FK was the manager of the record shop “tribe” owned by “Nujabes” well-known in the Lo-fi scene, and released several 7 inch vinyls from the music label of Nujabes “Hydeout Production” and the sub-label “tribe”.
An interviewer (Mental Position), who had a long-standing friendship with the FK and was also a friend of Nujabes, interviewed FK about his recent activities as a DJ and beat maker.
Asked about the remastered digital version of “Context to the Water” and “Lotus Garden” which were released on 7inch in 2007. And talked about the recent “Lo-fi” music scene as the main topic because FK knows the “core” of the Nujabes sound, and also has a close relationship with Nujabes.
MP – Music called “Lo-fi” or “Lo-fi Hip Hop” has the genealogy of the production style, sound atmosphere, and sound quality of Hip Hop in the 1990s that we know. What do you think about Lo-fi music?
FK – To be honest, I wasn’t so aware of the “Lo-fi Hip Hop” movement. Gradually, it became a hot topic in the streets, so I just check the works of the artists I was interested in. Then I started to know it like “Well, I guess Lo-fi sounds like this.”
Originally, the music called Hip Hop was born in New York and was full of energy from street culture. The Hip Hop culture was cultivated as poor people in the ghetto tried to enjoy their daily lives as much as possible. Their motivation was generated from passion like “how to turn a rough daily life into something meaningful.” For example, you can scratch a record with a turntable as if it were an instrument, or sample someone’s song and recreate it into a new stuff. Sampling at that age was making a new song using records that were thrown like “garbage”.
I think that there is pure energy in a sense, spirit like the alchemy created by the hungry spirit, or the feeling like “theory is unnecessary if it is cool, and any method is acceptable”.
On the contrary, this era is completely different from the environment when we were enthusiastically chasing Hip Hop. Famous records used for sampling at that time are soaring unthinkably, and the Internet makes the speed and method of transmitting information changed. The theory of making songs is quite well organized today. So if you follow the steps, you may be able to make some songs. I think it’s less interesting. I was surprised to hear that “they are sampling from YouTube these days” (laughs), but I also wonder if “anything is okay” is actually “Hip Hop”.
I got off track. The music commonly known as “Lo-fi” has the characteristics of low bit rate and rough sound like Hip Hop in the 90’s, but I also think that it is completely overwritten by the value of the current generation. So it is “similar but different thing”.
MP – Sampling came from the idea of poor people, but in our time (1990s), the threshold for production equipment was very high in terms of price and popularity. The SP-1200 wasn’t an easy price to buy, and I guess most people didn’t know even where to buy the AKAI sampler.
FK – That’s right. However, on the mental side, I feel that the mindset of young people who download and sample music from the Internet is very close to the mindset of when we used to be excited to do sampling from records.
The act of “sampling from records” is regarded as a slightly lofty act today, and even records sampled for famous tracks are no longer affordable, but I still think the aesthetic of breathing new life by sampling from very cheap records no one knows is a wonderful thing. At the record shop “tribe”, with Nujabes, under the concept of “discovering unknown gems”, we purchased and sold records understanding commercial risks. Because of experience at tribe, the act of sampling music on the Internet randomly feels strange for me, but the mindset of the current generation, who greedily collects samples and outputs songs is basically the same as the mindset of our generation who was digging records for sampling.
MP – Currently, there are various sampling and production methods, and there is a kind of format for music called Lo-fi Hip Hop. For example, ROLAND’s SP-404 is one of them. In the Lo-fi music trend, DAW software such as AKAI’s MPC series, Native Instruments’ Maschine, or Ableton Live became more aware of the sound of Lo-fi music. Veteran Hip Hop producers like Ski Beats feature amateur Lo-fi beatmakers on Instagram and use hashtag in their posts like “#lofi”. These trends make musicians aware of Lo-fi stronger. In that sense, “Lo-fi” has now been completely categorized into a big category and has become a genre. However, watching many beat makers, it seems that some people are making sounds with their own beats and melodies, but others are just looping Lo-fi Pack-like samples and filtering with SP-404. So, I feel that “Lo-fi” is a free and active scene in both good and bad means.
FK – It’s difficult to comment on the evaluation of the “Lo-Fi” scene because I’m not so conscious of the scene, but I think it’s just a superficial categorization.
Regarding the method of making songs, the environment is completely different from the early 90’s when I started making beats, but I do not think that the way of current scene is “improper”. I want to absorb their ways that I can sympathize with.
Recently, sound pack and subscription services like Splice have become popular. What’s interesting about using something like Splice is that when you listen to someone’s song, you can immediately notice the original sample. Now it’s quite common to choose samples used by many other beat makers.
And, when I listen to recent Lo-fi Hip Hop, I feel that there are many songs that sound like vinyl, but those sounds are not actually made with samples from vinyl. Vinyl-like dust noise is obviously added later (laughs). But, I can see a glimpse of a pure impulse like “this is absolutely cool!”. I think that’s fine, and in a sense, it’s also the “sound of the times.”
MP – The sound like Lo-fi Hip Hop is getting saturated and they are becoming similar. So it feels fresh when I found Lo-fi tracks using very 90’s classic raw samples.
FK – I sometimes hear tracks using a 90’s classic sample in one loop without hesitation that I think “embarrassing to use as it is” because I have soaked in the feeling of old Hip Hop. But, strangely, it feels fresh because I don’t have that type of sense. Even if new generation beat makers use a fairly classic drum break, they have a different interpretation. I’m listening to that type of beats with great interest, and sometimes surprised like “Use this sample like that?” If I make beats with such classic samples, my beats will be so different from new generation’s because I am strongly influenced by 90’s Hip Hop (laughs).
MP – Recently, tools like Maschine are sold to gain profit from sample packs, so today’s production style is making a new idea from the same sound source.
FK – The production style has changed a lot, but the way we listen to and find music has also changed a lot. For example, in Spotify, the producer’s credits are not listed in most cases, so I think it has become difficult to buy music because of its cover design or credits printed on records as in the past. The methods for finding music have been over-aggregated in “playlists”. When I search for “Premier” because I want to listen to a song produced by DJ Premier, it doesn’t appear in the search results at all.
MP – You can no longer find a producer from the small credit texts printed on the back of the cover and look for a new song by the name in the credit.
FK – The disappearance of 12 inch (vinyl) culture has a great impact on the music scene. Great remixes that were in the old 12 inch singles can not be found in digital services. I prefer the remix version of Pete Rock’s “Lots of Lovin'” to the original version, so I tried to search for the remix but it can’t be found on Spotify.
MP – Acapella version is available sometimes though (laughs).
FK – Acapella version on subscription service? “How should I use it?” (Laughs). It’s good if you can download and use it, but it’s difficult to use it casually (with DRM). However, people who are trying to make music are strong-minded, so if there is a sound that you really want to capture, you will manage to deal with it regardless of any restrictions.
MP – Since the 2000s, the “genre” of music has faded, especially in club music and dance music. On the contrary, the music “Lo-fi” has been established as a “genre” in the last few years. What do you think about this trend and movement?
FK – For me, the “Lo-fi” scene has a strong impression that it grew up mainly on the Internet among amateur music fans, and like the previous music scene, they don’t compile songs as a conceptual album and release an album in physical media. It feels more casual. I also feel that the “boss-like” icons in the genre aren’t as needed as they used to be. There are a large number of artists of a certain quality, such as thick strata. However, I also think that the feeling of sharing the solidarity that arises within such layers is comfortable. In the Lo-fi scene, the last boss may be “Nujabes”. I don’t think there is anyone who can be evaluated as equal to Nujabes.
MP – When Lo-fi was becoming a hot topic, it was a bit strange for me personally that the name “Nujabes” and “J Dilla” were listed as “God Father of Lo-fi”. For Lo-fi generation, Hip Hop is recognized as hi-fi sound. So, it’s understandable from the atmosphere of the sound of Nujabes and the feeling of the late years tracks of J Dilla. But, I think that they are deified because of the fact that both artists passed away at the same time, rather than the musical influence.
FK – The sound that the generation who worships J Dilla imagines is a little different from our generation chasing J Dilla from his early years in real time. In recent Lo-fi generations, most people say the type of J Dilla sound is unquantized-like beats, but, for example, his beats of Ummah era were completely solid. I often talk with my friends “His beats are such unquantized-like sounds?”. I think what influenced the Lo-fi scene is the sound of his later years, just before his death, like “The Donuts” after he moved to LA, “Jay Love Japan” or something like that. But, I don’t think the sound of those albums is filtered and unquantized-like beats of Lo-fi Hip Hop. Anyway, I’m positively thinking that it’s the part of Lo-fi music updated by the followers of J Dilla.
MP – I checked “The Donuts” again. If I mention elements of “Lo-fi” music in this album, they are short length beats, instrumental tracks with simple sample loops, and SP-303 for its production.
FK – Of course, “The Donuts” is a masterpiece, but I think it is evaluated from a completely different angle compared to past J Dilla works. He made it while fighting on the edge of death. So, the tension, energy and blackness that can only be experienced on that album is really amazing, but what kind of work would have been produced if he had been in good health?
MP – On Lo-fi perspective, I think MF Doom made a lot more Lo-fi sound, and he’s closer to Lo-fi culture. Unfortunately, he also passed away last year.
FK – When I worked in tribe, people who have talked to J Dilla came to the store and told me various anecdotes about him. It was quite different from the image I imagined. And I have read a funny article in a Hip Hop magazine. He said, “I don’t know the album Ultimate Breaks & Beats” in the interview (laughs). But I think he had a very pure personality and was a pure artist for the sound.
Regarding Nujabes, I think he is “one answer” for the scene of Lo-fi Hip Hop. In the Lo-fi scene, Nujabes is deified not only because of his music style and sound quality, but also because the new generation affected by Nujabes transformed his artistry and music into a new movement from their own perspective. Nujabes had an extraordinary amount of attachment and love for the music, rather than causing a movement, so I guess his attitude caught people’s hearts. The core of such a creative mind will not change in the music that will be born in the future, and people living in the present should express it through trial and error.
When I talked to beatmakers much younger than me, they said, “Lo-fi Hip Hop is something different (from Nujabes music)” and “The scene was born in a different place.” I agree with that comment. For example, some Lo-fi musicians are influenced by Vaporwave, and they mash up scenes of anime in their music video or SNS posts as an extension of Vaporwave. So, under such circumstances, the soundtrack of the anime “Samurai Champloo” made the name “Nujabes” known to overseas subcultures, which had a great impact on Lo-fi music.
MP – People in Lo-fi culture are more nerdy or otaku than the macho Hip Hop headz.
FK – I think Kanye West has a lot to do with that. He had a strong influence on the musical tide, like the bold use of AutoTune in his songs. Also, his music, which had based on classic sampling until then, evolved by swallowing subculture and pop culture as if it had been mutated. Kanye West originally seems to have a nerdy and introverted personality. I felt that Nujabes in his lifetime had a similar personality. The aura of an introverted and sticky artist sparking his own world to create a work shines strongly and uniquely. As with the Lo-fi movement, people’s interest in modern society may be focused on that kind of energy. I also tend to be attracted to the power of such artists … (laughs)
MP – Recently, I think that the opportunities for otaku-like people to play an active role are increasing because of the influence of refraining from going out due to COVID-19.
FK – I feel that the image of “popular person” is the opposite of what it used to be. In the past, nerdy people had the image of being “inconspicuous in a corner of the classroom”, but now they are completely in a majority position. And music like Hip Hop was mainly for party people, but the music scene has changed considerably since the appearance of Nujabes, Kanye West, and Neptunes. Each artist has a different color, but my impression is that they are “similar” on the inside.
MP – Nujabes was very particular about everything, wasn’t he? I talked a lot with him, and I was asked so often like “What does that mean?” when I gave an ambiguous reply in conversation with him. He was the type who wanted to be clear about what he was wondering about. So, he asked me until he completely understood (laughs). I think that good music was born from that kind of personality and temperament.
FK – He was too particular about something and he was confused with himself so often (laughs). But, the work that comes out after being particular about something gives off a strong aura. As a result, his music has been engraved in people’s hearts and has left a great reputation and achievements. He was also a really strict person.
One of the most memorable episodes about Nujabes is when he was talking about the texture of drum sound. He said, “The texture of my song is never beautiful. Sometimes it may be perceived as distorted. But that’s why this is my sound.”, “The current music scene is a mixture of good and bad. And most music is beautiful and well-organized to some extent, but music that is over-averaged and made according to theory are conversely inconspicuous and buried.”, “So, I always keep in mind the texture of my own sound. I hope people who like my sound will immediately notice that it’s the sound of Nujabes, even in a huge amount of music.” … I still remember him at that time. What he was saying is still a necessary idea for the music scene.
MP – In any genre, things that feel somewhat strange in a good way can get people’s attention.
FK – When it comes to “strange”, I think it’s true that Nujabes said, “It’s better to be a little different than to be completely different.” It’s hard to understand if it’s completely different, but if it’s a little different, it’s easy to get caught in the listener’s ear.
MP – He was a strange person, but also a hard-working person. He’s sometimes treated as a “God father” in Lo-fi, but when I look at him as a person who knows him, for better or worse, it feels a bit overrated.
FK – I think it’s an unwavering achievement as an originator who created a genre or scene, but it’s also true that deceased artists are sometimes overly deified.
MP – If he’s a “God father,” FK can be a “Father.” (lol). Of course, no matter how much time you’ve spent time with him, you may not want to be tied to the name “Nujabes”.
FK – Hmm, what I learned in the time I spent with Nujabes was “I just really like music and project my love of music and view to the sound”, so in the scene I still can’t think of my position. And I haven’t released enough works (laughs). So, I thought “I have to do something” and decided to release a remaster version of the singles released in the past. Now that we’re in the digital age, there’s no downside to releasing it. And I cut the 7 inch of the dubplate a while ago, so next time I will release songs on it digitally. An instrumental track and a track with rap.
In the future, I want to make beats that have my own color and are more simple, not an elaborate work like “Context to the Water”. Anyway, I’ve been too laid back until now, so I’m doing my best while being pushed by my friends (laughs).
MP – How about an instrumental album which gathers short length tracks like “The Donuts”? Or why don’t you put together the beats on Instagram into an album?
FK – My friends say, “Release something like your Instagram!” (laughs). But I want to refine them a little more. I hope I will receive feedback from listeners by the release of this remastered version and the next release. It will lead to my motivation.
MP – Are you reluctant to be categorized yourself as a “Lo-fi artist”?
FK – I’m not so reluctant, but I need to release my works conceptually to be judged by listeners. However, while being inspired by such scenes, my goal is to pursue the “universal attraction” of good music. The surface of music changes drastically with the times, but I think the core part that shoots through the listener’s heart, which makes them feel like “This is it!”, hasn’t changed for hundreds of years. The vertical axis of “sound” which is more abstract than the concept of harmony, and the horizontal timeline of “bars” are universal. So what’s important is what kind of lines and colors you can draw on that canvas. But, If I don’t break my tendency of sound production, I’ll end up with only sounds I like in a bad way. It’s a big theme for me to get out of that.
Today, especially in the Lo-fi scene, a lot of music is falling like a waterfall, so “who made it” is not as important as it used to be. I strongly feel that the value of music has changed to “How does it sound?”. From that angle, I would like to thoroughly focus on the “universal attraction” of music.
MP – Unexpected encounters with good songs is decreasing, such as finding a good song you don’t know at record stores, or picking up a vinyl with your favorite cover design like the 90’s.
FK – The experience of “buying songs because of the cover” has diminished in subscription services of the internet, but I don’t think that the “encounter with the fateful song” has disappeared because the “unknown song” introduced by algorithms is sometimes very good. The algorithm has both a good and bad influence. The range of songs is narrowed because it is optimized too much to your taste, or songs that you do not want to listen to are persistently recommended (laughs).
Overall, it’s convenient and sometimes helpful. I can notice new releases on subscription services and it leads to buy vinyls. It’s the real music environment of today. It’s so fun to discover & release what I think is good.
In terms of “scenes”, there used to be no internet and little information, so I was always feeling stressed like “I have to be in the scene”, but now I can see it from a bird’s-eye view. However, I think that the current “scene” is “era” and is like a mirror that reflects “what is interesting for people of that era.” There’s a lot of persuasiveness there, so I can’t say anything about Lo-fi if it’s attracting people’s attention as a movement. And if I think it’s different from me, I want to express it with my sound.
MP – Do you play kalimba and piano yourself in the remastered song?
FK – It’s all sampling. At that time, I didn’t have enough equipment to capture live music, and in the first place, the music called Hip Hop had a method of cutting out a part of the song and recreating it into new music in a way that even the original composer could not imagine. I wanted to make the release from tribe a song that was built from only sampling because I was sticking to the aesthetics of sampling.
At the time of making this song, I was using a Yamaha A4000 sampler. Until then, I used the equipment (Ensoniq EPS16 +) which had to wait for loading a number of floppy disks with a small capacity, but since it became possible to stock a large amount of sound on a large capacity hard disk, it was so fun that I could have a lot of flexibility. So I made full use of A4000 to make songs. I also used a lot of built-in effectors. I’m currently using Ableton Live. It’s really useful because I can stock more sound than I do in A4000. Besides, the sampled files can be saved from one end and stocked side by side, so I can listen to them anytime, and it’s good to be able to work without searching for sounds in backup media. Since I can check them anytime on PC, I often forget the original song like “What record was it sampled from?” (Laughs). And it’s so good that I can pick up sounds and put them in the appropriate place. If it’s clear from what record the sound was sampled, I want to preferentially use the sound sampled from expensive and rare records (laughs).
MP – The beat in the latter half of “Context to the Water” sounds like Moonstarr’s “Dust”. Were you aware of that type of sound?
FK – I may have been a little conscious of it. The sound texture of Moonstarr’s “Dust” is a little more lo-fi, but with regard to “Context”, I was influenced by instrumental Electronica Hip Hop like Caural and Prefuse 73 that I often listened to at the time. And I just wanted to build it by packing various sample sounds.
MP – “Shades of Nostalgia” on the B side of Nujabes “D.T.F.N.” released by Hydeout productions has a very Pete Rock taste.
FK – That track was uploaded as a demo on my website. Nujabes listened to it in early 2000, and he said, “I like that song. It has a special magic.”. After I became the manager of tribe, he suggested the release of it, and it was recorded on the B side of 12 inch “D.T.F.N.”.
Pete Rock and DJ Premier are really special for me. I was strongly influenced and learned a lot from their beats.
After the release of “Shades of Nostalgia”, Nujabes told me, “I personally like your sound very much, but why don’t you try to get away from the influence of Pete Rock?”. I got the A4000 just before I started to try beatmaking with a new perspective. And I finished two tracks “Context to the Water” and “Lotus garden”. Then, Nujabes said, “They match the concept of tribe, and I feel the skill and originality. Let’s release them.” I wanted to make the B side absolutely “Lotus Garden”. One day, Nujabes came to tribe when I was playing “Lotus Garden” in the store. He noticed the song and told me, “It’s so good. I was wondering whose song it was”. So, These songs were decided to be released.
MP – I have heard that you wanted to make a cover song with someone. What is that story?
FK – There are a lot of great artists that have influenced me in the process of collecting records. Jazz pianist “Stanley Cowell” is the special one. Unfortunately he passed away at the end of last year. I want to cover his work someday. I can’t play instruments so well, so I asked a pianist friend to play it. I will build a track with her piano and my own beats. This is a project that I need to take my time. The other is a cover of an unknown masterpiece of a Japanese-American band still active on the west coast of the United States. I want to feature a vocalist, Stanley Cowell’s daughter “Sunny Cowell” for the song. This is my dream project (laughs). Today, it is possible to make offers via the Internet, so I want to make it happen someday. I am so happy to connect with various wonderful people through music. In the future, I would like to take on more and more challenges in these projects.
MP – I hope that new masterpieces will be born, including the cover songs.
FK – I’m grateful for the opportunity to be interviewed like this, but I’m really bad at self-promotion, so I’d like to be more ambitious in my activities and releases so that people can listen to my songs.
FK was selected as the manager of the flagship store "tribe" of the label "Hydeout productions", which is presided over by Nujabes. In the 12-inch single of Nujabes "D.T.F.N.", FK's "Shades of Nostalgia" is recorded on the B side (the first artist to release original songs other than Nujabes). Several 7 inch singles were released from the label launched by tribe. And participated in remix works, and tribute albums in memory of Nujabes.
He is DJing at clubs, cafes, and Jazz bars in Tokyo, taking advantage of his deep knowledge of Jazz and other deep and wide-ranging music. He is also a resident DJ of his home ground music event "Rejoice" (held by Toru Hashimoto/Suburbia). As a beat maker, he is preparing projects for new releases now.