The sensei of Japanese hip-hop, DJ Krush is celebrating 20 years as one of the purest innovators in the game.
Some people sculpt the face of music more than others. Some don’t sculpt the face of music at all. Some have a go but make shit music that no one likes. Some people try and tell others what music they are supposed to like for their own filthy gain. Some people don’t give a fuck about music, whereas other people get mugshots of their favourite bands tattooed on their chests.
It’s a funny old game.
Others stamp their authority on the face of music, usually by making sounds that sound unlike anything else. These are the people that forge the movements, coin the future, carve the eras and define the annals. Without these people we would be lost.
DJ Krush has been the face of Japanese hip-hop ever since his eponymous debut dropped in 1994. Krush is also responsible for the finest mixtape the world of hip-hop has ever witnessed (in our humblest opinion) in the shape of Code 4109. As records go, that was his game- changer, constructed entirely by his two fair hands, live in the mix, no cheating involved. Our jaws continue to drop at the sound of that record 12 years on.
Krush recently celebrated 20 years in the game with a world tour. The three-hour set he played in London as part of the celebrations was nothing short of sublime. It was a journey into the imprint that Krush has left on hip-hop circles across the globe; a rollercoaster of eerie samples and coagulating breaks, from fast to slow, then back to fast, over to aggressive and back to eerie. Krush showcased his signature sound with a level of craft that only acted to fortify his status as one of the most accomplished technicians in the game. It was the first time we had seen him live. It will not be the last.
Krush is also currently rolling out a celebratory Monthly Singles Series project which (again) re-affirms to anyone who may have forgotten about him that he is very much still about, still spinning records, still pushing boundaries and still producing the finest esoteric hip-hop you could ever hope to hear.
First things first, where did the name come from?
Actually, there’s no deep meaning behind it. A long time ago, I was in a group with my little brother and these two other guys. At the time, I didn’t have an artist name so I asked them to give me one. They said that you brothers are crazy so they called us ‘Crush’ and ‘Bang’. But I didn’t think ‘Crush’ was cool enough so I changed it to ‘Krush’ and it sort of stuck from there.
Your involvement with the Yakuza as a youth is well documented. Can you explain how this came to pass and how this experience shaped you as a person?
At the time I was really struggling with what I wanted to do with my life, but once I discovered Wildstyle (classic American hip-hop film/documentary), I instinctively and honestly thought ‘this is it’. So it’s really not an exaggeration to say that music changed my life. That’s why I want to give as much back to the world as possible.
Code 4109 is one of the finest hip-hop cuts. It is certainly our favourite. Can you explain the creative process you went through when producing that mix?
Thank you. Code 4109 is simply something I was doing with my sets at the time, packaged in pure form. But it makes me so happy that people still listen to my music, even ten years after its release.
How have new technologies changed the way you go about constructing music?
It’s really widened the scope of what I want to do. In the beginning I found myself sticking to analogue technology whether it was creating music or performing live, but regardless of new or old technology I like to use all types. I am able to use digital and analogue equally in my own way, but even now, I’m still using a 15-year-old mixer and Serato. In the end, whatever technology you use, I don’t think it makes a difference as long as you are grounded as a person.
How has Japanese hip-hop culture evolved in the last 20 years?
Back in the day when I started my career, there wasn’t much publicity and I wasn’t really that recognised. So although there were some really hard times, 20 years on I’ve become known. But more than anything I think it’s harder for the current generation because information is so widely available now and it’s so easy for anyone to make a track. At last there are more and more artists in Japan with their own personal style and I really hope that they develop and make their way into the rest of the world.
Are there any artists that you are championing and supporting?
There are loads, regardless of whether they’re famous or not. Also after I die, my dream is to have a session with Jimi Hendrix and Miles.
Even when you make mixtapes/compilations featuring other artists, you manage to make the tracks your own – they have that unique ‘Krush’ sound. It’s hard to tell where the track starts and DJ Krush begins sometimes. How does your approach to music result in your work having such a unique character?
I’m not too sure myself, but I think it’s a result of me continuously pursuing things no one else has every pursued. I’m so happy you can think about it in that way so objectively.
Where is your favourite place to perform outside of Japan?
Well, I’ve been to over 50 major countries with my music, so to be honest I kind of want to just chill in Japan for a while, especially because I am touring right now.
Let’s talk about your new Monthly Singles Series project. Why did you take the decision to release a series of monthly tracks? How has this change in tact influenced your music making?
It’s partly because there was a small gap between my last work and now, but more recently it’s because there’s been such a rapid change in the way music is being heard, the way it’s sold, and the music itself. So in many ways I wanted to look at the current situation and really feel the change. That’s why I wanted to try a different approach each month and develop music using the extreme opposites of digital and analogue to see what the reaction would be. This series will continue until this summer, and then it’ll be like, ‘now I can finally work on a new album’.
Last year was a monumental year in the history of your home country and Japan is now going through a period of rebuilding and reinvention. How did recent events affect you and your work?
It really was a painful year. Thankfully there was no direct effect to my family and relatives, but I felt the pain all the same. There’s no point in someone like me who can move forward being depressed about it. In my case, I only have music, so I’m hoping that I can help people by continuing to create music.
On that note, you recently celebrated 20 years of music making. What is the secret to your longevity and what has motivated you over all those years?
To always look and move forward. It’s all about doing this. But I definitely couldn’t have got here on my own without my family, the staff, and all the fans around the world that made this possible. That’s why I’ll never forget this feeling of gratitude towards these people.
Can we expect a change in style seeing as you have reached the 20 year milestone?
Just like I’ve been doing till now, I’ll continuously pursue the things that I think are good.
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Catch a rare UK show from DJ Krush at Koko, London on January 4th, 2014
Words: Thomas Hawkins
Translation: Naomi Prusiewicz