[Interview] Goth-Trad Spins Deep Dub(plates) at 529
Goth-Trad might not be a household name unless you keep a close eye on the deep end of the dubstep scene, but he has a strong following around the globe and is able to tour in Asia, Europe, and the U.S. and pull crowds wherever he goes. Unlike most DJs these days Takeaki Maruyama takes a flight case full of vinyl everywhere he goes. Most of his collection is unique and a significant chunk of the records are his own original compositions (which only he has a copy of). His precious archive and skill on vinyl catch people’s attention even in a digital world. I got to chat with Goth-Trad before his set at 529 in East Atlanta Village and learn about the world of vinyl dubplates.
Can you talk about the differences in the Japanese and U.S. music scenes?
The Japanese scene is kind of quiet. The bass music scene is not big. In general, the underground music scene is not huge. Tokyo has ten million people, but even in the U.S., small cities will have a hundred people come [to a show]. In Japan, if a big artist came from Europe or the U.S. maybe, sometimes a hundred [people would come].
Is the Japanese electronic scene mostly doing its own thing, or does it copy and follow Europe and the U.S.?
The underground scene is somewhat copied, but we have a big Otaku music scene. It’s a kind of original Japanese thing. So, that kind of anime music mixed with some EDM stuff. Some bro-step stuff as well.
Here in Atlanta, obviously trap is huge. The EDM trap aesthetic pulls heavily from Japanese fashion and uses a lot of Kanji characters in designs. Is the Japanese youth aware that even as they copy us, we are copying them?
I think they affect each other. Japan is big on fashion. Sometimes people don’t care about music, just fashion. Like, hip-hop is pretty big now, since four or five years ago. So, like wearing really nice clothes, that is really important for them.
Well, Americans also just view a lot of it as “Asian” culture and maybe don’t understand the differences between all the East Asian nations. Switching gears, a lot of the music you play, especially your online mixes are really esoteric. Some would say they’re not easily approachable. What is the value for you to dig for sounds that aren’t going to be popular, or maybe even easy for people to listen to?
When I started to make music, I started with mostly underground hip-hop and UK dance music. I was looking for fresh, new music. I was not a DJ, just a big fan. Then when I became a producer and started making music I wanted to make something new, something fresh. I was digging for underground music of every genre. My ear is an underground ear. If I hear the same music, I’m not really excited about it. If I hear a fresh sound, I’m really excited about it, and I’m digging again. And I don’t want to make the same music I’ve made before. I’m trying to make something fresh, I’m always trying to find some different kicks, or noises, or snares; different melodies. Because, I cannot make some pop music. I can’t!
You just don’t have that bone in your body…
Yeah, it’s really hard to make some pop music. I’m always naturally making music. So, it’s hard to make something pop, something commercial.
Can you talk about your ability to produce and play vinyl? You tour with vinyl, which is rare in 2017. Not many people have the ability to just crank out a dubplate when they need to. How and why do you do it?
About ten years ago, when I was into dubstep culture, so 2005, 2006… I didn’t play as a DJ. I only played live shows with a big mixing desk and some effects. I had eight channels going to a mixing desk, all my tracks, and I was doing the mixdown. I didn’t like DJing because DJs are always playing some other music, and some DJs do some crazy mix, but still, some other music.
I started producing before DJing, so I wanted to play all my music. I didn’t have any idea how to cut dubplates before that, but I got in touch with those people in the dubstep scene, like Mala. They were playing all dubplates, all their label’s music… it was almost like live original music. So, I thought I should do it, so I started to cut dubplates. And, I thought I should develop this thing in Japan, so I started my party in 2006. It’s called Back To Chill. So, then I started DJing, I cut dubplates, and sometimes I would just find CDs. I started to cut dubplates in the UK. But, every time I would have a live set and a DJ set, both. I couldn’t bring the vinyl and the live equipment, so I changed to playing CDs. Since then, like 2008, I was playing only CDs.
I’m not a vinyl junkie. I can understand by people play CDs or USBs. Sometimes it sounds better than pressed vinyl. I don’t care about it. When I was playing CDs, I tried everything I could do with CDs, with digital, because it’s easy to mix with just beat matching. So, I was trying to do more effects and more tricks, but I was getting bored. It’s so easy to mix, and also my album New Epoch in 2012 was a three-vinyl LP, but I didn’t play with vinyl, I was playing with CDs. So, it didn’t make sense.
So, do you play vinyl because it’s harder? Is it more fun?
No, no. So, after I released New Epoch, in 2012, I was thinking to switch back to dubplates and vinyl, but it was still hard to cut a dubplate in the UK. So, I was still playing with CDs, but I found a studio in Japan, close to my house. I met the engineer, so I took him my music and asked him if he could cut it. He was pretty new as an engineer. He had just started a year before, so he couldn’t cut the proper sound. The sound was not really good, so I said, it’s not better than CDs, so I don’t need to cut dubplates, because I wanted to play better sound. People don’t care about whether you’re playing CDs or vinyl. Well, I started to go to his studio, like twice a week for four or five months, and he started getting better and better and better. We struggled a lot. We worked a lot, making it sound better, so I started to cut all my music. I switched.
Of the records you tour with, are most of them your music?
About 60 to 80 percent. I have some of my tracks, and I’m also cutting some close artists like Deep Medi artists and some in my Japanese Back To Chill crew. So, the reason I cut dubplates when I was playing CDs, I was making music right before the set. If I couldn’t finish, I’d still just burn it and play it, but it was unfinished. But, after I switched to dubplates, I had to finish completely before cutting. I focused more on mastering and mixing. The mixdown process is really good, it’s really clear.
After I started to cut dubplates, young DJs and producers in my Back To Chill crew started to cut dubplates. The music is getting better and better because the process is really clear. Before that, it was really quick. The tune would be unfinished, but they would just burn a CD and play it. Cutting a dubplate costs like $45 for a 12-inch, so you have to be careful before the cut. Is it really finished? Now, cutting dubplates sounds really good. I finish the tracks, make the playmaster, and go into the studio. The engineer does the mastering and cuts the dubplate, so the process sounds better. So, sometimes, I’ll look for someone’s vinyl release, but it’ll be really quiet. It won’t sound good. So, I’ll buy the digital to cut a dubplate.
Because you can cut a dubplate of an electronic recording better than the market-released pressed vinyl?
Yeah, it depends. Some pressed vinyl is good, but some are not really good. I sometimes play metal, and metal on vinyl is quieter, just for listening. So, I master it again. Dubplates are not only for dubstep or drum & bass culture. Anyone can do it.
Going back in time, dubplates were made with specific sound systems in mind, and I know you have a really good sound system at your Back To Chill parties. How do you anticipate the systems you play on when you tour?
Sometimes it’s not good, but if you’re thinking about it already, even if that sound system is not good, it still sounds better trying to make the sound better with mastering. Another thing, I’m making music on a computer with an analog mixing desk when I mix down, but it’s digital. So, when I cut the vinyl, it’s back to analog again. So, it gets more dynamics again. A digital signal coming off the DJ decks into the mixer is already compressed. Vinyl is analog and has more dynamics, so it can be compressed again in the mixer, keeping it louder. And we can make it crisper.
I feel like I’ve learned a lot. What upcoming releases do you have coming for us?
Next is a Deep Medi twelve-inch. I released an album last year, but it was really limited. It was 200 copies of dubplates. So, the normal version is coming soon this year. I’m also going to do more label stuff this year. Two years ago, I released a compilation of all Japanese dubstep producers, and I’m going to do another one this year.
The night opened up with an energetic but steady set of deep dub from Parrotice, followed by a dose of hip-hop from Drew’s Theory. Both openers were fantastic and warmed up the room well, but nobody could touch the energy that Goth-Trad conjured up.
The dance floor at 529 was the perfect size for a packed but happy dance floor, and the room was full when Takeaki took the stage. His set began with some of the most spacey, atmospheric music I’ve heard in a live set before quickly winding a blazing path through dubstep, techno, and a world of electronic sounds that defied genre descriptions.
All of his drops, rewinds, and cuts were met with louder screams from the crowd each time. The set built up the energy for more than an hour, feeding off the audience and getting into darker and weirder territory with every transition while psychedelic black-and-white projected visuals distorted and blurred the artist himself on stage.
I’ve been around the Atlanta deep dub community for a while, and these events are always heady and fun, but this was a truly special night. This community of wook/metalhead hybrids has built something really good, and it was rewarding to see that met with an icon like Goth-Trad coming to this corner of our city to share the light of music with us. Just like metal, people try to say dubstep is dead, but nights like this prove all the naysayers wrong. Long live the metal. Long live dubstep. Long live vinyl.