s far as Japanese musicians go, DJs, no matter how they’re received in their homeland, have the best shot at worldwide appeal. Drop a name like DJ Krush or Ken Ishii to your average American music aficionado, and you’d get more of a response than if you’d said “Ayumi Hamasaki,” despite her position as the Japan’s most famous pop-cult figure since Hello Kitty.
Should we blame it on DJ culture? Remixes and collaborations of artists abound, from Europe to the East and everywhere in between. Or is it the internet’s fault? Artists from far-flung places now find it easier than ever to connect. It’s hard to say, but it’s reasons like this that I’ve narrowed J-Pop Will Eat Itself’s subjects/victims to mostly heretofore unknown-in-America acts—thus, not many DJs. No one needs to read a specialized column to find out more about Satoshi Tomiie, right?
Though, the case of 2002 DMC World Final champion, DJ Kentaro, is one of those rising star/keep an eye out/artist to watch deals. The kind with the perfect cut of skill and favorable lack of fame that journalists love to expose. Kentaro is not quite fresh blood—with the aforementioned DMC title under his belt, and a small but loyal following—yet he’s still a workable candidate for the next big thing in the vinyl scene.
The only international release DJ Kentaro boasts is a mixtape for the UK-based label Ninja Tune, who picked him up after he snagged the DMC and was, of course, building buzz. The bulk of material on the disc, entitled On the Wheels of Solid Steel, is made up of Ninja Tune’s other artists. Plenty of Coldcut, DJ Food, and Wagon Christ, along with some lesser-known names—all selected, and spun by Kentaro.
With only, or at least mainly, Ninja Tune’s humble reservoir of sound to work with, the final product is impressively eclectic. As Kentaro’s own work can attest, he favors old school scratching and break beats that are decidedly hip-hop infused; but he clearly knows how make nearly any style work for him. On the Wheels of Solid Steel cascades through hard techno, funk, lounge electro, and even reggae (DJ Vadim’s “Chicken Spit Up to Jah” is a Diplo-esque high point)—while retaining a decent flow, as any mixtape should. Kentaro also plays the crowd-pleasing Asian influence card a few times with tracks like Happy Campers’ “No Mind (The Zen Experience),” DJ Food’s “Centre of the Earth,” and Cornelius’s mix of “Atomic Moog” by Cold Cut.
As good as the record is, it still falls short of Kentaro’s live performances. Known for mixing visual with audio (he recently released the DVD National GeoScratch in Japan), Kentaro wisely includes a DVD with On the Wheels of Solid Steel—featuring footage of his tour, and some animated videos. Watching him spin one set is probably more gratifying than listening to the entire CD. His charismatic showmanship—not to mention that he still uses turntables at all—is what separates him from the pack. Kentaro is not the faceless disc jockey in the back of the room: his presence is the main event.
By: Teresa Nieman
Published on: 2006-08-04