Q&A with label owners and crate-diggers Yoshi Horino & Matthieu Soulie

Japanese house legend Yoshi Horino and French DJ Matthieu Soulie have united their respective labels, UNKNOWN season and Cosmocities Records, to collaborate on an upcoming LP – a tasty selection of soulful, raw house remixes and collaborations set to release on January 19th, 2024. It features remixes (which prior to this had only been released digitally) of Japanese artists Manabu Nagayama & Soichi Terada, Satoshi Fumi, Jimpster, Nick Holder, and KEEENE. The package also features one new exclusive remix of ‘Reprise’ by Jimpster.

Buy the LP on vinyl here.

Hi Yoshi and Matthieu, it’s a pleasure to connect with you here on Echo Room. For those who may be unfamiliar with you as label owners and DJs, let’s dive in. Yoshi, you’re running the UNKNOWN season imprint out of Tokyo (Japan) and Matthieu, you’re heading up the Cosmocities imprint out of Dijon (France). Could you both share with us a little about your individual imprints and how this latest collaborative label release came together? 

YH: I started my label in December, 2010. For the first year, I concentrated on releasing homegrown Japanese artists’ productions only. From the second year, I started also releasing international producer’s works as well and here we are now. Up until now, UNKNOWN season has released original productions by Rick Wade, Alton Miller, Satoshi Fumi, Franck Roger, Hiroshi Watanabe, Hideo Kobayashi, Javonntte, Manabu Nagayama & Soichi Terada, Pete Moss, KEENE, Lars Behrenroth, Loftsoul, Yusuke Yamamoto, Rennie Foster, Crispin J Glover, Brisa…  We have also released remixes by Jimpster, Kuniyuki, Sebastien Leger, Dan Curtin, Tigerskin, Nick Holder, Pablo Valentino, Gilb’R, KaySoul, Cee ElAssaad, Moodymanc, Rui Da Silva, Ian O’Donovan, DJ Sodeyama, Takuya Matsumoto…

This recent collaboration with Matthieu happened quite naturally. At first, I did not know about him but our communication all started when he approached me with an offer to license Ryoma Takemasa’s track, ‘Deepn’(The Backwoods Remix)’ that we released in 2013, that he wanted to include in the compilation, V.A. -『電子音楽の美学 (The Aesthetics of Japanese Electronic Music) Vol.2 that he curated. I found out that he was very passionate and enthusiastic about Japanese electronic music so I asked him if he would be interested in releasing Manabu Nagayama & Soichi Terada’s track, ‘Low Tension (Jimpster Remix)’ on vinyl. This remix was only released in 2020 as part of a special 10th anniversary release of UNKNOWN season. We were initially planning to release a vinyl edition on our own but a number of factors prevented us from doing so. As ‘Low Tension (Jimpster Remix)’ is a very special track for us, we have treated it very carefully and never licensed it out to any label. When I met him, I thought the time had finally come that we finally met a trusting partner to get it released on vinyl, so I talked to him about it and here we are.

MS: Cosmocities started five years ago, after 20 years of passion for music. The first project was a vinyl-only compilation with VA from 5 continents. After that, several productions from Australian producer Inkswel; between hip-hop, broken beat and nu-soul (Including the first label album, Chasing Infinity, which featured one of the last appearances of Lee Scratch Perry), some deep house from Detroit (Billy Lo) and Napoli (Fabrizio Fattore), two UK prog/trance represses (Prism and Tiny Elvis). Finally, some releases of Japanese electronic music (Inner Science and compilations Denshi Ongaku, vol.1 and 2).

For these compilations, I’ve selected one track from Unknown season’s catalog. Yoshi was very enthusiastic and we got in friendly contact. He  proposed a collaborative project; release on vinyl some tracks from The Best Of Remixes. It’s an honor for the label to gather such fantastic artists!

Matthieu, we can see from the back catalogue of your label you have released two compilations, Vol.1 & 2 of Denshi Ongaku No Bigaku / 電子音楽の美学 (The Aesthetics of Japanese Electronic Music). Could you tell us a little about your journey of discovery in Japanese electronic music and when it began?

I was already influenced in the nineties with Ryuichi Sakamato and ‘Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence’; a classic from my childhood (I was born in  1976). But I started digging on discogs around 2000 and tried to find rare tracks from Japan.

Yoshi, Japan has a long and rich history with electronic music and is notably responsible for the creation of a vast majority of the leading synthesisers and drum machines used to create iconic records such as the Roland TR-909, 808 and Juno synthesizer, the Yamaha DX-9, the Korg MS-20 and so much more. Could you tell us a bit about your roots in music in Japan and how your homeland’s influential impact on electronic music has been for you growing up? 

YH: It is indeed true of what you say. As we all know, many of the instruments developed by Japanese musical instrument makers at the time are still in use now by dance music producers from the mainstream to the underground all over the world.  My roots are Y.M.O.’s ‘Rydeen’ and Godaigo’s ‘Monkey Magic’, which I first heard when I was still in elementary school. The moment I heard these songs for the first time, I was instantly captivated by the synthesizer sound that was featured in both of these tunes. YMO’s ‘Rydeen’ in particular had a huge impact on Japanese society. This is because it was used as BGM for sports day festivals held in kindergartens, primary and junior high schools all over Japan. It has been ingrained in my body ever since I was a child. After that, I was totally knocked out when I saw Herbie Hancock’s live performance of ‘Rock It’ at the 1984 Grammy Awards on TV. And when I was in junior high school, through listening to New Wave, New Romantics, hi-energy and euro beat, I discovered more different kinds of electronic music. When I became a high school student, I started listening to house music by Mr. Fingers, Ten City, Marshall Jefferson, M/A/R/R/S and Acid Trax. At the same time, [I was listening to] reggae, ska, rock steady, punk rock, Run DMC, Beastie Boys, Major Force and became interested in the dance music culture and its movement that surrounded all of these musical genres. [I] started reading many books about it as well as started to heavily get into digging for records.

A question for both of you – what do you look for when signing new music for your label. Is there a particular aesthetic in electronic music that hooks you in or something in particular about a record that is an essential component to make you love it? 

YH: One of my criteria is I ask myself if the music has passion or not. When I listen to a song, I try to find out if I am moved by it or not. I think each person has their own tastes but I think I am good at sensing the heat that the song has within a few seconds.

MS: Cosmocities release various kind of electronic music but I would say the groove and/or melodicity are common points

The upcoming release, ‘Cosmocities presents UNKNOWN season’, features some iconic names from the Japanese and European/Canadian scenes with Jimpster, Nick Holder and KEENE remixing Soichi Terada & Manabu Nagayama, Satoshi Fumi and Luyo. Can you tell us a bit more about how this all came together? 

YH: I have known Manabu Nagayama personally for a long time, and I have a lot of respect for him since he was one of the producers who was quite active from the early days of Japanese dance music in the late 80s. 

About ten or so years ago, he approached UNKNOWN season and asked if my label would be interested in releasing the track, Low Tension’, a well-known Japanese house classic, digitally.  At the same time, he asked me if I would be interested in remixing the track as well. I was very happy that he asked me and at the same time, felt very honored. So as a special commemorative title for the label’s 50th release, we released a package that included a remastered version of the original, a joint remix by Satoshi Fumi and myself, and a remix by Foog (aka Yukihiro Fukutomi). 

Later in 2020, when we were thinking of releasing a special compilation to help celebrate our label’s 10th anniversary, I came up with an idea of including a new remix of Low Tension’ with an updated version. And one of the people I had been in contact with for a while but wasn’t able to do something together due to timing was Jamie Odell aka Jimpster. When I asked him, he said yes straight away because he had just finished his new album, had time to work on other projects and he was also a big fan of Low Tension’ and was playing out the original a lot. He was very happy that I asked him to remix this track. I remember when I received the initial demo of the remix from him, it was so beautiful that I was moved to tears. I also felt that there were some similarities with the sound of his dad’s band, Shakatak. Anyway, I was very happy by his remix.

Both Manabu and Terada-san were pleased with his remix. I also suggested he create a beatless, ambient version of Low Tension’ which he did. This version was initially an unreleased version that was only given out to VIP DJs at the time of release of his remix.

I connected with Canadian house legend Nick Holder when Satoshi Fumi and I did a remix of a track by South African artist Platinum Mindz that came out of his DNH Records label, which was subsequently also released on his label. He really liked our remix and also played it a lot on the radio.

I met Luyo from Italy when he came to Japan to DJ. Midori Aoyama (who runs the label, Eureka!) introduced me to him when he was here and we connected. Soon afterwards, we started talking about releasing some music on UNKNOWN season. I listened to his track, Shanee’, and thought it was very good so I signed him to our label. I was thinking of an idea of releasing a remix at that time and thinking about who I should ask and Nick immediately came to mind, so I contacted him about it. He immediately said yes. As you can hear, he made this super dope, lo-fi house remix. Actually, soon after I released this remix,I received a license offer from a big UK label. Unfortunately, although I signed a deal for it, it was dissolved just before its planned release.

I knew that KEENE was one of the most popular producers of Watergate in Germany. They contacted me directly and asked me about potentially releasing music out of UNKNOWN season. They let me listen to some demos of theirs and we released two, very cool, afro house tracks. That’s how my relationship with KEENE started. Like Jimpster, I asked them if they could do a remix for UNKNOWN season’s 10th anniversary release compilation, and they said yes straight away. They created this dope, Balearic remix that might fit perfectly in an early morning set.

They are not the only ones who release music that is not just about trends, but I also place great value in who I meet personally and connect with when it comes to what I release through my label.

MS: Yoshi would like to release on vinyl The Jimpster remixes and I proposed to select two more tracks from this excellent Best Of Remixes.

Following on from this collaborative EP, what does the future hold for UNKNOWN season and Cosmocities?

YH: In the same way as now, I hope to continue keeping my great relations with Matthieu and hopefully we can do more collaborative projects in the future.

MS: We’ve already spoken about some collaborative projects. I really like working with Yoshi and Japanese producers. They are open minded, really passionate, and trusted a little guy from Dijon! 

Yoshi, could you share with us a few Tokyo tips, any particular things you think one should do when visiting the metropolis capital city of Japan? Maybe a particular restaurant or bar you love, a club, a record store or anything else?

Tokyo is a small city with many cultures in different areas (downtown, uptown, east, west, south and north). If you visit Tokyo for sightseeing or for other reasons, you should definitely try to get a taste of the many diversities to enjoy the city even more. There are also several small clubs and DJ bars in Tokyo that are very serious about their acoustics. I personally recommend Shelter in Hachioji and Bar Bonobo in Harajuku. Both are very rare places that continue to pursue and explore the realms of acoustics and their sound systems are constantly being updated. I hope you can make an effort to experience them as it is well worth the trip.

Matthieu, same question for you. Could you please offer some insight into life in Dijon, are there any particular stores or establishments you love and would like to put in the spotlight?

Dijon is almost a gastronomic capital! There are many good restaurants and we are very close to the famous Burgundy Vineyards. But this is also a city with an electronic music culture. In the nineties, Laurent Garnier was a resident in the Club L’AN-FER. It was a precursor club in France, like Rex Club (Paris). We have seen Daft Punk without masks, David Guetta before the celebrity, and lots of great DJs (Jeff Mills, Fumiya Tanaka, Cajmere…). It unfortunately closed in 2002 but some vocations were born here (For instance, Vitalic  and Thomas Roussel from label Ed Banger are children of L’AN-FER). Currently, we have a concert hall called ‘La Vapeur’ and a contemporary art museum ‘Le Consortium’ which organizes some events. Risk crew organize an interesting annual festival (MCDE, Kink, Octave One, and Marcel Dettmann played recently).

Thanks for talking with us! 

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