimate shape.”
And, as DJ Krush has proven throughout his long musical career, he is well qualified to talk about originality.
DJ Krush will be playing a full set of his own music, including unreleased material, at Carfax on March 20. He will be supported by glitch-hop duo The Real Estate Agents, rising conscious rapper Obita and DJs Richard the IIIrd and the Shady Lurker. Tickets are R100 (presale from Norwood’s 88 Lounge or Melville’s Tokyo Star) or R120 at the door