Not too many people associate Japan with footwork and juke, two intertwined sub-genres of music, the latter an off-shoot of the former tailored for a fast-paced, high-energy style of dancing of the same name. Although their roots lie in late ‘90s Chicago, look closely and you'll find a thriving and close-knit community based around three major foreign cities: Hiroshima, Osaka, and Tokyo. At this heart of this movement lies DJ Fulltono.
Around 2008, years before British producer Mike Paradinas introduced these high BPMs and complex sound structures to European ears by signing DJ Nate, a 20-year-old boy from Chicago, to his Planet Mu label, Fulltono decided to set up Booty Tune, an outlet for his own footwork- and juke-leaning experiments. "I wanted to create an environment, a platform, where you could release Japanese juke music," Fulltono recalls. After two solo outings—Bitch Your Hole and Juke Morning—Fulltono released Booty Makers Vol.001, a V/A compilation with tracks from DJ family, DJ Shaft, DJ Naturalkamakura, and Asahi Sphinx, four other rising Japanese producers with a similar taste in music. In doing so, Fulltono kickstarted a movement and inspired the launch of several similarly inclined labels, among them Japanese Mutation Bootyism, Kool, and Dubliminal Bounce. Events also started to pop up across the country, including Battle Train Tokyo, the nation’s first footwork dance tournament. Fast forward to today, and juke and footwork have become two of the strongest subsections of dance music in the nation's underground. Connections between Japan and Chicago are now well established, and now Fulltono has company in his mission to develop a scene on home turf.
While rooted in juke and footwork, Fulltono's own repertoire spans over ghettotech, electro, Chicago house, and beyond. He pursues his own way of weaving them all together with the sensibilities of techno mixing style and the skills he has developed over decades of experience playing out in clubs. Those yet to properly dig into the Japanese scene may recognize his name from mix CDs for Planet Mu and Hyperdub; and his My Mind Beats Vol.1 EP was licensed to Orange Milk in the United States. More recently, his track "Baby Je Kajoo" made it into Burial & Kode9’s exclusive mix for Mary Anne Hobbs on BBC 6 Music, and he just shared his latest Before The Storm EP via dBridge’s EXIT Records, further exposing the bubbling scene from whence he came.
Fulltono's XLR8R podcast is a taste of this bubbling movement, and a style that can easily overwhelm on first listen. It's made for the dancefloor with no bells and whistles, made almost entirely of Fulltono's productions. It precedes a European tour off the back of his EXIT Records release, so those of you on these shores can head down to see Fulltono in the flesh.
What have you been up to recently?
Within Japan, it’s all business as usual for me, but since my EP came out from EXIT Records at the beginning of the year, I’ve been getting a lot of feedback from outside of Japan.
What’s Japan like at this time of year?
It’s a very pleasant seasonal period of the year.
Japan has developed a nice footwork and juke scene. What are your earliest memories of it developing?
Around 2010, when footwork was starting to get global attention, we all felt very strongly that we didn’t want this to pass as a short-term trend. So we got down to the bottom of it, researched and studied the roots of this movement, and with the help of some Japanese press we really made an effort to introduce and educate people about this scene. It was definitely an interesting experience to spread the word of something that nobody knew about from scratch.
How do you feel the Japanese style is different from its American counterpart?
The main difference is that the genre is so much more sophisticated in Chicago than in Japan. I personally think it’s too early to recognize anything as the Japanese style yet. However, it’s very intriguing for me to hear that people outside of Japan see our style as something established or different from the original. For example, Paide from Poland, who has been closely following the developments of juke/footwork in Japan, describes the music CRZKNY, Skip Club Orchestra, and myself make, which is much more techno-leaning, as Japanese footwork. He has a good point, because we are all from the generation growing up with and associated with '90s techno.
What makes the Japanese footwork scene different?
I think the uniqueness of the Japanese footwork scene is that we actually have footwork dancers and we’re building the scene together with them. It’s not that they’re always battling with each other like in Chicago, but when you’re DJing in a club you sometimes have a dancer popping up in the middle of the dancefloor, and you see the audience facing the dancers and not looking at the DJ at all. In such circumstances, I would switch my selection and maybe start playing more battle tracks to get that vibe on the dancefloor going. Something like that could spontaneously happen in Japan.
Where was this particular mix recorded?
I recorded it at home.
How did you choose the tracks that you included?
I didn’t really make the mix for home listening purposes. I selected the tracks as I would play for the dancefloor in a club. My usual style is that instead of creating dramatic developments, I select each track as a tool to maintain a certain groove. I wish there were more 160 BPM tracks to choose from, but there are not that many of them exist in the world, so I naturally end up using a lot of tracks I’ve made myself.
Is there a concept or wider vision behind it?
I tried to make this mix in hope of provoking the listeners to want to listen more, and inspire them to maybe discover a new style and create their own tracks.
How does the podcast compare to one of your club sets?
There’s no drama, tricks, or playfulness in this mix. If I were playing in a club, I would respond to the reaction of the crowd, by maybe throwing in a Chicago style voice sample track when the floor is heating up, and trying to shuffle things around a bit, but I intentionally didn’t really add that sort of thing in this mix. So that you can hear the very basis of my DJ style.
How much of the material that you make do you release?
I’d say about 70 percent. The way I do it is I’m constantly making lots of “DJ tool” type of tracks, and when someone approaches me and says they want to release that track, I usually polish it up and finish it into a full track.
What’s next on the horizon, looking forward?
I'm touring Europe from May 23 to June 1. I’m very much looking forward to showcasing my DJ style to a new audience.
Due to issues regarding the GDPR, EU readers can download the podcast here.