DJ Krush's reputation is currently sky high. On the decks, he is the person to beat. His chilled out, beat-heavy tracks are one side to the man, his live, pyrotechnical displays of DJ skills another. If you haven't heard his stuff on Mo' Wax, do so. We caught up with him in Japan to find out more about the man who normally lets the turntables do the talking.
Fly!: Both your last two albums, but particularly Strictly Turntabilised, have a sparseness to them. Do you think this concentration on beats runs counter to much of today's hip hop?
Krush: When I'm making music, I'm not conscious of what's new and hot in hip hop at all so I don't know whether I'm moving along with or against the hip hop scene at any one time. I see some DJs of US hip hop acts, though, making tracks that would become so called abstract hip hop if you removed the rap.
Fly!: You've been involved in hip hop for many years now, but you've only just been 'discovered' here. How do you deal with being considered a 'new force'?
Krush: It's really up to the audience how they see me and my music. I don't mind people seeing me like that. As far as I'm concerned, I can't stay in one place for long. I get bored pretty quickly, so I'm constantly trying to do something new and different. For me, it's all about moving forward.
Fly!: As a live DJ, your turntable skills are extraordinary. How did you develop your techniques?
Krush: I Started DJing 10 or 11 years ago when there was no such thing as a DJ mixer in Japan. There was no one to teach me how to use the equipment, so I had to study on my own. I started out by trying to figure out how to scratch like they do on different records. I did whatever I possibly could with turntables and a mixer - now I can't help but use each and every device on every piece of equipment to the maximum and try out every possibility.
Fly!: In a previous interview, you said of Strictly Turntabilised that: "if a rapper isn't there, you get the freedom to experiment with a whole range of different sounds, combinations and compositions." So why did you get rappers on to your new album Meiso and how did it affect your music?
Krush: The main reason I put rappers on my new album was because by putting the instrumental tracks and rap tracks together on one album, it was possible to see whether a DJ could make a track strong enough without vocals to stand up to those with rap. I wanted to see whether an instrumental track could carry a strong enough vision just by its sound structures alone. That was my main experiment on this LP. On Duality , the track I did with DJ Shadow, I strongly believe that both of us were able to use our turntables as microphones and to 'speak' with our hands. Just like rappers, DJs also have something to say and I wanted to see how well I could deliver a message or an image in my mind just by sound. As a result of this album and especially the track with Shadow, I now think that such a thing is definitely possible and I've opened up a whole range of 'DJ music' possibilities for myself to explore.
Fly!: In your view, where is hip hop in general going?
Krush: I can only speak for myself and I don't even know what's going to happen to myself or my music in the future! I'm just going to keep doing what I'm doing, expressing my true self and the reality around me through my music. If I start making music that's not me or not real then I'll have to quit making music as well as being a DJ.
Fly!: What directions are you keen to explore (further)?
Krush: By placing hip hop at the core of my music, by sampling different sounds and constantly trying new experiments, I discover a lot of things every time I touch my equipment. When I make a discovery, I walk slowly along that path, wandering along or straying down various different side paths - 'meisoing'. (Meiso is a Japanese word which means to wander or to stray when you don't know which way to go. It's also the name of Krush's new album).
Fly!: What do you get from other forms of music like techno or jazz? Krush: I don't really know much about techno, but with jazz there are lots of things you can learn and achieve through its sense of freedom and improvisation. More than through the actual sound it has. Jazz, to me, is more of an attitude thing. Fly!: How do you think your conception of hip hop has been affected by you not speaking English? Krush: I recorded my new album in New York and because I can't speak English, obviously I couldn't communicate with the rappers or my engineer in words. But I was able to convey my emotions and visions through sound. This type of communication, though, only works if what you're trying to convey is coming from your heart and soul. The only problem I have with English is that I can't make jokes or ask girls out! (laughs)
Fly!: In Britain you've found popularity in a very open ended scene. How have Americans reacted to your hip hop?
Krush: As far as America is concerned, I'm still at the start line, so I'm yet to find out how my music will be received in the States. But my music is how I interpret hip hop as a DJ living in Japan. I'll just have to present my version of hip hop to them and see how they react. I'm basically borrowing the style of hip hop, which was born in America and I feel that the only way for me to return my thanks is to put their hip hop through my own filter and create a 'Krush version' of hip hop instead of just copying what they do. I think that's the way it should be done and that's what I do.
Fly!: You're also quoted as saying that if you hadn't been a DJ, you would have been a 'gokudo' (Japanese gangster). What connects these two worlds? (The world of the gangster and the hip hopper).
Krush: Looking back on it right now, because I was a truly bad juvenile delinquent; involved in a biker's gang, cutting school, doing drugs, getting into fights, always getting arrested by the police and actually working for one of our gangster groups, my reality was a truly underworld one. I was able to really relate to the film Wild Style - it changed my whole life and made me decide to become a DJ. These two worlds are linked by their concentration on street life and the underworld. For me, it's the feeling of being on the edge that appeals.
Fly!: How would (is) Japanese gangsta rap be different from the American 'gangsta' rap ethos?
Krush: I don't think there's a real gangsta rap scene in Japan. It's because gangsta isn't a part of kid's reality over here. There are some rappers here that imitate the gangsta rappers in the States just to be cool. Their real lives, though, have nothing to do with the gangsta world and so it's easy to tell them as fakes. Japan is becoming more and more like the States where kids can easily get hold of guns and in the future there may be a real indigenous gangsta rap scene here, but for now it doesn't exist.
Fly!: What are you currently working on?
Krush: Right now, I'm working on a track with a Japanese rapper, who's also an old friend of mine called Zingi, and that's going to be on his own solo album due out at the end of the year. I'm also working on tracks for the new Red Hot. . . Aids benefit album and Mo' Wax's Headz 2 as well as the Axiom Dub compilations also due out in December. As regards my own releases, Meiso will be out in the UK and Europe at the end of October and in the US at the beginning of the new year. In November, we'll be releasing singles from the album in the UK & Europe.
Fly!: Is there anything you'd like to add to this interview?
Krush: I'm already thinking of the next album 'cause I was able to discover a whole range of new possibilities and ideas through doing my third one. The three albums I've made are like three of a set. I have drawers of ideas in my head and the last album kind of concludes my first drawer. Right now, I'm grabbing the second drawer and I'm about to pull it out. I truly appreciate everyone who's supported me and what I do, especially the people in the UK who actually opened up my first door to the world. I wouldn't be where I am right now without each and every one of you. So let's see what's behind the next door. . . I'll continue to meiso along the road checking every byway, looking for something I can't even explain to myself (but it is there). Peace.
Interview by Phenian. Big Thanks to Mami Ikeda for her wonderful translation