May 05 2016

Alex From Tokyo To The World

New York-Le Bain
We sat down with the busy DJ Alex From Tokyo to chat about his new label World Famous before he returns to Le Bain on Sunday, May 8th.
LE BAIN: Before we catch up about your new label, tell us about the mountains. You’ve been based in the Catskills for a year or so. How would you describe your Catskills state of mind?
ALEX FROM TOKYO: My wife Sarah and I have been living between the city and Woodstock for a year and a half now, and we absolutely love it! We are becoming new age hippies! The air feels so good. It is such a beautiful, magic, spiritual, and inspiring region with lots of great art, music, culture, and people. It is also great for our creative minds. It is addictive and it is only 2 hours from the city—the perfect balance for now!
"X" by Alex From Tokyo & Isao Kumano 
(a.k.a. Tokyo Black Star) 

You recently launched your own label World Famous. Did you wake up one morning and tell yourself "let’s do it?” Is it the mountain effect?

It was always my dream when I started to get into music to start my own record label. I actually started World Famous 15 years ago in Tokyo, and released the 1st vinyl as part of a CD compilation series project! I then moved to NY and I focused on music production with my partner Isao Kumano as Tokyo Black Star. The idea of restarting my label was always part of my plan, I guess 2 or 3 years ago, with some new exciting music and ideas in progress. I felt the need to express myself and to start relaunching it this time from NY.
"Not My Day" by Bing Ji Ling and Alex From Tokyo 
(World Famous)

Since the early 
'90s, you've been involved with historic dance music labels: Paris' Yellow Productions and F Communications, Tokyo's Mr Bongo, and Berlin's Innervisions. 
In 1996, I started being the Japanese Ambassador at F Communications while I was working at the Mr. Bongo record store in Shibuya, Tokyo. It was fun and crazy, and I discovered so much amazing new and old music! Those 4 labels helped me forge my musical identity, gave me some ideas of my own musical vision, and also taught me everything inside and out about running a record label with different styles. With World Famous, I will be presenting a wide range of dance floor and eclectic music by my project Tokyo Black Star, but also from my collaborative projects with other artists and musicians. 
Alex from Tokyo (Photo by Neil Aline)

Alex from Tokyo (Photo by Neil Aline)

I want to get Tokyo Black Star's song "Mitokomon!" Do I have to look for vinyl records?
Music has to be shared, and I don’t want my label to be exclusively vinyl, but my first and big love is records. I love playing and listening to vinyls on a nice sound system. It is really part of the sonic experience I care and enjoy so much! I have had 2 vinyl releases so far that I am very happy about. The next release expected for the summer will be an LP by Tokyo Black Star and will be important for the label. Also, I am planning to start selling digitally in the fall. 
"Mitokomon" by Tokyo Black Star (World Famous)

Let's go back to your Paris years. The French journalist Didier Lestrade is wondering why there is not a F Communications 
revival (the French electronic label created by Laurent Garnier and Eric Morand in the early '90s that you were involved in). What’s your explanation? 
The label hasn’t been active since 2008. Laurent Garnier and Saint Germain are 2 big world-class artists today whose music is enjoyed all around the world. “Acid Eiffel” by Souffle (Laurent Garnier, Ludovic Navarre, and Shazz) is a timeless masterpiece from 1993 that is still being played all around the world. I don’t think Eric or Laurent are into revivals, but I think it would be great and important to dig again into the huge F Com catalog. They were the French Sound before the French Touch. You'd be surprised to rediscover how much good and interesting music is still very relevant today. Anybody ready?
"Acid Eiffel" by Souffle (F Communications, 1993)

In 2010 in Tokyo, you co-founded the audio brand called Phonon. Can we consider Phonon as the Japanese audiophile answer to Beats by Dre?
Phonon is kind of another Tokyo Black Star creation. Isao and myself got involved purely for the love of it when we started collaborating with some veteran Japanese audiophiles that would come to hang out at Isao’s studio 7 years ago! With Phonon, we focus on high-quality sound. Isao is the master sound engineer. He is a very highly-respected independent sound and mastering engineer in Japan, especially in the Japanese hip hop and underground dance music community. Phonon is definitely at the opposite of Beats if you think of our size and the fact that it is Japanese-made, but If you listen to our headphones, you will immediately get the difference in the quality of sound.
"Black Star" by Tokyo Black Star feat. Rich Medina
(Sonar Kollektiv / Innervisions)

What have you have learned from that experience with Phonon?

One of our biggest challenges was that we started with absolutely no experience in the manufacturing of industrial products. From prototype to mass production, it is difficult to ensure a stable sound quality, so it takes a lot of time to engineer, design, and come up with a great, satisfying final product. It took almost 2 years for our latest Phonon 4000 headphones! We have been getting mostly lots of great feedback from all sorts of people like music lovers, DJs, music producers, engineers, and even from movie directors like Spike Lee, which is very encouraging for us to keep going! 

You go back to Tokyo once every season. What would you say is the most exciting thing happening there?
Tokyo is still for me one of the most exciting metropolises in the world. I am very much looking forward my next trip at the end of May when I can check on the brand new club Contact in Shibuya, which is run by the same team who were behind the legendary club Yellow.  

On Sunday May 8th, Le Bain presents Nouveau York
featuring Alex from Tokyo and Toshiya Kawasaki (Mule Musiq | Tokyo) 
Party hosted by Asian Circle, 9pm-3am | The Standard, High Line