It's difficult to talk about anything else after watching a ¥ØU$UK€ ¥UK1MAT$U set. Known for his penchant for baffling blends, this defiant oracle of the dancefloor with a tender edge can usually be found shirtless, covered in a sheen of sweat furiously mixing between just about every genre you've ever heard of. It's not unusual to be treated to a selection of soul-affirming trance, haunting house riffs, blithe trap, raucous gabber and bolshy rave bangers — all in the space of about 10 minutes. Having delighted, and slightly terrified, crowds throughout Japan with his unique futuristic approach to the decks — ¥ØU$UK€ ¥UK1MAT$U is now turning his gaze to the rest of the world, giving even more listeners the opportunity to be transported to the third dimension.
Born in Osaka, ¥ØU$UK€ ¥UK1MAT$U (AKA Yousuke Yukimatsu) was raised on a diet of classic rock from his Deep Purple-loving father. "I didn't care about music of that time," he says. "But I got to notice later that it was a very good education." Spending much of his early youth loving pop music, it was in his teens he started to widen his musical spectrum: "I started listening to hard rock, metal music in middle school, then alternative rock like Sonic Youth and electronic music like The Prodigy in high school." Yukimatusu began DJing in 2008, falling in love with the craft quickly — showing off his skills for the first time at a friend's party in his hometown, eventually persuading them to make him a regular addition to the line-up.
For Yukimatsu, the craft appears to be key — constantly developing and honing in his sound, he spent much of his early career playing at the few-and-far-between parties of Osaka and the neighbouring Kobe. The turning point, he says, came in 2014 when he played alongside techno polymath DJ Nobu and regular collaborator - experimental artist and Trilogy Tapes alum NHK yx Koyxen. Nobu was so taken with Yukimatsu's set he invited him to play at his legendary Future Terror party in Tokyo, and from this the off-kilter club sorcerer began his journey from budding artist to Japan's DJ's DJ.
Playing at parties with the likes of Oneohtrix Point Never, Marcel Fengler and Adam X, Yukimastu began building a devoted fan base of Japanese electronic fans and international music heads in-the-know. Wanting to create something of his own, Yukimatsu established his own party, Zone Unknown, in Osaka and Kobe — having welcomed Palmistry, Kamixlo... even getting Arca to sing live during one of his sets. Though having originally worked in construction, Yukimatsu was forced to abandon his job after being diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour in 2016. After fighting the disease with drugs and undergoing two surgeries, he became more focused than ever — deciding to focus on DJing full-time, giving him the space to expand his experimental vision beyond Tokyo. Since then he's become a regular fixture of Berlin's Atonal festival and has entranced the masses with a hypnotic Boiler Room at Shibuya's Super Domme.
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Last month saw the release of his compilation album 'Midnight is Comin'' on Singapore's Midnight Shift — a 12-track ambient voyage with contributions from friends DJ Nobu, Gabber Modus Operandi, Ryo Murakami and more. To mark it, he's going on a European tour — with shows in Malmö, Paris, Berlin and a four-hour set at London's ICA next week (November 11).
Ahead of ¥ØU$UK€ ¥UK1MAT$U's appearance at the ICA, we caught up with the genre-bending don to talk musical obsessions, creating concepts and the oscillation of Japanese electronic music. Check out the full interview and ¥ØU$UK€'s UK-inspired mix below.
You often use your sets to shine a light on Japanese electronic music. What are some common misconceptions Westerners have about the Japanese scene?
I'm not aware of what Western misconceptions are, I'm not even sure what the definition of Japanese electronic music is. For example, I can play the minimalist productions of Ryoji Ikeda or experimental techno from DJ Nobu and some tracks from Hikaru Utada, a pop singer/songwriter who also composes electronica. All of this is Japanese electronic music, but very different and none of it fits in the same bracket. When I'm playing, a western listener may think a track is from Carsten Nicolai if I play Ryoji Ikeda.
How does it feel to be able to travel and highlight the incredible music coming from Tokyo?
I'm pretty happy. I didn't think I would go abroad as a DJ when I started. I got my first passport at age 37 for a Shanghai gig. Now I think DJing is my life's work.
What do you think separates the Tokyo electronic scene apart from the rest of the world? Can you tell us about any new music/artists in the city that are getting you excited?
I don't know much about the other cities in the world, but I feel less people come to clubs in Tokyo. So I always try to do the best to move somebody's heart — that's the way I've been trained. I'm taking notice of gato, a five-piece band. They make traditional "band music" as well as electronic elements of rave, trap, acid, etc. I saw their live performance recently and It was really good.
You've said before that your Zone Unknown parties in Osaka and Kobe have a special place in your heart. How does it feel to play in those cities? and how does the music/crowd differ there than in Tokyo?
Osaka is my hometown where I was born and lived until 2019. Kobe is the neighbouring city of Osaka. There are a few gigs in Osaka or Kobe in a year after COVID-19 pandemic, so I feel like coming back and go to see friends every time. Less people go to clubs in Osaka and Kobe, I was struggling to develop as a DJ when I lived in Osaka.
You've said that being diagnosed with cancer in 2016 was a big turning point in your life, how do you think your journey through treatment and recovery has changed your relationship with music?
I quit my daytime job in construction after [I was diagnosed] with the disease. I couldn't continue working day and night and then at the weekend, sleeping three or four hours every night. Fortunately, my DJ fee was increasing at the time, so music got to be my work and it's the best job for me. Music brings me many good things: new friends, good local foods, travelling around, and moving my heart.
To say you have an "eclectic taste" would be an understatement, Where do you think this ravenous love of music comes from? Have you always had such wide-ranging tastes?
I think it's from limitless curiosity and an inquiring mind. I just love music, and at the same time I want to make progress as a DJ. My taste was just Japanese pop and rock when I was in elementary school. Then it started getting wider and wider. I started listening to hard rock, metal music in middle school, then alternative rock like Sonic Youth and electronic music like The Prodigy in high school. It's still getting wider even now.
Can you tell us about some of your earliest musical experiences? First gig? first party? First musical obsession?
I remember my father listened to The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple at home when I was a little boy. I didn't care about music of that time but I got to notice later that it was a very good education. My classmates listened to something called a "walkman" at the 5th grade of elementary school. I asked him what are you listening to? It was B'z, a Japanese popular rock duo unit. My music life started then. The first gig I went to was run by my friends at a small DJ bar that had big JBL speakers. I was not on the line-up but I asked friends if I could play in the morning. They accepted my offer and my set heated up the crowd. My name was on the set list of next friends' party. And one of my friends who was there, SPINNUTS made a track for my compilation “Midnight Is Comin'.”
Do you find it rewarding to be able to blend together contrasting genres in your sets? Is it something you enjoy when watching other people play too?
Yes, of course. But it's a natural thing for me. It's the same thing blending together similar genres like techno. I get excited when I'm mixing tracks. It's my favourite thing. I usually participate in parties I'm offered from start to finish because I want to know what the organisers do and feel the story of each party. I enjoy watching other people play — I can also learn something from that, but I do get bored sometimes.
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You're set to play for four hours at the ICA next week, how do you prepare for such a long set? and how does your preparation differ playing at an art space like the ICA to a club set up?
I thought I'd be playing contemporary music or ambient music for four hours at first. But ICA's promotional post was a film when I played a danceable track, and my agent told me to play tracks from 'Midnight Is Comin' and then get into a club set-up. So I changed my plan. I get an image for the show in my mind and then select tracks along the image. This time I selected tracks from 'Midnight Is Comin'' and some contemporary music for early part of the set. Then I think about how to connect between the early part and a club set-up. [For the ICA] I'll prepare tracks produced by UK artists for a club set up. It's my own concept. I like creating concepts to fit each gig, so there are not so many differences in my preparation this time.
What is coming next for you?
Can you tell us about this mix?
Most tracks are produced by UK artists in this mix. It has the same concept as ICA's club set-up. I recommend listening to the start with headphones to enjoy the trippy stereo sound. Tracks have good melodies and messages in the late part. We are going through tough times. I hope this mix inspires somebody even just a little bit. LET'S DO IT AGAIN!
Demdike Stare 'Black Sun'
Demdike Stare & Billy Green 'Toadstrip'
Four Tet 'Angel Echoes' (Jon Hopkins Remix)
Batu 'Domino Theory'
Via Maris 'Shelleys'
Daphni 'Yes, I Know'
Pariah 'Log Jam'
Mumdance & Logos 'Move Your Body'
Caribou 'You Can Do It'
For Those I Love 'I Have A Love' (Overmono Remix)
Jamie xx 'LET'S DO IT AGAIN'
Four Tet 'Dreamer'
Suzanne Ciani 'Thirteenth Voice : Sound Of A Dream Kissing'
Suzanne Ciani 'Fourteenth Voice : All Dreams Are Not For Sale'
Emptyset 'Function(Roly Porter Remix)'
Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band 'War'
Megan Townsend is Mixmag's Deputy Editor, follow her on Twitter