KIREEK, the Japanese turntablist duo of DJ YASA and DJ HI-C, won the DMC Team Champions in 2007 for the first time, and then went on to win an unprecedented five consecutive titles – and no-one to date has emerged to surpass such a feat. They broke up in 2018 in order to explore their own new directions, but are now reuniting to celebrate TRAKTOR’s 20th anniversary. To mark the occasion, we asked the pair about their history, their relationship with TRAKTOR, and their future.
Could you give us a brief history of the turntablism scene in Japan?
DJ Hi-C: Looking back on the history of Japanese turntablists from the DMC DJ Championships GM Yoshi won the 3rd place, at the World Championships in 1991. DJ Akakabe, who appeared in the scene like a comet in 1997, won the 4th place at the world championship in 1998, and DJ Kentaro won Japan’s first single division world champion in 2002 I think these were the turning points of Japanese turntablism. Since then, many Japanese have become world champions, ranking third after France and the United States in the number world titles for Japan.
DJ Yasa: Around 1990, when DJ BABU created the words “turntablist” and “turntablism”, international superstars such as Mix Master Mike and DJ Shadow began traveling to Japan. Many Japanese turntabalists were influenced by these big names. I believe that The DMC Japan DJ Championships started right around that time.
How did you two get interested in turntablism, and how did you end up forming Kireek?
Hi-C: I found a DJ simulation game called Beatmania at an arcade that got me interested in DJing. I went to a DJ bar owned by my sister’s boyfriend at the time to learn how to DJ, and there was a video of the 1998 DMC Japan Final playing at the bar, and I witnessed the DJ Akakabe’s mind-blowing performance I wanted to be like that, so I jumped into this scene.
Yasa: My starting point was DJ Akakabe and DJ Krush, which I saw when I was in junior high school, but it wasn’t until I was in high school that I actually got into the scene. There was a clerk who was scratching at the skateboard shop I used to go to, and that person happened to be the younger brother of DJ Akakabe (laughs). I started to borrow mixtapes and got him to teach me how to scratch. When I was a second year high school student, I begged my mother to borrow some money so I could purchase a DJ set, and I am still paying her back (laughs).
Hi-C: At that time, there was no turntablist in my hometown , so I went to Osaka to shoot a video of DJ Taiji and DJ Ful. At this time, I was learning from them while repeatedly honing my skills. Unlike today, there was no Internet, no schools, and you had to travel two hours one way to buy records. Moreover, there was a limit of five records to listen to at one time, so it was a learning experience. I still have a videos such as from DMC.
After that, both I and Yasa moved to Osaka and started playing a lot. There were days in which I had more opportunities to play at the same parties as one another, so we tried playing back to back with one another. We tried it out and everything just clicked between us …… That was the beginning of the formation of Kireek.
Please tell us about the configuration of the equipment setup for this project.
Yasa: I have tried many things, but this time we will use four turntables and three mixers. A mixer is sandwiched between each DJ set so that the left and right berths can be switched.
Hi-C: The most common setup was four turntables and five mixers, plus two DVJs, a Kaoss Pad, and the SP-404. This was our setup for the 2007 Fuji Rock, DMC Japan Hokkaido qualifying, and China tour, but I was crying because of the large amount of equipment we had to move around (laughs).
What do you think were the characteristics of Kireek’s DJ style?
Yasa: On the level of technique, I would say that you can juggle and scratch at the same time. This can’t be done as a solo act.
Hi-C: Juggling can be layered on top of juggling, which is a technique that Yasa can do to produce the world’s best beat keeping. In terms of music, the band was characterized by playing across genres, experimenting with a fusion of dance music and turntablism, and so on.
Can you tell us a bout your work after Kireek disbanded?
Hi-C: I have moved into the techno scene. In addition to DJing, I have released music on international labels and organize an outdoor techno festival called Moment with my friends. I also teach DJing, play with cats, and… I hope to be able to talk about the reason for the dissolution of the group after a little more time, perhaps at the time of TRAKTOR’s 30th anniversary (laughs). Now, as a techno artist, TRAKTOR is indispensable for my music activities, not only as software but also as a controller for X1 and other products.
Yasa: I am still searching for music that is unique to me, such as releasing original beats and doing live performances that fuse turntablism and introducing singing and instruments into my own songs. I would like to establish a performance based on turntables rather than DJing. I usually use TRAKTOR, and I try to make rough beats by applying FX to samples and chopping them with Hot Cue, or I improvise blends when DJing and make them loop while scratching. I’ve always been given the opportunity to expand my creative range in track making and through live DJ sets.
Why did you choose to perform as Kireek at this year’s event?
Hi-C: Recently, we have been performing at the same parties as each other, and once again we were thinking it would be nice to line up again after not having done so for an extended period of time; when we received an invitation and a project for TRAKTOR’s 20th anniversary, it felt like the perfect opportunity. We were feeling good about it and it was good timing.
Yasa: At first I thought about turning the artists staff of NI Japan down, but NI has always been inseparable from Kireek’s activities from the beginning, and we both had a trusting relationship with the staff. I discussed this with Hi-C, and we decided to do it.
It has been a while since I was last able to watch you both perform as a team. Can you tell us a bit about your routine this time around?
Hi-C: This is the most powerful routine from the four consecutive DMC championships in 2010, reworked and reconstructed with original music. It was a very emotional performance for us as well.
Yasa: We have reconstructed some of the highlights of the 2010 World Convention set, which we liked at the time, with the original beats! It’s been a while since we’ve played as a tag-team, so I hope everyone enjoys it!
Have there been any memorable events that have been turning points in your experience?
Hi-C: When we first won the DMC World Team division in 2007 with Kireek, when I won the DMC World Team division for the fifth time in a row in that division in 2011, and when I disbanded Kireek in 2018. Then there was the time I lost one of my socks in Amsterdam. (laughs)
Yasa: It was also impressive to be able to perform with DJ Krush, Prefuse 73 and The Cinematic Orchestra at XOXO in London.
When did you start using TRAKTOR?
Yasa: I believe it was around 2012 when I was introduced to artist known as XLII.
Hi-C: Yes, when the TRAKTOR KONTROL Z2, a DJ mixer with a built-in audio interface, came out, it was equipped with a MIDI controller and all you had to do was connect a PC with a single USB cable. It completely transformed my mindset.
The output is more solid than other companies’ DVS, and there are more effects available. And the most attractive thing about the current setup is that it can be connected directly to a DJ mixer Allen & Heath Xone: 96 or Pioneer DJM V10 via USB to control all 4 channels.
TRAKTOR is an integral part of our lives.
Yasa: I still like the fact that up to 8 effects can be used simultaneously by 2 people by connecting an additional MIDI controller. I also like the fact that you can freely change the MIDI mapping.
Do you have any wishes for the future of Japan’s turntablism scene?
Yasa: I would like to see not only one scene develop, but also a scene that is born from each community. I hope that turntablists do not lose their identity as artists, rather than being reduced to commercial sideshows and being fed by the corporations (laughs).
Hi-C: Since this culture was originally born at block parties and has been nurtured in clubs, let’s play at a club first and feel the atmosphere of the scene. Let’s dance!
I think this will help me to develop an objective viewpoint on how to utilize turntablism in such a situation and how to successfully integrate it with music! In these days of experience online are accelerating , I hope that offline experiences will also be valued.
And what would you like to see from NI in the future?
Yasa: The power of chemical reaction between AI and music!
Hi-C: I’ve been using modular synths for music production lately, and I think it would be great if TRAKTOR had a function to work with CVs. I would like to control the modular synths with control vinyls and faders!
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