tokyo: captain funk
(AKA Tatsuya Oe)
Japan might not have the numbers when it comes to superstar music producers and artists but they sure do turn out some of the most interesting producers around. After a few hours of conversation we found Captain Funk to be no exception. First signed to a sub-label of the Italian label ACV called Chicago-Style, Tatsuya produced records as one of the only Japanese artist releasing the Chicago style of house. It was not until he was signed on Sublime, however that he found his fame began to soar. Countless releases and projects later Captain Funk continues to flourish in the music world. With projects that stretch from house to rock fusion, Captain Funk tests all waters and shows he has something to give all styles.
All beginning as a childhood obsession with music, Captain Funk found himself making the first step in his music career at the age of 13 when he purchased his first synthesizer. "At the time synthesizers were very expensive. The first synthesizer I bought was a SH101. It cost me about 500 dollars. I bought a synthesizer because I was influenced by electronic pop. At the time Yazoo, Depeche Mode, and of course YMO (Yellow Magic Orchestra). Also Herby Hancock of Rocket. They were like Electronic Hip-Hop. So I bought synthesizer but I couldnít play it. I didnít have the experience to practice or play the piano so I could program but I couldnít play live. I couldnít compose. At that time hard rock and heavy metal, like the Scorpions or Rainbow, was very popular with Japanís younger people. Like junior high school. So I was fascinated like the other young guys with this music. So one year later I bought a guitar. I started to make a band and played songs from hard rock and electronic pop. I even played progressive rock like Canon and King Crimson. I was very versatile. I continued to play in a band for five years till I was 18 or 19. During that time I was influenced by many kinds of music such as the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. I tried to practice several kinds of music and when I went to the University at 19 I tried to make a band again."
Studying Economics at Tokyo
University Tatsuya got a taste for the mentality many artists had. This
is where he also found himself examining his life and his wants in the
music he was trying to create. "I
tried to make a band but I felt different because many players and
students were under a lot of pressure to become better players. That is
why amateur players can play well, like a professional or like a jazz
guitarist. I felt very different because the point of music I was
fascinated with was very basic and not so influenced by trends. I
thought music was very spontaneous or in a way punk. What you feel is
what your gonna get but most other people were thinking about the
technical aspect only. I felt different and at that time club music was
getting more and more popular in Japan. In 1988 or 1989. At that time
most people did not accept a DJ as a profession. People didnít think
it was a special skill. But London and New York DJs began to make music
by themselves and that was very epic making. It was new. Like Acid
House, Hip Hop. I was trying to make my own style of music but other
musicians were concentrating on what was popular at the time. I thought
they were just wanna bís. Like "I want to be Keith Richards"
or "I want to beÖ" etcÖ but there were no famous DJís to
look up to and DJís used other peopleís samples. Other peopleís
records. Scratching and building. So I felt very punk. Primitive.
Primitive but very fresh. So I began to play as a DJ because I had a lot
of records. At that time I had 3000 so I played at clubs. So I quit
playing in a band. 18 or 19 till 24 or 25 I continued to be a DJ. As an
So with a definite interest in music Tatsuya continued on the path to finding his true place in the music world. Influences in many various styles had a major impact on him as well. Tatsuya was on a constant search to find his true feelings for music and each avenue seemed to end in unsatisfied feelings. "I was influenced mainly by Funk, R&B and House. I was influenced by Black music. Especially Funk. In Junior High School, when I was a student, I listened mainly to Rock, Pop, or Jazz. It wasnít till I was around 16 or 17 when I first meet a James Brown or Parliament sound. After that I really began to dig funk records. From 18 to 23 or 24 I mainly played black music but I checked the new sounds like house or rave quite often. I was not so interested in House though. I had experienced black musicís groove so I didnít feel as much from rave music or house. Especially European house. When I was 24 or 25 Techno music invaded Japan. At that time people like DJ Jeff Mills, Richard Hawtin, and Hardfloor were coming to Japan. They came and played at big venues like Liquid Room or Yellow. I was shocked because they had a very strong groove and no language. No lyrics. House music was popular but most house music has a lyric like garage music. A message but most Japanese, including myself, donít understand these messages. I understand when I read lyrics and when I listen carefully. I thought that this kind of music had a culture. I thought it was more street culture music so since I live in Japan I donít understand perfectly the hip-hop scene or culture. Like what was happening in the Bronx and what was happening in London. I didnít understand what they were trying to say or what they wanted to tell but techno music had no message. They had only a big groove and banging sound. So I thought techno music had a real element of funk, dance music, dynamics, rock, or classical music. I thought Techno music had every element and it was very simple. So I was very shocked and I thought I could make this kind of music using a sampler or a cheap drum machine so I began to make music again after a break of 5 or 6 years."
Even minor message misunderstandings didnít stop Tatsuyaís ability to produce the music he has become so famous for today. In 1995, when he started to produce music using the same keyboard he had bought in his childhood, he had no idea of the success that would soon come. "So about 5 or 6 years ago. I began to make techno music, hmm dance music using a cheap machine. After about three months I sent my demo to some foreign labels overseas. UK labelís Junior Boys Own, R&S, and the Italian Acid label ACV too. I was fascinated by techno music but the music I was especially fascinated with was like a Chicago house sound like Robert Armani or DJ Rush. I prefer Chicago house to Detroit techno because I felt a funk in Chicago house music. I didnít realize then but I thought about it later that what I like is not techno music but actually Chicago House music. " A funk thatís felt by so few in Japan as Chicago House seems to hold little influence in the Japanese club culture. "Maybe Japanese DJís are very influenced by Trance and what famous DJís are playing. For example, UK DJís donít play Chicago house and Japanese DJís are influenced easily so they say Chicago house is dead. I donít think so. Even in í94 or í95 Chicago house was not so popular in Japan but the most influencial music for me was Chicago house. So I sent to ACV because I loved Robert Armani. To my surprise, three months later I began to make music. They received my DAT and I received a contract by fax. I was very surprised but very happy too, so I signed and faxed it back and I released my first single three months later. After that I began to make music. I was very lucky. I released three vinyls from ACV. They were Chicago House style records. Chicago House because the label I released on was named Chicago Style. It was a sub-label of ACV. Some other artists were Paul Johnson and I donít remember the other names. Between many Chicago artists there was only one Japanese artist. That was me. But I didnít have any connection with Japanese DJís or Japanese techno people so it took about half a year before Japanese record shops like Cisco or Technic started carrying my vinyls. They were like "who is this" and "this seems like Japanese artists, who is it?" They were talking about me and so my friend Ken Ishii talked to the record stores owner and said I was his friend. So he introduced me to record shops and record label like Sublime and Frogman. So I came to know Japanese techno people. So they invited me to techno parties and then I began my own party at Maniac Love about four years ago. My own Techno party called Roller Coaster. I began by playing Chicago house or Techno music. Not funk, not the stuff that I used to play before 1996. I was just making music, playing as a DJ, and working with other techno artists. I remixed for Ken Ishii or Denki Groove, for techno musicians. In 1997 my name, Tatsuya Oe, become so so famous in Japan as a techno DJÖ and artist. But I felt different again because as I said the music I was influenced by was not pure techno but funky techno like Chicago or Detroit. Finally I realized that the music I like is Black Music. Ten years ago when I was in High School I liked Juan Atkins and other Techno artists. Ten years later, I was influenced by George Clinton. I am doing Techno just like other DJís but I am a little different than other DJís. I continued to listen to lots of Black Music and that continued to influence me.
It is this continued funk influence in Tatsuyaís life that eventually formed the name Captain Funk, which Tatsuya now uses for most productions. This name however initially started as a new idea for the Japanese club nightlife. "I started a party named Captain Funk. The concept was to play several kinds of music. Any kind of music influenced by black music or funk. From hip-hop, Houdini or africabambada, to UK influenced black music like Yazoo. That kind of music to modern electronic music like Aphex Twins. Any music that has a Black Music feeling. This party was a place where they play that kind of music and it was called Captain Funk. I really liked the name and so I decided to use it as my producing name. On the flyers I used characters like Captain America, Superman, or Spiderman. I like Marvel comics. So I made a new character named Captain Funk. At first I was going to only use the name Captain Funk for that character I made but I decided in the end to use the name for myself. So I thought worldwide I am not the captain of funk of course and I am not king of funk but in Techno music I have that confidence. I love funk music or black music more than other techno people so I named myself Captain Funk. I thought in the Techno world I am Captain Funk. After I got the name Captain Funk I became more comfortable making music because I finally revealed my roots. When I changed my name it made me feel different. I felt free to express myself. Now Captain Funk has a little bit of a rock taste but basically I love mainly black music. I think even rock and roll, like Elvis Presley and Beatles, was influenced by Blues. Black Music like Blues or Jazz. People like Chuck Berry, so I have respect for that kind of roots so when I make rock sound or music I am always thinking about Black music roots."
So with the comfort of acknowledging his influences Tatsuya had overcome the battle of finding himself in his music. He had found the comfort he needed to finally feel confident with producing the style Captain Funk has become so famous for today. But is there really a feeling of security in him today or is there yet still a need to search out his true self in music. "I am always thinking, "Who am I" and "Why I was born", because the more I like music the more I have to think of myself. Especially living in Japan. Many people, including myself, are very influenced by overseas, foreign music so maybe I feel I have lost my identity. Maybe I feel the more I was influenced the more I lost my identity as a Japanese person. Identity from being a traditional Japanese person. So I am always thinking that in reality I live in Japan and I was born in Japan. The more I am influenced by other music the more I should try to find myself." And it is a search Tatsuya himself admits may last the rest of his life. "Maybe till I die I will continue think and be confused."
DJing however, was not thought of
to be a career in Japan, so many people did not understand or believe in
the future of electronic music. None more than a familyís support or
lack there of can have a real impact upon a young adults life. So what
was the support of his friends and family like through this long path to
musical fame? My family was not so supportive. Maybe they thought it
was just a hobby. Just a sort of masturbation. A Junior High school
phase. They have come to understand but I also understand how much they
know about it all. I remember when I
began to make music at 25. I was already an adult. I had
responsibilities. I used to be a businessman with suits and ties. So
when I began to make music at 25 they were saying "Why?" Why
do you want to do that? I donít know all the reasons but in Japan most
people are thinking you cannot get money from music. Most people are
scared about only making music. But when I became a businessman I didnít
make music. After that I noticed I couldnít make music it was the
hardest time for me. I worked during the daytime and after five I played
as a DJ and I made music. It was very hard and I didnít get much
sleep. So I quit my job two years ago but so far I have had a very hard
life. Till 5 am I played DJ and I slept for 3 hours and woke up and was
wearing suits. Then get on the train and do the business life. Getting
off work and changing hats. Then hitting a sampler. It was very
It is clear and obvious the struggle Tatsuya has gone through and continues to go through in the realm of music. So where does this path and current stature leave Tatsuya in his personal life. What makes the man behind the name "Captain Funk"?
"I like shopping and walking but I often end up going to record shops. I buy a lot of CDís and vinyl. In a week, I buy like 30 or 40. I am kind of a vinyl junkie. Basically I like to listen to music. I prefer to listen to music than to make music. I also have a girlfriend for three years now. Maybe we will get married sometime. She knows my job and my circumstance. She understands my life very much. She used to be a hip-hop DJ."
So we were left to ask the most important question of all. Are you Happy? "I am happy but I am not satisfied. I have a lot more I want to accomplish. For example, I want to produce other musicians or collaborate with other people. Like maybe George Clinton, Stevie Wonder, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and NIN. I think Nine Inch Nails sound very funky, especially the new stuff. The Fragile album is very funky. I have many artists whom I want to work with, but till I die I want to make scores. I like that Cinematic sound. Do you know the movie Paris Texas or Crossroad? I like that kind of movie. I want to make soundtracks. I want to make scores till I die." With so many accomplishments yet to achieve there is one major accomplishment that Tatsuya has already made. He has found his way to control himself. "There is a lot of information or a lot of influential things so the hardest thing is to keep controlling myself. I feel like I am on a boat rowing through life. If I donít row the way I want to go than anything could lead me to a different place than I want to be. So I always have to be careful. To control myself I read books or I see movies and I listen to music. Not for relaxation but for Study and knowledge. Knowledge to live my life."
Having just finished a collaboration with Yasuiko Kamura, Once called the Japanese Prince, Tatsuya is working on a new production all together. "I will make a completely new track, not just releasing from my album. I am thinking of a collaboration. I am thinking of a suitable artist. I am searching for a vocalist. A singer or a rapper. I used to use samples. Sample voice or sample beats but now I want to collaborate and work face to face with people. I need communication. I used to use a sample of maybe Rocky or something. Now I donít want to do that. Making lyrics together and making a message together is what I want. I think music is a kind of communication so I am thinking of the other people and the audience when I produce. I donít care about a bad reputation or anything like that. I have a message so I am thinking of communication."
A message that Tatsuya communicates through every song he makes. His music and style are something few can forget and no one can touch. He is a music lovers dream: Fresh, new, wild, energetic, and just plain Funky.
CAPTAIN FUNK DISCOGRAPHY:
Sublime Records Ė Album
1998 CAPTAIN FUNK Encounter WithÖ
2000 CAPTAIN FUNK Songs Of The Siren
Sublime Records Ė CD Single
1998 CAPTAIN FUNK Bustiní Loose
1999 CAPTAIN FUNK Dancing In The Street
2001 CAPATIN FUNK Losiní My Way
Reel Musiq Ė 12"
1998 CAPTAIN FUNK O.Y.M.
1998 CAPTAIN FUNK O.Y.M. Remixes
1998 CAPTAIN FUNK Bustiní Loose
MachineGun Ė 12"
1999 CAPTAIN FUNK Dancing In The Street
1999 CAPTAIN FUNK Home Sweet Home
2000 CAPTAIN FUNK Tracks Of The Siren Part 1
2001 CAPTAIN FUNK Losiní My Way
Toshiba-EMI Ė DJ Mix album
CAPTAIN FUNK Style 8 Ė ĎBustiní Outí
ACV/Chicago Style Ė album