new/s | mail order | art.ists | kontact | links | DysFunkt!onal.arts | home
apache 61 >> breakbeat ninja

bedouin ascent

apache 61
  pink interview



Interview by Steve Goodman for kode9

One of the highlights of the recent SYZYGY event hosted by the Ccru (the Cybernetic Culture Research Unit) and O[rphan] D[rift>] at the Beaconsfield Art Centre in Vauxhall was the sonic performances of Apache 61 a.k.a. Brixton's Japanese breakbeat ninja Mieko Shimizu. A line of flight from the gradual rigidification of breakbeat culture, Apache 61 surfs through on a sonic diagonal between the inhuman beat quantizer (Technics 1210s) and the ultra-human authorized expression of 'musical training', into a propulsive Chiba City cut up for the 21st century. The self titled Apache61 CD, so far only available in Japan, consists of rattling, scratchy dislocated beats (insectile polyrhythym) fooling your skin into the perception of bugs below the surface.

Watching Apache61 perform falls somewhere between the cover of Herbie Hancock's 1974 album Thrust (where Herbie uses an instrumentation panel of electronic synthesisers to navigate through the cosmos) and Japanese Manga anime filtered through a decade of UK junglism. Apache61 journeys through acoustic cyberspace via an interface which is unusually immersive for an electronic artiste. The live performances were most notable for her manic use of phasing effects, melded to the rhythmic architecture by pumping a wahwah foot pedal, liquidizing the hard metallic edges into a turbulent ocean of noise, Apache61's strong break warfare skills, twisting and turning with asymmetrical patterns.

In the neurofunk climate of post Shadow Boxing drum'n'bass, with its robotic loops and prog tech masculinity, Apache61's break innovations launch an aural assault on the monoplod apparatus which triggered the forced migration of hyperrhythym from techstep culture towards 2-step underground garage.

Mieko emerged from the temperate climate of Shizuoka (120km from Tokyo) shadowed by Mount Fuji and its lakes. She came to England 10 years ago, to visit her brother and help out on a project he was recording in Paris and London at the time with Mieko's future partner Dominic who runs Brixton Water Lane's Wolf Studios, above which Apache 61 is now based.

When she first came to London, she was into African and Bulgarian chorus harmonies and was in the process of making an album. In fact she was only supposed to be here for 3 months but found the London situation so open that she decided not to go back to Tokyo. Musically in Tokyo, Mieko described how "so many things were happening really quickly. . .fashion things".Now "some kind of middle of the road drum'n'bass go there and they pick up something and put its essence into Japanese pop music and they think it is done. . .we've finished drum'n'bass. . .next. . ." In Japan according to Mieko, drum'n'bass boomed last year testifying to a staggered planetary process of boom and slump. Now according to Mieko, Stereolab and High Lamas are now very popular in Japan.

When she arrived in London, acid house was massive- she was still outside the club scene being still too orientated towards a purism passed down by her very musical family and at jazz school in Tokyo. Sporadically attacked by sonic singularities, she was swept away by dance performer-artist spookster Meredith Monk. Her addiction to weird electro soundscapes is longstanding. She also cites Indonesian, African, Bulgarian folk songs. Apart from always listening to soul and jazz, she was one day blown away by Tom Tom Club's tongue in cheek music which she claims took her mind away from serious side of music taking her in another direction.

Apache61 worked in Tokyo for several years singing and making experimental jingles. Before making jingles she was writing and selling songs in the slipstream of her brother. She started buying more and more samplers and sequencers starting with a DX7, Yamaha drum machines, an S900 and a 4 track. She began to wonder why she was not taking her own songs further instead of selling them to arrangers. Getting as much surplus value out of the jingles as possible, she was simultaneously training herself to use computers and digital sonics. When sampling machines became very commercial in Tokyo she started experimenting with them as opposed to synthesizers. "Sampling machine is just like an accident" And the precision of the digital always makes its accident most impressive, with damaged CD drill iteration melded into the sonic fabric. For Mieko at that time, "analogue machines involved more skill" although now it is different. She spent 2 months in Bali with her sampler. She describes it as being so full of people trying to make it, either writing, painting or in music. She would sample everything, from huge outside concerts, to traditional instruments. Doing a spot of psychic engineering, she used magic mushrooms while in Bali to find a stillness alien to the hypercircuits of Tokyo. She still apparently has an out of body experience on a day to day basis. She described Tokyo as such a stressed place and she was desperate to get away from the noise. She found a way of thinking which now makes going back to Tokyo easier. Her perspective is similar to Zen, but she came to it through other paths. She wrote a novel called Angry Angel consisting of 5 stories about the relation between mind and body which were inspired by Bali. Her publishing contract fell through but her publisher had a breakdown and despite taking him to chill out at Mount Fuji, the shellshock of a return to Tokyo sent him reeling again. The book got shelved for a while. Apache describe how difficult it is to write and make music simultaneously "You need a switcher because it is a quite different way of using your brain." To a certain extent, Pro-logic and Cubase sequencing software bridge this gap between music and writing on computers- in both, operations are reduced to a base logic of cut'n'paste and airbrushing.

When she finally arrived in London and sampled some of rave scene, she remained largely unmoved. That is until she started picking up those numerous early 1990s jungle albums. "What is this continuously going on?" Thinking they were sampling CDs, she listened to them secretly, too embarrassed to talk about them to anyone- they were too fast, too mad and too busy. At that time she was doing an ambient project called Mikonzo with a violinist and percussionist who used to play with Nico.

Now at the end of the decade she sees the logic, the logic of speed and machines and the urban boombox futurism of the automobile. For Mieko it is the sonic equivalent of what the Japanese would call a jet-coaster, intense slowness and rapid acceleration flattened out onto the one continuum. During her periods of most intense breakbeat possession she was also obsessed by Formula One racing. On the Apache61 album she even inserted a subtly concealed tribute to Jack Vilneuve. In Mieko's case of kronik break delirium, programming is worse than drugs- the thinking and digital visualisation of rhythm is a narco agent which literally stones you out. "Normally when I was doing Apache I had such a weird daily routine because drum'n'bass is so time consuming. . .I didn't want any disruption. . .one meal a day and a very early walk. . .a deeply inhuman routine. . .for about one year." 1996-1997 was complicated programming period for her. While trying to make a vocal album, she did a drum and bass remix for a joke and accidentally really liked it. At that time she was asked to make a breakbeat soundtrack for a sex education video. Suddenly this music came out of her, despite not going to clubs at the time or keeping up with developments within the jungle scene. One drum and bass producer she did listen to was heavily Japanese influenced Photek. Mieko described Photek's break engineering as elegant. In fact she was really amazed by Photek's 1997 Ni Ten Ichi Ryu (2 sword technique) When she started the 3rd track for Apache, she saw Photek's video on MTV. "So many westerners use a Japanese imprint. . .normally really cheapo. . .but Photek took the essence and put it through his own filter. . .a breakbeat filter. . .yes. . .it doesn't stink at all. . when the Samurai talks in middle I just laughed." For Apache, most attempts by westerners, Photek being a rare exception, at recreating a sonic orient miss the mark. The Apache61 album itself features the bassist of Japan, the 1980s synth-pop pioneers. But for Mieko, Japan's sound was more like the arrangements of Chinese pop music.

Unlike Photek however, Apache 61's martial mode is that of the Ninja spy as opposed to Photek's samuari. The Apache61 CD cover features a Ninja blade. In fact her ancestry was destroyed by Samurai, recreating Japan in their image of discipline. Photek is famous for spending weeks on manufacturing his own breaks. But Mieko now seems tired of that complicated production process, listening to the sweeter electronica of To Roccocco Rot and preparing herself to do something rhythmically simpler.

So what would a Japanese sound be for Mieko? For her the use of time and speed is totally different in Japan. She talks of the impact of electronics on Japan as a phase shift from a culture of discipline and accuracy on pause to one on fast forward. Japan has had a fortressed culture for years. Suddenly after World War 2 things sped up. Discussing the explosive conjunction of Japanese sub culture and mutant high technology, Apache 61 emphasizes how pre WW2 Japanese culture was still massively subject to the hyperdiscipline of the samurai legacy. An obsession to control time which electronics erodes by accelerating it into a blur.

Apache61 feels that through her breakbeat detours she has arrived at a very Japanese sound descibing earlier failed efforts to sound authentic. "Japanese traditional rhythm is very drum'n'bass like Kodo drumming" "I didn't realize until I finished my album that my own rhythms are very Japanese." And very female? "My generation is the start of a new female thing" Apache61 played last years Sonar festival in Barcelona as part of a Wire magazine showcase of female electronica. But she had no interest in their academic debate concerning why there was not many women producers. In fact she feels she can discern a female mode of electronica concerning various speeds, and use of voice. . .so she avoids it. When asked about various theories about the darkside of jungle driving women from the clubs, she suggested that there is an implicit female aspect of junglist hyperrhythym, being more graphical and therefore cinematic that most other soundscapes. For Apache this a more female thing, weaving sound with drawing. But again she emphasizes that she was totally into the dirtyness of what is being categorized as the boy sound. More than anything, Apache61's comments on the boy-girl aspects of sound says more about the futility of such distinctions. For she knows that she is part of a part of a new generation mutilating what being a woman means . . .as she prophetically announces "exceptions will increase from now on."

no immortal