Diggers Directory: Kay Suzuki

As he explains, DJ, producer and label boss Kay Suzuki‘s musical upbringing was pretty unique for a Japanese kid living in the suburbs. Through his family’s influence, he found himself immersed in the sounds of Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, James Brown and John Lee Hooker in his early teens, leading him into an obsession that would shape his entire life.

Well-known around the capital and part of a close-knit family of East London diggers, since his move over here in 2004 as a DJ Kay’s been a regular at spaces like Brilliant Corners and parties like Beauty & The Beat, while his productions – solo, alongside Leonidas, as Afrobuddah with Koichi Sakai, and as Sputnik – have found their way to labels like Fresh Minute Music, Burnin Music, Rhythm Section and his own imprint, Round In Motion.

As a label boss himself, he helms Time Capsule, a reissue label and online shop that hones in on the details of sound and the emotional impact of music, with an aim to explore and share the sonic experience of what the imprint term as “time art”.

Alongside an interview about his relationship with music and records, for his Diggers Directory mix, Kay rallies his collection around 70s and 80s Japanese Manga and Anime soundtracks, that flow from new age to jazz, synth-pop and funk.

DJs and producers often mention their musical education came through their family’s record collection. Was this the case for you? Can you pick out any pivotal records from your upbringing that informed your musical journey?

Most definitely. Being the youngest in the family was a blessing in terms of musical education. My dad was into Jazz, country & western and American oldies pop from the 50s and the 60s. Ray Charles was his favourite and I grew up watching VHS videos of Roots (an American TV series from the 70s – soundtrack by Quincy Jones) and The Blues Brothers, which was definitely my starting point, and somehow Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Cab Calloway and John Lee Hooker all became my idols as a kid.

My brother gave me all the golden era Stevie Wonder albums (’72 – ’76) and James Brown’s live album Love Power Peace when I was around 12. They were other cornerstones that really made me fall in love with music. He also taught me all the classic rock and soul from the 60s and 70s when I started playing guitar around the same time. My sister was always listening to City Pop and I secretly loved them too. My brother also taught me that when I find some favourite artists, I should try to listen to what they were listening to so I can understand where the music came from. I ended up listening to the original Delta blues such as Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters around 14 or 15 and then I guess I started listening to music chronologically from there. I’d say it’s pretty unique for a suburban Japanese boy.

People buy records for a multiple of reasons. What first drew you to collecting records and what motivates you to continue digging after all these years?

Soon after I got into high school, I started a part-time job at a sushi restaurant. Across the street from the restaurant was one of the biggest secondhand record and audio shops in the region (it was the biggest branch of Disk Union which is one of the most trusted record shops in Japan) so that’s when the second phase of my musical education started, alongside playing in a band with much older people.

I was literally at the shop 3-4 times a week and all of the money I earned from the restaurant went straight into the other side of the street. I learnt so much from there during my high school days. Diving into record crates is like throwing yourself into an unknown universe (hopefully) full of surprise and joy. Discovering different emotional expressions from all over the world from different times. How can you stop doing it?

Sometimes I also feel like digging old records is like finding some old restaurants that once existed somewhere at some point of time and we just reopen their menu and taste what they were enjoying at that specific time and space on this planet.  

Where do you store your records and how do you file them?

Most of them are in my living room and some are in the home office/studio. I generally file with a broad sense of genre and country/region, then order them according to the feeling. I was a terrible record organiser and used to take a lot of time to find a record I want, but since I started working with my friend Pol Valls (who is almost OCD) I learnt to organise a bit better. 

What are your favourite spots to go digging and why?

I guess it’s been a while for all of us to go digging which is super sad as I like finding new spots in different cities. Recently my favourite is definitely Hidden Sounds. They’ve just moved to a new spot in Dalston and created such good vibes. I miss strolling around Soho for Phonica, Reckless (big up Toru) and Soul Jazz. I also enjoy Flashback (both Angel and Bethnal Green), Love Vinyl, Yo-Yo, Tome and Atlantis as they are all local and have nice selections. 

Even though I moved to London more than 16 years ago for the sole purpose of musical inspiration, I still love the record shops in Japan. The thing about there is that you can find not only local Japanese music, but any genres deep and wide. Also, the condition is usually meticulous and you can really feel their love for the records and music in all those shops. It’s almost impossible to list all my favourite shops and every time I go back there, I always find another new record shop in a different city. 

Digging isn’t just about the records you find, but the people who help you find them. Who are some of the colourful characters you’ve met on your travels in record stores round the world? Any unsung heroes you’d like to shout out?

For me, the unsung heroes are all the diggers in our community. One of the reasons why I started Time Capsule was to reflect on those characters ans tell a story of the record. Our TIME006’s curator Dom Harding a.k.a. “King” Dom has a strict policy when it comes to digging (well, actually he’s got a lot of policies in a lot of areas of his life). No repress, no compilation. He only buys the original pressing. He’s not exactly a rich guy, but he does it for the love of those original artefacts and he makes a super extra effort to get hold of them. He’s also a talented collage artist and cloth maker, but not many people know about that even though he’s quite well-known amongst London’s old school digger community. It’s funny that he agreed to curate a reissue when he would never buy one, but I’m quite happy that we’ve made a great reissue album together.

Time Capsule’s accountant Sam Jacob used to run a bike shop with a vintage audio set and had some legendary bike shop parties. Pol Valls has a developed sense of smell to dig out some hidden gems anywhere he goes. I was blown away by his collection (as well as his organisation skills) when we were living together and he curated all of the selection at our online secondhand shop – we stopped inputting new records these days, but he’s been curating quite a lot of our up n’ coming release titles for the label.

Cedric Lassonde from Beauty & The Beat has always been my inspiration (well, just like most of us in our community) to point me in a direction where I missed previously and I’m super excited about a lot of reissue titles we’ve been working together. They are all coming out in the next few months. 

Is there a record (or records), that has continued to be illusive over the years?

Hmmm… there are way too many. One of the tracks I was lucky enough to get the last test pressing was made not too long ago, but it was really limited and the guys who made the record fell out sadly, so no chance to reissue unless they become friends again. Who knows. The music we are dealing with has got this kind of rawness to it.

Do you prefer record shopping as a solitary process or with friends to nerd out with and search or strange sounds together? If the latter, who do you like to go digging with?

I do prefer to dig solo and rarely do record shopping with someone else, but with the right person, it can be quite enjoyable and I’m always open to suggestions.

Walking into a record shop can be quite a daunting experience. Do you have a digging process that helps you hone in on what you’re after?

I usually go to the new arrival of the second hand corner first then I’d pick the genre that the particular shop is good at or known for. By going through a few genres, you could usually tell if the particular crates need thorough investigation. If I find a few favourites then I’d also ask the shop for the recommendation which is the part I enjoy the most.

How big a role does album artwork play in your digging?

It does play a quite huge role. Especially old records. Not necessarily judging “good” or “bad” artwork, but more to get the feel of their music. I’m a gear geek and really nerdy about how people make records so any credits or text information about the records are really important. I can usually imagine the sound quite easily from the list of instruments, region, time and the artwork. If they list any synthesisers or drum machines, I could already hear the vibes in my head. I love it when my expectation is wrong though.

Could you tell us a bit about the mix you’ve done for us?

They are all Japanese Manga / Anime soundtrack records from the late 70s till the late 80s. Some new age, synth-pop and quite a few soul and jazz funk. They are all incredible and not like one and half minute library music either. They are all solid, well written high quality productions with a plenty of budget behind them. I’m really fascinated about the fact that so many talented musicians and producers in Japan all did this type of commission work. Manga and Anime industries are huge in Japan so I guess they had a lot of budget to utilise the nation’s most talented musicians for their comic world’s soundtracks.

I mean, you’d understand to have a soundtrack for Anime (animation), but Manga is just a comic, you wouldn’t really need to make a soundtrack. Some are a bit silly or literally comical as you can imagine, but all of the music that I recorded here is seriously well produced with some class musicianship. The artwork on all of these are hilarious and you would never imagine what’s inside of the groove when you look at them. What you need to look for when you search Japanese soundtracks is usually from the composer/arranger’s name. Some of the big names would be Shoji Osamu, Yuji Ohno, Joe Hisaishi and Chumei Watanabe. In this mix, we’ve got new age percussionist Yas-Kaz, Y.M.O.’s programmer Hideki Matsutake and Ryuichi Sakamoto’s only anime soundtrack he’s done too.  

Any standouts in the mix you’d like to mention?

“Lupin The 3rd” is Japan’s most favourite anime soundtrack series and there are so many renditions of their soundtracks over three decades. They have some serious soul and jazz albums as well as fairlight CMI driven synthesiser albums and I included all of them in this mix. The standout is Yuji Ohno’s rendition of a track called ‘Silhouette’ which sounds just like one of the songs from Marvin Gaye’s I Want You album. The level of production might probably be even better than Marvin Gaye. Try around 1hr in. 

Casting the net wider now, who are some of the record collectors you most admire and why?

I say once again, but I always get great musical inspirations from Cedric Lassonde. I guess his sensitivity and the pursuit of great sounds really resonate with me and feels like he is always a step ahead of everyone else. I’ve never seen the collection, but Stuart “Chuggy” Leath’s outputs are all dope and always seems like the right timing. I bet his collection has that width and depth. I also admire Dr. Rob from Ban Ban Ton Ton’s deepest knowledge. 

And are there any young collectors emerging who we should keep a close eye on?

I’d say Bruno of Perfect Lives. He’s got some serious UK hidden gems. Another serious digger/record dealer you should know. Also, big shout out to Tokyo based online record shop VDS run by Rintaro Sekizuka who supplied quite a lot of these Japanese records!

Anything on the horizon you’re excited about?

Yes – I’ve been focusing on creating a lot of releases on Time Capsule during the lockdown. Next one will be a beautiful and sensual percussive ambient album by Gabrielle Roth who was the founder of the famous dance meditation called 5Rhythms. She had a really fascinating life journey and the music is just pure gold. It was previously only available on CD, but it was really made for audiophile analogue sound. Then we have a compilation of an artist from Martinique called Gratien Midonet. He’s a Creole poet and left incredible cosmic psych folk albums in the 80s. We have so many more in the pipeline and really excited about the coming months! 

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