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Interview with Kent Alexander ⋆ System Arcadia

In preparation for the first remote System Arcadia show, Shakunetsu APPEND, we got the chance to talk to Kent Alexander, a DJ out of Yokohama, Japan. He’s been featured as an emcee in such BEMANI songs as THE DETONATOR and gigadelic 2017 as well as songs for NAOKI+TATSH, DJ Myosuke and DJ Shimamura.

Q: What’s your story?

Well…my mom’s Japanese and my dad was stationed in the military in Japan. I was born in the states but came to Japan when I was like 2 years old. I went to an international school, then Purdue University in Indiana, and then came back to Japan.I tried out a couple of jobs that didn’t work out, then I started this English teaching gig in the public schools in Yokohama. Last year, I started my own English school in Yokohama. It’s been working out pretty well. 

Q: How did you get started with the Japanese music industry?

I started playing Beatmania when I was in the 5th grade. I was always crazy about the series. And then I started DJing when I was in high school; I started throwing parties in Tokyo, booking all of these BEMANI artists that I really admired. I’ve been constantly DJing since.

Q: What was your first beatmania game?

beatmania 2nd Mix.

Q: Which BEMANI artist do you admire the most?

I really like SLAKE. The thing is, a lot of the BEMANI artists have a sound that’s different from club music artists. If you try to find an artist like SLAKE outside of the beatmania games, it’s really hard. Each artist has their own “color” to themselves. 

Q: What do you use to mix?

I just use mp3s and vinyl. I’m a pretty old fashioned guy, I guess. Never used RecordBox or Serato. I used to use more CDs, but nowadays I use USB and vinyl for the most part. 

Q: Do you collect a lot of vinyl?

In response, Kent showed us a whole wall full of vinyl records. 

Q: Do you have a prized vinyl?

I do have a BEMANI section; I like looking for songs that were in DDR and stuff when I’m digging for records. SLAKE gave me a bunch of records. I was expecting like 50-100 but he sent me like hundreds of records. I’m still going through them!

Q: You do streaming on Twitch now?

I tried it for the first time for DJ Shimamura’s stream. I have all of these vinyls that never see the light, so I figured I’d give it a shot.

Q: Tell me about your label J-Core Core!!

I used to throw a party back in the day with DJ TECHNORCH and this guy Azusa. It was my way to throw a hardcore show. This was like in the mid 00s. I was booking hardcore artists and BEMANI artists like TaQ and Remo-con.

Actually, TaQ’s party “bounce” was the first party I ever went to. At the time, they never did ID checks or anything, so I was like 13-14 and I was going like every other month. 

So, I started DJ’ing in junior high and started throwing parties right at the same time. At the time, I was really into hardcore and frenchcore. I started going to GUHROOVY (the record store) like every week and started my vinyl collection. 

At the time I was super crazy about the BEMANI games and everything. Around senior year of HS, I went to this record store called DBC-17 that opened up in Yokohama and they had an odd lineup of early hardtek and frenchcore records that you could find nowhere else.  At the time all I had for club experience were the “bounce” shows and the occasional visit to Velfarre (I had connections).

The owners of the store invited me to an underground rave; I was a BEMANI kid who had no idea about the underground scene and then the next week I’m going to this rave party; it was called Teknival Japan, which was a party for the tribe and hardtek movement that was growing back in the day. It was a completely illegal rave that went on for two days. Going from the arcade to a party like that was a shocking thing for a teenage kid. It opened my eyes to this whole scene.

I got more into the rave scene in Japan. I threw parties in Japan and tried to mix the essence of the BEMANI scene and this underground rave scene and a lot of people helped me out as I did that. My network grew and grew from there.

Q: Tell me about Pan Pacific Playa.

Oh, that’s a label in Yokohama that I belong to. It was a bunch of musicians in the area that I met from my time in the underground scene that didn’t have any other place to go. They were like disco DJs, these “talkbox” players, and then the guys that were doing juke. I wasn’t really into the slow, mellow type music, but I really thought juke was cool.

That branched out to this footwork dance tournament that I held, there’s actually a Vice documentary about the whole scene [where Kent appeared]. When the global juke scene made a spread, the music got exported but the dance just kinda stayed in Chicago. There were some people doing the dance in Japan, so I decided to start a tournament to try to get more people to do the dance. There’s more people who do the dance here nowadays, so we made some progress over the years. 

Q: You’ve also done some work with Paisley Parks, correct?

Paisley Parks is me and two other PPP guys; they’ve been around in the club scene for a minute, so their connections led to us making music for anime. Through my connections with SLAKE I was able to have their music in NAOKI’s Crossxbeats game. It was great to be able to do that since not a lot of juke artists have that kind of opportunity, so I’m really thankful for that.

Kent commented that NAOKI is a very upbeat and energetic person.

Q: How did you end up as the emcee for songs like THE DETONATOR and gigadelic 2017?

Long story short; I’m really close to kors k. I was like 18 or 19 and L.E.D. just wanted “explosive words”.

Sigma chimed in and said that THE DETONATOR really resonates with Western IIDX players. He recounted a concert at the annual Raj of the Garage BEMANI event where DJ tweak and DJ School Pizza in a hotel party dropped that song and everyone was singing along to the lyrics.

Q: Tell us about Terror-P and Hecatomb.

Man, you’ve done your research! Hecatomb was one of my first parties. I was 3 months into my DJ career and Azusa, a fellow BEMANI player at my local arcade, did this party with me. We decided to contact DJ TECHNORCH since he was along the lines of what we wanted to do.

We threw a similar party afterward; then for the third one we wanted to do something bigger, so I contacted TaQ and Remo-con as our two headliners; there was also DJ WILDPARTY and his brother on the setlist. Like today, it was kind of a mix of the BEMANI and club scenes. 

After Hecatomb, I went to Purdue University in Indiana around 2008-2011. It was close to Chicago, so I got close to the Chicago juke and footwork scene and brought some of that stuff back to Japan. 

I got back to Japan around 2012 and wanted to start another hardcore party. Around that time, it was the rise of the bass music scene in Japan. That was like trap, juke, footwork, dubstep. A healthy mix of alternative musicians. I was doing juke and hardcore and wanted to mix them together. That’s how J-Core Core!! started.

A lot of my friends were doing Comiket releases so I decided to ask kors k if I could sell my CD at his booth and he agreed. That was my first experience there, it was crazy. I borrowed Yamajet’s booth for the second time and the third time I was like, yo, I have to stand on my own feet now.

At the same time, PINK PONG was starting up his own doujin thing. I went up to him —  he was working with two of my old BEMANI scene friends — and proposed that we start something new. So, that’s how I got together with his label ZPP and we started this Sakazuki project; that’s a project where two former BEMANI artists collaborate on a track. We’ve done three CDs of that, plus a boat party.

Sigma asked about the size of the boat party. Kent said it held 130 people and that the boat was designed by the mangaka Leiji Matsumoto (of Captain Harlock fame).

I like to get different old BEMANI artists together to collaborate. We’ve worked with Hideo Suwa, SLAKE, DJ SIMON and such. DJ SIMON is actually from the Yokohama area, as are a lot of the early BEMANI artists, since the original Beatmania games were sound produced in the city Zama (Kanagawa prefecture).  The early Beatmania games definitely have their roots in the Yokohama area.

He referenced the beatmania 3rd mix song s.d.z. (Sound Design shitsu Zama). We then talked about Mr. T’s Youtube channel “higestudio” and Mr. T’s origins in Yokohama.

Then, we discussed kors k’s status as the “ambassador” of new music genres to IIDX.

Kors k and Ryu* were like teenagers when they got into IIDX. There’s a cycle now of young producers who got into the BEMANI games that got their own songs into the games (Banvox, Masayoshi Iimori, the HARDCORE TANO*C artists).

Then, we talked about how Porter Robinson made songs for Stepmania, then Pump it Up Pro, and then eventually got his alias Virtual Self and his song Particle Arts into beatmaniaIIDX Rootage. 

Q: Tell us about your work with lapix and DJ Shimamura.

They’ve both been around for a while. Lapix liked THE DETONATOR and we went from there. Lapix really blew up, he’s all over the place now. He was crazy even at the beginning; he was like “I’m making three albums right now” and I was like “…okay.” 

Q: Tell us about HARDCORE SYNERGY.

I was booked for them a couple of times. It was really cool! I wasn’t really aware of the BEMANI scene in the States so it was shocking for me. Unlike in Japan where the club shows and Comiket happen separately, they all happen at once in the West in a convention center. People in the West like to get more drunk and rowdy compared to the sobriety of the Comiket event here. It’s totally dry. 

We talked about the underground BEMANI scene of the States. Kent remarked that he was surprised about how many people in the US have full beatmaniaIIDX machines in their own homes, which is totally unheard of in Japan; he was also surprised at the news of Waltham’s Game Underground arcade having a working DDR Solo cabinet.

Q: What level of difficulty do you play in beatmaniaIIDX?

I’m like inbetween 10-dan and Chuuden. The harder songs now I really can’t handle. It’s well beyond my skill set. Back in the day, the hardest songs were the best songs, but it’s way different now. 

The game really has to have a strong concept for me to like it. I was digging Rootage and played it like 200 times, but I only played Heroic Verse three times since I didn’t like the theme.

Q: Do you play the other BEMANI titles? 

I used to play everything until jubeat came out. It was just a shift in the history of the BEMANI games. 

Sigma recounted a night where a friend of his plugged a MAMBO A GO GO arcade PCB into his ASTRO CITY arcade cabinet.

Q: What are your favorite music genres?

I listen to everything. Lately I’ve been listening to like slowed-down old-school drum-and-bass. I’ve also been mixing together Japanese folk music and techno so it’s heading in a weird direction recently. I grew up on every genre because of BEMANI so I don’t really have a favorite genre per say.

Q: Do you have a particular favorite artist, or at least one unknown Japanese one that you’d recommend?

I can’t really say I have a favorite artist. I’ve been really into Japanese stoner rap lately. J-rap is HUGE over here right now. The group Namedarumazz is like Japanese gang members making lofi hiphop. They’ve been #1 on the iTunes Japan charts for like three months now. Their sound is like Nujabes.

Q: Do you have any favorite Western food you can’t get in Japan?

The Doritos taco. I used to eat that every day when I was in college, man. There are a bunch of Taco Bells in Japan, but a taco is like $5-$6. All the portions are so small here.

Q: Tell us about your English classes.

In 2014, I used to belong to a company that’d send English teachers to Japanese public schools, similar to the JET program. Then I felt like I wasn’t going to get a raise or anything so I decided to do my own thing as of last year. It’s mainly for elementary school students and local adults; due to COVID-19, I had to cancel my in person classes and started Zoom classes with about 10-15 people I found online. It’s a lot of BEMANI and juke fans. They’re saying it’s fun since no other English teacher will talk about that kind of stuff with them. The same kids that I’d teach in my cram school in person come to my online classes, so it’s all working out. 

For adults it’s more conversation-based, helping them with phrasing or expressions. With elementary school kids, I follow a curriculum close to what the public schools are doing. Japan’s trying to expand English programs since Japanese people still struggle with speaking English for the most part. Japan focuses their English curriculum on college entrance exams; it’s not really conversational and it’s more focused on grammar. 

Check out Kent Alexander (https://twitter.com/kent045) in the VOD of System Arcadia’s show Shakunetsu APPEND — We’re Going Global! Live on Twitch: https://twitch.tv/systemarcadia.