In a city that is bristling with talent and ingenuity, and an appetite for electronic music that is as keen as any other metropolis in Europe, one doesn’t have to look too far to get a feel for what’s going on. With the wildly successful AVA Festival shining a light on Belfast like never before, a look into the darker corners reveals artists who feel unbound, and who avail of the cultural space that is afforded to them to express their deepest thoughts and ponderings through whatever medium they choose to use as a vehicle.
One such artist is Koichi. First spinning techno in High Wycombe 15 years ago, he has since relocated across the Irish Sea, immersing himself in the scene in the Emerald Isle’s second city and finding work at Queen’s University’s space-age Sonic Arts Research Centre. 2 years ago, he began hosting his own night, Resist, an outlet for darker, more experimental forms of techno and IDM, as well as visual art, and has seen guest performances from players such as Paragon, Eomac, Lee Gamble, Kapoor, and Shiva Feshareki. A practising Buddhist, he claims that chanting not only keeps him grounded, but also elucidates his creativity and instils in him a sense of the possibility and importance of self-reinvention.
Over an alfresco coffee, taking advantage of the rather anomalous – in an Irish sense, at least – warm, sunny weather, Koichi tells me about his newest EP, Uncanny Valley which marks the first release on his new label, Resist.
‘It’s going to be very leftfield and experimental. It’s not a techno label.’
The lack of genre specificity is reflected in the artists lined up to appear on the imprint. ‘One is a Montreal artist who works on hardcore and gabber, through distorted, abstract imaginings of them; we have a Belfast producer who is going to be releasing their debut with us, and they have quite an Aphex Twin, IDM aesthetic; and then we have a top secret release from an artist who is already well established, with a show on NTS, and she’s going to be laying down some experimental stuff on an album. I just want to keep it as diverse and broad as possible’.
This immediately makes one think of labels like Warp and Rephlex, famous for pushing the boundaries of having larger umbrellas for musical styles. ‘Definitely labels like Warp, Halcyon Veil, Brainfeeder, Trilogy Tapes, R&S. But they’re big labels that have a lot of clout, so obviously I have a long way to go to get to that level.’
Taking on the responsibility of managing a label is no mean feat, but as Koichi enthuses, he’s under no illusions, as this was always part of the plan. ‘Always. Ever since I started DJing and making music. I’ve always wanted to.’ And he certainly hasn’t gone in blind, having done the homework. ‘I’ve done a tremendous amount of research, though I never really knew what I had to learn until I had learned it!!’ he laughs. ‘I spent a couple of years flirting with the idea of doing it for real, and after 2 years of doing the Resist nights – which I had always intended to turn into a label – and after a few attempts at finding a distributor and getting some artists on board, it just felt like the time was right. But the most important aspect of all is networking. Making connections and asking questions is crucial. And people are willing to help. I enjoy helping people and spreading positivity, and I find that that is reciprocal’.
Labels are also very time consuming, so inevitably, there will be some sacrifices required. One of which is the Resist night, which, having evolved into a label, will slowly shed its old skin. ‘I’m going to be doing less and less events. As I also have a full-time job as a sonic arts researcher and a busy personal life, something has to give. Making events more sporadic makes them more impactful. Maybe we’ll host no more than 3 per year’.
As for the EP, it marks a move away from traditional four-to-the-floor techno, the ‘jagged, angular sonics are the defining sound of this release’, though ‘his music continues to contain a heavy techno aspect’.
‘I feel like it’s only in the last, say, 4 years or so that techno has become really, really popular, with everyone into it. And that has kinda made it lose its appeal to me. I got a bit bored of it, I suppose.’ Though he is at pains to point out that he isn’t coming from an exclusive, elitist angle.
‘I like plenty of music that is commercial and popular, but techno has become very commercialised, and it never used to be like that. When I started going to techno parties in London, they were illegal, DJ’s played tracks that nobody really knew and you felt that you were part of something illicit and underground. I just think that the genre has gone way too overground’.
And this has helped to point the direction in which he intends to go as an artist, though his music is entirely organic, coming from within. ‘I guess I am moving to the left a bit and differentiating what I’m making to what other people are making, but I’m not really too worried about the scene, it’s more to do with what I’m feeling at the time. I think it’s quite important to always be evolving. Not just as a musician, but as a person too’.
This sense of evolution is a central trope of the EP, which explores the complex relationships between human and machine, and what it means to be human in an increasingly digitised world. ‘I’ve always been fascinated by sci-fi, and I guess on the other side of the spectrum, Buddhism is about how your intention creates your future. Uncanny Valley is quite dystopian’. A very pertinent, contemporary subject, with issues like the Singularity and the belief that a fictional organisation like Skynet might become something altogether more real. ‘The themes I explore came about through concern about the future and humanity’s role in it’. Music has always been a conduit for self-expression and exploration of themes, from romance to politics. Koichi agrees.
‘Art is always about something. And that can be very conscious or it can be very abstract, so I’m always trying to express something through every composition that I make. Usually it’s not about my personal feelings or states, it’s more about something that I see in the world, some kind of on-going issue’.
With this in mind, Koichi returns to work as I amble back towards the city centre, enjoying the stillness of the warm afternoon and reflecting on the Buddha, robots and the future. So long as electronic music has figures like Koichi, bringing a deeper level of profundity to the genre and seeking to use it as a vehicle for engagement in essential, relevant conversations, we can take the future on, one beat at a time.
The Uncanny Valley EP is released on 15th June on Resist Records.