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Soichi Terada: Basking in the afterglow

08.11.21
Words by:
Photography: Avesta Keshtmand

Soichi Terada is just about coming through the other side of a bout of “hard jet lag” when he logs onto Zoom. He arrived in Europe a week ago from his hometown of Meguro City in Tokyo, and was thrown straight into a bracing touring schedule that so far has taken in Edinburgh, Manchester, London and Amsterdam – where he’s calling from. You’d forgive him for feeling a bit dazed; the gigs, he says, have been busy, in stark contrast to Tokyo, where there’s still restrictions on nightlife. Even so, Terada is in excellent spirits, his warm smile a balm for the soul.

Terada is in Europe to reveal his new live set, which knits together crisp variations on deep house from his cherished back catalogue with brand new material from his forthcoming album Asakusa Light. His first LP of new material in over 25 years, the album is a culmination of a successful five-year run – pandemic aside – that has seen the DJ, producer and computer game music composer discovered by a new school of clubgoers, placing him at the receiving end of long-overdue recognition beyond the borders of Japan. The late-period purple patch was set in motion by a 2015 compilation of music from his label Far East Recordings, masterminded by Hunee and released by influential Dutch label Rush Hour. A fortuitous turn of events for which he’s still thankful.

 

“It was such an occasion for me,” he beams, casting his mind back. “I was so grateful.” Sounds from the Far East came at a critical point in his life when his work as a composer for video games – he most famously wrote the music to the Ape Escape games – was beginning to dwindle. His experimental project, Omodaka – in which Terada blends electronic music with minyo singing to tackle subjects like prostitution and gambling – was still active, but the live gigs weren’t enough to stave off an impending personal financial “crisis”. It was at this moment that Antal and the Rush Hour crew reached out with the idea for the compilation.

“Many people were recognising my old tracks. It was a liberating moment for me”

Sounds from the Far East rejuvenated Terada’s music career and catapulted him onto the global circuit at the age of 50 (he’s 56 now, but has a youthful enthusiasm that belies his years). “I was able to perform live frequently and many people were recognising my old tracks. It was a liberating moment for me,” he exhales. It’s an upturn he could only have dreamed of back when he first began experimenting with deep house back in the early 90s.

His first brushes with electronic music were coloured by trips to New York and London. In particular, a visit to NYC in 1986 while on tour with his rock band Tax Flee left a profound mark on him. The three-piece ended up at a club called Choice, founded after the demise of Paradise Garage, and heard the intoxicating rhythms of early house and disco on a big sound system for the first time. Back home in Tokyo, he discovered that same atmosphere at Gold, the city’s first super club, which was modelled on the vibrant gay club scene of mid-80s New York. Lifted by the palpable sense of community and shared euphoria, he was totally hooked.

 

After graduating in 1988 from Tokyo’s University of Electro-Communications, where he studied Computer Science and the electronic organ, Terada made a beeline for London, fascinated by its underground music and culture. During that month-long solo stay, he heard a few early electronic crossover hits, citing Pump Up the Volume by M|A|R|R|S and Beat Dis by Bomb the Bass as formative standouts. This period was pivotal for shaping his love and appreciation for house music, sparking the first embers of light that would continue to burn brightly as he developed his own house-inspired productions.

There’s a sense of adventure that defines much of Terada’s life story; going to London alone as a 22-yearold graduate, busking with his melodica in tube stations, releasing an album with his band in 1987. But the lows are pronounced. When Polydor dropped Tax Flee from the label in the late 80s, the band imploded, and he fell into a deep depression. “Our band lost their contract, so I actually lost my job,” he explains. “I lost almost all my income. But,” he concedes, “I had so much time.” He found a special kind of comfort in going to clubs like Tokyo’s legendary Space Lab Yellow, where he felt kinship without the pressure to appear happy. “Some events that I took part in were holding me,” he remembers affectionately. “You didn’t need to be extremely happy. It was like, ‘We are OK.’ You’re just spending time with the people there.”

 

Inspired by these experiences on the dancefloor and encouraged by his close friend, producer Shinichiro Yokota – who introduced him to synthesisers – he began to experiment with production. In 1989, he launched Far East Recordings. These early strides into house music resulted in a slew of cuts now deemed classics. By taking the deep house blueprint and adding a distinct touch of his own, he created a recognisable identity: soulful, polished and joyful. It’s impossible to listen to the buoyant Saturday Love Sunday (which samples Cherelle’s Saturday Love) or the euphoric Sunshower, featuring vocals by Nami Shimada, without breaking into a grin.

Thirty years on, this spell of discovery, excitement and melancholy underpins the entire mood on Asakusa Light. It is, he says, a deliberate attempt to capture the feelings of an era. The concept came to him during the first wave of the pandemic, when time itself seemed to unravel. “Initially, I felt like, ‘We just can’t do anything, no events or live performances?’” he says. “But I started to think this must be an occasion to do something that I have never tried.” Many artists, faced with grounded tours and paused projects, used the downtime to take stock and reflect. Terada began to harness this introspective impulse to create a new suite of tracks.

The attention to detail that went into capturing the essence of the time was meticulous – a necessary process aimed at triggering his own recollections from his youth. He assembled a collection of synths that were used on his early material: a Roland D-70 and JV-1080, plus a Korg Trinity. Most impressive is his recovery of drum machine sounds from an old floppy disk, originally recorded via an old hardware sampler. “I didn’t use drum machines directly [in the 90s] but I entered their sounds into my old Akai,” he explains, before going on todescribe the process of reconfiguring vintage drum machine beats via an “ancient” NEC PC-9801 computer he’d kept preserved. This provided a real world connection to the past. However, he still had to explore the deep corners of his own memory banks to extract that elusive 90s feeling from his youth, the most difficult part of the process. As he speaks about the challenge of recovering those memories he closes his eyes tightly, pressing his fingers into his temples, as if to give a tangibility to the process.

It resulted in an ever-growing cache of tracks as he chased the forgotten emotions. “Sometimes I just couldn’t remind myself,” he says. Still, the work paid off and he ended up with “35 or 36 tracks, some of which were very primitive loops”. In the end he received a helping hand from Rush Hour boss Antal, who assisted with curating a final selection from the 35-plus cuts Terada produced. In his telling, Antal and the Rush Hour crew helped him tap into his light during a season of darkness – and the album’s name is an homage to this.

For Terada, Asakusa Light itself is something of a lifeline, like those blissful moments on the dancefloor all those years ago. He’s hopeful that the record can do to others what house music did for him. “Electronic music saved my life,” he says, as if coming to the realisation himself in real time. “Not once, but many times.”

Asakusa Light is out on 13 December via Rush Hour

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