Hiroyuki Kajino: A Driving Force for Dance Music in Japan

Kalen Bergado

As a DJ through many eras of music’s evolution, Hiroyuki Kajino has been an constant force for music in Japan. Whether it was through his progressive stance on Hip-Hop as a pioneering DJ for this style of music, or through his dedication to keeping the underground scene alive, opening several record shops and helping to build the community around the underground club scene, it is obvious that Hiroyuki has dedicated his life to music.

Hiroyuki Kajino’s sets help the audience to recognize how much DJing can be an art. They are carefully constructed and curated, pushing and pulling the listener along, less about the individual songs and more about the work as a whole. They are perfect exhibitions of how Hiroyuki’s experiences with so many forms of music have impacted his style.

In the midst of trying to revitalize the underground scene in Japan and producing new music, Hiroyuki took some time out his day to speak with us about his history in music, the club scene in Japan, and what it was like to play with one of the most influential DJs in electronic music. So throw on an episode of Hiroyuki’s show Acid Dimension and enjoy!

What got you into DJing and mixing music and what sorts of styles/types of music did you like to play when you first started?

My uncle got me started listening to Disco music such as Soul and Funk when I was around 9 years old in 70s. I was listening to the music everyday alone. My uncle had an afro, which was rare in Japan back then, and he loved Black music. Then, in middle school, I began listening to Kraftwerk and YMO, and got into New Wave. It was when I was 17 years old that I became a New Wave DJ.

Can you tell us a little about your time working for FM Yokohama and what the mastering mix program was that you started? What was radio like in Japan before you started this program?

There were no radio shows which broadcasted DJ mixes back then in Japan. For FM Yokohama, I created a program that play DJ mixes everyday. So, it was the first DJ mix program in Japan.

What was the first Hip Hop record that got you hooked on the sound, and how did it transform your DJ sets?

The first records I got hooked by were records by Def Jam recordings, such as The Public Enemy and LL Cool J. I was a New Wave DJ originally, but I became to play solely Hip Hop after getting into Hip Hop.

In the late 80s one of the most prevalent Hip Hop labels in Japan was Major Force. Were you involved with them at all? How did they impact the music scene in Japan at the time?

Yes, I released a record on Major Force.

What was it like working with Masabumi Kikuchi on a remix? How did his avant-garde styles and techniques influence the way you wanted the track to sound? What did you want to achieve through the track?

In the Axis studio of Francois Kevorkian in NY, Masabumi Kikuchi and I spent a week together to create music. Actually, we have made 2 original songs, not a remix. I wanted to work with a prominent Jazz musician to create Deep House songs. We ended up releasing one of the songs on King Street Label. Later, Francois Kevorkian and Joe Claussell made remixes of the song.

You DJ’ed alongside Larry Levan, who many consider to be an all-time great DJ, in the 80s. What was it like DJ’ing with Larry at that time? Did your time spent with him impact the way you DJ’ed after, and in what ways?

Because it was the first time for me to play in NY and with Larry, I was nervous at the beginning. But thanks to the great dancers on the floor I got to enjoy DJing soon after.

This experience changed my way of listening to music.

The venue, sound system, lighting, audience, and space. As a whole, I was able to see Larry’s art. The way of thinking as a DJ definitely expanded thanks to this experience.

Having been a resident DJ at a number of clubs in your career how have you seen the club scene in Japan change throughout the years?

When the club scene first arrived at Japan, it was underground and artistic. But gradually, the clubs became more and more commercialistic and only played popular songs, losing its art and taste. Now, the underground club scene is gone in Japan, so I am working on starting and building a new scene here.

You’ve also run several record shops in Japan throughout the years so you have seen the music scene evolve. What have been some highlights of running record shops and how has the culture surrounding record buying changed in Japan?

At first there were only a few record shops in Shibuya. As the club scene expanded in Japan, there were more and more records shops Shibuya. At one point, Shibuya had the largest number of records shops in the world, and many DJs from abroad visited there. But starting from around early 2000, as the records got digitalized, vinyl records sold less, and the records shops began closing down as a result. Now there are very few record shops there. The highlight is when I built Stylus, a record shop in Shibuya, in 2003. Stylus was the last record shop I ran, and it was the culmination of what I have learned and gained through running several record shops in the past, the design, sound system, and every aspect as a record shop.

Speaking of record shops, can you tell us about the sound system at OM Records? I read that it cost 15 million yen and fit into a space that was 4 square yards?! What was that sound like?

We spent about 15 million yen into just 20-m^2 space. It’s got 6 full-range speakers, 4 large subwoofers, and a mirror ball with dim lighting. The records were spotlighted. The quality of the sound was better than clubs out there, your body got physically pushed by the low. The visitors were dancing in the shop.

How do you approach DJ’ing now versus when you first started? What do you feel is important in a set you play?

What I do is not so different from the beginning. I play what I like in an order I like. But the quality of it is of course different now with the accumulation of the experiences as a DJ.

I only play songs that are perfect in every aspect as a musical piece. I pursue everything I can in order to make my DJ an art.

What other upcoming events or projects are you working on right now that you’re excited about?

As I said the club scene is Japan is not good now. So, while I continue DJing at a few clubs, I focus more on making music. I would like to release my songs and go to Europe to DJ. And then, I would like to revive the club scene in Japan eventually.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell the listeners?

I have explored a vast area of music throughout my life. I am very confident that I understand what makes dance music great. My mixes are composed of carefully and thoroughly chosen tracks, and not limited to a certain genre. I hope you will enjoy music that is psychedelic, trippy, and deep.

Listen Now: Acid Dimension