We had a chance to sit down with renowned Japanese DJ and Producer Taku Takahashi (@takudj) during Anime Expo. Taku has been a influential figure in the Japanese music industry for over 25 years as a part of m-flo and collaborating with many of Japan’s top music acts such as Namie Amuro, Koda Kumi, Ryuichi Sakamoto, and Dragon Ash amongst many others. He is the founder and CEO of block.fm, Japan’s first Dance Music radio station. Taku returned to LA to perform for Anime Expo Neon District show. This is part one of our extensive exclusive interview with the man himself.
KKS: It’s been a while since you’ve been back to L.A. to play for a crowd. The last one being 2019 for OTAQUEST Live. How does it feel to be back playing for an LA crowd after a long time?
Taku Takahashi: I’m very happy to be back. I’m honored that they called me to play. I get a lot of wonderful message on Twitter to say, “Hey, come back and do you wanna play in L.A.?” And I’m always like, Yeah, I would love to. I’m very grateful that Neon District picked me for this event, especially as I was one of the first performers of the first Neon District. I’m happy they decided to do Neon District again last year and that I’m back.
KKS: One of the interesting things for Neon District this year was they announced was DJ Diesel or some known him as Shaquille O’Neal. Have you met him before and if not, are you looking forward to meeting him?
TT: I’m excited to meet anyone who I don’t know. I don’t follow basketball. I’m a soccer person.
KKS: Do you follow any Soccer Leagues? Like the English Premier?
TT: Yeah, Premier League.
KKS: Favorite Team?
TT: Brighton for Premiere League, Sint-Truidense from Belgium League. I watch Premiere League, League Espanola (LA LIGA), Ligue 1 from France, Serie A from Italy, and J-League. I mainly watch national teams. I’m a real fanatic of the Japan National Team.
KKS: You must’ve been following Japan during the most recent World Cup when they qualified for Top 16.
TT: Believe it for not, we were in a real tough group. Usually I’m pessimistic when it comes to the World Cup, but I had a feeling that they would make it out of group stage. It’s interesting because I look at sports the same way I look at music. You have people playing the game. Maybe from different countries, it’s the same thing with music. For example music in the US, it’s the entertainment center of the music scene. It’s big and there’s so many talented people, but there’s a lot more to catch up for Japan. The more you experience being in center, you’ll know how to play the game. It’s not impossible for us to be on the same stage but it just doesn’t happen in one day.
KKS: Elaborate what you meant as the “same stage”
TT: Being able to perform and impress a crowd in the US. That’s what Korea did for 20 years. BTS and NewJeans didn’t just come out of nowhere. The whole K-pop industry was trying to go abroad for 20 years and they’re still growing and figuring out what works in the US. A lot of people say Korean music sounds like an imitation of Billboard, eventually they started to add a more of their style. And now Japan is starting to face something similar. I’ve been saying for 10 years that Japan needs to go abroad, but people didn’t know what I was talking about. Now they feel it is necessary. Which in soccer, Japan is not fully experienced to European players. They need to find their forte. Back to music, once you find what you’re good at and that resonates to the audience but you got to get that experience. It’s very important to keep coming abroad to interact with the fans.
KKS: Recently a lot of music have found a lot of viral success through social media platforms such as TikTok. Do you believe how are people are consume music is changing?
TT: The answer would be yes. The thing about TikTok is it gets big and viral. but we can’t just rely on the internet. The song itself goes viral but you don’t know who sings it. Even aside from TikTok, any other social network made it easier for people to access listening to the music abroad. That is very important because back in the day we only had CDs and had to ship them overseas, but now you can listen to them anywhere. What Japan lacks right now is interaction with international fans at live shows.
KKS: You mean how Kpop artists are often touring overseas very frequently.
TT: Yes. That’s what I’ve been telling the Japanese Music Industry. For the record labels, it’s an investment and that costs money and the economy is not doing great so they’re very cautious. Depending on the artist that could be a barrier. It’s hard but we need to figure this out.
KKS: Do you feel that anime has played a big part in pushing Japanese music to the international crowd?
TT: I’ve been saying that for over 15 years. How K-pop evolved was it started in K-dramas and Korean people were very hungry about it. I don’t want to say this because it might become true, but the window is closing for Japan to thrive in the West. Our “forte” is the Japanese animation style is very unique and high quality, but that could change in the future as the technology evolves. Japanese companies forged this style and became the best at doing it, and some day other countries will be able to do that as well. What the industry should do is not just market the anime itself, but also promote the music that goes along with it. Some companies are starting to embrace that but I think we still have more to do.
You can read part two of our interview with Taku right here!