The Mix 005: SAMO

today20/03/2024 1

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It’s written that your mum used to go to Paradise Garage, but what did you grow up listening to? Please share your first dance music memory. 

She went when she lived in New York training to be a hairdresser. She also saw Gwen Guthrie and people like that at Blue Note, which was technically a completely different vibe to Paradise Garage, but they’re both purveyors of Black music, so they’re similar in that way. When her and my dad divorced, she came back to Japan. Our family home is a hairdressers, so I grew up listening to whatever she put on in the shop, which was usually jazz. We still go to Blue Note in Osaka together.

My first dance music or club memory would’ve been going out with friends to a place in Kobe, but I’m not sure that counts. The next time would be when I was studying in New York. You couldn’t even compare clubs in New York to those in Kobe, they’re huge. But going to music festivals like Summer Sonic in Osaka in my early twenties is something that was pretty formative. Watching Disclosure was insane – the whole performance, including the VJs, seeing two silhouettes outlined by crazy lighting, was aspirational.

When did you first start DJing?

It would’ve been around 2018 or 2019, I think. I was working as a hairdresser in Kobe when the shop decided to have a pop-up event and asked if I wanted to DJ. I hadn’t had any experience then, but one of the older guys who DJed as a hobby showed me the ropes. I packed up some future beats, practised again, and again, and then played at that event.

I picked it up quite easily, I guess because I’d learned drums at a Yamaha music school for six years throughout junior and high school. It was a sensory thing, as I already knew about phrases and loops and so on, so I could just tell where the loop started from the off. I loved it as soon as I began, and was approached by Ryota to play at FULLHOUSE not long after.

Can you tell us more about the FULLHOUSE Osaka crew? How did you get involved? What can we expect at a FULLHOUSE Party?

Back then it was a weekly event, organised by Ryota, who worked at Circus Osaka at the time. It’s an underground music venue, dirty, with graffiti all over it and stickers everywhere! Just looking at the building, you’d wonder who on earth would go inside. The club is on the second floor. It’s dark, with a pretty low ceiling, and fits around 2-300 people.

The other clubs in the area were kinda trashy, and he wanted to get more young people in the underground scene. That’s when he decided to start FULLHOUSE. I think it was through Takenoko, a mutual friend who I’d played at a pop-up event with, who suggested that I play. Ryota then reached out to see if I’d be up for it. FULLHOUSE started in 2019, but the original plan wasn’t actually for it to continue for this long. Our first guest was Conducta and so many people came that we started to hold it every week.

Read this next: 8 up-and-coming Japanese DJs that you need to know

How did you start DJing full-time?

During COVID, I was off work for about two months and I’d often go into the mountains, heading up to the waterfalls by myself or with friends. I’d go there to think, and came to the decision that I’d only do things I wanted from then on. I quit the hairdressers (I’d been working there for five years) and moved to Osaka to focus on DJing. It didn’t quite work out the way I thought it would at first, I hardly got any bookings. But every Saturday FULLHOUSE was on in Circus Osaka, and I was determined just to keep going.

Who and what has been a big influence on your DJ career?

Toyo-san [the booker] from Circus Osaka. It was the first club I ever played in and where FULLHOUSE started. He’s someone who’s seen a lot of different music and when he complimented my DJing, it was a big boost to my confidence.

And of course it has to be Ryota, who originally invited me to join FULLHOUSE. Having it happen at the same time, in the same place, every week had a big impact on my playing style. During COVID there were no tourists, so it was a case of playing to the same people more or less every Saturday. So every week we had to change up our sets. I’d get new songs each time. We DJed every single Saturday for around a year-and-a-half, which was intense but so fun – it made my DJing improve a lot.

In terms of what, Honey Dijon’s 2018 Boiler Room at Sugar Mountain was a massive influence. When I first saw it, it made me so motivated. I’ve seen it tens of times. Mid-mix she drops a sample from Martin Luther King’s speech, and I felt that she was so in tune with the crowd. They’re excited, everyone’s hyped and riding on the buildups, an incredible crowd. It’s probably my favourite Boiler Room.

Japanese parents can be pretty against DJing and clubs but what do your parents think?

My mum is fine with it, even though her clubbing experience is really confined to New York, I think that she’s more American than Japanese! She was there throughout her early twenties, and hasn’t been to a club in Japan. Nowadays, she’s totally focussed on her cats – she’s got seven, all rescues.

All she really says is “don’t do drugs” [laughs]. She’s not been to a set but she checks my Instagram and watches the videos. She’s even critiqued my style before, commenting on my Boiler Room post saying that “back in the day, Larry Levan didn’t move as crazily as you do.” I think I ignored her! She’s a great mum though, we’re really close.

Please describe your playing style in three words.
How has it changed since you first started?

I think “energy”, “vibes” and “sympathy.” I make people serious [about dancing]. And I want everyone to feel like they are one on the dancefloor.

I feel that when I first started, my BPM was a lot slower. I played R&B, future beats and stuff like that. Then at Circus Osaka I started to play house and techno which was super fast, and now I feel like I’ve come full circle, and can play pretty much anything.

Playing at FULLHOUSE led me to think about what sort of thing I wanted to play – Ryota for example, loves d’n’b – but eventually I realised that I don’t have a particular genre or style that I focus on. I’m not particularly fussed about who’s released which EP, the labels and so forth. Of course, there are artists that I like and if you wanted to, I’m sure that you could pinpoint a type of music that I’m into, but for me it’s not really about that. I think this has actually become my specialty, as I’m the sort of DJ who just plays the songs they like. I feel that my own innate taste is what makes my style original, rather than particular artists or genres. It’s plain dance music – not too light, not heavy!

You recently moved to Tokyo from Osaka. How has this changed your DJing approach?
What are the similarities and differences between the two cities?

There are loads of different venues, and different parties every day. This doesn’t happen in Osaka, where there are not that many scenes and places. Being in Tokyo, having to adapt to different styles for various parties has made my selections wider-ranging. It’s fun to try different styles. That’s the strength of a capital city!

I feel that the vibes are pretty different. Osaka is more chill and easier to play in. In all honesty, Tokyo can be quite tough at times. In Shibuya clubs like Lion, they might be packed full of people but a lot of them have just come by after work to chill, not to dance. When it gets going it’s awesome though. People who are on holiday are there to have fun so their vibes are mega, I’ve noticed this especially with Australians for some reason!

Recently, I feel that there’s become more movement between the cities, like people going from Tokyo to Osaka, even Nagoya and so on. It’s fun to be able to play with friends from each city in different places.

Written by: Tim Hopkins

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