Japanese DJ and producer ANRI has been honing her craft since she moved from her hometown of Yokohama to the bright lights of Tokyo and discovered the small but vibrant underground electronic music scene there over 10 years ago. She soon became a household name in the Tokyo scene, playing regularly at Tokyo´s finest clubs like Womb, Ageha and Air. Following appearances at Australian festivals such as Rainbow Serpent and Eclipse Anri began to get acclaim outside of her native Japan and now she is hoping to gain wider international recognition after relocating to Berlin like many Japanese contemporaries. Having just delivered an exclusive MEOKO podcast for us in April we decided it was time to put this little known but seriously talented artist Under the Microscope.
Hi Anri, welcome to the MEOKO under the Microscope series. Tell us, who is Anri?
Every day I am learning, and growing. This is what makes me who I am, I am always striving to discover more, to experience more, to push myself out of my comfort zone. The Anri of 10 years ago is very different to the Anri you meet today, I have learnt and grown a lot- sometimes it has been difficult but I wouldn’t change anything. It is only by putting yourself out of your comfort zone that you can begin to discover who you really are.
Tell us a little about where you are from and how you grew up.
I was born in Yokohama, Japan. Yokohama is the neighbouring city / district to Tokyo, it is about 30 minutes away by train. This is where I grew up and where my parents still live. It is a nice city, but much quieter than Tokyo. When I was 18 I moved to Tokyo, attracted by the opportunities it could offer for personal development and fulfilment. It was there that I discovered electronic music.
How did you get into electronic music?
Sadly no one in my family is of a musical background, but as a child I always wanted to play an instrument. When I was 15 I started to dance, and we would mostly listen to Jazz and Hip-Hop in the dance studio, so these are my earliest influences. When I was 17 I started to go to clubs and discovered electronic music, and shortly after I moved to Tokyo where I got into the scene there. I bought some CDJ´s, practised everyday and in time was playing regularly at clubs like Womb, Air and Ageha and I also began to organize and promote my own parties, some of which were quite successful. When I was 19 after I had bought my first CDJ´s and I was just starting to learn to DJ, I was introduced to a legendary Japanese disco DJ called DJ Kohno who at that time was already in his mid forties, and once a week every Friday for one year I used to go listen to him at a place called Soul Sonic Boogie and take memo notes whilst watching him play. Whilst I never really got into disco, I learnt so much from him. He had a huge record collection and I learnt to respect and appreciate every record as an individual entity, I learnt how even different records and styles can be webbed together-I guess you could say that he taught me how to listen to and understand a record, which is probably the most important thing one can learn as a DJ.
What kind of challenges have you had to overcome on your way to getting to where you are now in your life?
I have been Djing for over 10 years now, trying to perfect my skills and define my sound, and trying to get people to know who Anri is, but I am still not yet at a point where I live off of my music alone. I like to travel and of course Djing is a great way to discover other cultures and make new friends, but over the years I have had to do many other things to support myself and to be able to pursue my dreams. In 2010, I moved to Australia; at the time I didn’t speak any English so it was very difficult to find any work initially. I worked in Japanese restaurants and Sake bars, I even trained and qualified as a Sake Sommelier. I also once worked on a farm in the Australian outback for about 3 months in order to get my visa extended just so I could stay in the country- it was very hard manual work under the hot sun and probably the hardest job I ´ve ever had, but it was something I had to do in order to be able to continue with my new life in Australia, which was a very important step in getting to where I am now- I learnt to speak English there and played many gigs at festivals such as Eclipse Festival and Rainbow Serpent ,which is kind of like Australia´s version of Burning man, and in the 3 years I ended up living there I became quite an established name in the vibrant Melbourne underground scene. I don’t think I would have moved to Berlin had I not spent those years In Australia, so every challenge I have had to overcome has in hindsight some retrospective value in somehow shaping me to become the person I am today.
“It is only by putting yourself out of your comfort zone that you can begin to discover who you really are.”
When and why did you decide to move to Berlin?
When my visa eventually expired and I could not stay any longer in Australia I moved back to Japan, but the electronic music scene there just isn`t big enough and there are not enough opportunities available, particularly for someone wishing to gain recognition outside of Japan. Yes, there are some great clubs in Tokyo where I have played many times and which receive many international DJ´s but the scene in Japan is almost limited to those few clubs. I guess after my time in Australia where I began to get a name for myself from performing at festivals and clubs with more international exposure, I realised that if I wanted to become respected internationally I would have to leave Japan, like many other Japanese DJ´s have done before me. Berlin is a very international city, I have many friends who moved there to pursue their musical ambitions, and I think it is an amazing place for an artist to pick up other influences, both musically and personally. It is a city so rich in opportunities for artists and musicians- it is great for collaborating with other producers and friends as everyone seems to be based there, and it is also a city which inspires on so many levels- the city has so much history and diversity and a musical scene like nowhere else.
What are the challenges for an artist trying to gain recognition in Berlin?
There are many opportunities for Dj´s in Berlin for those who are serious and committed enough to working hard to prove their merit. On the other hand, the scene in Berlin is very competitive- it seems that almost everyone you meet is a DJ or a producer so it means that you have find ways of doing things differently if you want to stand out and get noticed. Also, the Berlin scene is very local still and relies a lot on personal connections and word of mouth, which can make opportunities harder to come by if you are not considered a local or have not been living here long enough to have established connections with local promoters. Since I moved to Berlin last September, most of my gigs have actually been in other countries- Italy, Holland, France etc.- it is only recently that I have started to get more attention from promoters in Berlin, and now I have many gigs in Berlin over the coming months. I feel if you can gain respect in the local scene in Berlin then you will also be noticed elsewhere too as people really pay attention to what´s going on in the scene here.
“I think about music and sound in every living, breathing moment- everything around us in our environment has a sound or vibration, the world I live in everyday is my inspiration.”
How would you describe your sound?
I am inspired most by the Detroit Techno sound, which some people suggest is more of a guy’s thing, but I think my sound has definite feminine qualities. It is very hard to explain, but I think perhaps each gender can tune in to certain sounds or elements more than the other. I like to play dark and mysterious sets but I also try to always mix it up with more positive, lighter elements- a beautiful progressive melody somewhere in the background for instance. What I produce and what I play when I DJ are completely different, I like to play deep emotive techno, but my productions tend to be a little more progressive and melodic.
How difficult did you find it to establish yourself and gain respect from other established DJ´s in the Japanese scene as a young female DJ?
When I was starting out, there weren`t a lot of female DJs around, even less so in Japan, where the sight of a female DJ behind a booth was much more unusual then it is today, and opportunities were harder to come by. It was difficult in the beginning to get promoters to take me seriously as a DJ and not just a little girl they could put to look cute behind the booth in the lounge area. When I was starting out, I think that as a female DJ I had to compensate for being a woman, as for whatever reason people tended to think less of female dj`s, so I had to work even harder to prove myself and show that I could deliver just as good, if not better, as anyone else with each and every opportunity that I was given. Hopefully these attitudes have now changed. That said, I was fortunate to have had the support of certain influential promoters in the Japanese scene who believed in me from very early on and have also benefited from the help and guidance of some experienced artists before me like my good friend Hito, who also lives in Berlin and has always been there for me to give her advice and experience when I have needed it.
You are also a producer… What is your approach to making tracks?
I usually start with an idea I have, something creative, something that will excite me from the beginning and that I want to build a track around. Sometimes I will start with an organic piano melody that will develop into something deep and ambient, other times I will lay down some kick drums that make for a snappier, harder sound and inspire me to make a track in that vibe- there really are no rules, I just let the inspiration take over me and let whatever comes out happen naturally, and try to connect things as I go along, to focus on the chord progression from one idea to the next. Sometimes playing around with natural chord progression can inspire a melody even if there was no instrumental melody to begin with.
Who are your main musical influences, and why?
I have many, but I would list among my biggest influences Underground Resistance, Mike Banks, Underworld, Kevin Saunderson, Octave One, Richie Hawtin, Joris Voorn, Wesselhoft Schwarz, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Aril Brikha, Recondite and most of all Peter Van Hoesen who I have been lucky enough to support on several occasions when he came to Japan. I think each of these artists are all unique and different, and I admire and respect them for being pioneers each in their own way, for forging their own paths, for not being afraid to do things differently, for being original with their sound and doing things their own way.
What are your long-term goals?
I really want to continue to develop my production skills, I think this is a process that can never be considered complete, there is always more to learn, new ways to do things. I was in the studio recently with my friend Jay Haze, he is an incredible producer and he showed me many new things, so I really want to keep learning and developing my know-how. My sound is still developing, I can feel that it has already changed and been influenced by Berlin in the short time I have been here, and ultimately I want to have my own distinguishable sound that people will instantly recognise as Anri. One day, I want to play in Berlin´s historic techno powerhouses- Tresor, Berghain, Stattbad and of course I also want to keep pushing myself to improve as a DJ, I want every one of my sets to tell its own unique and original story.
What do you aim to achieve with your own DJ sets? Can you tell us a little about the exclusive podcast you have prepared for us- what is the thought process behind it and what do you want your listener to experience or understand?
I approach every set with the intention of making it unique and original in a way that nobody else could recreate. I like to think that a mix is a piece of art; each one is unique and no other exact same one exists, or will ever exist. I think that if someone wants to book me to play, then I owe it to them to provide something especially for them, for that night, for that crowd, for that one moment in time only. All these factors affect my mood and my thinking and then influence how I play and what I play on the night, the energy of the crowd, the time of the year, the country I am in, the food I might have eaten beforehand. My approach to a podcast is quite different- I like to think of an idea or a theme and create a story that I want to tell through the tracks I choose to include. For me, a podcast is much like a book or a movie, it is something one experiences and digests and can revisit and reflect upon later, everyone can perceive it differently, but what is important to me is how I make each person feel after listening from beginning to end. If you have not heard any of my podcasts before then I hope you will realise my style and intentions from this selection for you. For this podcast, I mixed completely different types of tracks in the mix- it is like a transition of emotional breadth and a scope representative of the feelings of humanity. I think about music and sound in every living, breathing moment- everything around us in our environment has a sound or vibration, the world I live in everyday is my inspiration. I hope that every person listening to this will experience it in and appreciate it in their own way, and hopefully understand understand a little bit more about who is Anri.
LISTEN TO ANRI’S EXCLUSIVE MEOKO PODCAST HERE
By Barry Daly
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