When you’ve been involved with music for as long as Tatsuya Oe you’re bound to have the necessary knowledge and insight to create something unique–one would hope at least. Add a wildly expansive taste stemmed from a vast array of influences, along with the experiences that come from living in two very different cultures, and you’ve got yourself a recipe for highly engaging creations. Oe’s newest project delivers on these notions with massive production and the juxtaposition of genres and elements that seemingly do not belong in the same composition. Dark Model‘s debut is full of life and full of background, despite being a vocal-less release.
We had the chance to speak with the mind behind Dark Model as he went into detail on how his love for music originated and how it’s evolved ever since, bringing us to his most recent effort and plans for the future. Read through and get acquainted with your new favorite artist in the world of EDM.
How did you first got involved with music and how has that path led to you working within the realm of EDM?
This is a pretty long story, but here it goes. When I was 12, in the early ’80s in Japan, I got greatly interested in rock and pop music in the US and Europe and would always listen to Top 40 type programs on a daily basis. A couple of years later I finally got my first electric guitar, Roland synthesizers and sequencer. That is to say, I was originally a synth guy as well as a guitar kid, who was fascinated by hard rock and synth pop at the same time (but it took a couple of years until I realized these ostensibly different genres had the same music roots — i.e. rhythm & blues music.) During junior high and high school, I formed several bands performing rock, synth pop/new wave, heavy metal, and even prog rock. I remember one of the songs I covered in the first band with my junior high peers was “I Want More” by kraut rock band Can. That situation might have been very rare and exceptional in Japan, but I was fortunately endowed with great high school friends whom I could exchange information about not only current bands but also innovative musicians such as the Beatles, King Crimson, Talking Heads, Steely Dan, Earth Wind & Fire, Stevie Wonder, Miles Davis, John Coltrane. While I had always been interested in such “game changers” in music history, in the mid-to-late ‘80s, finally I found my way to game changers who could change my life as well (i.e. old school funk, soul, disco, and early house, techno, and hip hop music). While it was desperate to find bandmates in Tokyo who could perform Funkadelic’s tunes together, I was able to find excitement in playing DJ to the audience. I was hellbent on collecting old school and 12-inch vinyl records and immersed myself in the world of dance music, regardless of whether it’s electronic-based or not. That was when I was 18 or so.
Having said that, it took more years until I resumed music production because I, who was originally a band guy, had no idea how to make such dance or techno music at all. In other words, I didn’t even know that my favorite techno DJs were making music with just one decent sampler in their bedrooms. But somehow I started to make music with my small laptop and Akai sampler and send demos to my favorite European dance labels. Luckily, a couple of months later, I received record contracts from a couple of labels and released 12-inches in Italy in spring, 1997. Those Japanese who found my releases in import record shops began to ask me for not only DJ gigs but also music productions including remix jobs. Soon after that I launched my first full-fledged project, Captain Funk. These are what happened around the late ’90s. The bottom line is, while I had already experienced a diverse style of music, as a result, I started my professional career as an “Electronic Dance Music” artist from day one.
You mentioned quite a few iconic bands. Were they all major influences for you when you were starting out? What influences play a big role in the way you create today?
When it comes to musical influence, as mentioned earlier, a tremendous amount of great music has fascinated me. I have been inspired by not only any kind of music but also literally “anything audible” as long as I could discover something new, different, or creative in it. But that wasn’t exactly why I took the plunge into the music industry. (I thought it wouldn’t be that easy to make room for yourself in the industry if you started out your career just because you are a music freak). In the early ’90s, mainly in Europe, there were many emerging independent labels which had discovered under-the-radar, “bedroom” electronic and dance musicians and brought them to the music market, such as Warp, R&S, Ninja Tune. Those small (at that time) but visionary labels would release tracks of new artists whom they hadn’t even met just because their demos were great, and would sell tens of thousands copies. That exciting movement blew me away in terms of not only their innovative music but also how they had managed to achieve creative freedom and independence so as to bring their vision to the audience with confidence. I was driven by that kind of attitude and mindset. I’ve been committed to keeping creative independence so as to be able to (hopefully) bring my music to the audience as straightforward as possible.
What can you tell me about the Captain Funk project that you mentioned earlier?
Captain Funk is my longest project which has been active since ’97. The original concept was to incorporate modern techno music and my specific musical roots such as funk/soul and disco music in a modern way. At that time, at least in Japan, funk/soul and techno music were considered to have little common ground in terms of both musical sense and audience. I lucked out, however, with great label-mates and co-workers who supported this project. Captain Funk’s debut album Encounter With was well-received not only in Japan but also in several countries in Europe, such as France, Germany, UK. I really appreciate that many top DJs, including Fatboy Slim, Carl Cox, Krafty Kuts, Freddy Fresh, played and recommended Captain Funk’s music–which helped me to spread the name and music of Captain Funk. In addition to the original releases, I have participated in a couple of hundreds of remixes and collaboration projects under this moniker, in addition to DJ gigs in many countries.
Speaking of recent Captain Funk works, I have focused more on vocal songs like “Hey Boy, He Girl,” “Weekend,” and “Piece of You.” Last summer I released two compilation albums called Chronicles 2007-2013 vol. 1 & 2, including 98 tracks which had been produced since the launch of my own label Model Electronic. Right after those releases, I shifted into high gear to complete Dark Model’s first album.
Do you think you’ll be releasing more music for that project or under any other names outside of Dark Model or has this become priority number one for you?
I will prioritize Dark Model for some time in the future since I have a lot of ideas I would like to make into reality under this moniker.
How does it feel to have your music used in the campaigns for major motion pictures and popular companies like Verizon and Lexus? Is that something that you ever even dreamed possible when you first started doing this?
It’s a great honor! I’d like to thank music supervisors and directors who chose Dark Model’s music for their campaigns. While I haven’t intended to make Dark Model’s music for specific movies or advertising campaigns, these achievements and experience actually bring great feedback to musical ideas of Dark Model. Being conscious of “synchronizing music to motion elements” helps me to focus on making my music story-telling and emotionally building. By the way, when it comes to building a story with music, I’ve learned a lot about this from playing DJ (I think great DJs are, after all, great story tellers as well).
So let’s talk about the new album. First of all, the cover art is fantastic. Who’s the artist and why did you choose that image to accompany this release?
Thanks! This artwork was made through a collaboration of two artists, Richard Roberts (graphic design of Noh mask) and Passion Yoko (art direction and other graphical elements). Originally I was interested in incorporating traditional Japanese elements and flavor of contemporary graphic design into an edgy, futuristic, and symbolic icon of Dark Model. Also I wanted to use elements of Noh mask, especially called “Hanya” which has represented dark emotions such as anger and grudge in Japanese folk tales. Having said that, I’d like to focus simply on the energetic side of those emotions, not the negative side. To get back to talking about these artists, Richard has been involved in Dark Model since the launch of the project. I really like his futuristic and surrealistic style. Passion Yoko has been working together since Captain Funk’s 2007 releases Heavy Mellow and Heavy Metal. She is a multi-talented artist who has an alchemy of turning traditional Japanese cultural elements into a new iconic art form like no other can do.
The sound on this album is massive; huge production and amazing theatrical elements. How did the idea come into play to kind of meld these two sounds, being big beat EDM and orchestral movements? Furthermore, how would you compare this record to your past works?
While Dark Model’s music sounds pretty different from my past works under other monikers such as Captain Funk and OE, I think these have some common ground in terms of concept–that is to say, making a story-telling or concept album. Although Captain Funk is more based on the formula of dance music, even under the moniker, I’ve always focused on putting some concept on each album. For example, when I was working on Captain Funk’s 2000 release Songs of the Siren, I was fascinated by an idea of making an imaginary soundtrack of a futuristic ‘road movie,’ by combining bluesy, gritty southern swamp rock and electronica/big beat. Or rather, for me, it was more like making a ‘music fiction’ or ‘big beat opera’ as if I was a director who writes a script and chooses music along with it. There was no protagonist like the Who’s Tommy or the Beatles’ Sgt. Peppers in the album, though.
As you can easily imagine, I originally like futuristic sci-fi, badass action, or epic fantasy movies. That said, what originally interested me was not making a film score or soundtrack for any specific visual or motion elements, but making original music which stands on its own and represents my strength while implying (or sometimes embodying) a view of the world, dramaturgy, or emotional ups and downs which are typically depicted in these types of fictions.
Let me explain how I appreciate dance music from the standpoint of “time/transition” here. While any kind of music is “time-conscious” or “time-based” art in its own right, dance music could be considered to be relatively more conscious of time than other types of music (like we DJs use time-related words such as “BPM” or “drop” all the time). On top of that, dance music, especially when mixed by DJs, could have more possibilities than one song with the standard popular music formula, in terms of that it could be a story set (i.e. sequence) of 60 minutes long or even longer. Which means a DJ could/should be a story-teller who could afford the same time as a film director could. I appreciate that virtue of dance music and want to make the most of it. When I was making this Dark Model album, I focused on incorporating dramatic excitement, beauty (vulnerability), or emotional flow which orchestral and film music excel at expressing, and uplifting feeling, aggressiveness, and time-keeping/bending functions which electronic dance music originally has, into a new “epic instrumental narrative.” I hope this album will entertain listeners from a fresh angle (and bring “wow” moments to them).
Have you been playing any of these new tracks live or have plans for touring this year?
I haven’t played Dark Model tracks in live performance yet. When it comes to performing these tracks, several possibilities could be considered (e.g. not only spinning these as a DJ but also performing in a band or even with an orchestra). Having said that, no matter how or with whom I play this music, I’d like to work on it so as to keep the intuitive/impulsive/primitive feels which this music originally has. As you know, sometimes easy collaborations or expansions could work against and lose its original edge. It would take some more time to make my mind up about what is the most exciting and realistic way to play this music, but I believe I will be able to come up with an interesting live set.
You touched on how this record kind of runs parallel with the ideas of a film and its soundtrack. I feel like a good majority of this record could perfectly score an action film or a theatrical video game. Is that something you’ve ever been involved with or considered doing in the future?
While I have been involved with a lot of advertising campaigns, films, animations, and game projects in terms of both licensing music and custom productions, if limited to writing score music for specific action films or theatrical video games, I haven’t done it yet. Which may have allowed me to focus on embodying my own ideas about Dark Model, though. Of course, I’m curious about how film directors in those fields would feel about Dark Model’s music.
As a big fan of the vinyl format, I have to ask…I know you put the album out on CD, but do you have any plans to release it on vinyl as well?
I would love to (if there was really demand for it)! I was originally a crate digger who used to own tens of thousands of vinyl records (though I had to dispose of them all when leaving Japan). By the way, when I was researching record stores in the US the other day, the fact that there are so many vinyl junkies here surprised me. As this was my first “made in the USA” release, I will take time to research more about vinyl manufacturing and distribution in the US.
Overall, what can we expect from Dark Model for the remainder of the year. Any new material or further plans we haven’t discussed? I know you do a lot of remixes and produce for other artists.
I will definitely continue to make new tracks for Dark Model. Actually I have lots of unfinished tracks! Including the release info, I’ll keep you informed of the progress on Dark Model’s related websites such as my Facebook, SoundCloud, and official website. So stick around!
Interview written and conducted by Brian Lion — (Follow him on Twitter)
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