Satoshi Tomiie has reinvented himself with a new live act. The techno & house maestro was headlining in Paris for the Japan Connection Festival in a venue built in 1862, La Gaite Lyrique. All the ingredients were there for the magic to happen and it didn’t disappoint. The day right after his performance we chatted with Satoshi, asking him about his recent dance floor killer “Bass Line,” his incredible new set up, and who would he love to collaborate with now days. Tomiie first became known among hosue music fans man for his song with Chicago legend Frankie Knuckles, “Tears” featuring Robert Owens vocals, which has become a classic.
On a rainy & cold day in Paris, we arrived to the venue already buzzing. As we enter the place we already see it’s going to be a fun night. The venue has all kinds of fun stuff about Japan. You can buy vinyls of the artists featured at the festival, Japanese food is for sale –not just sushi which is so cliché. There’s even a chill area where they give away fans that you can paint on. After taking a glimpse at all these we enter the main room where Dip In The Pool is playing. It’s an electro/pop duo, the singer is obviously talented, she sings in Japanese for the most part and sometimes in English. Her voice is very smooth and so in tune, it’s really cool and pleasant. The audience is very respectful and seems to connect with her on many levels.
One thing that catches our eye is the visual, some sort of abstract painting is being displayed on a giant screen, but then when looking on the right hand side of the stage we see a woman in front of a microscope, using some paint. The stuff on the screen comes from her and she is doing everything live by hand.
Satoshi is next and right away we know, it’s going to be special just by looking at his gear. He uses a modular synthesis that required many cables. It is not the kind of machine you would usually see these days, and best of all, no computer! He takes us on a techno trip with a live set featuring acid sounds, strong beats, and some vintage bass lines. Time seems to fly as we dance the night away. When he is about to finish, the crowd gives him an extended applause, so massive he does an encore, which is very rare for an experimental techno live set. We had the pleasure to seat down with him back stage and talk about his performance after the show the next day on site.
How did you enjoy your set last night?
It was actually shorter then I expected, one hour. Last night I only prepared 1 track, everything else was improvised. I had to keep an eye on my watch. I really enjoyed it and I am thankful for the Make It Deep crew to make it happen. The bands besides me on the festival were amazing and the visuals were out of this world excellent. Sometimes with the Japan theme, it can get the direction you don’t want to go to, but this one I was quite impressed in the production and the selection of the artists. I really enjoyed last night, plus it was my first show with my new live set.
Tell us about your set up, I saw all that crazy amount of cable.
My live rig was built around Eurorack modular synth which is why you saw a lot of patch cable, a couple of traditional synthesizers, some guitar pedals and a drum machine. Optimized for live improvisation without laptop.
The reason I’m not using a computer is with a computer you can do anything you want! There is no limit. Without limit it’s a little difficult for me to put my full potential into something. The box is more important to make it really work. There is no preset, no audio clip, no pre recorded audio, nothing. The bass line was done on the go. I set the scale, I made the system play within the scale on the fly.
I have the sequencer called Metron but it just sends triggers. It doesn’t give any pitch, just a little pulse goes to different places, some triggers drums, some goes to the bass line, some triggers the synths parts. There is a “master” to create all the melody lines an LFO not the common sine or saw, the digitally generated LFO from a modular. It repeats the same movement every time it receives a trigger, so I can make a looped and synced motion of control voltage. I came up with a way to translate this movement into melodies that drive multi elements on the Eurorack. When I make a little bit of a change on this master LFO, it changes melodies drastically. Maybe you heard some moments it changes a lot at one point? Sometimes it was out of my control, sometimes it’s like wow, I couldn’t imagine this part coming out. Changing the curve of the LFO, changes the whole music. With randomness you can get a “happy accident” but you have to capture the moment.
Only down side is if you fly somewhere. How do you do it?
Yesterday was in a proper concert hall but if I do it in a club, I would have to think about an alternative set up, more limited but it would be fine too. I like to be challenged.
I saw you posted that cool video “The Forgotten Machines.” Can you tell us more about it?
Now DJs are digging the old records from the 90s, sometimes they sample or make edits. They are digging the old stuff to rediscover, re-introduce this old-school sound. I find it interesting. I’ve been DJing for a long time, but I have not been able to cover all the music, it’s impossible. It happens that I listen to something and realize I did not hear that sound back then but it sounds awesome! The concept is, instead of digging old stuff (vinyl) already recorded, why don’t I make new stuff with the gear that was used back then. Many older machines, especially old samplers have been forgotten because of the development of the technology - except the vintage synths. Take the Akai sampler for instance, it’s not convenient, it’s slow, but it has the texture of the sound you can’t do on a computer. Its converters were so different, it wasn’t hi-fi really. The 950 Akai sampler, The Mirage, other Akai samplers, they have amazing sound, but you can find them for only $500 today, used to cost $3000 back then. Since it’s hardware it has something to do with the quality of the actual circuit inside. I try to do a modern house music with that texture sound of the time.
You released “Tears” with Frankie Knuckles. If you could choose today to collaborate with someone dead or alive who would it be?
I have too many idols, I can’t pick only a few people I look up. I don’t know, I probably would go back to ask Robert [Owens] and Frankie and do more tracks with them.
You did that great song "Bassline" a year ago. Did you know it was going to be such a success?
I had no idea. That track is super simple, just one bass line and drums, nothing else. Sometimes less is more and that’s a good example. I made that bass in 5 seconds, I came up with a nice loop, left it for 2 years. One day I was cleaning up my hard drive, thought it sounded cool and finished it. That’s not something I try to do every day, because it’s more difficult to make a super simple track work.
Laurent Garnier says Japan is better than anywhere else. Any idea why?
I’m pretty sure he’s a nice guy and he makes a nice compliment once again. I think the Japanese always appreciate the proper manner for whatever you do, they always give the proper respect you deserve and that’s maybe one of the reasons. Musically, it’s the culture, I know the amount of DJs who want to go to Japan to perform. They don’t get paid a lot of money, but they still want to go and they do enjoy. The crowd is nice.
You seemed really appreciated here in France too.
Yes, I was like “wow”, this kind of music is not a lot about the lyrics, it was about the groove, texture and energy. I am happy they felt this stuff I intended to do.
The band just before you, Dip in The Pool, the singer seemed not too worried about putting on a big show. She wasn't the kind of artist who would put her arms in the air and perhaps you are like that too? Do you worry about the music more then anything else?
Yes, but yesterday I didn’t have time to do this! (laughs), I was too busy. A little interaction doesn’t hurt, not by being a rock star or anything, but a little bit of action is important. It helps enjoy the music.
Are you looking forward to any specific artist tonight?
Tonight there is an amazing trio with Kuniyuki, Joe Claussell and Fumio Itabashi. I have not really deeply listened to Fumio's stuff but he does jazz piano. I have known Kuniyuki forever. They do some kind of percussion stuff with Joe. I’m really curious about tonight.
Any specific gigs coming you want to talk about this year?
I want to push forward the live set I did yesterday. Also, I have this project called A_A, stands for “Abstract Architecture.” This is with my friend Nao Gunji from New York, It’s more experimental, it’s electric jazz. This is more intellectual versus last night was more DJ oriented. On the DJ side I just came back from a tour in South America, I am going to another tour soon. This is what I have been doing for a long time and now the live is a new adventure. I am really excited. This is a way to get motivated, finding new challenges. This is the first edition of the festival. I will be glad to come back, if they still have room for me. I am very thankful for them, the crowd, it was the best crowd.