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Risa Taniguchi Interview - In The Studio

Hailing from the vibrant city of Tokyo, Japan, Risa Taniguchi has emerged as a formidable force in the techno and electronic music scene. With a background in classical piano, Risa's transition into the world of techno is marked by her deep-rooted love for dark, atmospheric sounds. Her music, characterized by haunting melodies and intricate, driving beats, creates an immersive experience that resonates deeply with her audience.

Risa's journey in the music industry is a blend of perseverance and passion. She started her career DJing in Tokyo's underground clubs, where she honed her craft and developed her unique sound. Over the years, her innovative productions and captivating DJ sets have garnered attention from fans and critics worldwide. Her collaborations, such as the recent "Acid Flesh EP" with Black Asteroid, highlight her ability to blend her distinct style with other artists, resulting in powerful and evocative tracks.

Beyond her technical skills and musical prowess, Risa is also known for her engaging personality and down-to-earth demeanor. She often shares her love for good food and wine, adding a personal touch to her professional persona. This combination of talent and authenticity has solidified her reputation as a respected and admired figure in the global techno community.

Risa Taniguchi's Must-Hear Releases:

Experience Risa Taniguchi’s Captivating HÖR Radio Set

Risa Taniguchi’s 2023 set on HÖR radio is a hypnotic showcase of her talent and energy, marking yet another highlight in her illustrious career. The ‘backrooms’ style location is the perfect backdrop to a dark and visceral mix of bass-heavy dystopian techno grooves, masterfully mixed by Risa for HÖR Berlin.

Watch the performance here - Risa Taniguchi | HÖR

We chatted about her evolution as a musician, the importance of staying authentic to her sound, and the pivotal role of community in the electronic music industry.

Hi Risa, thanks for talking to us, how are you today? #

Well, thanks for asking. It's been not bad. I've been working a bit since this morning. It's kind of hot today in Tokyo, and it seems like we're getting into summer now, which I really like.

Do you find that getting hot makes it harder to work or enjoy it? #

Yes, to some extent, but I prefer summer over winter. I love this season.

Let's start off with some basic stuff. I think you have a background in classical music, is that right? And then you transitioned to electronic music? How did you go about making that transition? #

Well, I'd say, in a way, there wasn't even a clear transition. It just happened at some point, and it was a drastic change for me in terms of my music career. I had always been a big fan of classical music, especially when I was in school. Not just university, but also elementary school. When I was young, I was a disciplined student who loved practicing and seeing gradual improvement in myself. This made it easy for me to get obsessed with practicing piano daily because I could see gradual changes in myself.

I enjoyed playing the piano and listening to a lot of classical music. I was also really into some music from the UK and other countries. However, I had never experienced any electronic music. Back in the day, artists like Fatboy Slim, Daft Punk, and Chemical Brothers were popular, but I had no clue about that type of music and had never touched it. 

Preparing for university was a challenging time for me. I studied a lot, to the point that I was even suffering from some medical issues due to the stress. Passing the university exam was a significant milestone. After the exam was over, I felt a sense of freedom I had never experienced before. In Japan, passing the university entrance exam is often considered the hardest part, not what comes after.

I was also really into fashion. I loved clothing and putting together outfits. Although my university was located in the countryside and took over an hour to commute to, I chose to work part-time in Harajuku, in the center of Tokyo. Harajuku had a vibrant culture with many cool and interesting people. I wanted to work and spend time there rather than in the countryside.

I worked there six days a week, and one of my friends from my part-time job at a cafe took me to a nightclub for the first time. That was my first experience with nightclub activities.

So did you decide to pursue DJing and electronic music at a similar time? Or did it kind of grow from your exposure? And you sort of realized you wanted to pursue it more?#

Good question. I don't even know when I decided to confirm my career as a DJ because there was no significant change in my passion for being a musician. Since that night, my passion level has remained the same. I never thought about stopping my career as a DJ.

Right after that first experience in the nightclub, I quickly purchased some DJ equipment by working part-time and saving money. I spent that money on DJ equipment so I could practice daily, just like I did with the piano. When you're serious about something, the people around you become aware of your passion. 

While working in Harajuku, where there were many nightclubs, my friends naturally invited me to their organized club events. They asked if I was interested in joining as a DJ for these events. It was a very natural transition for me.

What are some milestones and changes you’ve felt throughout your career? How did things progress? #

Wow, good question. Yes, I've been in this industry for a long time, and there have been many challenging moments. There were times when I faced limitations and felt my career was stagnating. I wondered if I needed to stop what I was doing or change something to improve myself as a DJ.

The biggest turning point for me was when I changed my alias to Risa Taniguchi from my older alias. Additionally, when I started making my own music and releasing it through overseas labels, it marked a significant milestone in my DJ career.

What advice would you give to aspiring DJs and producers to transition from a hobby to a profession?#

If you're playing music just for fun or as a hobby, you don't need to worry too much about the benefits for those inviting you to DJ at their parties. You can focus on entertaining the audience and having fun. However, if you're an aspiring DJ and eager to become a professional, making a living through your DJ career, you need to consider the benefits for the promoters who book you.

Think about the kind of aesthetics or philosophy you want to showcase as a musician. This helps promoters see the value in booking you. Understanding and presenting your unique style and what you bring to the table is crucial for transitioning from a hobbyist to a professional DJ.

In terms of music production, do you think your background in classical piano influences the electronic music you’re making?#

My artist biography mentions my background as a pianist, practicing piano every day, and being classically trained. People often wonder if there is any connection between my classical training and my music production as an electronic producer.

As far as I'm aware, there isn't a direct connection between my classical background and the electronic music I produce now. However, sometimes I unconsciously recognize skills from my classical training, such as identifying the key of a piece without using a tuner. This ability is likely a privilege from my classical training.

If I were a melodic techno, house, or EDM producer, my classical training would be very helpful for my production. However, my current focus is more on drumming, synthesizing, and the overall output of each individual element. It's not about using the 88 keys of a MIDI keyboard to play phrases. So, while my classical background provides some benefits, it doesn't play a major role in my current production process.

So you just released a new EP, ‘So Loud’ on CLR, what was the production process like behind that?#

Ireleased two EPs on CLR, Chris Liebing's label. This time, the music-making process was quite different from what I usually do. My goal was to release on CLR, so I needed to focus on their sound rather than my own. However, I still needed to showcase my signature sound. Completely abandoning my own style to focus solely on their sound wouldn't have been ideal. Balancing my sound with their label's sound was tricky but a great learning experience for me as a musician.

I studied their music extensively, listening to many of their previous releases to understand what makes their sound unique. I picked elements that defined their label's sound and mixed them with my own production style. Eventually, Chris Liebing loved my music.

What was most interesting was the mixing and mastering process of these EPs with Chris. I had rarely received feedback from label owners regarding the mixing or fine-tuning of the final tracks when releasing music with other overseas labels. Typically, you send your demos, and that's what they judge. But this time, even after Chris confirmed the EP releases, he gave me advice on specific points of the mixing, which was incredibly useful. This process allowed me to make the EPs the best they could be. It was really nice working with Chris on the mixing aspect of the tracks.

How do you think your sound has evolved over the last few years? Do you have any ideas about what you want to explore in the future? #

Great question. Yes, over the years, there have been many transitions in terms of my sound. Specifically, regarding my mixing skills, as I mentioned earlier with Chris, there have been significant improvements over the past few years. This is largely due to changes in my listening environment in my home studio.

A few years ago, I used to rely solely on monitor headphones for mixing and mastering my music. In Tokyo, it's really challenging to find an apartment where you can play sound loudly because people are very conscious about noise in the neighborhood. We always have to be very careful to avoid making noise, which is challenging for every Japanese producer in terms of their studio environment.

Recently, I moved to a new apartment where I can play sound relatively louder. Although it's still an apartment, there are only two rooms on a single floor, and my studio is not directly adjacent to my neighbors. This change has allowed me to use speakers instead of just headphones, leading to a significant improvement in my mixing skills.

Do you think this new apartment setup will help you explore new sonic territories? #

Yes, because now I can hear sounds that weren't even audible when I was in the old apartment. Now I can detect any frequencies and noises, which makes me more conscious of them. This awareness gives me another level of ideas for my productions.

Do you practice DJing much at home? #

In recent years, I don't usually practice DJing at home as I do for piano. However, when I have an important event or when I'm organizing my own events, I sometimes use my DJ setup in my studio to check new songs. It's not about practicing but more about checking the keys and the skills of the tracks. This helps me adjust and transition smoothly between tracks during my DJ sets.

This is where I feel I have an advantage as a classically trained musician, not just in my music production but also in my DJ sets. My classical training allows me to understand and adjust to the nuances of different tracks, making my mixes smoother and more cohesive.

How much do you pre-plan your DJ sets, and how much is improvised? #

One rule I have is to avoid creating an entire, complete setlist beforehand. That wouldn't be a true DJ set. If you're doing a live set with only your own music, then you need a clear setlist beforehand. But for DJ gigs, I don't prepare a complete setlist.

However, I usually make a few folders in my record box, compiling songs I love to play at gigs and some favorite tracks I might want to add to my set. This preparation allows me to have flexibility while still having a selection of tracks ready to go.

So you put club nights on in Tokyo right? #

Yes, in Tokyo, I have a residency at a venue called Womb. It's not on a monthly basis or with that kind of frequency, but I irregularly host my own events there.

What are your current goals as a DJ and producer? #

It's been my dream to play at festivals in European countries, such as Awakenings Festival or Time Warp. These kinds of festivals are my dream destinations as a DJ. If that comes true, I could say that my specific goals have been achieved, and then maybe I would take some holidays or something like that.

Where do you find creative inspiration? What inspires your artistic output? #

That's quite a hard question.

I'm not the type of person who gets inspiration from beautiful scenery or paintings. My inspiration comes from different experiences. One of my important experiences as a DJ was when I spent some time in London as a university student. This was my first pure underground club experience, which was very different from the club scene in Japan. It was a world I had never known before, completely different from Japanese nightclubs.

The shock and eye-opening experience of the sound, the mysterious atmosphere, and the darkness of London nightclubs were my first inspirations. This texture and feeling are something I always want to showcase as a DJ and share with my audience. This initial inspiration has influenced both my DJ sets and my music production.

So were you studying at uni in London? I know the music scene there is very exciting. #

I wasn't even studying; I was just going to clubs. To give some background, I was a university student majoring in French, not English. I had to study a basic level of English to pass the entrance exam for university. Almost all the students in my French class chose Paris for their study abroad program. Since I was already really into the club scene during university and also very into UK-based music, like Magnetic Man and Skream, it was natural for me to choose London as my first overseas destination.

Even though I was studying French, I went to London. I didn't have much money, so I rented a really cheap place and went to clubs every night. It was more like backpacking than studying abroad.

How do you think the music scene and audiences differ between Europe and Japan? #

Yes, everything is different. I think it's mainly a cultural difference. Dancing is not something we usually do in our daily life in Japan. For example, if you're in a café and your favorite music is playing, you might naturally start shaking and enjoying the sound. However, this kind of scene is uncommon in Japan. Moving our bodies in public isn't a usual cultural habit because we're often too shy and lack the tradition of dancing together besides some proper Japanese “Bonodori” culture, which is an occasional ritual.

In Tokyo nightclubs, you see fewer people dancing wildly. Instead, many are more reserved, often just holding their iPhones and looking at the DJ booth, with minimal movement. However, I've noticed that after the COVID-19 pandemic, more people are getting crazier in clubs in Japan. I think the inability to go to clubs for a few years due to the pandemic has created a desire to dance and enjoy music more freely.

What are some of your most memorable experiences as a DJ? #

I've had a lot of good experiences as a DJ. While I've played at many big venues with inspiring audiences in places like Amsterdam, one of my most cherished experiences was in London. At that time, USBs weren't commonly used for DJ sets, so I always brought tons of CDs. This way, I could take advantage of any opportunities to play in local bars or clubs.

There was a small, local bar in London with a DJ booth and local DJs playing their music. Unfortunately, I can't remember the name of the bar, but it was there that I had my first experience as a DJ in an overseas country. I learned a lot about Dubstep music, which was very popular in London at the time. It was an amazing experience to see the local audience go crazy for my music, which was influenced by London sounds. That experience has stayed with me as a great memory.

How do you balance your personal life with the business of DJing, production, and work? #

That's a long-standing question for me, but I don't think I can balance my private life

and my work very well. I'm always at my desk, whether for my own music production, or my DJing, other stuff. To be honest, I need more time to relax and just have some time off. I would like to have more vacations or breaks to recharge. So, finding a balance is still a challenge for me.

What is some of the best advice you’ve received in your career? #

There are two answers to this. One is about your mentality. This advice might not be for everyone, but it's something I got from my mentor when I was a teenager. He was a DJ and producer, and when you're really busy and stressed, people often tell you to relax and not push yourself too hard. 

But my mentor told me the opposite: push yourself as much as you can so that you won't regret anything. He believed that only those who push themselves can truly be successful. This advice struck me, and I worked as hard as I could, balancing university, a part-time job, and DJing with little sleep. Now, I am where I am because of that mentality.

On the more practical side, I'd say it's always a good idea to start making your own music as early as possible. I still feel like I could have started earlier than I did. If you're serious about your DJ career, start thinking about producing your own music because it takes time to develop those skills.

What shows and releases have you got coming up? #

Yes, as we discussed, one-half of my EPs released from CLR is called "So Loud EP," which got #1 sales on Beatport’s Techno (R/D/H) chart, and on June 28, I'll be releasing another EP called "Wakes From Coma” on CLR again. Additionally, I'll be going on a tour in Europe in August to attend events like the Rave The Planet in Berlin.

I'll be in Europe this summer, and it would be amazing to get any opportunities or good advice on foods and drinks while I'm there.

What’s the best place for people to stay up to date with your activity? #

Follow my instagram!

You can also check my latest gig schedule from here:

Thanks for talking to me today!#

Thanks for having me, best of luck with everything!

Noah Feasey-Kemp
I started DJing when I was 15. Started a record label, residency by a club in Bristol. I’ve played at all the biggest clubs in Bristol (and the small ones) and have entertained thousands of dancers! I love writing about music, DJing, and technology. I've been blogging for DJ.Studio since the start of the project, and am always happy to answer questions and help fellow DJs out!

Excited to start mixing?