The perfect ex-sample of mixing technology and music
If the world mirrored a high school cafeteria and each country ate lunch together, Japan would surely be sitting at the cool kids table. The people are always primped in the most chic fashion trends, the food is the most appetizing and more importantly, their music sampling culture has influenced a slew of musicians. Japan is also known for being advanced when it comes to the field of technology. Throughout the years, technology has transformed rapidly and it’s no surprise that it is percolating its way into our current music scene. These days, the act of sampling music has become apparent in almost every music genre, whether the source is a video game, television show, a track from a previous era, or even that one weird meme that went viral on the Internet.
Let’s start with the gaming scene in Japan. It’s a widespread interest and plays a significant role among the country’s pop culture, especially with the origination of Super Mario Bros, Pac-man and The Legend of Zelda among others. Musicians like Yellow Magic Orchestra, a Tokyo based electronic music band, have done the duty of transforming that victorious sound of winning an arcade game into actual songs. Their 1978 hit track, Computer Game, is quite self-explanatory. It takes samples from Martin Denny’s 1959 Firecracker and arcade game sounds from Space Invaders and Circus, combined to foster a nostalgic yet avant-garde tune.
Computer Games takes samples from Martin Denny’s 1959 Firecracker and arcade game sounds from Space Invaders and Circus, combined to foster a nostalgic yet avant-garde tune.
Yellow Magic Orchestra are reputable for being pioneers of the synth pop genre, but the Japanese music sampling culture does not limit itself to merely one category. It has also seeped heavily into hip hop music. In recent years, a new lo-fi hip hop and beat culture has emerged internationally and Japanese samples are recognizable in many of the associated tracks. Beyond the tape hiss, off beat hi hats and dreamy vintage-like film footage, there’s a source that connects it all. Japanese musicians/producers like Nujabes and Uyama Hiroto have oftentimes been classified as two of the largest influences behind this modern day hip hop scene.
Jun Seba, better known by his stage name Nujabes, is considered one of the “founding fathers” of this new sound. Since his sudden death in 2010, new music from him has ceased, but his legacy still lives on as he continues to be an inspiration to many within the scene. His unique style of music commingles hip hop with jazzy beats to create a hazy, heartwarming melody. The track World’s end Rhapsody is a fan favorite that contains the sample, Betcha If You Check It Out by the Quadraphonics, which is the fundamental sound for the song, while breezy instrumentals complete the rest to create a masterpiece, especially with the piano piece midway and what seems to be a bongo drum. Throughout Seba’s career, he has befriended a tight-knit group of collaborators, including Uyama Hiroto. Hiroto’s style resembles a bit of Seba’s, both giving listeners a taste of that relaxing downtempo jazz-influenced hip hop beat.
Sampling is now prevalent across multiple genres but one musician takes it to a new level. Ryuhei Asano, who goes by the stage name Lee, is a Japanese beatmaker and producer. According to his Facebook biography, Lee's influences come from “everything around him.” While others use samples that are rather simple, Lee amalgamates various options into a colorful ensemble. Most of his tracks are primarily instrumental and intermittently contain samples as the only source of sound.
Many of his tracks, including fwl trailer, encompass dialogue samples over a downtempo jazzy beat to exude an atmospheric feeling.
Nostalgia is a delightful feeling that creeps up on us all from time to time. With the presence of Japan’s avant-garde sampling culture, the nostalgia transpires through the music. Remember when people bought those microscopic gadgets called Hit Clips that would only allow ten seconds of one song to listen to repeatedly? When the best way to express devotion to our high school crush was to burn a mixed CD for them? Or when we would sacrifice the continuance of our clunky desktop computers to download a track from Limewire? Now that technology is essentially at a peak and Japan is a country that might be at the forefront of innovation, its music sampling culture can possibly change the way music is both produced and listened to for years to come.
Written by Paulina Praphanchith
Edited by Amelie Varzi