Pino – Living in Today’s Dance Scene. 今のダンスシーンの中で生きるPinoさん。
OVERSTAND's one on one, in depth interview/discussion with one of Japan’s top House Dancers, Pino.
"Just dancing, as you are, no matter what anyone thinks of you,
that’s the heart and essence of dance."
Artistic Arrangment: Tomo a.k.a mirocks
In this article, Corey (shizusakaphia/shizudelphia/Bushidoh) and Pino discuss everything from the importance of an underground dance scene and Pino's thoughts on battling and self promotion, to his rebellious episodes as a teenager and the music that shaped his life — which he almost lost... on several occasions.
PInO first became attracted to African American culture in the late 80’s and found his calling in street dance through the influence of new jack swing.
His dance crew PINOCCHIO which formed in 1992 went on to win almost every dance contest in Japan, gathering award after award.
He is currently a member of one of Japan’s top House dance crews ALMA, and is invited to perform and hold workshops both domestically and abroad.
In 2008, he won the world street dance contest JUST DEBOUT held in France earning him the world title. The same year, he won the world famous street dance contest JAPAN DANCE DELIGHT.
In 2012, he won CIRCLE UNDER GROUND held in France, showing his unwavering strength in world-level dance contests.
Recently, he has won the House side of Dance Alive Hero 2018, the biggest street dance battle in Japan.
Though House is his main genre of dance, PInO’s style surpasses boundaries and his always original expression through freestyle continues to gain overwhelming praise amongst dancers and artists of various fields throughout the world.
He currently choreographs, directs and dances for many major artists in the entertainment scene of Japan, receiving a high level of trust from artists. In the underground scene, he continues to perform worldwide, managing over 100 showcases a year and has an established reputation as the most active working dancer in Japan.
"My run in with dance"
---- When and how did you start dancing?
I started dancing in my third year of middle school. When I was 15. To give you a quick rundown, I used to do a bit of skateboarding and there was a classmate who was really bad ass at skating and we used to hang out a lot. We lived in a real rural area. There was a kinda skating team that he belonged to and would practice with. I thought they were really cool too so I would go practice with them every now and then. I was maybe about 14 then. It turns out I wasn’t very good at skateboarding, but I learned a lot about street culture then, and it just reeled me in. I was like “Woah, what a scene!”
One of the older guys in the group was real familiar with the club scene at the time and right about when I started to hear a lot about DJs and clubs, I came across the street magazine Fine and the late night dance show on TV called DADA, that Zoo and other dance crews were on. It would come on the TV playing in the background when I was spending the night at my classmate’s house in Nagoya, just hangin out. That was also when Dance Kosien had just begun and people started really catching on to what they called “Black Dance” at the time, which was a broad term that referred to all kinds of dances in black culture. I thought it was real cool, so I picked it up.
And then for a school festival that year, everyone in our class thought it would be cool to dance for our class performance, so we all learned the dance steps in the Step Lecture section of Zoo’s music video for their first single Careless Dance. We made our own choreo based on those steps and made our own outfits and stuff. That was about how it all started for me.
---- That’s a pretty common way to get into street dance [for Japan]. As far as encounters goes, that is.
You could say that. But from there on, I was hooked. Since there weren’t many dancers around at the time, I had the foolish idea that if I went to a not so bright high school, that I might run into dancers there. Most people wanna go to a high school with good standings, you know. But I thought there wouldn’t be many dancers at a school like that — not that I had the grades to go to one anyways. I was pretty stupid. I managed to scrape by entrance exams for a public high school — which made my parents happy — but one where a lot of, say, delinquents went. You know, that kinda high school. I thought that I’d be able to dig for dancers there, haha. That’s how it was.
Until I met dance, I studied my ass off because I thought I had to get into a good high school, but then it all changed and I started looking for schools because I wanted to meet dancers and just keep dancing. After that, I think dance gradually became the main part of my life.
---- Were there any dancers you really looked up to in the beginning?
The first time I saw dance and really felt it in my bones, was in elementary school, when I saw Michael Jackson dancing. But later on, after I got into the Hip Hop culture myself, and started being influenced by hip hop artists and their lifestyles, there was a period of time when I thought Michael’s songs weren’t all that cool. But after going through adolescence as a Hip Hop head and dancer and seeing the whole picture, that’s when I realized just how amazing Michael was. I had my rebellious phase too, where I was like, “I can’t take his pop stuff anymore,” but then you come around, and it all makes sense. I realized that it was my spidey-sense that was way off.
---- Aah, yes, sometimes you need a lap or two, huh.
Almost everyone knew that I was really into Michael. Almost to the point where if you mentioned my name, Michael’s name would come up. But back then I was just so in love with Hip Hop and its culture that I had drifted away from Michael’s music. Ultimately, when my friends and I had come around to street dance, I was so blown away by crews like Elite Force and the Mystidious Misfitss and Dance Fusion that I thought Michael’s stuff was wack. But at the end of the day, after all my highs and lows, I concluded that Michael was just awesome. It turns out he really was the king. I apologize (laughs).
---- What are the moments when you feel happy that you found dance?
Always. All the time.
For instance, I don’t dislike who I am right now. I rather like this kind of lifestyle and stance I’m able to have now. And it’s because of my run in with dance. I have a great group of friends, so I guess, I’m kinda always glad I found dance.
"What would happen to dancers if..."
---- What do you think of your reputation as ‘the most active working dancer in Japan’?
Well, to answer that, since that’s what it says on my bio, it’s more of third person perspective of me and I don’t give it much thought. It may be true as far as shows are concerned. When it comes to creating, I want to perform at and accept offers from a lot of different kinds of events, it doesn’t matter if their big or small, if someone asks me to perform I almost always want to make it happen. That’s part of the foundation of my life ethics, so when you consider all the offers I accept, then I guess you could say that, yeah. The events themselves, theyre all different sizes. By performing at a lot of smaller scale events, though you might not be able to dance in front of a whole lot of people, that’s not really the problem, that doesn’t really matter. But if I were to count them all, it would come out to a big number. And it’s not that the numbers are important or anything either, it’s just, how can I put it, okay, say, if you call landing a huge gig and going around on tour and everything “active,” then I might not have the numbers, but I’m always creating and challenging myself with just as much importance no matter how small the scale may be. But I don’t particularly feel there’s need to make it public. I’m not really that fond of promoting myself, you know, “I’m gonna do this here” and “do that there,” and that kind of SNS stuff. Though that’s kinda why a lot of people don’t exactly know what I’m performing in and where, haha.
What do you think when you hear that, Corey? What's your take on that kinda stuff?
---- I totally understand. You know, finding virtue in hard work when no one is looking, that’s...
That’s not exactly what I was getting at, but... (laughs) Man, you really are Japanese. “Finding virtue in hard work when no one is looking,” haha.
---- Nah, nah (laughs). What I mean is, you don’t always got to appeal to others, what you do naturally in your own time is cool as it is. You know, keeping the things that come naturally to you natural.
As for my own time, I like to take things slow and easy, I really wanna feel free. Even when I’m working hard during rehearsal, to me it’s nothing out of the ordinary so it’s not really in me to be like, “I just worked hard at rehearsal!” or “I’m going to give my all on the big stage” or “The show today was off the hook!” If I sometimes post things, it’s more pointless stuff, for instance last month when I posted “It is now the 22nd minute of the 22nd hour of the 22nd day of the 2nd month.” If it can get people to force a smile, like “pfff,” even just a little, it makes you happy, you know. I just think that, to everyone else, they couldn’t care less about what I’m doing this exact moment, haha.
---- I know what you mean, wanting to feel free and all. I may not look it but I’m the type that would rather work behind the scenes than out front. The more you get known, the more freedom you lose and before you know it you’ll hardly be able to go outside anymore.
Yeah. Exactly. But I am in fact aiming to get to that point, at some point. But I want to stay natural no matter what, so I have been keeping a low profile for years now, maybe a bit too long, but I would in fact like to use my whole lifetime in getting there.
---- Don’t you think that in order to be an artist you need to have at least some kind of public platform for getting out information?
I’m just not very good at advertising and promoting myself. Probably. I guess I don’t deal well with pretending to be important and all.
I’m really grateful that I’ve been able to perform over the past few decades and continue to receive offers for club events and so on and I’m glad that I’ve kept on going for this long. There are dancers out there with remarkable over-ground careers and we’re in a real brilliant and glittering age, and that’s all very important and I think it’s just amazing how people are active in doing all that and contributing to so many different worlds and industries. But, and I’m not saying that all dancers need to show what they got underground, but for me, as my own personal measurement, there is a part of me that thinks if you’re gonna throw it down in the major leagues, then you should, of course, be able to do it underground as well. I think if you’re gonna show what you got over-ground, then you got to be able to kill it in front of dancers underground too. If you can’t go under then there’s no point in going over.
Are you holding it down underground out there? Isn’t that the nature of us street dancers? I wonder what would happen to dancers if the underground scene were to disappear. It seems like more and more main stream dancers out there are nothing more than School Mates [a female cheerleader-like entertainment group active predominantly in the 60’s, known to carry pom-poms] dancing next to pop idols. I think if you're a dancer, if you can really be proud of what you’ve accomplished up until then, then it’s ok to stand up there, but it just feels like there a lot of people who are getting the order wrong.
It might just be me overthinking it all. But this is one of my bad parts. I know. But there is a part of me that feels that way, so, ultimately, this is just how I am.
---- Through my travels in different countries I’ve noticed there are some that don’t have a regular Hip Hop or House party for dancers and music lovers to commute to, but they do have a big street dance battle scene. What is the importance of Japan’s underground dance scene?
Well originally, first there was the underground, and the dance scene we have now was born from that, right?
I think that Japan has placed importance on the fact that this underground is the origin of that part of the current entertainment industry. First there were a lot of events and parties in NY, then those dancers came out and their careers took them abroad and they spread it around the world. I think the Japanese people take care to honor that part.
A lot of non-dancers go to club events. A lot of people love the club culture, even if they don’t know who the dancers there are. I think the club scenes in countries that have lots of those kinds of people have seen it become a part of their culture.
There are a lot of people who are conscious of DJs and the content of the parties. In fact, I think the we've entered an age where there are a lot of dance events too, so dancers can have fun without going to events aimed at club-goers. Nevertheless, there are still tons of dancers who need that club culture and put all their energy into being a part of it. Since battles are so common now, it’s only natural to see dancers that want to get their name out there through winning events. So that’s why they organize battles and are active mostly in that realm. But amongst them are people who care a lot about parties and organize events for everyone to enjoy. So I think that if more and more of those kinda people come out in the scene, then people can actually learn about the culture through the dancers, and the club party culture will take root in that area.
"A culture that can't be bought"
---- Are there any trends or movements in today’s Japanese dance industry that bother you?
There are some people who, I’m not sure if they really like Hip Hop, or what they are trying to become through their use of Hip Hop. Of course I think we’re all the same in that we choose street dance and Hip Hop as our form of expression as we sell our art and try to rise up in the world as artists. In which case I think SNS has proven to be a good method in making that happen. But I’m not sure if it’s a good form of communication or not. Well, people often say that Japanese are a shy group of people compared to other countries, and we’re not very good with communicating, so maybe SNS has been good as an outward platform.
But there are some ventures out there who have their eyes on this shy element, like the “aiseki” establishments [Dining bars that sit opposite gender patrons at the same table. Usually only men pay]. They purposefully aim their services at shy people. I don’t really care for this kind of practice that plays on people’s weaknesses. Not everything deserves to be made into a business, don’t you think? Just because Japanese people rather excel at business overall, doesn’t mean they need to go out looking for the slightest opportunity. Not everything is exactly a “niche industry” per se, but there is just so much. There are some businesses doing amazing things and some that aren’t. And some of the things happening in the dance industry can be traced back to this trend.
---- Indeed, there are a lot of types of businesses these days. Technology has penetrated the times so much, you can even make a living solely off of Instagram. I think a large part of what you’re saying has to do with only the young people being able to understand the tech side of things recently.
The younger generation these days are starting off really early, huh? Our generation wasn’t as worldwide as it is today. You know, our generation was like, VCRs. If you wanted to see something, you had to sit there, on end, and have someone record you a copy of a video tape. Things are completely different from those days. Those days had their good sides too, though.
I think, perhaps, there are people nowadays who have found such good jobs so easily that they’re starting to lose sight of themselves. It feels like since people can make such easy money now, that they forget about the underground. Those people are really equipped for seeing into the future, but they don’t try seeking the origin.
I think it ought to be simpler, dance, I mean. I don’t think it was meant to be something you can industrialize, you know, to be caught up in business and complicated with things like profits and stuff. Originally, that is. I think street dance, is something much more, pure, and simple.
So, I guess, I see it as a culture that can’t be bought, by anyone. And it’ll continue to be, no matter what.
---- Nicely put.
Ahaha, just keepin’ it natural, natural.
(Brooklyn Terry(ELITE FORCE) + PInO(ALMA) Across The Universe 17/11/30 DANCE SHOWCASE)
---- What would be something you find interesting about the scene?
Well you know how dance is always being recreated, over and over. That part really intrigues me. Hip Hop has always changed over time according to the scene at the time, and it still does, and it keeps on bringing about new forms. I think that this... I guess you could call it a system, this speed of evolution, or being reborn, you know, I think it’s a real interesting trait particular to Hip Hop. It’s quick, and always young. I think that’s real cool.
---- You’re right. And especially the variety and speed at which it evolves in Japan is greater than in other countries.
You could be right. So, and I’m not saying it’s a bad thing or anything, in fact I’d like to take part in and even implement a lot of the new stuff as well, but there is also a part of me and my age group that feels that we should look after what we’ve built up. I think it’s a culture that shouldn’t end. Hip Hop is what it is today exactly because it’s all connected with the past, so we have to try to understand others, and they have to try to understand us. And when that aligns together well, that’s when you can all enjoy the same dance floor.
---- Yeah. You can find some disputes between dancers here and there, but there is hardly any serious beef. I think that’s another characteristic, unique to Japan. It’s a society of hierarchal relationships, and even if there are some cliques that form as styles evolve, everyone is generally minding of each other and tries to keep things harmonious.
But it really comes down to the genre of dance. Back when I was younger, and I can say this because my friends and I actually went through it, there was a time when I wasn’t really able to grasp what my predecessors were trying to do with their dance. Now, of course, I understand the importance behind it all, and I study the roots and actively take interest in them. But it’s more or less like this. After being a part of the scene for so long, I can pretty much tell. I don’t think the young generation needs to understand their OGs. It’s like, “Okay, it’s alright. You go ahead and feel that way now. It would be nice if you’re able to understand down the road, even just a bit.” It’s easy to tell with those kinda youngsters. They’re just being edgy. I don’t think there is a need to force teach them. Some people might scold them, though, like, “You better recognize!” or something. To which I think, “If they don't understand then they don’t understand.” Because one day they will understand. That’s how I was.
---- Just kinda go with the flow, yeah. At the end of the day, it’s all a part of life. You can’t force someone to change their interpretation of Hip Hop.
Yeah. There are a lot of ways to interpret Hip Hop in one’s art, whether it be culture, or genre. For instance, you can interpret it in a Pop way. You sorta have that in your dance too, Corey, don’t you? Like, fun and funky. Like, a hip kind of hop.
---- Ah, I see. Yeah, I guess I do like to give off that feeling.
You can tell when someone has good taste by the way they dance, and I think that you understand that. It feels good, watching you dance. Your flow is great.
---- Recently, I find myself closing my eyes when I dance. Like, I really get inside.
It’s real smooth. I like that kinda take on dance too. A bit on the up side. I think we share a similar personal take on Hip Hop. That feeling of somehow being a bit bad, and a stickler for certain things, but cool and a bit aloof. Can’t beat it. That’s what I really got hooked on in high school, and I’m bit scared to steer away from that nuance, if that makes any sense.
For instance, you have your young crowd, the kind that is only interested in becoming a part of the major scene, they have a different interpretation of Hip Hop, you know? Their impression of Hip Hop. Of the culture. I often have the opportunity to share the stage with people with that sorta take on the culture, and I’ll do a dance solo, House of course, ‘cause that’s what I’ve honed all this time, and I’ll represent, but... I don’t know. They seem to like it and accept it. I mean, I put in my all, as much as I’m able to. But often times I wonder, how much of it is actually getting across. I want my drinks to taste good after the show, you know, so I roll up my sleeves and really put all of me into my dance, until I feel satisfied. But, there’s.... I don’t know. I am aware that it’s getting across. Every time. It’s just that, it doesn’t seem to expand to anything else.
---- What do you mean by expand?
I’ll do a show, and I kinda do an alright, okay, a good show, and the younger generation of dancers and I are able to share the same set of values at that time, and I’m really happy we’re able to, but it doesn’t seem to lead to anything after that, so I sorta still feel the need for something else. I don’t see it connecting to anything after that.
---- Oh yeah?
So I feel I have no choice but to keep on keepin’ on. In any case, I just gotta keep on doing me. And I want to, and I will. I just think, that things could change more, you know. Things could be more interesting.
"Rather than winning"
---- How did you feel when you became World Champion in House?
First off, with street dance competitions, I don’t exactly understand how anyone can claim to choose the “best in the world,” but with that said, to be honest, I’m really proud that I was able to win a world level competition and if that helps put Japan in the spotlight at all, then that makes me ecstatic. How did I feel the moment I won a world final the first time? It was like, “Huh? I...I won.” That’s how it is.
(Supreme Cercle Underground House FINAL Alma Vs Serial Stepperz 1. Pino's 2nd world title.)
---- What do you place the most importance on when battling?
Of course it’s a battle, so winning. But not just winning any way possible; winning by being myself. It’s best when you can dance freely, and honestly, how you want to dance, and win. The moment your opponent makes you think, “Ah, oh no, that was a good round,” you already lost half the battle, so if you can show them up by showing even more of yourself, that’s the best. But when you’re not feeling the song, rather than winning by lying to yourself and dancing something that’s not really in you, it feels much better afterwards to give a performance that only you can give, even if it means losing. It’s a competition, so of course you’re happy when you win, but that’s the kinda personal preference I happen to have.
Winning the House title at Dance Alive Hero 2018
---- Which do you feel you are able to express yourself the best, battles, or making performances, or at parties or clubs?
Hmm... All of ‘em! I get pumped for each one differently. They’re all different... all exciting, though! haha!
"No matter what anyone thinks of you"
---- In your work experience overseas, do you have any memory, besides battles, that really sticks with you?
Yes, I do. When I went to Cambodia. I went to a local school to teach dance, and that school didn’t have a gym class. When it came time to teach these kids who weren’t used to moving their bodies, they were all bashful but thrilled at the same time. They were being shy but would still come at me, some kids were letting completely loose, and everyone was just so full of life. They were really throwing down, dancing clumsily but the best they could. That was simply brilliant. Everyone was the strongest of them all. They would come at me, full of confidence, challenging me to a battle.
Those kids really gave me power. It felt pure. The moment everyone is realizing how fun dance is, and giving high fives and laughing hysterically. It made me remember how incredible the power of dance is.
---- It really reminds you of the enthusiasm you started with, doesn’t it? I had a similar experience in Nepal. You think, “Oh yeah, dance was never about skill to begin with.”
What I always say is, dance is the highest form of self expression. So, just dancing, as you are, no matter what anyone thinks of you, that’s the heart and essence of dance, don’t you think?
---- I do!
---- So dance has become a part of compulsory education* [here in Japan], while the Businesses Affecting Public Morals Regulation Act forbids people to dance in clubs*. What do you think about this state of things?
It doesn’t make any sense, does it? It’s illegal to dance? But they’re making ‘em dance in middle school? What kinda oxymoron is that? Putting something into the school curriculum when there is a law against it? It doesn’t make any sense. It’s a contradiction at the heart of the country. That’s all I see it as, these days. Okay, how about, if we all started doing Bon Odori [traditional festival dance] in the club, you think they’d let it slide...? (laughs) If they still arrest you, then they gotta go get the organizers of local festivals too (laughs).
---- When you DJ, what kind of music to you usually play?
I try to read the people and feel what the floor wants at that time, whether they want to chill, or get hyped. But I’m not a professional DJ, so I play as a selector, like you would in your living room. I don’t have the technique or experience to play skilled sets like pros do. It would be disrespectful to them to call myself one, I’m a dancer at heart. However, if I am asked to handle music at a gig, I try to make it a good mood, as a selector should. I try my best to play some happy and fun House, to make people move and get them to talk. Rather than presenting my own originality or anything, I try to bring the room to the best atmosphere possible, you know, where people start getting giddy and restless. I think if people can just be happy, it’s all good. It’s like I’m coordinating the space there.
"I'm always in pursuit of that feeling"
---- Is there any artist that you’re really into recently, or maybe you’d want to work with?
I grew up on 90’s Hip Hop, so I love a lot of artists from that generation, but the artist that has been really gettin’ to me these past few...well, actually for quite a while now, is Pharrell.
I just think he’s got this outstanding taste. His work always feels new. And, he really stimulates this thing in dancers too, I think. I really dig his music. It’s cool. It’s stylish. The sound quality is always good too!
I was first impressed by his music, you know, that it has...real age to it. It’s dope and deeply crafted. But at the same time it’s so amazing, that he’s popular with the masses. He ranks on the charts up with the pop artists. It’s like, he’s going somewhere real deep, but it somehow leans to the pop side quite a bit.
---- Yeah. His melodies and beats, they’re real original. You can tell right away, real distinct.
(Pino starts to hum and beat box Snoop Dogg’s Beautiful.)
You’re beautiful...♪ That’s an awesome one, isn’t it?
---- I’m not sure if it’s every single song, but did you know that his songs have a signature start where the first beat loops four times? There is a video on it too.
(Pino starts to beat box Justin’s Rock your body.)
---- Here, this is the video.
Oh! Oh, you’re right. Daaaamn, seriously! Whaaa, this one too? I hadn’t realized. How long is this video? Oh, that’s pretty long.
Hang on, Corey... your keyboard is in Japanese too (laughs).
---- It’s just on the keys, though. I don’t use them to type. I type with the English alphabet.
Which one is easier for you? Japanese or English?
---- English will always come more naturally. They say that the language you learn to speak by age eight will become your mother tongue, so that’s only natural, but there are many things that are easier to express in Japanese, and there are some feelings and thoughts that I can only really express in Japanese.
Japanese is really intricate, isn’t it? That’s why when I try to speak English, those intricate nuances come popping up first, but that’s what I really want to express, but they have no words for it, so I end up not being able to say a darn thing (laughs).
---- Intricate, yes, but vague as well.
Yeah, it is vague. We don’t speak strait, so when you go to say something, we kinda leave it open for interpretation. Like, there’s, “tekito” [suitable, half-ass], there’s “nanchara kei” [kind of ~, type of ~], or “teki na” [~ish]. “Teki na” isn’t very “teki kaku” [accurate, apt], is it? (laughs) That’s why I always feel like I’m being rude by talking too straight with people overseas. We should be able to say “no,” but we say “maybe no.” Like, “Are you free that day”, “uh, maybe noooo,” you know? (laughs) It makes you wanna go, “Oh, so you can’t, huh?”
---- Or there’s, “I’ll go, if I can.” You know they ain’t goin’!
There’s an interesting saying — the three things people say in Japanese that you shouldn’t trust.
“I’ll do it tomorrow.”
“I’ll go, if I can.”
And, “On the night I’m elected to office...” Ahaha
---- Ooh, hohoo.
That last one’s a doozie, huh?
---- Yeah, it’s pretty grandiose.
But back to what I was saying (laughs). It would seriously be awesome to collaborate with Pharrell. I think we could really make something interesting, hands down. I just think he’s just a bad-ass artist and I respect him a lot.
---- He seems to be really good at bringing out the best in artists while still expressing his own foundation, in his own way.
It’s all about life attitude. I like working with other dancers and artists in different genres too. When I make shows, I always keep in mind, how to effectively mix my own take on things in with what that artist accentuates the best. I really enjoy the task of creating something while learning what the other person is best at. I’m at the point where I want to pursue working with more creators, especially in the music realm.
---- Well, hey, Pharrell loves dancers. Have you seen that dancer Mette, in Lemon? She definitely must have been chosen for her attitude on life. She is amazing, huh.
That, she is. I’m not surprised. Pharrell also works on TV music programs and movie production, so he’s real polished all across the board. And from what I’ve seen, he’s got this real humane side to him and real humble. Not only does he have an eye and ear for things, but people feel drawn to him too.
---- Oh, in that case, have you seen this video before? It’s of when Pharrell went to NYU to give some students advice about their music and when he listened to the tune of this one artist, Maggie Rogers, he was real moved and what he had to say to her was just real on point and heartfelt.
Oh man. Wow. Having the sense and capacity to totally embrace an artist who is doing something new is an amazing thing. I’m always conscious of trying to have a new and fresh take on things myself, and when I hear or see powerful stuff like this, it really opens my mind, further and further. I love it when you can get a real feel for someone from their choice of expression. Whether it’s new or old or whatever doesn’t really matter. It’s just wonderful. That’s why I choose to stick around. I’m always in pursuit of that feeling, that expression. Pharrell seems like he’s always able to get that across, in practice and in reality. That’s amazing to me. It’s not something that happens so easily. But I so want to be on that plane too.
"I love a good beat"
---- OK, how about other artists from the 90’s? What did you used to listen to?
(After a brief pause, Pino played Nas’s NY State of Mind.)
---- Ah, this!
Nas. This really gets your neck moving. This is just what I was in the mood for now.
Tunes I used to listen back in this era really get me excited.
Like you just cruise on down the street. I listened to this a lot when it first came out. It really brings back the excitement of those days. This beat is real cool. You can’t have Hip Hop without a beat, you know. These days, it’s kinda all about flow. Flow is cool too. I got no problems with flow. But I love a good beat.
Or, like this one!
(Pino plays Graig Mack’s Flava in Your Ear, the biggie remix.)
---- Oh! This!
I was crazy about Graig Mack. He was crazy cool.
(Note: By whatever strange turn of fate, Craig Mack passed away the very next day after this interview, on March 12th.)
(The next song Pino plays is EPMD’s The Crossover.)
---- You have memories about this tune too?
This one here, this was always playing in the club when I was in my first year of high school in Nagoya. I think I was about sixteen. The Crossover was always playing, no matter what. I thought it was real cool too.
Next up is House. I’ve liked this song for a long time.
(Pino plays Iz & Diz’s Mouth, Pepe Braddock rmx.)
I like how this was all made with the human mouth. I thought this was a real innovative idea.
How about you Corey? What artist are you really into recently?
---- I’d have to say Thundercat. There is so much of his stuff I'd love to show you, but we'll go with this one for now — his live performance at Tiny Desk.
Whoa! This is freakin’ cool. Who is this guy?
---- Yeah, this guy is bad ass. First you notice his style, then his groove and melodies suck you in, then he throws in crazy skill, and then you realize his crazy lyrics. His band is just amazing too. And he's just happens to have a song with Pharrell as well.
"That's not House"
---- Is there any other artist that has had an effect on you?
One artist that I think helped me to really find my own original style in House dance would be Akufen.
His music had a strong influence on me.
It was around the time that I ran into his music, that a break beat kind of sound, a more broken down four-on-the floor style of music caught on.
---- In Nagoya?
Throughout Japan. It has like a broken down break beat kind of feel to it. Here, give this a listen.
(Pino plays Akufen’s Battlestar Galacticlown.)
This artist had a big impact on me.
This kinda sound. I used a lot of these kinds songs for my solos when we first started performing as ALMA. I would hit all the sounds with steps. I was about twenty-nine. It was really detailed. People were dancing to this kinda stuff already, but I think I helped spread it to even more people. Either way, it was a totally new approach.
We used it a lot in our early ALMA years. It was new to try and pick all these intricate sounds.
(Towards the middle of the song)
---- I see what you mean! This is pretty distinct. It feels good too.
(Pino starts to dance)
It was real detailed. And you’d use your upper body, like this.
I think this was our own way of expressing ourselves. There were probably a lot of surprised or confused House dancers in the beginning, though. But we thought this type of interpretation was cool too. It had a new feeling to it, I don’t know. But there were younger dancers who took a liking to it. It would be cool if we really were able to present something new to House.
We didn’t use Akufen for this showcase here, but this was the type of sound I’m talking about. It was Hiro, So-ichiro, Toru, and me.
I guess you could call it more of a Techno beat, rather than a Break beat or House beat. Techno generally had this annoying flashy feel to it, right? But there are other kinds and even nowadays you can find some techno that’s real deep and in a cool place. This was a kind of techno. House has changed in meaning for a lot of people now. Techno House is real cool. It had a cheap flashy feel back in the day, though.
(The song changes around the 5:30 mark)
I think we were the first ones to use this two-step/break beats style of House. Up until then I think we had just made steps to your usual four-on-the-floor style beat, but I think it was our crews, Pinocchio and Alma and Village Dig Soul, who first used so many intricate sounds and tried hitting the shit out of ‘em. At least, as far as my take on history is concerned. I don’t think anyone really even knows or realizes. And that’s completely fine. But Pinocchio was always an original style House to begin with. In fact, our crew Pinocchio was always an original style group, even from when we first started getting our name out. So much so that lot of people were like, “That’s not House.”
(Pino plays another video from long ago.)
---- Oh! There it is, the sound.
So, yup, we really did use this style of music around this time.
"I wanna pass out"
---- So let’s go back even further. What were you like in high school?
I couldn’t study for the life of me. I was terrible in class too. Just terrible. Just barely passed Math. Couldn’t bare it, hehe (laughs). See, you’re smart, Corey. But me, the only thing I did in class was listen to music on my Walkman or read manga. I used it for leisure (laughs). There was a time when I didn’t study a single bit for a test. I was sitting at the back of the class then, and I told the teacher that I hadn’t received a paper to write my answers on when I really had one. So when they passed the paper down the row, I stopped it at the student sitting in front of me and asked him to answer for me. I said, “I don’t need a high score, just write anything. You can answer a few wrong, I have no freakin’ idea. Sorry, just for now, just answer for me, please, sorry,” and the guy was like, “Okay,” so he answered for me. But the answers were the exact same as his... and I got caught.
---- Oh man, that’s crazy (laughs).
The teacher was like, “Okay, let’s see how Sakurai [Pino’s last name] did,” and checked my answers first thing. He was like, “Oh, wow, Sakurai you really put in effort this time,” and was happy. But then he checked answers from the beginning of the row and when he came to the student in front of me, the answers and the handwriting were exactly the same. I was called to the Principal’s office the next day and got suspended.
Actually, at my high school, if you got suspended three times, then you got expelled, and after my cheating incident, I was found smoking cigarettes and got my second strike. So right when I was about to reach Bingo, I got in a traffic accident on my moped, which we weren’t supposed to be riding in high school. Well the teachers were like, “Where did you get all those bruises and scars!? You were in a bike accident, weren’t you?!” If I confessed, I would have been expelled so I was like, “I love mountain biking!” No matter what they threw at me, all I said was “I love mountain biking!”
---- Oh man, even crazier!
The person who hit me was driving a minicar, so I was lucky to survive, but if it were a truck... just the thought of it gives me the chills.
The thing is, ten years later, when I was 27, I got hit by another car while I was on my bike, right around the Hachiyama Police Box, just south of Shibuya. It was a normal size car, this time (laughs). Do you know the pain, when your body suddenly meets a car? That moment? It’s like being hit with a huge frying pan, full swing. You know that stinging feeling when you hit your nose? It’s like that, but all over. It’s pretty crazy. I passed out the first time I got hit, so it hurt after I came to, which was like hell by the way, but the second time I got hit I was conscious the whole time, from the moment of impact, so I was like, “I wanna pass out, I wanna pass, pleeeaaase let me pass out!” I was practically chanting it the whole time (laughs). Who gets hit by cars twice in one lifetime!?
"Until the day I die"
---- Which reminds me, you’ve actually died before, haven’t you?
Oh, you mean when my heart stopped, yeah. That was... I’m not sure. I mean, I don’t remember. It’s just, they say there’s a high possibility that it was a criminal incident. They speculated that I was hit with a stun gun and fell over. To this very day, no one knows what exactly happened, but all I can say for sure is that I was brought to the hospital in cardiopulmonary arrest. When I came to, I was thrown into hospital life. But miraculously, I wasn’t paralyzed or anything. I had made it back in one piece, so I thank god for that. They say that it was a miracle that I even survived, but since I was in near mint condition, the doctors were all tilting their heads in confusion, ‘cause apparently I was gone for quite a long time. I was told that in any normal case, people usually don’t make it back.
Then they told me that they had to implant an ICD (Internal Cardiac Defibrillator) in me, and I, who was practically clueless as to how critical of a situation I was in, didn’t want anything to do with it. I refused to do the operation, but apparently the doctor was in the position where he couldn’t discharge me from the hospital unless I got the surgery. So they said we could try out a test and if there wasn’t anything wrong with my heart, I’d be free to go. So I decided to take it, and in doing so, my heart stopped twice. Yeah, so I guess my heart has stopped three times in this life time, haha.
When your heart stops and you lose consciousness, it’s over in an instant, but when you come back, there is about a five second window before you fully regain consciousness. During this short window, your brain has no idea what’s going on, and since you can’t breathe... it’s like... it’s close to... when, you’re suffering from amnesia and your drowning... and you finally manage to get your head above the water and you don’t know what the hell is happening (laughs). Kinda like that.
On top of that, the second time they had to put me under, they hit me with the electric shock after my heart stopped but before I had totally passed out, so my body still remembers the pain. It’s really something. I was lying on my back, and I had curled up so hard and so fast, I nearly broke my nose on my own knee. It hurt so much and I was so mad at the doctor that I didn’t talk to him for the next four days, haha.
---- All I can say is, wow...
I could easily write those two books titled It Hurts When You Get Hit by a Car, and It’s Scary When Your Heart Stops. (laughs).
---- How long did it take for you to recover and return to dancing?
I’d say about three months.
---- Has it affected your view on life at all?
A few unexplainable things had happened during that time. I still have memories of endlessly walking with my dead grandma in total darkness, and one time the hospital staff found me wandering around the facility, so they asked me
what I was doing and I said that I had come here with my grandma and asked them “Where is she?” It’s gets a bit spiritual. The doctor asked me if I had seen the Sanzu River [Buddhist version of the River Styx], which really surprised me. I was like “that really exists?” By the way, I did not make it to the River (laughs). The doctor said that it apparently has this amazing scent. And that people who are drawn to the scent and the feeling of relief it brings and try to cross the river, those people don’t make it back. It’s rather surprising to hear your doctor say this, huh?
But, when I bring up this story, it reminds me that I’ve nearly lost this life once, it was really close. And now that I’m able to be here, as if nothing happened, it’s just invaluable. Now that I’ve made it back without being paralyzed or anything, I have this feeling, some sense of mission. Ultimately, I’m just grateful to be able to dance. And now I feel a sense of responsibility to create even more, even better things. And more than anything else, the importance in being connected with my family and friends. We’re all one. I don’t have many selfish feelings any more. I guess you could say I have stronger feelings of gratitude towards everyone else, and this feeling like, like if everyone is able to move forward and excel, that as long as I’m able to be there alongside, then it’s all good.
---- To you, is there a certain position you’re consciously aiming to be in, or possibly a goal of some sort?
Hmm, I don’t know, that’s real hard. There are a lot of different versions of me inside, when it comes down to it. They all have different thought patterns, where I want to be, how I want to end up. I’d like to taste a bit of each pattern. They interest me. Maybe it’s just me being human. I guess I take “being” over “being over there.”
Rather than saying, “I aimed for it,” it’s more like “I happened to become it” (laughs).
But that’s just me. I’m a person. There are some people who can only move forward if they make up a goal, but there are all kinds of people, so.
---- That, I understand.
---- Then, as a final question, what’s your motivation, your biggest driving force these days?
Oohh... Spending relaxed time with friends, growing and polishing our skills with each other, and just always being able to hang out, I guess. I don't really have any hardships. I’m grateful to be in an environment where there is always someone close. I really like this scene. It’s what I’ve pursued this whole time. I want to be there, I’m able to create, I feel a responsibility to, and there are a lot of different “me” packed in there, with different life styles, so I feel that I can make it happen. But the biggest would be because I just like it. I feel myself blushing just saying this but, I’ve been blessed with this life, so, Hip Hop please, until the day I die.