An Interview With KEN ISHII (Part 1, 2)

Mika Anami

<KEN ISHII’s Record Picks>

―― Can you share with us three records that most influenced you or are precious to you?

Goldenes Spielzeug Gold Gold Gold by Deutsch Amerikanische Freundschaft  [Virgin]
If we followed the order, this is my favorite band from the time before I started to like techno and house, and they were already broken up by then. I didn’t have money to spare back then, so while I was in search for this version: a 12-inch single that’s super rare, I found it at a used record shop in Shinjuku for like 6,000 yen. That was used! So I couldn’t afford it then, but I always wanted this one. Then around year 2000, I had some time while I was in Montreal or Toronto and happened to go to a used record store looking at the new wave section, and there it was! It was $4.90 Canadian dollars. What was 6,000 yen in Japan was $5 in Canada! That is like 300 yen—practically giving it away! Score!! I bought it right there. So this was something I wanted since I was 17 years-old that I got at an incredible price 15 years later.

―― So this price tag is priceless to you….
Indeed it is very important. I will never take it off: “$4.90 Canadian dollars.”

E2-E4 by Manuel Göttsching  [Racket]
This one I listened to once I started getting into house music, and I listened to a lot of early house. Unlike today, there was tons more experimental stuff back then and huge hits emerged from the sampling of this album. This one is from 1980 or 81, and to simply put it: it’s made by a German psychedelic guitar player incorporating electronics, with a 30 minute song on each side of the record—it’s a never ending guitar solo that goes on and on with the same beat. I had never seen a record that had one song on each side, with such a repetitive quality. The repetition presented by house music was already at question when it first came out, but we are talking five to six minutes max. This one, on the other hand, went on for 30 minutes! [Laughter.] So, I thought: “Wow, there are some incredible people out there….” Also, the simple electronics caught my attention. It wasn’t just me that noticed that—almost every techno artist listens to this album—a classic of that caliber.

The Beginning by Rhythim Is Rhythim [Transmat/KoolKat]
My third record is Derrick May’s. This one is the UK version that was put out by a British label for European circulation. 12-inches from the UK are all like this: it’s just in a sleeve. [ Demonstrates the thinness of the sleeve.] I also have the American one of this and it’s pretty much the same thing with a different cover. I make sure to have all versions when it comes to what I love. Derrick uses the moniker RHYTHIM IS RHYTHIM for most of his projects. This is from around 1990 and he really hasn’t put out any records recently. He has a very unique DJing style and has influenced so many, yet, he is still the only one that can do what he does. Everyone can really see that when Derrick is DJing.

House music originated in Chicago, but there was a lot of go between the DJs from Detroit and Chicago, which were very close together. It happened that the folks from Detroit liked more of an electronic style. For example, Juan Atkins was a big influencer in Detroit at the time, and he was like a mentor to Derrick May, and so the direction was dictated by that crowd. Chicago had a more soulful feel and a strong trend in “ghetto house,” but Detroit was coming out with a more sophisticated sound, musically.

―― What is it like to perform with your idols?
It makes me so nervous! I always thought that these guys were totally out of my league, generationally speaking too. So, it’s pure joy. I really have a hard time going up to them and introducing myself, especially to the ones that I respect so much. People around me have to nudge me to make me say hi, and I am like, “Ummm nice to meet you….” [Laughs.] That side of me is very Japanese.

I performed with the duo of Deutsch Amerikanische Freundschaft when they made a reunion appearance at a big event at the Saitama Super Arena in Japan. I said hi to them backstage. Manuel Göttsching is a German grandpa and when he came to perform live in Japan, I was invited to join as support. That was something like ‘95 or so.

With Derrick May, I actually gave him my demo tape when he came to play in Japan for the first time, and I was still in college. I got a reply from him later. It was a short message that read: “May music always be with you,” or something philosophical like that! [Laughter.] So, I have known him since. I have been at the same events with him all over the world, and we would go out to eat together sometimes. When we were younger, he would even take me out to party.

―― Does Derrick remember getting that demo from you?
He does. It was unexpected to get a demo while in Japan, so I think it made an impression. He was encouraged by the promoter in Japan to write a response, so that is why he did it. So, he remembers, alright. [Laughs.] After college, I started putting out records as an artist and all went well really quickly for me. Derrick was also at the same Belgian label, so we had a lot of connection there, too. I don’t really have a so-called “mentor” here in Japan, since I am really the first generation of techno here, so Derrick is one of my few mentors that I have—in the true meaning of the word “senpai” in Japanese—I get quiet around him, and when Derrick is talking, I am like, “Yes yes definitely.” I just become that way around him. It’s been something like 30 years since we’ve met.

―― Finally, what can we expect from you in 2019?
Like I mentioned earlier, I am releasing an original album as KEN ISHII, the first in 13 years. The music part is mostly done, so we are at the point of deciding how to put it out. Other than that, I have an EP and remixes with other artists coming out from various labels. I definitely want to continue collaborating proactively, since I find it stimulating. I am also touring: Australia at the beginning of the year, Europe almost every month, US towards the later half of the year, and I plan to continue playing out in Japan.

Check out the latest Tronic Music podcast featuring KEN ISHII:

Special Giveaway!
Van Czar & KEN ISHII "Kitai" with Ken's Autograph

KEN ISHII has shared with us 3 autographed records of "Kitai" Van Czar & KEN ISHII! Please submit* to THIS FORM  by Friday, March 29th. The lucky winners will be notified via email directly after the submission period ends. Good luck!
(*If you are a reader living in Japan, please enter through the Japanese article in Donuts Magazine HERE !)


made his debut on the legendary Belgian techno label R&S Records in 1993. In that year he reached No.1 on UK’s NME magazine’s techno chart which led him to worldwide recognition. In 1997, the video for the single ‘EXTRA’ (directed by Koji Morimoto) won MTV's ‘Dance Video of the Year.’ Since then, Ken is regarded internationally as one of the Japanese pioneers of world class electronic sounds. Ken produced the official theme song for the 1998 Nagano Olympics and have worked on various film scores. Ken spends half of his time travelling in Europe, Asia, North/South America DJing, and he is currently producing an original KEN ISHII album for the first time in 13 years that is scheduled to release in 2019.

Interview and photos (in Japan) by Mika Anami
Cover photo by Dave Golden (courtsey of J-POP SUMMIT)

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