DJ Krush was one of Japan’s first ever hip hop DJs, teaching himself how to play the turntables in the 1980s, and becoming the first Japanese DJ to play with a live band. He’s also considered one of the most respected hip hop DJs and producers in the world for his unique style, mixing ambient, jazz and trip-hop sounds into his beats.Many consider you to be one of the pioneers of Japanese hip hop -- how do you see yourself?
I don’t think I’m a pioneer at all. I just believe in myself and stick to my principles. My fateful encounter with hip hop was the [first hip hop] movie Wild Style in 1983. If I hadn’t seen this, DJ Krush wouldn’t exist. This movie changed my life completely... now I’ve been expressing DJ Krush’s hip hop for decades.
You’ve toured around the world; is hip hop received differently in Japan?
Things without their own identity that get copied from someone else never earn admiration overseas. Japanese culture gives vague answers – the Japanese like to be given their information. In other countries, I think there are many people who have the ability to judge things by their own rules. Music with its own original identity can reach many people living in countries all over the world, speaking different languages and from different cultures. It moves people and the shared inspirations and impressions are amazing. There are no boundaries with this.You’ve collaborated with many different artists, from DJ Shadow to Mos Def to the Roots – who have been your favourite?
Every collaboration is exciting, but working with DJ Shadow went very smoothly. Even though we come from different countries with different languages and cultures, we communicated with the dark, sparkling, hip hop sounds which came loud out of the speakers, and it went over the borders.
Is jazz as important to you as hip hop?
I’ve been influenced a lot by jazz. I wanted to express the free and vast style of jazz on the turntables. To express myself, hip hop-style wasn’t enough, I needed other colours.What are you working on now?
I’ve never really done anything but music, but recently I’ve also started photography. The world of photography is so deep, I find it interesting and it influences my music a lot. But I’m beaten – I shouldn’t have started it. I easily get bent on things as I’m kind of a monomaniac. There’s a line in Japanese that describes me: Shi Shi Hun Jin
. It means ‘vigorous like arrowed lions’. Interview by Berwin Song
DJ Krush plays at MAO Livehouse on Fri 17 July. See event listing.