Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on November 2010
Hiro Tanaka didn’t plan on a career in dance music. “I never thought I wanted to be a DJ,” he tells Metropolis. “I was just a record collector who sort of fell into DJing because I had so much music. Instead of picking up a guitar or learning how to play a piano, I bought Technics 1200-series turntables to mix those records together.”
Taking his name from Paul Hardcastle’s Vietnam War-inspired electro anthem “19,” Tanaka began spinning at notorious clubs Delight in Shinjuku Ni-chome and Maniac Love in Aoyama. When his debut 1998 mix CD fell into the hands of an A&R rep from the Paratone label, it provided him with a lucky break.
“He liked it and asked me to make a record,” Tanaka says. “The only problem was that I had many ideas but no studio skills whatsoever. He said he would hire a recording engineer for me and told me to bring my favorite ten records to the studio so we could figure out what kind of sound I was after. As a result, my debut single, ‘Body Free (C’mon),’ was born. After that, I gradually learned production techniques and how to work my way around a studio.”
By then, Tanaka was also editing leading club ’zine Loud, where he met DJ Yoda. The pair hit it off, leading to the creation of Japan’s biggest progressive house party in 1999.
“We started the Mothership parties to promote the trance and progressive house music that we loved,” he explains. “This was all very new to Japan and there wasn’t anyone else throwing similar parties. Originally our aim was not to book superstar DJs, but the end result was that our parties went with the tide of the trance invasion and booked big-name DJs all the time.”
After the team split, the event changed its name to Ocean and hosted DJs like Sasha and Timo Maas, while Tanaka began to focus more on his productions. He now runs three labels—19Box Recordings (the name is a pun on “jukebox”), Park Limited Muzik and 19Box Limited—and boasts more than a dozen mix CDs to his name, not to mention spinning from China to England alongside the likes of John Digweed and Orbital. His latest project, a collaboration with Argentine Julio Largente called The Loony Tunes, just debuted with the acid-influenced single “Deep In,” while he also produces chill-out music under the name Ambrozia.
For his upcoming Essence event at Erebos, Tanaka has booked the Greek-born, San Francisco-based “deep minimal tech house” DJ Anestie Gomez as the featured guest, to appear alongside himself and his stable of 19Box DJs.
While still enthusiastic about dance music, Tanaka has mixed feelings about the current Tokyo scene. “I think the problem is that clubs rely too heavily on big-name DJs even if they’re not very good,” he says. “It means it’s hard to get new talent into a club, and even more difficult to hear them play. People should book the talent they love instead of who is the most popular.”
Essence: 19Box Recordings 2010 Showcase. House, techno: DJs Anestie Gomez, 19, etc. Live: Hideout. From 10pm, ¥3,500 w/1d, ¥3,000 w/1d with flyer. Akasaka. Tel: 03-3568-7172. http://akasaka-erebos.com