Soichi Terada arrives fashionably late to the global house-music scene

by

Special To The Japan Times

Good things come to those who wait. For 50-year-old producer Soichi Terada it’s a wait that has lasted more than 20 years, but now he’s one of the most in-demand artists in the house music scene, and has just returned from a tour of Europe that saw him perform in front of capacity crowds in some of the continent’s most iconic clubs, including Panorama Bar in Berlin and Concrete in Paris.

Wide-eyed and constantly sporting a beaming smile, it’s tempting to read into Terada a sense of child-like wonder at his sudden turn of fortune. It hardly helps when Hunee, the Amsterdam-based DJ who accompanied him on his recent tour, posted a photo on social media of Terada in France tucking into his “first ever croissant.” Terada explains to me with a laugh that it was far from his first French pastry — he’d just misunderstood his traveling partner’s pronunciation and didn’t want to correct him. It turns out that Terada is always that buoyant, and the reality of his music career — just like the pronunciation of croissant — is a lot more nuanced.

As far as Terada’s house music career is concerned, the turning point came in March, when the Dutch imprint Rush Hour released a retrospective of tracks from Terada’s own label, Far East Recording. Terada formed the imprint in 1989, a few years after graduating from Tokyo’s University of Electro-Communications, and the compilation — “Sounds From The Far East,” curated by the aforementioned Hunee — drew together a selection of tracks by Terada (as well as long-time affiliate Shinichiro Yokota) that had originally been released between 1991 and 1993.

“Before the Rush Hour compilation came out I’d never even performed a house set live,” Terada remarks. “Of course I’d played out a few times in the early 1990s, but that was hardly anything. I think at most I’d performed two or three times at (former Nishi-Azabu club) Space Lab Yellow.”

By his own admission, Terada was a late-starter when it came to club music, albeit demonstrating a penchant for electronic music from an early age.

“When I was young I used to play the electronic organ,” he says. “I had the sheet music for songs by the Beatles and well-known tunes from films — I enjoyed playing them without ever having heard the original versions.”

Terada would adopt a not entirely dissimilar approach with his eventual foray into club music. Having traveled to New York for a month in 1987 at the age of 22, as part of a touring three-piece band, Terada fell in love with the city and its distinctive sound. While in New York he visited a nightclub for the first time in his life, and his shopping trips to Chelsea resulted in the purchase of the extravagant shirts that have remained a visual trademark of his to this day. Upon subsequently returning to Tokyo, Terada began producing house music that attempted to emulate the style, but despite sending his work to New York labels like Sleeping Bag Records, success wasn’t forthcoming.

“If you wanted to be released by a New York label then your music had to have the New York sound, otherwise it was impossible — that’s why I didn’t manage to get deals,” he says. “At the time, I wasn’t particularly aware what it meant to have a ‘New York’ sound — there were so many things I didn’t understand, but I just wanted so desperately to make music in that vein and try so many things out that I couldn’t help it.”

Terada’s simulacra-like takes on New York house music might have evaded label attention, but he found fans in the likes of influential DJs Larry Levan and Victor Rosado, and his tunes were soon on heavy rotation at institutions such as Paradise Garage and The Loft at the peak of the genre’s success.

One of Terada’s biggest hits was “Sunshower” — a bona fide house anthem featuring vocals by ’80s superstar Nami Shimada, which has since been remixed by everyone from Larry Heard to Legowelt. Even prior to the renewed attention that came with the release of this year’s “Sounds From The Far East,” it’s one track that will be recognizable to almost any house music fan, but Terada modestly plays down any success.

“At the time, in the early ’90s, I was making a living by making kayōkyoku (traditional Japanese pop songs), not through club music,” he explains. “I wasn’t making any revenue from Far East Recording, it was just a hobby. I’d put all the money from my other music work into it.”

It’s for some of this other work that Terada is perhaps better known among a wider audience. He was responsible for penning the soundtrack to Sony Computer Entertainment’s “Ape Escape” video game series — a perennial favorite with Playstation-owning millennials — and its delirious blend of U.K. jungle, drum ‘n’ bass and chiptune highlights how Terada’s musical spectrum extends far beyond the limits of house.

Indeed, it was with the live shows for Omodaka — a spectacular A/V side project that sees Terada masked and dressed up in kabuki garb, hammering out beats on a variety of retro video-game handhelds — that he had been primarily occupied, up until his recent house music resurgence.

Clearly Terada had no problem keeping busy during his house music “sabbatical,” but now that it’s his club-oriented hits that are in the spotlight once again, he’s keen to forge ahead. Not only has Terada been in the studio working on new tracks, he also says that he has got plenty in reserve from way back that never saw the light of day.

“When I made those tracks back in the ’90s, when I pressed them onto vinyl and gave them to DJs in New York, that alone was enough for me — I never even imagined that it could go any further than that,” he says. “Actually, the way that it has taken 25 years … even though they’re my own tracks, I’ve forgotten what it was that I was feeling when I originally made them. It’s very nostalgic, it’s so long ago sometimes I feel like they’re someone else’s songs.”

Soichi Terada plays Air in Tokyo with Hunee and Antal on Dec. 22 (10 p.m. open; ¥2,000 before 11:30 p.m.; 03-5784-3386). For more information, visit www.air-tokyo.com or www.fareastrecording.com.