KEN ISHII with GERALD , Matrix and ZUZANA GRIMM at Element (553 Queen West), tonight (Thursday, October 16). $10 before midnight, more after. Rating: NNNNN
There comes a time in all artists' careers when they feel compelled to look back at where they came from in order to figure out where they need to go next. Ken Ishii's new album, Future In Light, is one of those moments. It's a throwback to the late-80s Detroit techno that originally inspired Ishii to make electronic dance music. Melodic, melancholy and driving, Ishii's latest takes all the best elements of Derrick May, Carl Craig, Kevin Saunderson and Juan Atkins and updates the sounds for modern ears.
This isn't Detroit, though, and making this music in Japan 15 years later has a different significance. I'm talking to Ishii in Denver before the first gig on his North American tour, and he claims the disc had less to do with any 80s revival and more to do with what he perceives is missing from contemporary techno.
"Over the last few years I've played around the world and found something missing in the club scene. A lot of the techno music these days isn't very musical or funky, and I'm old enough to teach younger audiences a bit about what came before."
Ishii was the first Japanese techno DJ to make it outside his country and has long been a respected producer of intricate and pretty dance music. His sound has evolved over the years, going through more experimental phases and showing an interest in traditional acoustic percussion in techno, but this new album is just back-to-basics good-old-fashioned techno. There are actual chord progressions, soaring synth strings, bubbly bass lines and real pop hooks.
"I don't actually have any background as a musician," he admits. "I'm just a hardcore listener to electronic music - I was listening to Yellow Magic Orchestra when I was 10 years old, trying to figure out how they did it."
In addition to his long career as a producer/DJ, Ishii has also done music and sounds for some unlikely clients - he made alarm sounds for a Citizen alarm clock, helped develop video games and did some tracks for films. One of the games he worked on, Rez, has become notorious for the vibrator attachment that comes with it that has made girlfriends all over the world more tolerant of their boyfriends' gaming habits.
"To me, doing other things can be inspiring. The deadlines tend to be harder and the people you're working with often have very different ideas about music, but it's been stimulating to do these things."
Now that he's revisited his roots, where can he go from here? The album was recorded almost two years ago and was originally released in Japan last year, so he must be getting bored with it by now.
"I got a good feeling from doing this album, so the next will probably continue some of these ideas. I usually get ideas when I'm on tour from the things I see and the other DJs I get to play with." email@example.com