Ryan Keeling sifts through the SoundCloud account of a one-of-a-kind producer.
As a latecomer to the scene, I was amazed at just how deep this all runs. Fulltono and DJ April's Booty Tune label, which started in 2008, could claim to have put out one of the first footwork releases globally (Bangs & Works, the seminal compilation from Planet Mu that introduced large numbers of people to footwork, came out in 2010). Today, Booty Tune and labels like Trekkie Trax, Бｈ○§† and Shinkaron pump out new Japanese juke and footwork at a clip. As part of the three-man production group Paisley Parks, Kent Alexander, a co-founder of Бｈ○§†, has released an EP with Traxman, one of Chicago footwork's MVPs. And as Alexander's Battle Train Tokyo events show, footwork dance culture has spread just as quickly as the sounds.
The tracks this scene produces range from bad to lovingly derivative to deeply inspired. But for my money, there is one artist who is operating at a different level. Takahide Higuchi goes by the name 食品まつり a.k.a foodman (the Japanese bit means "food festival"). He's released on Бｈ○§† and Japanese Mutation Bootyism, and the American labels Digitalis Limited, Orange Milk and Noumenal Loom, and has been putting out music since 2011. Now in his mid 30s, he's based in Yokohama and has been making music since he was in high school.
"The first time I heard footwork I thought it had a very similar sound to back when I first bought a sampler and recorded it to cassette," he told me in an email. "I get the same sort of sensation from footwork as I do from dub or punk. As in, with dub and punk it's not necessarily about skill or genre or style—it goes past that. It's about an expression, a way of approaching sound that transcends multiple genres, and I recognise a similar feeling in footwork."
These days, the pursuit of genre transcendence is almost codified to the point of being a genre itself, but this is still a key reason why Higuchi stands out. The difference, I think, is that unlike so many of his contemporaries, Higuchi is not a collagist. He's developed a singular vocabulary, which means that whether he's writing forms of footwork, house, techno, pop or ambient, he can't help but sound like himself. Higuchi's tone is also important. The worlds his tracks inhabit are not the dystopias of so much hybrid club music, but colourful spaces conceived in rainbow-like bursts of imagination. Higuchi draws inspiration from video games (Final Fantasy and Chrono Trigger are a couple of his favourites) and is prolific in the studio. "One thing that's consistent is that I believe it's important to respect the feeling and energy that you possess at the exact moment of making a track," he says, "so I deliberately try to limit the time I spend on the production process."
Email interviews rarely work well (even less so when they need to be translated) so it felt best to lead Higuchi's story through sounds, rather than words. Below are 15 of my favourite tracks from the foodman SoundCloud page, which should give you a taste of foodman's inspired buffet of sounds.
"Fan Fan," a 2013 track from the ARE KORE album, blends poignancy with intense polyrhythmic blasts.
"Uho Uho Story," a collaboration with D.J.Fulltono on the DOGUU EP, shows foodman's fondness for simple but affecting melodies.
"Shiro Wine" is another one from ARE KORE. foodman often works with samples and his own live drum sounds, both of which are key elements on this track.
This one was posted a couple days ago. "YUME OI HITO" is typical of foodman's taste for unhinged beatless pieces. Silence is often vitally important.
"Crow&Sparrow" from the 2013 World Wide Juke Volume Twelve compilation uses samples of the titular birds but, rather than a bit of whimsy, it improbably feels like a sincere self-expression.
This is one of foodman's gorgeous ambient numbers, taken from FOGPAK #8.
Last year foodman released a cassette called Hot Rice on Patient Sounds Intl. It featured "Ikidomari," which is tagged as "techno" but it could have been "dembow."
Also from the DOGUU EP, "MAX OYAJI" is indicative of foodman's love of scattered percussion and rich atmospheres.
"Kitekudasai" is a 125 BPM house track, but it's freeform in a way you rarely get from tracks at this tempo.
Taken from the LEF!!! CREW!!!'s THIS IS HARDCORE CD, "Kakiage" is a rolling juke track that finds foodman stripping things right back.
Woodland footwork. "mori he go(森へGO)" was self-released as a single track in 2014.
"Awa buro" is a dazzling demo from 2013 that evokes the dawn of its artwork.
This is the lead track from EZ MINZOKU, foodman's forthcoming album for Orange Milk Records. It features Taigen Kawabe, and yeah, it's nuts.
Gnarly techno. Great artwork. Spawned this write up from Tiny Mix Tapes.
foodman finds profundity in robot sounds and video-game samples. Like the best of his music, it's an audacious assembly of sounds.