“I think people come to my shows to hear a ‘nostalgic’ sound, something that they might have otherwise forgotten,” says Hideki Matsutake, who has been at the forefront of Japan’s electronic music scene since its beginnings.
Fans of Yellow Magic Orchestra may know Matsutake as the band’s “fourth member,” so-called for his sound-engineering work for the Japanese supergroup during their main period of activity between 1978 and 1983. Others might know of him for his solo project Logic System, formed in 1982, as well as for being the man who essentially popularized the synthesizer in Japan — an instrument for which Matsutake now finds himself acting as an ambassador of sorts.
“I heard my first synthesizer in Osaka in the 1970s, and then a couple of years later I bought one of my own, a Moog 3-C, which cost me ¥12 million, about two-thirds of which was a tax on what the government deemed ‘luxury items,’ ” laughs Matsutake, perhaps disputing the idea that the instrument that defined his career was at all a luxury. Certainly, at the better part of $450,000 (converted roughly into modern rates), it’s a fair bit more expensive than the MacBook Pro that your budding electronic producer can get by with nowadays.
It’s also a good deal larger, too. Models like the Moog 3-C [pictured] are also referred to as tansu in Japanese (as in Logic System’s 2008 album “Tansu Matrix”), the word for a chest of drawers. It only takes one glance at the dauntingly abundant buttons and knobs to realize that there’s no comparison as to the difficulty involved, either. Nowadays, with software packages that mimic the original Moog models and negate the need for physical synthesizers, Matsutake is keen to use live shows as a chance to educate his audience.
“A synthesizer is not an instrument designed for mimicking real sounds. Instead, you’re more like a craftsman, and the challenge is trying to create the sound you want to make. With earlier synthesizers you couldn’t just push a button and have a sound come out — so lots of people didn’t want to put in all the effort necessary and just gave up.
“It’s like learning to drive a car — it takes time and costs a lot of money. But if you practice every day you’ll learn how to drive. It’s important to get used to the process and to learn to love it.”
That is not to say that Matsutake is resentful of newer technology, far from it. “Although technology has ‘evolved,’ it’s only an evolution of convenience — things that used to take a lot of time can now be done in an instant. Aside from that, little has changed. I still haven’t fully used up all the capabilities of my Moog 3-C, simply because there are infinite combinations and possibilities to it.”
Alongside an entirely more portable Roland Jupiter-8, it is the trademark Moog 3-C that will accompany Matsutake to his next live performance, at Freaks Music Festival in Kanagawa Prefecture on May 7. The one-day festival boasts a tantalizingly eclectic line-up, which also features the likes of chillwave heartthrob Washed Out and famed turntablist DJ Krush. Headlining the festival will be DJ Harvey, hugely influential in club scenes worldwide, who first contacted Matsutake in 2001 when the English DJ featured Logic System’s track “Clash” on his now-legendary mix CD “Sarcastic Disco Vol. 2.” More than a decade later, DJ Harvey has now submitted his own take on the very same track for Logic System’s upcoming remix EP, “Rmxlogix.” “Although Harvey and I go back so far, we’ve never actually met, so I’m looking forward to finally meeting him in the flesh,” Matsutake adds.
Another act to have submitted a remix of “Clash” is Japanese duo 80Kidz, who were scarcely born when Logic System recorded the original in 1981. Now, over three decades later, their own brand of electro pop is leading a new-generation synthesizer revival in Japan. All the remixers, including 80Kidz, were working off the original 2-channel masters of “Clash,” a process that one half of the band, Jun Hayashi, describes as being a real “learning experience.”
“Normally, I’m able to pick and choose which parts of a track I want to use in a remix,” Hayashi says. “With ‘Clash’ I had to listen to the track dozens of times through before replaying and re-recording the melody myself.”
Like Matsutake, Hayashi, who shares both guitar and synthesizer duties with bandmate “Ali&,” has a lot of time for the instrument. “I think the attraction lies in its ambiguity,” says Hayashi. “Even a slight change in temperature or voltage will have an effect, which makes every single moment you produce a sound a once-in-a-lifetime deal. Sure, it can be inconvenient in equal measures, but that’s what gives a humanlike warmth.”
“Rmxlogix” will be released by Matsutake’s own record label, the recently created Motion± (read: Motion Plus/Minus). “Although it might well end up focused on synthesizers, more important is that we’re after artists who are active and exciting, hence the ‘motion.’ The ‘plus/minus,’ as well as referring to electrical currents, becomes the Chinese character for ‘samurai’ when written like this, so we’re looking for that Bushido spirit, too!”
Matsutake’s mission to broaden the appeal of synthesizers, and thus extend their lifespan, doesn’t end with his music, live shows, or even with Motioin±. His role as chairman of the Japan Synthesizer Programmers’ Association sees Matsutake and other members of the group, which includes musicians, schoolteachers and even electronic-music professors, educating Japanese people of all professions and ages.
Ultimately, though, Matsutake’s goal is pragmatically simple: “Even if people would just remember the term ‘synthesizer,’ that would be enough!” For those who are lucky enough to see him perform at Freaks Festival, it’s one word they’re unlikely to ever forget.
Freaks Music Festival takes place all day on May 7 at the Sagami Ono Pleasure Forest Resort in Kanagawa. Tickets cost ¥6,300 in advance. For details, visit www.freaks-fes.jp. “Rmxlogix” sees limited release on May 18.