|Satoshi Tomiie dESu
It was Satoshi Tomiie's Nubreed compilation on Global Underground in 2002 that saw dance music fans last rushing to make room on their CD shelves for the Japanese house DJ and producer.
Three years is a long time in dance music and the start of this summer saw Satoshi finally follow up that compilation with the release of "ES" (or electronic soul) on his label Saw Recordings, his first proper mix CD on the label (2003's "Undulation 1" with Hector Romero was more more of a label showcase) and the first of two CDs scheduled for release this summer.
As summer draws to a close, August 2005 sees the release of the second of the CDs, "ES-B". While the first, was a reflection of the sound Satoshi has been bringing to dancefloors around the world, on ES-B he has gone for slower, funkier, warmer more laidback grooves. The mix gives listeners a chance to see a different side of Satoshi, whose early roots in music come from hip-hop and whose CD collection has drum 'n' bass mixes sitting alongside house stompers.
RA caught up with Satoshi Tomiie to talk about his first compilation release in three years and Saw Recordings in the cut-throat age of digital music.
Both John Digweed and Sasha have released one or more compilations in the last 12 or so months. You have also just released not one, but the two compilations, "ES" and "ES-B". Do you think it's easier or harder to make a mix compilation these days?
Yes and no. I think people are getting tired of the idea and expect more than just a mix. Something like Sasha’s Involver is great but for me that would be really hard to accomplish within 3 months. He worked with 3 or 4 different producers on that whereas I like to do them by myself. Yeah, it has become a little bit tougher than it used to be. I haven’t released that many mix CDs anyway but I do think it has become tougher for everyone.
The concept on this mix CD is that one CD represents what I play in the club and the other is something a little different. I think people will be more interested in the one that’s a little different. Although the people who like my nightclub sound I guess will like the other one.
When John [Digweed] did his Fabric CD, which was different to what he played, people complained so sometimes you can’t win. Whenever you do something different to what you normally play, something else, then people are always like, “Well, this is not what I expected.”
The reason I ‘m releasing them as two separate CDs is because the “B” one IS a little different and if I just released it by itself people would complain. Also, usually when you have a double-CD, people always choose their favourite like, “I like CD1…” or “I like CD2 better”. So, I thought I would give them the choice to begin with in the first place.
How did you put the ES and ES-B albums together?
I used Pro-tools AND I also used Ableton Live too.
The last one, I did “live” so I tried to make this one a little more interesting by using Ableton Live and Pro-Tools. People might not know this because I didn’t do any obvious edits, they’re kind of subtle.
Nowadays with the technology you don’t have to be a DJ to make the perfect mix. People expect more than just a live mix so nowadays you have to take a producer’s approach to a DJ mix.
What Sasha is doing in clubs is really interesting. I probably, will go in that direction eventually but I still don’t trust computers enough so for a while, at least, I’m going to stick to CDs and vinyl.
"People expect more than just a live mix so nowadays you have to take a producer’s approach to a DJ mix."
Digital mixing has taken away from purely beatmatched mixing using turntables or CDJs. Is beatmatching still as important as track selection and flow?
Beatmatching is one thing but programming is really important. I think you can only gain that programming ability from experience. You can’t just get it overnight.
I have noticed that some non-DJ people have started using Ableton but their mixes have no flow. They are only mixing beats. I’m sure that if they are watching the crowd then they’ll gain that ability but I think people like myself who have been doing this for a long time, have gained the skills of beatmatching and programming.
While beatmatching helps to make transitions smooth between songs at the end of the day, people don’t come to listen to the mix they come to dance to the actual songs. So if you’re going to skip that training then you have to be really good at selection because there is more competition.
People like James Zabiela are doing something different although sometimes I find it a little bit weird because I come from a hip hop background so I’m not used to hearing those same kinds of sounds in his breaks and house sets.
It’s all about tune-digging which is really difficult these days because everybody has everything. Six or seven years ago I really enjoyed listening to drum ‘n’ bass mix tapes because they were something different.
A mix needs to be something different. I get a lot of mix CDs but a lot of the tunes are well known which doesn’t really impress me. I understand if you’re trying to be a DJ that you want to put big tracks on a CD because you want other DJs to listen but it doesn’t standout. So the mixing is important but it’s just a technique which enhances a set.
"...it’s not like looking back, more like looking forward but revisiting the past to make the production more interesting."
At some point in their career, every artist has a BIG song. One of yours is “Love in Traffic”. Do you ever think about what made that track so successful when you’re making new productions?
There’s also “Tears”. That and “Love in Traffic” were milestones but are two very different records. It’s almost 20 years and everything is coming around again. So it’s not like looking back, more like looking forward but revisiting the past to make the production more interesting.
ES and ES-B really complement each other. ES-B is a bit more chilled out while ES packs a bit more of a progressive punch. What were your influences and the inspiration to make both of these albums?.
The first one is just what I have been playing in the club. It’s almost 3 years since the last compilation so it’s a lot different to what I was playing back then. That was a pretty simple concept.
The second one is more like what’s going on in the scene now. I’ve really been into that kind of stuff for a long time but I don’t have the opportunity to play it in a nightclub.
You have shown a lot of diversity and versatility as a producer throughout your production career. When you start a track do you start with a certain type of sound, a drum pattern or some other 'hook'’?
Drums. I always start with the drums. I don’t really work fully on the drums, just the basics so I can build something else from it and then add to that but I don’t really go for any particular sound. It’s more like trying not to be all over the place, which is hard for me because I like different stuff.
In your experience what is the best music producing software and/or hardware setup?
If I started producing today I would say Ableton Live - just Live on a PC or Mac, whatever. It doesn’t matter what you use it on.
You know the tune “Stoppage Time”? Well, Guy Gerber did everything on that with Ableton Live in six hours. He told me how he did it. He basically sampled the lead string line and in Ableton Live changed the pitches and then combined the pitches.
It’s those types of ideas that help you to realize a sound. People have a lot of ideas but you don’t really need that many.
As for sound quality, I think Pro-tools is probably one of the best. I can really hear the difference on the finished product. The quality of the sound is really important but nowadays the quality of the samples that come with the software sound good already so the quality of the music is even more important.
Before I used to get those really CD sample sounding demos which I’m not getting any more. Everything I get is really well-produced or rather, well engineered because the sound itself has already been engineered.
Apple’s G4 and G5 computers in tandem with Logic or Pro Tools has widely been regarded as the best production set-up. What do you think about Apple's choice to use Intel Processors in their next line of desktops and PowerBooks?
I have six computers running in my house and my main music computer is a G5 with Pro-tools and I’ve got other computers for organizing my music like the G4 I was using before the G5 and a few laptops for doing different stuff at the same time.
I was a bit surprised. The computers are just a tool for me so I’m sure they are going to keep the same OS I don’t really care. Although I’m sure they have people trying to make Windows that will run on a Mac because it is Intel.
"We’re now in the stage of changing the format from CD to something else which is digital but we don’t have a definite answer yet. Probably in a few years there’ll be a system for the distribution of digital music."
There have been a few articles about the declining interest and sales in artist albums. Since the advent of mp3 players, many people are choosing to buy individual songs on the albums rather than the whole album since there are usually some "filler" tracks.
Yeah I bought Felix da Housecat’s “Playboy” CD because I thought the tracks were unmixed and I wanted to play some of them. But in the end they were mixed and the beat just cut out.
Given your involvement with SAW Recordings what impact do you think it will have or is having on the electronic music industry? Are compilations like ES and ES-B the last frontier in the album sales industry?
I don’t think so. On iTunes you can buy individual tunes but I think the main purpose is that they want to push the album so then there’s an opportunity to download a song but if you like it, you’ll probably buy the album.
We’re now in the stage of changing the format from CD to something else which is digital but we don’t have a definite answer yet. Probably in a few years there’ll be a system for the distribution of digital music.
Now, especially with dance music you have to sell four times as much to compensate for the sales loss on the vinyl. It’s really tough for the independent labels. Producers are now forced to DJ to make a living, which is sad.
Some of them, enjoy it but are are not really good DJs. Some of them would prefer to stay in the studio. I understand how they feel but that’s how it is. It’s almost like production is a promotion tool for DJs.
So how do the numbers for vinyl shipped for say a big track like Chab's "Closer To Me" compare with those of some of your earlier big SAW releases like ‘Penetration’ or ‘Virus’?
‘Closer To Me’ did really good but if that record had been released in the year 2000 it could have sold close to 20000 copies. It’s happening to everyone, including non dance-music labels too.
We don’t sell mp3s until a month after the vinyl release and our mp3 sales are quite good but there’s no money there. It’s better than nothing though. You make 40 or 50 cents a download so it’s really tough to survive as a label.
With a record you have to buy both the A and B side. Mp3 sales are good for the customer; they have more choices. But for a label it needs more downloads, more numbers to survive.
When mp3 sales were first launched many of the major record companies jumped on the 99p or 99 cents per track pricing policy, which is fine for an artist like Madonna or Eminem who would previously sell x million albums. However, it seemed like dance music labels were quick to follow in their footsteps by also going for a similar ‘bargain’ sales strategy.
The thing is, those pop sales are album based. You can buy the singles but generally people who buy the one song, buy the album. Actually, I do that. It’s about $10.
But dance music is single-based. The price of the infrastructure is fixed and you still have to pay that. Recently the price has gone up. It’s now $1.50 or 1.50 pounds, which in dance music, we have to do.
"‘Closer To Me’ did really good but if that record had been released in the year 2000 it could have sold close to 20000 copies."
Are you at all concerned by the loss of sound quality on tracks in mp3 format given producers like yourself spend hours, days, weeks labouring over the mix down and the mastering only for it to ultimately end up being played by a vast majority of people as an mp3 with inferior sound quality?
Oh yes. People now play a lot of CDs and most of it comes from mp3. But that has become the standard. It happened to us a long time ago. We were mixing our stuff on SSL, which was top-end sound, hi-quality. But other people were using a16-channel Mackie mixer that sounded a little bit too thin because it was too hi-fi.
Everybody is playing mp3s on their CD player, that has become the standard. The other thing is that vinyl sounds different. I think it’s OK but to answer your question, from a producer’s point of view, yeah you spend so much time but in the end it becomes an 8MB mp3.
I think it’s just a matter of time. I think this technology is 10 years old but actually CDs took 20 years to make vinyl extinct. Vinyl still has the warmer sound and all that but it’s too big and heavy to carry. It’s like a dinosaur.
Finally, just one question about your native Japan. You left Japan some time ago and since then your music career has really rocketed. There are several other Japanese house producers who have had releases on prominent labels but just can’t seem to break through on an international level. Do you think staying in Japan is holding back some of those guys? What are your thoughts on the scene there?
That might be something although the techno scene in Japan has taken off.
I think it’s because there is no significant Japanese house style. Like in Germany, you have groups of people working together to make unique sounds. I think there’s nothing wrong with individual producers but not enough people are doing it compared to the techno scene, where there are quite a few.
When people outside Japan, think of Japanese culture they think of techno, manga, etc. but house is somewhere over here. It’s also hard to develop a scene with just a few people. I think the British are a good example because they always stick together.
Satoshi Tomiie's latest compilations ES and ES-B are out now on Saw Recordings
Published / Monday, 29 August 2005