DJ AZUSA, 30th Anniversary DJ AZUSA、30周年。
Praised by local fans as the female "DJ Premier of Japan," DJ Azusa is one of the must-know DJs when it comes to the Hip Hop and R&B scene of Japan.
Now at over 50 years of age, she sat down with Tokyo Dance Magazine (TDM) to give a brief look back at the 30 long years in the industry, offering unique insight on what it takes to be a professional in the art.
"Men can betray you, but music won’t."
TDM — Representing Gotemba City, Shizuoka. DJ AZUSA celebrated her 30th anniversary of DJing last year. Her stance towards the art is just like that of a dancer’s: one of innocence/purity. She sat down with us at Tokyo Dance Magazine (TDM) to give some insight on her not-so-short career as a DJ and her mentality towards it all. Though it may go without saying, whether you’re thinking about becoming a DJ, currently practicing the craft, or even a dancer for that matter — as far as an entertainer’s approach to booked gigs is concerned — there are few people who have the discretion required to be a professional. This female DJ, who has kept the dance floor on lock down with her choice selection of HIP HOP, R&B and HOUSE deserves a heartfelt round of applause. May her spinning continue to capture all of our hearts as well.
Short Bio: One of the most important female DJ’s of Japan, representing Gotemba City, Shizuoka, and G.O.D. Production. DJ AZUSA started spinning in 1986 and has been doing so for 31 years, as of May 2017. In the past she has played at countless major Shizuoka events like DJ AZUSAURAI, KING&QUEEN, at the renown Club MAZE, as well as in US army base camps. While she lived in the Kanto area, she was a regular DJ at famous clubs like HARLEM in Shibuya and HEAVEN in Yokohama. Besides multiple collab work with other Japanese artists, she has spun alongside many overseas top names like DJ SCRATCH, Beatnuts, Group Home and 1982 (Statik Selektah & Termanology). She is popular especially among local dancers, producing countless tracks for dance showcases and organizing her own dance events such as VERY SPECIAL at the club CACTUS in Nogizaka (Tokyo) and SUPER HONEY LIP in her local area of Shizuoka. In 2016 she gathered attention by being the performing DJ at the all-female stage production BRING IN’DA FRESH. With an outgoing persona combined with her great love and appreciation for music and clubs, one can say that she is truly a complete club DJ. Her aura boasts of blackness. Her groove, overwhelming. With original and inimitable pitch control, her mixing skills are second to none! A must-listen!
Coming up club events she will be spinning at:
10.29 (Sun) SUPER HONEY LIP @ spaceFOO, Numazu City
11.16 (Thu) SOWL VILLAGE @ asia, Shibuya
11.30 (Thu) Across The Universe @ asia, Shibuya
12.08 (Fri) VERY SPECIAL @ Cactus, Nogizaka
"Men can betray you — but music won’t"
---- Congratulations on your 30th anniversary! What do you think is the one thing you are mindful of that allowed you to make it for so long as a DJ?
I’m just having fun, that’s all (haha). I like music too much. I fall completely in love with certain tunes. All I think about is “how can I get the world to listen to this tune?” So when I’m in the DJ booth and I put on that tune, it makes me feel happy. Kinda like being with your lover. I think about what I can do to get everyone to like “this person.”
I think of all sorts of ways to lead up to that tune, or to create a flow around it, all because I’m just so utterly in love with it… The only difference is, men can betray you — but music won’t (haha).
---- What do you place importance on as a DJ?
The flow/story is the most important. But I can never decide on the first tune to play. It depends on how the DJ before me finishes up. I can’t choose my opening tune until I know how he/she wraps up their set. Sometimes I might have something in mind, but I can never decide until the last second. And once I do choose the first tune, I get an overall image of a story in my head. There are times when I’m watching the people and I’ll quickly change up the flow. The reason being, my personality. I don’t like to play it safe. I don’t like to play on cruise control. I need to have that “Aha!” moment to play something.
When possible, I like to enter the club two DJs before me and listen to their set, and get a feel for the clubgoers and the flow for that night. It’s no fun when you play the same tune as the DJ before you. I don’t want to overlap like that. Another thing I’m careful of is the handoff between me and the main DJ of that night, when it’s not me — I like to build it up and hand it over to them so that they can get the crowd pumped the most — and the baton touch to me when I play after them. It’s sad when there is someone who doesn’t consider the entire flow of the night as a whole and they’re just happy as long as they can get things popping. When that happens, there is no longer a “main” DJ and no longer a “sub” DJ. They just kinda disappear. There are a lot of those kinda people. It may sound strange but sometimes there is more power in being the sub DJ as opposed to being the main DJ that night. When I play sub, I always steer clear of the stuff the main DJ excels at and I take my chance on a different limb. Of course easing off too much is rude, so I take a chance in one of my strong areas.
Recently it feels like there are more and more DJs who don’t go off of feeling the atmosphere, who make a set before even coming. Of course I too have two or three tunes that I know for sure I want to play in order to get my color across, but besides that, I’m watching the floor, creating a flow to and from the DJs before and after me. I think I do this all subconsciously. Balance is important. I think and feel a lot, at many different scenes.
"I want people to feel happy, to have fun. But in a way that’s as cool as possible."
---- What is important when you are getting a feel for a place and people?
Back in the day I used to look at someone’s fashion, their appearance, and get an idea of the music they might like. But it’s gotten a bit difficult to do that nowadays. It was more clear-cut back then. If they were dressed like a surfer, I’d think “ok, maybe they like Reggae,” or if they were in tight clothes, maybe House. People now wear pretty much the same thing, their fashion doesn’t necessarily match their taste in music so it’s harder to tell. I guess music and fashion have become totally separate things. I mean it’s a good thing that people are able to wear anything. I try to look at everyone evenly. Whether you’re a regular or not, I want to make everyone have fun on the dance floor in a way that they’re all on the same level. That’s what makes it fun. There really aren’t any hardships being a DJ.
---- So your disciple is DJ YOU-KI, the winner of the Red Bull 3Style JAPAN 2016. As his mentor, what are you always careful of when it comes to guidance?
The things I scold him about are when he doesn’t greet or correspond with people properly, and when his flow is off. I get angry when everyone is having fun and then the volume drops, and the whole atmosphere changes. Calling him out on it is part of my role. I can’t keep quiet (haha).
But I am only able to get mad at people that I have a trusting relationship with. I mean, I get angry at YOU-KI because I have expectations, and I know that he is capable of more. He’s been right beside me for so long. I complain when he isn’t reading the flow of people, like “What’ya doing, that guy would obviously rather hear this kinda music!”
But every time I yell at YOU-KI, it’s raising the hurdle for myself. So I use that anger as my own fuel also.
I’ve dragged him around now for about 12 years and we’ve seen the same scenes and same gigs but our feel for, and perception of things are quite different. And that has become our individuality. I don’t want to lay out a rail for him. I want him to create his own. I wish for him to come up with his own answer.
---- Sounds like an intense master-pupil relationship.
I wouldn't say it's a master-pupil thing anymore. It's more like we're partners. Or better yet, rivals (haha). To me, the customer/clubgoers come first. I want the clubbing population to grow in the future, I'm always welcoming to the general public and I want to make an environment where people can have fun at ease. I want to continue teaching how to have fun. And when there is a fight, I throw them outside so fast (haha). I mean, no matter what industry you're in, gathering and attracting patrons is the most important and most difficult thing. If you can do that, without hardships and without spending too much money for it, then I think you absolutely should do it. But when you do too much for someone, it's not good for them. I'm always thinking of ways for the staff and clubgoers to feel good throughout the event. I want people to feel happy, to have fun. But in a way that's as cool as possible.
---- That’s probably what lies at the base of all that you do.
"How to clear up frustration through DJing."
I guess you could say that my strong point is that though I’m always pretty thoughtless and clumsy, I always seem to make things work in the end. Since I was diligent in building my basics when I was young, now, I may or may not even touch my turntables at home once out of the year. Now I basically just memorize and learn new tunes. But I do it all with the devotion of a professional. Say, an event costs 2,000 yen to get in. I’ve got to think of a way to make the people have so much fun, they think “2,000 yen is cheap. I’d pay twice that!” Thirty years of being in the process has taught me to think this way.
---- Are there any dancers in particular that have left an impression on you?
One time, way back when, at the dance event SOUL MARKET that ODORIYA used to throw, I was spinning for five hours straight. The guest that day was Shabba Doo* who commented on the performers that night, saying [something along the lines of] “I can’t stand to watch these performances” over the mic. The dancers that performed that night got upset and left the club. But I thought that they should’ve taken their frustration out on the dance floor instead.
(*Adolfo Shabba Doo Higgins - A member of (The Original) Lockers, the infamous team made up of Locking originators. Most known for his role “Ozone” in the film Breakin’ 1 and 2. He also took part in the Madonna world tour as a dancer in 1987.)
The same week, I was booked to spin at another event that Shabba Doo attended and I was wondering if there was anything I could do, as a DJ, to cheer up the lingering frustration. Then I remembered that TONY GOGO had requested a song at SOUL MARKET earlier that week so I tried digging in the neighborhood of that. I thought “If I could just make these guys get up and move, it might just trigger something.”
Long story short, TONY GOGO started dancing his butt off on the dance floor and Shabba Doo — who had no intention of performing that night — said he wanted to dance. I suggested a song and he gave me the go-sign right then and there. He said “When I pretend to light a cigarette, you press play!” and improvised a full show on the spot.
He even picked two dancers in the room, directed them, giving them a quick routine and even a pose. He danced his heart out.
Until then, I thought that he was just a mad guy who said really mean things, but then I realized that he was just so invested in dance, body and soul, that he had gotten angry watching the Japanese dancers move without any enthusiasm and wanted to correct that. I felt that he was a real professional.
In the early 2000’s, both the Electric Boogaloos and Elite Force members would come out on the dance floor and ask me to “play that one tune!” Unlike Japan, Americans were after new stuff, rather than just dance songs in particular, so I felt a new force that I hadn’t felt in Japan’s dance scene until then. Plus, they had this high level of entertainment and really put on a show. The Japanese have really gotten stronger in that area now though.
In that sense, I really learned a lot from playing at ORODIYA events.
"I make a living DJing because there is no right answer, and I just can’t stop."
In the early 90’s, since a lot of people other than dancers came to the clubs too — and I mean this in a good way — I was careful to play stuff that everyone could enjoy. But when dancers would do things like make circles right away, and go all out even when it was a mellow tune, at one point I had a negative image of dancers, to be honest. Amongst all of that, I’d have to say it was the members of BUTTER that stood out to me, since they were enjoying the club, open and pure. Fortunately, we happened to become friends and we threw events together at HARLEM and really hung out. I just love ‘em.
---- What are your thoughts on Tokyo, and your work there, as a DJ who lives in Shizuoka?
I used to think “I’d never be able to make it in Tokyo.” Cuz it’s the center of Japan, and I thought there has got to be a lot of really high level DJs there. This was my image of Tokyo. Also, once I did leave for Tokyo, I was worried about what would happen to my home town of Gotemba, and Numazu. I started DJing at 19 and I played, every day, at the US military bases and local clubs. I thought that a DJ’s flow and transitions were a given, so I had had confidence. But when I thought of only playing in my home town, and of the human relationships, I thought it would be best for me, as a life changing opportunity, to challenge myself, so I moved to Tokyo when I was 32.
That’s when I met Kobayashi-san from ODORIYA. Then I met AKKO and MiHOBOO, and became a regular DJ at DANCE STAND BY and REAL TIME. We were real comrades, us three. We knew making money was important too, but there was another important thing that we had all picked up on. It was placing importance on the music and dance itself, and persevering at what one really loved — it was these things that would lead to a flow of money later on.
What’s good and what’s bad — I think I make a living DJing because there is no right answer, and I just can’t stop. Cuz there is no perfect goal. We can’t stop, because it’s hard.
But throughout it all, we are moved, cheered for, and feel happiness, and that’s why we continue on.
"I don’t think there is any other DJ in Japan that likes dance as much as I do!"
---- What do you think of the dance scene today?
Well I can’t speak for every event, but more and more dancers are starting to take the roles of DJs and MCs at events and it seems like it’s becoming a small world of just dancers. I feel like it doesn’t reach out and expand enough. Of course, there are dancers that can DJ and MC and have a really good feel for the music and for communicating with others. But I hope that the dance scene doesn’t shrink any smaller than it is. In order to keep that from happening, I think DJs and MCs should be more professionally minded. It might sound like I’m being harsh, but you can’t only be a good person. You gotta have love, skill and principles in order to be professional.
---- What is your goal?
My goal is to get to the point where when I say “This tune is good!” the whole world gives it a listen. I do my work with the mindset that I’m still very far from this goal.
---- How much time do you spend digging for new releases?
Every month, at my event COLORS NIGHT in Gotemba, I hand out a new select CD mixed with new tunes to everyone who comes. Also, on the first Saturday of every month, I have a corner on the FM radio show THE FRESH! where I introduce new tunes. So I am always digging for new stuff and have been making the select CD for 13 years now. As of now, I’ve put out a total of 166 CDs.
I listen to hundreds of new tunes a month, plus, I keep account of all of them for the sake of my flow. If I were to ever play only old tunes, that means I will have lost my strong point.
Now, as I have reached the age of 50, new releases that I had been chasing 30 years ago have become dance classics. And the new stuff now will eventually become classics. That’s why we must always go after new recent stuff and increase our musical knowledge.
---- You play loads of feel-good Hip Hop and R & B. How did you narrow it down to these genres?
I used to spin House too, but that stopped in the mid 90’s. When the club scene split into two, Hip Hop and House, I liked both of them way too much and had the hardest time deciding which one to hone. But my roots were in R&B and there were a lot of House DJs at the time so I chose Hip Hop. Hip Hop has been fun the whole time, even now.
But the recent young rappers out of the U.S. are — for better or worse — smart and decent, well-dressed fellas. Sometimes I think it’s alright to be more aggressive when you’re young, and some people could be more stubborn, or wild or boisterous even, but oh well. They may feel like they want to too, deep down inside, but their feeling for wanting to get along well with others overrides that. They have too much extra knowledge, and pretend to know what’s up. They act knowledgeable so much that their standards for deciding whether something is “cool” or “wack” doesn’t come naturally from within, it’s based on information. When you look at the sunset when you’re a kid and you think “Whoa, that’s pretty!”... that’s how I want to choose music, with that kinda natural feeling. That’s the kinda pure feeling that I want to face the music with.
For a long time now, I’ve always kept an eye on the Billboard charts. I follow the new fads and I follow the underground stuff. Whichever one it is, whatever I really think is good, is good.
Back in the day, someone once told me “I don’t like any song that makes the Billboard charts.” To which I replied “Don’t you think it’s poorer judgement to not be able to call what hundreds of thousands of people call good, good?” Of course it’s part of the job to shine light on buried music and share it with the world, but you gotta listen to it first before dismissing a mainstream tune that a lot of people actually favor.
Although recently there have been some tunes charting in on the Billboards that I think have an underground-like heavy beat to it, so it’s a pretty interesting time to be in. It used to be that DJs would tend to lean towards stuff that was on the recommendation lists of record shops, but now with the spread of the internet and everyone being able to listen to such a wide variety of music, you just don’t know what will make the charts, let alone become popular in Japan.
Even so, I hope to stay true to myself and always be able to confidently say “this is the kinda music I like!”
It took a long long time for me to be able to say such things. My ability to believe in others has grown stronger too.
At my event SUPER HONEY LIP in Numazu, we invite guest dancers every time. It’s now our 11th year. I organize, negotiate, pick up, prepare accommodations and studio time for rehearsal and attend and promote for dancers that want to give workshops as well. On the day of, I take care of operations and DJ myself. Even now, my memory is still faint the next day. I’m pretty much an empty shell (haha).
It’s been a long yet short thirty years. And I still can’t help but say, I love dancers. I just think they’re cool. All in all, I have ODORIYA to thank for teaching me event knowhow and for introducing me to the charm of dancers.
I don’t think there is any other DJ in Japan that likes dance as much as I do! (haha)
---- I couldn’t agree more!!! You have my support. Thank you very much!