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08.06.2017 | Words by: Alise Akimova

Satoshi Aoyagi, otherwise known as DJ SO, is coming from Japan to play De School this weekend for the Nachtdigital Weekender. It will be the first time that he will play in Amsterdam, but some have encountered his music already during certain morning transitions at Nachtdigital 2016 in Olganitz. Satoshi is currently a resident DJ and co-organizer of the Japanese Labyrinth festival, a three-day musical journey taking place annually in September against the backdrop of dramatic Japanese mountains. For his upcoming gig June 10th at De School, we had a chat with him about his take on music and the Japanese techno scene.

Satoshi was born in Sendai, a port city in the northern region of Honshu, Japan largest and most populous island. He actually played classical piano until he was 18, and was not familiar at all with electronic music before. “I had a friend who was a DJ, and when we went to his place, he had all the equipment and I tried to mix vinyl with turntables and a mixer. It was so much fun to play with that kind of equipment which I had never seen before. Right after that, I bought two turntables and mixer before buying any of vinyl. Then, I started to listen to house and techno music. I think a lot of DJs are started with clubbing first, and correcting music, and after that, with buying equipment. So I was bit different. I just like controlling the music.”

On Satoshi’s musical approach towards his sets in general, he contemplates: “It’s a bit hard to explain by words, but maybe I’m always a bit logical and not too emotional to think about what I play. It is really a general approach, but I try to think about what time and where I play. That means what the organizer or people expect me to play in that slot. There are some DJs who never change their style in any situation, but I am not like that. Of course I have my own style but my approach is showing my taste and story under that condition. Digging and listening to new music, I always image how is this track would work, which situation is good for this: a club, open air, in the mountains, on a beach? Front act, or end of the party? Then I try to make a smooth story only with the songs that I feel comfortable with.”

Since 2003 Satoshi has been connected to the The Labyrinth festival. The festival has achieved a cult status in the techno scene worldwide, creating an almost ritual experience to a techno festival. Originally the party grew out of the Japanese outdoor trance scene, but around the mid-2000s it was welcoming deep techno and house acts you normally wouldn’t hear outside a regular nightclub, with artists ranging from resident Donato Dozzy, Peter van Hoesen or more experimental artists like Bee Mask (listen to an exchange with The Labyrinths founding father Russell on Resident Advisor).

Satoshi tells about his relationship with the festival: “It’s a long story but I’m helping Labyrinth for 15 years as a DJ of course, but also as a co-organizer. The main organizer Russell started this festival 2001 and I met him in 2003 at a party. For me, Labyrinth was so absorbing with a lot of strong outstanding artists on the line-up, but there were almost no local DJs playing there. But I tried. I made two mix CDs, there was no SoundCloud at that time! One was imagining morning time at an open-air festival in the mountains, and another one was for nighttime, to show him what I can do in a wider range. This approach succeeded and he liked my mixes. We started talking about parties and music, and I could be a member of Mindgames, which is the organization of Labyrinth. Actually Russell is responsible for all the music and the sound-system side, which is most important part of that festival. My role there is more about event production like the parking, bar, entrance, communication with local people and the venue, which is also a tough part.

The biggest thing I respect him [Russell] for is that he never changed his vision. He never booked a DJ because of name value or public interest. It takes him a long time to think about the timetable – almost one year! – and book the best DJs, even if that DJ is not known at all, for each slot to make his 3-day long story perfectly. He never accepted any sponsor offerings, which appear at the venue, like for alcoholic drinks or cigarette brands. 
 
Labyrinth had started like 300-500 people size small party and we lost lots of money for first few years but now its getting super famous. All of this development is due to his strong vision. We will do a 17th Labyrinth this year and we decided to shrink a little bit, to keep quality retained, which is great decision. It is hard to get tickets now, but I hope someone who reads this can come, if you agree with the idea and the musical direction.”

With institutes like Labyrinth who maintain their own strong vision, and increasingly more Japanese DJs playing in venues in Amsterdam, Paris and Berlin, it seems like big things are happening in Japan. But when we compare the Japanese techno scene with the scene that’s quite strong in most European countries, the one in Japan is still small and will not ever be any bigger like in Europe, Satoshi finds. “In my opinion, still karaoke or izakaya are the mainstream for young people’s nightlife. So it is hard for the DJs in Tokyo to financially depend on the niche music they love. Many DJs or producers have side jobs too. In the end, now I’m not only a DJ but also a designer, but its really balanced and nice to have some other things to make my brain refreshed.”

He elaborates a bit about his current life as a designer compared to life as an electronic artist. “Basically, my main job is to design product colors and materials. And also graphic design too. So my brain is always occupied with design, music and also football. Maybe even an equal amount of each. To me, design is more about creating an outcome with sense and knowledge and some techniques under a given condition. It is personal in the process. But for DJing, I always watch the people there, and feel their feedback, and think about what is next, at the same time. So it is more about guiding the people in real time.

I feel more difference than similarity in design and DJ to be honest. But I always try to stay… let’s say “comfortable” or “cool” and not too aggressive in both. So not too much for designing or for DJing, I start to feel my own similarity for those. Maybe just originality or personality in other terms.”

Even though the scene is relatively small-scale and obscure compared to European countries, Satoshi thinks electronic and techno music in Japan are moving in brighter directions: “Our government reviewed the law about adult entertainment business last year, and officially we extend the opening hours until morning. This was great news and I hope more clubs will realize their positive impact on culture, and remain healthy on a financial level as well. At the other side, club culture in Japan is getting better and got more bipolarized. Some EDM clubs in the Roppongi-area – a district of Tokyo famous for its nightlife – are heading more to a commercial way, but at the same time many good clubs opened last year. Vent in Omotesando, Contact in Shibuya, Sankeys TYO in Daikanyama, all those are music focused clubs. So it’s a good sign.

Another thing is the quality of DJs and the creators here. The scene itself is still small and usually we need to book international DJs to make a proper weekend event. But since Japanese techno DJs are getting famous these days, it is about time to start exporting Japanese DJs more. There are a lot of good DJs in Tokyo I guess. And at same time, we should try to make events not to rely on international DJs too much but focus on Japanese DJs more.
 
I will organize a techno event this month with some DJs following this idea, called “Tokyo Techno Society”.  It is with legendary well-known DJ Nobu who is the first Japanese DJ that was placed in the RA top 100 DJs, and Iori, Wata Igarashi that is a great producer/DJ releasing on Time To Express and Semantica, and also Tokyo’s raising star Haruka. We just started to promote the event and have received so many of good feedback already. So I hope this approach will work well and will be an opportunity for music lovers to recognize the quality of Japanese DJs.”

DJ SO is playing De School during Het Weekend on Sunday morning, June 11th, for 06:00 til 09:00.
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