This is the third installment of the series by creative collective PKCZ®, comprised of EXILE MAKIDAI, Alan Shirahama, VERBAL, DJ DARUMA, and JOMMY. In the series, the members will be cross talking with global DJs and music producers who captivate their attention, about the current state of the club scene in the pandemic and its future. Discover the future of the club music scene, where the opportunities of physical shows have dwindled dramatically.
Vol. 3 is a cross talk with Shinichi Osawa, who released his new album BIG WORLD under the name of MONDO GROSSO in February. Osawa is one of the most respected Japanese DJ/producers who has been in contact with DJ DARUMA and JOMMY since late 2000s.
In this interview, DJ DARUMA and JOMMY spoke with Osawa about the album, by which they were touched, as well as about Osawa’s lifestyle in the COVID-19 pandemic and their recollections of the electro music scene in the 2000s. He shared episodes that only they could reveal. The first part is predominantly about Osawa’s new album BIG WORLD.
I definitely needed to sketch out the emotions I felt at that time
DJ DARUMA (DARUMA): It’s been a while since I saw you last partly due to the pandemic, so I’m a little nervous. Today, I would like to start with your latest album BIG WORLD and further look back on the time we shared in 2000s’ to examine objectively what those days meant to us.
Shinichi Osawa (Osawa): You can ask me anything.
DARUMA: Let’s start with stories about the album. Having listened to your previous works, I have noticed that there is an element of beauty and emotion in the sound that you create, and I think this is embodied in your latest work as well. In addition to that, I sometimes sense Osawa-san’s ferocity and sharp punk attitude in the sound, although less frequent than the previously mentioned elements.
Osawa: I tried to hide the ferocity a lot though (laughs).
DARUMA：I could sense that you were decreasing these elements. I also think of your new albums as the sound of the post-COVID era, and it has become a lot more emotional.
Osawa: I am not the only one who was influenced by COVID-19, and I think that anyone who makes music must have felt obliged to make a sketch of “emotions” he or she felt during this period. I myself do not like to put messages or themes in my songs that would induce the audience to feel something other than the music. But as for this work, because the world has changed too drastically, I felt, as a creator, that at least I needed to delineate what came out from our life in the pandemic. However, since I wanted people who listen to my work to be able to interpret it freely, I just did it to the extent that one can see it as part of musical expression.
JOMMY: I don’t think you yourself wrote many lyrics in past works under your name and those of MONDO GROSSO, but I felt that you wrote lyrics for a lot more songs on this album.
Osawa: This time, I set a theme for the album, so I worked on the lyrics because, as a person who was responsible for setting the theme, I could choose the words and had many things to write based on the theme.
DARUMA：I saw on your Instagram that you have recently become interested in writing again?
Osawa: Yes, I have even started to write a lot of things on SNS as well. For example, in the early 2000s, musicians tended to feel embarrassed about making clothes. Similarly, there was a time when musicians and entertainers were a bit hesitant to express their opinions on SNS. However, this has changed considerably in the past few years, and even people in the music industry have come to clearly express their own thoughts and attitudes. This is something that has been generally accepted in Europe and the United States, but not so in Japan. But I feel that things are changing, and this made me want to spell a lot of things out in my own way in words, which also led to the lyrics of this album.
DARUMA：Such is the case with Generation Z. When something happens, even if there are many different answers to that thing, Generation Zers would feel that if they don’t express their own opinions properly, they will not win trust. It is becoming more and more important for them to make a statement about themselves.
Osawa: While I feel that things have changed in that way, there are also people who express their opinions too strongly and end up drawing harsh responses from the general public. It is those who don’t know how to use words or lack the basic ethics and morals that majority of us share who do so. As a result, such people will show where they are coming from. But I think that’s not a bad thing, and I rather like how well-considered opinions are selected in that way.
I was struck by the sense of immersion when the intro ends and then “IN THIS WORLD” starts
DARUMA：Basically, a focus of your sound is placed on the act of listening but it seems to me that you are always thinking about dance floors as well. Did you produce your latest work with the dance floors or live shows in mind?
Osawa: I don’t picture dance floors directly in my mind, but as a listener, my taste or criteria is based on dance floors, so even when I write a song of ballad tempo, what is in mind is the sound image that is blaring on the dance floor. Since I prefer the sounds that are heard in nightclubs, I tend to create a sound that fits that kind of environment.
DARUMA：I feel that there are emotional aspects in this album as well as your past works. Are they something that come out naturally from you?
Osawa: If you trace back sounds of MONDO GROSSO, in the early days of the band, our sounds weren’t that emotional, but around 2000 when we started making the album MG4 and around the time we started making dance music, a kind of lyricism was coming into being in the channel for MONDO GROSSO in my mind. Even in the aggressive dance tracks I made, I consciously created something that touches listeners’ emotions. And since I started working under my own name, I have become able to make a clear distinction between solo works and MONDO GROSSO and put my lyrical channel in operation just partially.
JOMMY: I wanted to ask you about the distinction between MONDO GROSSO and the project under your own name, so what you just said makes a lot of sense. I listened to your newest album over and over again, and I was really struck by the sense of storytelling or immersion when the intro ends and the second track “IN THIS WORLD” starts. It was as if my brain switched from the intro of the movie to the main story, and that moment really got to me. Did you think carefully about the order of the songs.
Osawa: Actually, I only decided the order for the first and second tracks, but I believe they can be listened to comfortably as a sequence. The first track is an intro for both “IN THIS WORLD” and the entire album. And this intro part was inspired by the soundtrack of a movie, so although the chord progression is different, I extracted it from my “IN THIS WORLD” just like a movie soundtrack.
DARUMA：By the way, I’ve heard that there was both a new work under the name of MONDO GROSSO and a new work under the name of SHINICHI OSAWA, and the staff wanted to release MONDO GROSSO first. Why was it?
Osawa: I think it was something like, “It’s not the time to make something difficult to understand under the name of SHINICHI OSAWA when the opportunities for my performance are decreasing due to the COVID-19 pandemic” (laughs). Five years have passed since the release of the last work under the name of MONDO GROSSO, which is not long for me. But considering the current cycle (of the music scene), I think the staff felt that they wanted me to make something that would be easily accepted first. I understand that, and the sound sketches filled with anger I made in the early days of pandemic do not fit the sound of MONDO GROSSO. Of course, at that time, I wanted to put out those sketches to the world and say “this is how I feel.” But on the other hand, I also felt that I could put those out even after a certain period of time, so I switched over to the mode of MONDO GROSSO and faced the situation. It took a little time, but I think the result was a success.
I think “BIG WORLD” may be an answer to Daft Punk’s breakup
DARUMA：I heard that “BIG WORLD,” the title track is an answer to Daft Punk‘s breakup. I wonder if you had a feeling like “What the hell are you guys doing?” I wanted to hear about that from you as a fellow Daft Punk freak.
Osawa: Yes, exactly! I thought you would understand my point. To be clear, there is no point in the two of them breaking up. There was no need to say “break up” in the first place, and it’s fine if they will never work as a unit again. I wondered why Daft Punk dared to tell us that they were breaking up. Why was there any point in announcing that they were going to end at that point in time? And they didn’t release any work, did they?
DARUMA：That’s right. I also wondered what they meant by not releasing any work and ending with a worn-out video from the past.
Osawa：Yeah, you are right. If they had released a final best-of album, for example, it would have made sense to announce the breakup. I guess they got sick of it at that point.
DARUMA：Maybe they got bored. When I listened to Random Access Memories released in 2013, I thought it was such a well-crafted album that made me think they would not be able to create anything better. It’s just a rumor circulating in the industry, but I heard that they were going to self-sample that album to release their next album, but it didn’t work out. They had the idea that art is not something you work on for a submission deadline, so when it didn’t work out, they possibly thought, “Well, we can’t do that anymore, can we?”
Osawa: Indeed, they have been working with sampling as their key theme for a long time, and they have been solidly consistent in that sense. So, conversely, in my opinion, with Random Access Memories, they were just beyond the scope of their theme. I felt that by breaking their unwritten rule, or a rule that had never been broken, something of them had broken. So I think they should have just gone back to their basis. Even if they stop self-sampling, they still have so many songs that they like. So as for Random Access Memories, it’s a great album, but I don’t think it’s like Daft Punk at all. So after that album, I thought they would either go back to sampling, which is their roots, or go somewhere else. So I was shocked and not satisfied with the way they ended.
I can’t do anything else but music. Because music is my life, and I love music
DARUMA：This album also featured many artists, but I think it takes a lot of concentration and motivation to complete it. What kind of attitude do you have to have to sustain it?
Osawa: Actually, I don’t concentrate very much (laughs). Surprisingly, creators are not very good at that, and I think many of them push themselves too hard. When I create something, I keep at it until I get at least a single clue, but the people around me say, “If you are tired, maybe you don’t have to do it.” Or, “Why don’t you just go home today?” Inspired by such voices, I have started to balance myself by working on different songs or making sketches of individual songs when I get tired of a particular song. But when it comes to relaxation, I can’t do anything else but music. For me, music is my life, and I love music. So when the music I’m working on becomes too difficult, I make other kind of song with a different taste or DJ to get through it. If I just stayed in the studio and only made music, I would go crazy.
DARUMA：But I haven’t been able to DJ in front of audience for more than two years now, and I’m reaching my limit. Considering the COVID-19 infection, I understand, as an adult, that it is difficult to go out to the music venues unprotected. Besides, although I do live streaming, I am not able to feel the atmosphere of the dance floor, which is quite tough for me. Of course I listen to music, but I feel that if I am not exposed to music on the dance floor, I feel that I am not balanced. So I listen to techno DJs and try to get myself in shape.
(Note: After the interview, DARUMA decided to return to “EDGE HOUSE,” the party he used to attend regularly, from April.)
Osawa: I was lucky enough to have several opportunities to perform at the venue last year, and some of the parties were full of energy. I had a feeling then that something good was about to happen. We are being suppressed by the pandemic, so once we are liberated from that, the amount of released energy would be unbelievable. I could feel the energy from the audience, comparable to the energy I felt in 2007 and 2008, when electro music was all the rage and I was having the time of my life.
DARUMA：How do you keep up with the latest information about other artists and club music?
Osawa: For the past 10 years, my main source of information not only about new releases, but also about all sorts of updates has been Hype Machine. There are not many sites like this in Japan, and I think it is comparable to Pitchfork in the U.S., but in Hype Machine there is a group of more independent music bloggers who create their own music charts. Every week, they release a chart of about 50 songs that are genre-less, and that sometimes have very minor songs. You can find anything from a new record of Richie Hawtin to movie music from the 1960s on the chart, and the randomness of it is something that you can’t find anywhere else. Of course some of their charts do not stuck me, but I like it because if I keep checking it, there is a random lineup of music, both old and new, that I cannot find by myself.
DARUMA：How did you discover Hype Machine?
OSAWA：Right around 2005, I was uploading my own mashups of KITSUNE‘s music as a SHINICHI OSAWA EDIT, and people who liked those songs were putting them on the charts within Hype Machine. So, Hype Machine was a great way for me to get my name known in Europe. That’s also why I am supporting Hype Machine by using it. I trust it because, despite its long history, it is still consistent in its approach. I myself am always looking for diversity in music, so I use the site quite frequently.
JOMMY: In terms of diversity, I could feel the diversity in the selection of featured artists on this album as well. There were even artists that I myself had never heard of before, and the collaborations between you and these artists were just full of surprises. From what perspective did you select the artists for the album as a whole?
Osawa: From the last album, I have started to reduce the number of things I take the initiative in doing. I had always been in charge of the MONDO GROSSO project and had embodied what I wanted to do, but I realized through the production of the last album that I could create more of surprising results by including ideas from a person with a different perspective in the project. It would rather lead to an unexpected but better results if I work with someone with whom I have no prior knowledge (than with someone I know very well). I think I am extending that aspect of my work more in this album. Recently, I’ve also been awakening to the possibility of making music with and listening to the opinion of people outside of music, such as people who like listening to DJs but don’t DJ, or people who like music but draw pictures.
JOMMY：So, are you going to play a lot of songs from MONDO GROSSO in the album release tour?
Osawa: The tour is going to be DJ set, but I’m planning to prepare everything beforehand and do a more danceable live set along with the video as well. I will collaborate with a video artist named JACKSON kaki for the video.
DARUMA & JOMMY：I’m really looking forward to it.