In The Studio with Satoshi Tomiie


Satoshi Tomiie is among a growing legion of globetrotting DJs who are blurring the lines between dance floor genres.

Revered DJ/producer Satoshi Tomiie hails from Japan and calls New York City home. However, he hasn’t spent much time in either place during the past year. “My summer tour kicked off in May, and I was on the road nonstop until September,” explains Tomiie, talking from a hotel room in Buenos Aires. “I didn’t go back to New York at all. After the tour was over, I left two weeks later for another couple of months. I don’t spend time in one particular place; I keep moving. It’s difficult for me to stay in one place because I love what I’m doing.”

Since making a name for himself in 1989 by co-creating Frankie Knuckles’ epic house anthem, “Tears,” Tomiie has steadily worked himself up the house music ladder. Where he was once the low man on the totem Def Mix pole (the management company helmed by Knuckles and David Morales), he’s now top dog and has earned a legion of new young fans. Tomiie’s popularity due to his technical prowess on the decks and rich, buoyant production style, which as of late has blurred the lines between house and techno. Constantly exposed to music from his world travels, he’s excited by the convergence between the two styles he’s been straddling for over a decade.

“House and techno are getting a lot closer,” he observes, “and that’s making for some interesting music.“

Tomiie says his years of experience—and the advent of mixing software which allows him to spin without having to lug boxes of vinyl around the world—has allowed him to lead the type of virtual life many only read about in Wired magazine.  “I used to get sick a lot when I first started to travel,” he recalls, “but now I’m way more mentally and physically prepared for traveling and touring, even when I do back-to-back festival dates. Having friends in other cities really helps, and my focus allows me to bring something special to every gig.”

In addition to DJing, Tomiie co-helms Saw Recordings, the imprint which has released tunes from a host of artists and much of his recent body of work. Since he’s rarely at home, he produces music on the road. Often working at friends’ studios, Tomiie says he hasn’t had a proper studio in New York in three years. At the core of his mobile setup is his trusted MacBook Pro with a 17-inch screen. He recently purchased the laptop before the new model was released because he likes to be “a half step behind technology. I don’t want to be anyone’s beta tester.”

“I work on Ableton Live and bounce all of the tracks to Pro Tools to do mixing because I’m used to all of the plug-ins,” he continues. “Pro Tools is a great mixing tool, but it’s so much easier to be creative on Ableton Live. I use Sennheiser headphones for mixing since I can’t travel with speakers.“

In November, Tomiie mixed a sprawling two-disc mix compilation for England’s Renaissance. His third effort for the label continues his genre-hopping, and includes everything from his blissfully deep “Letting You Down” by Shur-i-kan to “Madrugada,” recorded under his new Mes alias. But what if people don’t make the connection between him and his newly-adopted moniker, which he plans to use on upcoming 2009 releases on Saw? “That’s the whole point, actually,” he laughs.

As he whisks around the world and multitasks by rocking dance floors and festivals at night and sculpting muscular club tracks wherever he can power up his laptop (he also pens a column for Japan’s Loud magazine), Tomiie continues to experiment and try new tracks out on his unsuspecting global following. “I just know when a track is done,” he asserts. “There’s a point where there’s nowhere else to fix it. I play it for my partner, and I see how people react. Two brains are always better than one.”

Though he’s scored major success with crossover anthems like “Love In Traffic,” Tomiie isn’t interested in revisiting the past. In fact, he says he almost never plays old tunes, even ones he’s produced or remixed. “I can’t play all of the new music I like in a three-hour set,” he moans. “I’m not interested in yesterday’s music. Today is what inspires me.”

Words: Darren Ressler

as featured in Issue 25

Darren Ressler