It was a balmy summer evening in New Hampshire. As is the annual tradition, a raucous party thrashed in the basement below my feet. I took a break from dancing my butt off to talk to two of the SSN5 headliners, JAKAZiD and Tanuki. We discussed how they began music production and DJ work, their big breakthroughs and commissioned songs, and other topics.
JAKAZiD, how did you first get into producing music and then DJ work?
It originally started as a hobby. I first started using music software at like 12 years old, but back then it was just kind of messing around and trying to figure out how the software works. And I had no real goal or anything, I just used to do in my spare time. Later on in school it became more apparent that it could be something that I could pursue as more than a hobby.
And I had some fascination with being able to manipulate music and not just listen to it, you know, I was always really into music, but to be able to, like, take existing music and edit and rework stuff was always really sort of interesting to me. So, it was a very natural progression over time. I’m very lucky that I’ve been able to do more with it from the days when it was just a hobby.
Tanuki, how did you first get into producing music and then DJ work?
When I was 12, or 13, I started playing guitar. And it was mainly into like metal music and stuff. And then I found out about like, Japanese pop music and stuff. And I thought that was very interesting. So, so I’ve tried to incorporate that into the guitar side of things. And, and then one day like on MSN,a friend sent me a DJ Sharpnel song. And that opened up many doors in terms of music exploration. A couple of years after finding out about Sharpnel, I decided to just start making stuff just for fun, which is why I chose such a silly alias [as Tanuki].
You’d call “Tanuki” a silly alias?
Yeah, I chose it because I started just making music. For really, just like a joke. Almost, they just silly songs and then I took it seriously over just having something to do in your spare time. And then progressively [it built up].
So, Tanuki started with guitar. JAKAZiD, did you start playing an instrument at first?
Yeah, around when I was about the same age, I started taking keyboard lessons. Actually a lot of the time when I write melodies I start at the keyboard. From a technical level, I still had to learn how to use music programs, but because I’d learned music theory from learning keyboard, that really helped.
That kind of foundation helped you get into the production side.
Yeah I definitely think learning how to play other people’s music helped me to understand the theory behind music composition, and then I was able to adapt that knowledge and write my own stuff.
So did you mainly start with software synthesizers or did you start with hardware synthesizers?
When I first started, I was using this program that was called MAGIX Music Maker. It was pretty much all loops, like Dance eJay (another loop-based music sequencer aimed at beginners). But the thing that was interesting about it, is you could load in sort of any audio. So a lot of the time I’d like to take sounds I liked from music that I had on CD and turn them into new drum beats and stuff. So a lot of my old stuff was very sample based. And I still like really working with samples, but there’s only so far you can get in terms of composition. So, my stuff is now 50/50 between sampling and composition.
Tanuki, how’d you get started with DAWs [digital audio workstations]?
For us, it was actually Pro Tools and stuff, because I was doing the guitar thing. So I used that mainly to record. You can still use Pro Tools as a DAW for dance music. For example, Remo-con uses Pro Tools, but it’s just not the best in terms of workflow. So I then moved on to the classic FL Studio that everyone uses.
And yeah, I pretty much only used software VSTs when I started working. I planned on incorporating hardware, but incorporating hardware with software is not a very seamless thing. It doesn’t make for a very easy workflow. I’ve just changed a lot obviously because I’ve found that FL is constructive towards what I wanted.
What are your favorite VSTs to use in production?
Tanuki: I use everything by a company called U-He; they do classic VST emulation, old Roland synths, and stuff like that. I use Diva a lot, Zebra, Hive, and Serum. For basses and modern synths, that’s the way to go. For other synths that you wouldn’t see in every electronic song, that’s why I like to use Diva, since it gives a little bit of a different sound.
JAKAZiD: The ones that I use have changed a lot. At the moment, I probably mostly use like Serum for basic sounds and then also use Spire for my lead sounds. And I always say because a lot of my music is sort of influenced by like 90s music a lot of the time I use Korg VSTs because they’re kind of like emulation of that classic 1990s songs.
My first education with music was 90s rave music, so a lot of that still sticks with the ideas and the energy that I want to create with my music. The Korg M1 piano was actually used a lot in music from that time, so that’s often a piano that’s OK to use for things like that.
Now, [you two] mentioned sampling a lot and most famously [Tanuki is] famous for BABYBABY NO YUME [future funk song] Tell us about that.
I heard a lot of the future funk [music] that was going on at that time, and it was mainly just very sample-orientated. There wasn’t much to it other than opening up a sample and sticking a drum loop over it. But that opened up many doors for me in terms of finding out really good 80s artists. And the more that I explored those artists, the more I heard songs that I wanted to hear.
Basically, the whole purpose of me trying that genre was to listen to these songs and then make a modern mixdown for them so you could play them in a club today. So which is why when I do it, I always do something like taking the sample and recreating the entire bassline, I’ll add more crunchy drums and stuff.
Are there any particular city pop artists that you like the most?
Definitely Anri (Eiko Kawashima), just all of the classics that you can’t go wrong with. It’s so different to modern pop. I also enjoy T-Square and Omega Tribe (jazz fusion acts).
I really enjoy the fact that future funk has basically given all these older artists modern business. People need to know these groups, they’re fantastic. So, it’s nice that this genre can help spread the word.
Indeed, you can go to record stores in Japan and find city pop artists in the front window, made famous by future funk! These two have big connections to the Japanese electronic music scene, of course.
JAKAZiD, how did you start working with Konami?
JAKAZiD: Around 2007, a friend of mine, he was an English teacher in Japan. And he mentioned this social media site — this is before Facebook was really a global thing — he mentioned this site that a lot of Japanese people used called Mixi. And he was like, “oh, yeah, you know, there’s loads of BEMANI artists on there, and they’re quite approachable. You can just like message them, and maybe you should show them your music”. But, back then, this entire website was completely unfriendly to use for non-Japanese people.
Tanuki: You needed a Japanese email address to sign up too.
JAKAZiD: So anyway, I signed up. One of my favorite BEMANI artists has always been kors k. And so I got in touch with him, because I’d done a fan remix of one of his tracks, and I sent him some other stuff too. And one thing led to another, and, you know, we became friends and stuff.
And the first thing that led to was actually being booked in Japan for this event called Rush Hour 2 VS. Upsurge. [The group] Perfume were the headliners of it was amazing to me, like my first show in Japan, and I was on the same stage as Perfume. There were also people like good-cool, Ryu*, and people like that.
Also L.E.D. was at the event backstage, and I think at the time he was one of the music directors for [Beatmania] IIDX. And he was like “do you want to get involved?”
Much thanks to kors k for putting me in touch with him.
It’s a common story with a lot of these artists; Akira Complex famously got in connection with kors k.
JAKAZiD: Yeah, kors k has opened a lot of opportunities for people, which is quite nice, because in the music industry, a lot of people, understandably, are in it for themselves, you know, to get something for themselves. It was quite charitable for him to put people in touch to use music he likes and give them opportunities. I’m pretty thankful for that.
What sort of direction did they give you to create an original song for Beatmania IIDX?
JAKAZiD: The [music] brief was quite loose, which I was quite thankful about, because it meant that I didn’t have to make something I didn’t want to do. They basically told me that the game was going to be called “IIDX 18 Resort Anthem” And the theme was sort of like, “tropical resort.”
So, thematically, the melody that I wrote had more a theme of a sunset in mind. I wanted something that was warm and had sort of a sentimental sort of feeling to it.
Konami was actually quite loose in what I had to do. So I just kind of wrote that track and they approved it.
And what about Pierce the Sky (from Dance Dance Revolution X2)?
There was even less of a direction to be honest. They just said “we’d like you to do a track for DDR.”
And that track came about in a weird way. I started writing the track, and it was instrumental, I kind of felt that it was lacking something. I’d already written a track with a vocalist for a project that I did in university at the time. And that was Pierce the Sky, but it was slightly different, like the vocals are slightly changed and rearranged and stuff to the track that’s in DDR. But, it was essentially those vocals. I borrowed them from that project and put them into the final track. And I felt like it really completed the track because it had something memorable to it.
You’ve also done remixes for the BEMANI series, right?
JAKAZiD: I’ve done two remixes for Konami. One of them was a remix of Rakuen (from beatmania IIDX 12 HAPPY SKY, by kors k). And the other one was waxing and wanding (from beatmania IIDX 13 DistorteD) for a Konami compilation album (cyber beatnation 2 -Hi Speed conclusion-)
Meanwhile, Tanuki, you were in DJMAX Technika 3 with your track “Right Back”. What was your communication with Pentavision (the game’s original developer) regarding the direction of that track?
Tanuki: That was through a friend of mine who had that connection. But again, it was like a really loose brief. It was just “make a song,” basically. And I’d always wanted to do a rhythm game song, specifically like a faster song, you know.
You’ve also done the song “Rush” for Capcom’s CROSSXBEATS.
JAKAZiD: Funny story, if I can interrupt you. At the same time that Tanuki did “Rush” for CROSSXBEATS, I did a track, too. But the game was closed down before that song ever saw the light of day.
Do either of you play rhythm games today?
JAKAZiD: DDR was definitely what influenced a lot of my musical direction in the beginning. And when I was younger, I definitely had a lot more free time. There were a lot of home versions of the BEMANI games that were accessible to me, Later on when the Beatmania games became arcade-only, it became hard to be as enthusiastic about it. You know, like how with some songs you enjoy because they have a fun chart. But I didn’t have that link anymore to the later games, because we didn’t have them in the UK.
But actually, recently, DDR A has come to the UK in a big way, and I play the Jubeat games on mobile. And it’s sort of rejuvenated my interest in BEMANI.
But I mean, if those games were brought to the UK officially, I’d definitely be playing them every day.
Tanuki: To be honest, there is zero rhythm game scene in Glasgow, and there’s never been a scene in Glasgow. So I’ve never really had the opportunity to play any of the games.
I remember back in 1999, which was when the whole DDR scene was kicking off, there was one dance mat available in the import game store. I didn’t have a PS1 so I obviously didn’t buy it.
But, the only time there was ever any [arcade] cabs, they were in bowling arcades, but they got vandalized very quickly. So you couldn’t really you know, play them. And in recent years, I haven’t seen any cabs in Glasgow at all.
It’s a shame because the arcade scene in general is always something I’ve wanted to become a part of, but there’s really But there’s really nowhere in Glasgow to do so because arcades just don’t exist. An arcade in Glasgow is usually part of a place called an “amusement center” which is just slot machines. So that’s what they classify as an arcade. So, yeah, I’ve never really been in an area that could support a scene like that.
JAKAZiD: I think that’s the difference between the UK and Japan, like you go to Japan, and the arcade scene is still thriving, you know, you go to arcades, floors, and all these games, which are like super high tech, like online stuff. I guess because there’s this big overhead to buying those machines in the first place. And a lot of arcades don’t want to take the gamble to buy these massive, overpriced machines. And it’s a shame because, you know, games like that Gundam Kizuna game (pod-based arcade mech action game) Like, that’s an experience you can’t really get from gaming at home.
If you put on a VR headset, maybe.
JAKAZiD: Things are going that way, so that’s good. But, arcades are kind of social places, so I’d love to see them make a resurgence in the UK, definitely.
It’s an interesting conversation because one of the most popular music games right now is the VR game Beat Saber. But, you have to be kind of locked in that world by yourself. But, artists like Camellia are getting tracks in the game! It’s an interesting sort of contrast, because these games are normally so social.
JAKAZiD: It’s funny ‘cause, I’ve always been kind of a music game nerd. But like, friends of mine who aren’t into music games at all are talking to me about Beat Saber, and they’re quite knowledgeable. So, I guess it’s nice that there’s a rhythm game that’s getting a bit more broad appeal from people.
JAKAZiD, tell me the story behind “Hardcore Cleaning Sensation”.
JAKAZiD: Around 2006. I remember seeing the Cillit Bang (cleaning product) advert on TV. And it was kind of a bit of a strange advert as it was. And I kind of thought like, Whoa, like “I should do like a remix of it.” But, even better, what if I like edited the clip, and synchronized into like a very fast paced like hardcore track. And this was kind of, there were lots of videos like that. Now, by the time this was, it wasn’t quite pre YouTube. But YouTube wasn’t as ubiquitous as it is now. And I thought, as a joke will do is I’ll edit this, like ridiculous video, I’ll send it to the company that makes Cillit Bang. And I did that. And I didn’t hear anything. Perhaps they didn’t really know what to make of it, maybe it got lost.
But I sort of posted it online, and a few months later. And the record label Nukleuz got in touch with me. And they were like, because that at the time. They were quite a small dance music label, right? They were kind of this mid-tier label. And they were quite successful. But they weren’t quite like, you know, em, I was saying that they were like, We love this remix, we want to officially clear it with the company that makes it back. We want to get Barry Scott from the advert to re-record the vocals in our studio, which was like, overly surreal, because it’s like a thing I did as a meme. And this company is like, we want to actually put money behind this and do all the legal stuff to make it happen. Yeah, And for better or worse, it’s still like, when I meet people, when friends of mine introduced me to other people, I’m like “I made the Cillit Bang remix”
The producer Matt Zo tweeted recently “who remembers the Cillit Bang remix?” which is really random, ‘cause like it was 13 years ago, and people are still talking about it, which I’m not quite sure why, but it’s quite strange.
JAKAZiD and Tanuki, tell me about the collaboration work that you do together.
JAKAZiD: We’ve done one track so far that’s been released, “New Day,” which was quite fun to work on.
We live quite far apart. So, one weekend, we sort of planned ahead and I went up to Tanuki’s place in Glasgow, and we’re like, let’s try to make a track this weekend and see what happens. And the thing that was really interesting about it was if I was like “I don’t know what to do next,” Tanuki would have a great idea for the next thing to do. And the process was just really back and forth like that.
Tanuki: There was no “hold up” to it. We finished up that song in two days.
JAKAZiD: There was a real one-upmanship that was like “what about if we do this?”. It was a battle, but like a battle for the same end goal. There were times when Tanuki was making these cool bass sounds while I was on my laptop, chopping up vocal samples. So, we were actually working on the track simultaneously. I was really happy with the end result.
Tanuki: Sometimes we come up with the same things almost at the same time. No matter what we do, it almost always blends together. And it does make the collaboration process so much easier. Because we already know, like, what it should sound like? So it’s just getting to that point. And there’s no kinda like butting heads together, like “oh, I think it should sound like this.” And then we can argue about it. But it’s just, we kind of know what we want. And we get there pretty easily.
JAKAZiD: There’s times when I’ve worked with people kind of sometimes disagreements or like, you know, we should do this.” But like, with “New Day”, and there was another track we started that still needs to be finished, it was like “yeah, that sounds pretty good”, and if there was something that didn’t sound good, there was still a kind of mutual agreement about it.
Tanuki: There was actually something like that that got put into the other song, yeah. It’s actually hard to describe the genre of it, like the first half of the drop is very weird, but it then goes into hardcore. And like, we rehashed the hardcore section of that once, because we both agreed that it just didn’t sound too great, and we went on to another idea.
JAKAZiD, you’ve worked with Fracus and Darwin before, right?
JAKAZiD: Yeah, we mixed a hardcore compilation album together back in 2008 when I was just starting out at Nukleuz, and actually I supported them a few weeks ago at a show for their 10 year anniversary, which is kind of crazy, because I’ve known both of them quite a long time from before Hardcore Underground was even a thing. I even lived with Fracus for a few months a few years back. So, I’ve always got along really well with him.
Fracus and Darwin have definitely got a lot of passion for what they do. And they work very hard. So like, a lot of the success that they’ve managed to have with Hardcore Underground is warranted.
JAKAZiD, how did you form your label Aural Adrenaline?
JAKAZiD: I guess it’s sort of like a vanity label as such, because, you know, I’d be asked to like do commissioned tracks with people, which is always great. You know, I love working with people, but what if I just put out tracks myself and was able to take the risks that I like to take and try things that are a bit unusual, and perhaps get people to remix my music, that aren’t of the same style as I usually make, but they can take my ideas in a different musical direction.
So there’s a lot of, like, when I’ve got people to do remixes, I’m trying to think outside the box, like what if I got a garage person on board like Carpainter, or a mutant bass-type artist like Kanji Kinetic.
It is kind of a vanity project; I’d love to make it more prolific of course. It’s something that I try to come back to when there’s not as much commissioned work coming my way.
You’ve also worked with artists from the Japanese label HARDCORE TANO*C.
JAKAZiD: So It’s a bit different to the way that perhaps Tanuki and I collaborate.
You can work on stuff remotely, but it’s not as much of a collab. As you’re not instantly giving each other feedback on the ideas.
For example, when I worked with M-Project (Japanese hardcore act) it was very much he would do a bit, and then I’ll do a bit. And it was a slower process. I am very happy with the track that we made [Crowd Rocka], but you don’t quite get the same sort of instantaneous gratification while making it.
It’s definitely enjoyable because I’ll be working with artists that I’m inspired by. But, it is more complex. There’s a delay as the track bounces between the two of us. Stuff takes longer, essentially, which can be frustrating. But I guess, generally, the results end up being good.
What was it like to perform as a DJ on stage for the first time?
JAKAZiD: My very first gig would have been around 2006 – I don’t actually remember what it was.
Nowadays, when I play a gig, I’m not always the headliner, but I’ll be higher up the bill compared to when I started out. I was more of a supporting act then, so it would feel like I’m just playing a set as I would at home but in a club.
Obviously, I learned a lot about how tracks work a lot differently in the club compared to how they sound at home, like a track that could be good to listen to at home won’t always translate well to the dance floor. That’s something you come to learn with experience.
I think, for me, the first gig I remember vividly was [Rush Hour 2 VS. Upsurge], At that point, I could probably count the number of gigs I played on my hands, when all of a sudden I was playing to a massive crowd of hundreds of Japanese people with some of my favorite artists. It was a very memorable event.
Is it different to play to Japanese club audiences versus Western audiences?
Tanuki: I think it can be, because when I play in Japan, obviously a lot of people come to it, because I’m not in Japan all the time, and they want to see specifically me and there’s more of an expectation to hear certain things that they come to expect from me. And so I tend to get a lot of passion from Japanese audiences because of that, you kind of play to some really good crowds and stuff.
JAKAZiD: [In the UK], because I’m kind of a local there’s not as much hype to see me play compared to when I visit Japan, I think. I love playing live in general anyway, because when you DJ, you’re kind of curating music that you like, And when you put on music you like and you see a room full of people getting the same vibe from it, It’s quite invigorating.
What equipment do you use when you perform?
Tanuki: Pioneer CDJ-2000 Nexus 2 turntables and DJM-900 Nexus 2 mixer. That’s pretty much the standard club setup these days. As long as there’s a CDJ that take either a CD or a USB, it’ll be fine, basically.
JAKAZiD, I noticed that you are a frequent contributor to [the website] Discogs.
Yeah. Discogs itself doesn’t have any actual music on it to listen to, but it’s kind of like a rabbit hole of like, when you can look up an artist that did a track you like, and you find out that that artist you like, did additional production on this other track from someone else.
If like me you’re a little obsessive then you end up in uncharted territory where you find music that somehow hasn’t been catalogued on there. That happened to me a few times with J-core and Bemani related media. And you get contribution points for submitting stuff too, which incentivizes it further.
It’s like a Wikipedia effect. We click on this, you click on that and click on that.
JAKAZiD: I’ll end up buying CDs on the web because it’s like “that producer’s involved in it.” So you get it and you’re like “that wasn’t what I was expecting at all, this is really cool!”. Because like, you know, you can buy pretty much any record that’s been released [on Discogs]. It might not always be on the site. But if it is, someone’s got it for sale.
Some stuff is really expensive on Discogs!
Absolutely. I mean, the most that I’ve paid for a CD before was about £125. But yeah, I’ve always just been fascinated by hunting down music that’s, in my opinion, good, but not very well known. In fact, that’s how I got into J-core in the first place – it was because I came to discover that there were all these talented artists that didn’t really promote themselves outside of Japan.
There was just this untapped resource of great music that we hadn’t really started paying attention to yet in the UK. This was back in like 2003-2005. I was finding all these great records that made people go “where do you get this from?” I was like, I had to email this guy in Japan about it! I’d say “Please, can you send me this record? I’ll PayPal you.”
It’s funny, that sort of thing has been happening for decades. Back in the late 1960s, the “northern soul” scene took Northern England’s teens by storm, and it was all based around obscure soul records from America.
JAKAZID: I admit I don’t know a lot about the history, but I do know that Fatboy Slim [music producer] borrowed a lot of really good samples from northern soul music.
I kinda miss the mystery of [Japanese music] from when I first got into it. Now everything’s so global. It’s great for those artists though for sure.
Everybody knows “Plastic Love”.
JAKAZiD: Yeah, exactly. [Tanuki and I] have both done reworks of it.
Tanuki: It’s great. And I think that is the power of the Internet in general. You can take something that’s happened numerous decades ago, and all of a sudden make it relevant again.
JAKAZiD: I think what’s really interesting about the whole 80s city pop stuff is that it sounds so much like 80s freestyle pop from the US and synthpop music from the UK. But somehow we never heard it because it just was never big outside of Japan. There’s all this music from that era that’s only weakness was not being in our language. I guess at the time, the people in charge at the big record labels felt people didn’t want to listen to stuff in another language. But now, because of the internet, we can access this goldmine of unknown music that’s really musical and really upbeat.
It’s like a treasure chest of, like, wow, it’s all here!
What would you like to say to J-core fans and aspiring producers?
JAKAZiD: Well, first of all, I’d like to thank everyone who comes out here this weekend and made it possible for Tanuki and I to be able to come here and do what we enjoy doing.
In terms of people wanting to do what we do, if it’s something you’re passionate about, just do it!
One of the things I often have to tell myself is that if you’ve got a good idea, you’ve got to be the one that pursues it and sees it to the end, ‘cause no one else is going to create that vision in the way that you see it. And it’s really gratifying to just make things because you wanted to make it and for other people to enjoy it.
If you have the itch to try and make music, just have a go and don’t be afraid to take risks.