Label Feature: DJ Nobu
Click here to listen to the Carhartt WIP Radio Show featuring DJ Nobu.
“Creating an alternative sense of space and time is my main objective,” says Japanese producer DJ Nobu. For almost two decades, he has played a pivotal role in the development of his country’s electronic music scene,constantly pushing the limits of techno at clubs all across Japan, as well as festivals like Rainbow Disco Club and Labyrinth.
DJ Nobu’s interests expand far beyond the confines of techno, which is evident in his own long-standing party series titled “Future Terror” that he launched two decades ago as more deep house and disco oriented dance sessions, then later developed into combining DJ sets and live acts. The party has been graced by techno legends such as Detroit’s DJ Stingray, but also the Chilean neo-krautrock outfit Föllakzoid. “There’s no reason that experience should be restricted to one style of music,” he says, describing its line-ups as a “sonic stimulant.” This eclectic approach is also mirrored in Nobu’s own productions. Since 1999, he has released an array of music, comprising ambient, abstract industrial, house, and techno on imprints such as Rush Hour’s sub-label No 'Label', Kobe-based Grasswaxx Recordings,, and his very own, Bitta. Launched in 2012, Bitta has also released works by the likes of Daisuke Uchimura and Wata Igarashi, both from Japan, and international producers, including Black Merlin from Manchester, UK.
For Carhartt WIP Radio, DJ Nobu prepared a Bitta mix which is both “unique and psychedelic, to give the listener a taste of what I always set out to do.” As ever, we also sat down with this month’s host, to chat about the first records he bought, his ongoing "Future Terror" party series, and his favorite spots in his hometown Chiba.
What music were you exposed to when you were younger?
DJ Nobu: My entry to the music world was through the local hardcore punk scene, which I discovered when I was in junior high school. I was completely consumed by it – listening to it all the time and going to shows. There were many incredible and crazy bands in my local scene, so they influenced me a lot, and their influences undoubtedly laid foundations for who I am today.
Since 2012, you have run Bitta. What’s the label’s philosophy?
DJ Nobu: I would like to release music that’s challenging in some way. Because I’m a techno DJ, I am more intrigued by tracks that I can still incorporate into my set, but which are maybe a bit trickier to mix than straight forward “functional” techno. It’s more fun for me to try to play out those kinds of tracks. I’m not releasing the music only for the DJs, of course I want everyone to enjoy it, but my curation is definitely rooted in my curiosity as a DJ.
How do you find new artists for Bitta?
DJ Nobu: I just reach out to artists I like… But for the reasons I mentioned above, I do look for someone I find unique or different. I have reached out to all the artists on Bitta and asked them to produce tracks, with the exception of Föllakzoid and Black Merlin. With them, it was the other way round. I usually rather want to introduce the artists that I believe deserve more attention through my label.
Do you have a "wish list" of musicians you'd like to release?
DJ Nobu: Just off the top of my head, I’d love to release music from Barker. He’s definitely on my list. And Skjöld is my current favorite. I play this artist’s track in almost every set I play these days. Kangding Ray is also incredible. The more I make music myself, the more I realize how incredible his production is. And I’d add Archivist as well. I play their music a lot in my set too.
What is the label working on currently?
DJ Nobu: Apart from what I’ve mentioned above, I hope to put out another EP of my Extra Tools series. I think it will be next year. Not much else is planned further than that.
What does a track or an artist need to have for you in order to work with them or to release it?
DJ Nobu: Mostly, I look for the kind of music that’s not available elsewhere. I have this next release by a Japanese producer Ko-ta in the pipeline, and his music is exactly that. I’m planning the following release to be by a Berlin-based producer Refracted and his music is not that wildly different from what’s out there, but he still has something very particular about his sound. Ultimately, I’m looking for tracks that inspire me to play in my DJ set in a creative way, so even when I produce my own music, that’s what I aim for.
Is there still a need for labels as institutions in today’s music market?
DJ Nobu: I think so. Because I still feel the need for them myself when buying music. I absolutely take the record labels as a reference when searching for new music. If you take, for example, the Paris-based label Latency, what they release is hugely varied in terms of style of music, but there is consistent uniqueness and quality that is assured by the label and its character.
You run Bitta from Chiba, Japan. Does the city play a part in the label’s history or could you operate from any place in the world?
DJ Nobu: My label doesn’t have a geographical attachment to where it’s operated from, so I could operate from elsewhere.
Bitta releases some of its music on vinyl. Is there a particular reason why?
DJ Nobu: I don’t deny the nostalgia factor, as I grew up buying vinyl myself, but I still do think it’s the ideal way to present music to the world. There are a lot of people now saying that it’s unnecessary, and I agree to a point that it’s not necessary, but having a physical object as a piece of work is different from just releasing music. And I feel like it’s the most complete way to archive a musical work, not just with my label but with any music.
Since around 2010 you have regularly released your own productions. What is the driving force of your creativity?
DJ Nobu: It’s just fun. I do it simply because it’s enjoyable. Even when I’m going through rough times, immersing myself in music making in the studio really soothes me and calms me down. It’s almost like a healing process. So I don’t feel like I’m consciously pushing my creativity, but rather I’m just playing with what I enjoy and makes me feel good.
Can you still identify with the music you released a decade ago?
DJ Nobu: Yes. I absolutely can. It may not be so relevant anymore, but I can still enjoy it because I hear my own struggle making it. It’s quite interesting to listen back to myself really trying to be creative with what I had and what I knew back then.
What are currently your main compositional- and production-challenges?
DJ Nobu: I can’t think of any major issues, but I think I’m at the stage where I feel mostly comfortable with my own gear, so that I can use it in ways that they’re supposed to be used. So instead of getting new gear, I would like to further explore how they could be used differently, or in other words, what other potentials they have – because often, the most creative electronic music is made by using instruments or equipment in ways that they were not intended.
How do you feel space and time through music?
DJ Nobu: As a DJ, creating an alternative sense of space and time is my main objective. I just came back from a city called Kumamoto where I played a three hour set last weekend. And everybody there said they felt the three hours pass so quickly. I believe this is one of the most fundamental qualities of techno: that it surpasses the regular sense of time, and takes the audience into the “alternative state.” So, I think I’m looking for the same experience when producing my own music. And the sense of space works in a similar way. When playing my DJ set, I pay a lot of attention to the physical space we’re in. We often use the term “spacy” to describe music, and I think that’s what I’m going for. When you truly immerse in music, you are no longer bound to the limitation of physical space. And to enhance that experience, you need to have the right music. So I try to select the tracks that I think best enhances the experience in that particular space each time I play.
What's your perspective on the relationship between music and technology?
DJ Nobu: I can only speak from a techno producer’s point of view, but when it comes to techno or electronic music in general, advancement of technology has been driving the development of the music in a major way. Same can be said about the technology of DJ equipment. In my case, I’m not necessarily inspired by the latest technology, so when I acquire a vintage synthesizer, for example, old technology can totally excite me. Obviously, it’s not the only source of inspiration to make music, but I’d say it’s an important one.
Is there any new DJ Nobu material coming out soon?
DJ Nobu: I remixed one of Ko-ta’s tracks on the next Bitta release, and my EP is supposed to come out from a Swedish label KVALIA at some point soon.
How would you characterize your artistic output?
DJ Nobu: I can’t really characterize it myself. I don’t think I’m such a good producer yet. So I think I’m still in the process of establishing that character.
Do you see yourself as part of any scene?
DJ Nobu: Yes. I see myself as a part of the techno scene. I think I was naturally drawn to it over time because it brings out the best of my musical ability. I also still see many more possibilities in techno to be explored, so I enjoy the challenge of how I can expand its potential.
How did you select the tracks for your Carhartt WIP Radio show?
DJ Nobu: I tried to incorporate the tracks released from Bitta into a mix that’s unique and psychedelic, to give the listener a taste of what I always set out to do.
Can you remember where you first started DJing and the kind of music you were playing?
DJ Nobu: I was playing hardcore punk and hip hop all mixed up. I even threw in some anime theme songs.
What are some of the first records you bought?
DJ Nobu: My first record was a song from a children’s TV show called Oyoge Taiyaki-kun. I loved it so much.
What was the last vinyl record you bought?
And what was the last thing you downloaded?
DJ Nobu: Barker’s BARKER002.
Can you tell us a track that you always play to rescue a dancefloor?
DJ Nobu: Currently, it’s Skjöld’s Perceptions. I don’t think anyone else would use this track for the rescue, but it works for me when I drop it effectively.
You also organize the “Future Terror” party. Its line-up features DJs from abroad and Japan, as well bands and live acts. What where the best night so far and how did you come up with the idea of doing a night that is not dedicated to one style or sound?
DJ Nobu: Future Terror is a party that’s unmistakably designed for people to dance. And there’s no reason that experience should be restricted to one style of music. So, encountering and being introduced to different sounds during the course of the night, I suppose, is like a sonic stimulant. You may not get into it right away, or you may dislike it because it’s not what you expected, but it could be a discovery that opens your ears to a whole new sound. So the purpose of inviting guests from outside the techno sphere is, again, to provide an unique musical experience that no other events offer. That’s basically the reason I tend to book acts that don’t play in Japan frequently. I can’t say which night was the best. There are too many.
Please recommend two newcomers to our readers, which you feel deserve their attention.
DJ Nobu: Well, they have both been around for a while, but I can encourage more international attention towards OCCA, who is a DJ from Sapporo, a resident of Precious Hall club. And a techno producer Lemna. Her recent releases were amazing.
Can you send us a picture that best illustrates your current state of mind?
What is your favorite movie and why?
DJ Nobu: Interstellar. It’s still the most mind-blowing movie for me. I don’t know how many times I’ve watched it.
What superpower would you like to have?
DJ Nobu: Teleportation. It would be so great if I could move from one place to the other in an instant when I tour [Laughs].
What are your hobbies besides music?
DJ Nobu: Working out and haikus.
Can you name us three locations in your town Chiba that have a special place in your heart?
DJ Nobu: Okitsu Beach: It’s a beautiful quiet beach, and I like going there alone to find peace in my mind. Then the Chiba City Museum: It’s a local modern and contemporary art museum. They always have excellent curation. The last time I went was to see a Japanese painter Tanaka Isson. Sakae-cho: it’s just a neighborhood I used to live in, but for me, this area really represents the streets of Chiba city. Whenever I go there, it kind of forces me to go back to my roots and stay true to myself.