Sometimes hard times can turn out to be the best of luck. There is nothing like a little parental abuse — or substance abuse — to burnish an artist’s street credibility. Everyone from Eminem to Nine Inch Nail’s Trent Reznor to, more locally, DJ Krush has a rough past.
So one can be forgiven for flinching a little as Takashige Miyawaki describes his evolution into DJ Moochy. After all, we’ve heard the story many times before. His biography is a record company exec’s dream: A hardened juvenile delinquent, hanging out with gamblers and drug addicts, is transformed by the power of music into that most trendy of creatures, a DJ.
“At 16, I was in hell,” he relates in a recent interview. “My environment was very violent. There were a lot of people getting stabbed around me. I was working in the construction industry with people on the lowest rung of society, people who existed on sex, drugs and gambling.
“I asked myself what I could live for, and the conclusion I came to was that I would live for music.”
While many artists still revel in their violent, tortured past (while pretending to have turned over a new leaf), Moochy celebrates his musical salvation. And he discusses it with the utmost sincerity, not a trait usually associated with the rather superficial world of clubbing.
Indeed, Moochy has a fierce honesty and centered mellowness about him that draws more comparisons to hardcore, straight-edge punks like Minor Threat’s Ian McKaye.
It is not such a coincidence. Though best-known as an eclectic turntablist working broadly in a hip-hop tradition, Moochy got his start in music playing guitar with grindcore group Evilpowersme. He also recently recorded an album with punk outfit Wrench, proof that he hasn’t quite left his rock days behind him.
“Generally, I let the situation dictate what I am and what I do,” he says. “I might be playing avant-garde hip-hop one night, but the next I might be doing something without a beat, more relaxed. In each situation, my way is to search into the other people I’m sharing the situation with, a kind of grasping for a common denominator.
“For instance, say someone listens to a lot of Merzbow. Though I wouldn’t make that kind of music, I can still find something about it that I can appreciate. It might be Merzbow or Grooverider, or jam bands like Medeski, Martin & Wood — I can find a commonality in all of them.”
In the Tokyo music scene of late, this approach has become increasingly common. Everything is syncretic. Add a bit of tribal drums, techno-derived electronica, a didgeridoo and electric guitar and, voila, you have the latest hip and happening Tokyo wunderkind. Moochy, however, comes by his eclecticism honestly, less from arty pretension or trend-mongering than a genuine appreciation of music.
“I find the term ‘musician’ a bit too pompous,” he says. “As far as making music as a pro and being paid for it, there is always a certain amount of responsibility. This might be called musicianship, but in terms of my personal relationship to music, I would call myself more of a music lover.”
Moochy’s new record, “Pearl, Snake, Bird, Dawn,” with the amorphous group of musicians he directs, NXS, is wrought from the same ingredients as many of the improv trance groups plying their trade, but once more, Moochy has created something totally unpredictable.
The music clearly gets its start on the dance floor, but the rhythms stutter in and out of the tunes in fits and starts. The ethereal quality of “Dice” recalls avant-garde musician Keiji Haino’s more subdued performances crossed with the slow groove of Howie B.’s “Music for Babies.” “Sleepers” marries a similarly dubby quality with Miles Davis-style free jazz. And on “Zebra,” a disembodied diva, a standard trope of house music, wails over frenetic cymbals and a wash of electronica.
The result is ethereal, mystical. Moochy credits a trip to Bali for showing him the spiritual possibilities of music, and like gamelan music, the record has a certain eeriness to it. It is otherworldly but something more provocative than angels with harps.
The NXS unit is as diverse as the music it makes. Though the group’s membership is supremely amorphous, recently the core group has included Maki, a singer trained originally in opera; the drummer and engineer Jebski; and Madame Toki, a well-known Tokyo-area fortuneteller who has made a career studying shamanism in India, Africa and with Native Americans in Canada and the U.S.
“Depending upon the situation or concert, the members can be different. In any situation, the idea is to have the development of a conversation, a dialogue between members.
“It is more of a chain-link formation,” he continues, “in which there isn’t really a core in terms of personnel. I want the core to be the music.”
The tension between the preprogrammed, computer element of the group’s music and the improvised, human element is also important.
“It’s the melding together of the logical machine element with the raw sensibility of improvisation that is interesting,” says Moochy, citing the machine-versus-man dynamic of “Blade Runner” as an inspiration.
This, too, smacks of pretense. But looking at Moochy’s level gaze and listening to the complex melange of influences that make up “Pearl, Snake, Bird, Dawn,” one believes him. Maybe he can even make sincerity cool.
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