House music needs little introduction. Pioneered in the late 1970s in Chicago and New York, house music arose from the ashes of disco, designed with the ultimate purpose of making people dance.
Pioneering house DJs span records and re-edited tape reels to emphasise the ‘dancier’ elements of popular music. At clubs such as Larry Levan’s Paradise Garage in New York and Chicago’s The Warehouse (where the term “house music” is said to have originated), house music thrived primarily amongst the black and LGBTQ+ communities. Back then, clubbing offered a reprieve from the difficulties those communities faced in everyday life – as it still does today.
Over forty years later, house music plays across the globe. Few genres have had such a lasting impact, on such an enormous scale. So how did house music reach Japan, and what have Japanese house musicians brought to the genre as a whole?
House music was likely popularised in Japan by Ko Kimura, one of the first DJs to play it in the country. He was also the first to release a CD mix in Japan – a format that enabled house DJs to create narratives by mixing tracks together in unique and innovative ways.
Kimura began producing in 1995, releasing music on John Digweed’s highly influential Bedrock Records. In 1997, he founded FUTIC Recordings, home to many of Japan’s greatest house music releases.
During house music’s insurgence in the US, club culture as we know it today was non-existent in Japan. But, as clubs were introduced to Japan in the 1980s, so was house music introduced to Japanese society. According to Satoshi Tomiie (another pioneer of Japanese house and friend of Kimura’s), Kimura span house music during his weekly residency at a club called Tolos. It was there that many Japanese people heard house music for the first time.
Combining Japanese technological proficiency (Japanese company Roland’s TR-808 and TR-909 drum machines are inextricably linked to the production of vast swathes of electronic music) with young, trendy creatives’ newfound access to house music, the 1990s spawned countless imaginative and innovative Japanese house releases.
Satoshi Tomiie himself has had a huge influence on house music, not just in Japan but on a global scale. He co-produced the seminal track “Tears”in 1989 alongside the legendary Frankie Knuckles, one of the founders of house music and resident DJ at Paradise Garage. Once a touring member of Yellow Magic Orchestra, Tomiie has been producing and DJing house music since the late 1980s.
In 2001, Tomiie co-founded SAW Records (alongside Hector Romero), a label that continues to release raw house cuts reminiscent of and influenced by the iconic Chicago, New York and Detroit sounds. To this day, Tomiie is undeniably one of Japan’s most famous house music exports.
DJ Nori also deserves mention as one of the godfathers of Japanese house. Holding a residency at Paradise Garage, Nori, like Ko Kimura, brought the sounds of Chicago and New York back to Japan.
It’s also difficult to talk about Japanese house music without mention of Soichi Terada, who released some of the first popular house albums in Japan. He founded Far East Recording, a label responsible for introducing Japanese house music to much of the rest of the world. Shinichiro Yokota, Terada’s friend and labelmate, has also seen numerous releases on the label. Together, Yokota and Terada epitomise the deep, groovy sound of Japanese house – two of the most talented and revered house music artists in the contemporary global scene.
House music has been popular for over four decades, yet it – and the Japanese scene – continues to evolve. Shown by the likes of DJ Masda and So Inagawa’s impeccable Cabaret Recordings imprint, the technicality and groove of Japanese house music still innovate and excite. And, all the while, it’s never lost sight of its ultimate goal – to make people dance.
Check out our Japanese House playlist!