Let Me Re-Introduce Myself: The Return of DJ Newtown
Yusuke Kawai‘s new material under his DJ Newtown moniker follows a unique concept — every song samples his own work as Tofubeats
For the release of West Members, DJ Newtown’s first release since 2011, the producer sat down with his label boss Tofubeats for a casual Tumblr interview. But you see, that’s the joke. Before Yusuke Kawai struck out as Japan’s leading electronic-pop producer Tofubeats, he put out glitched breakcore tracks for the internet under the guise DJ Newtown. “Fake news!” He cheekily wrote as the DJ responding to the other producer about sites listing his new album as a release under “Tofubeat’s other name.”
Kawai’s conversation with himself goes a little deeper, though, to explain the origins of West Members. He approached now 10 years into his music career since putting out DJ Newtown’s Flying Between the Stars (*She Is a Girl) on Maltine Records in 2008, and this new album conceptually serves as a neat retrospective of his decade of work. Every track on the release samples a Tofubeats song; the earliest source stretches back to his 2011 single “Touch.” The final result takes a fine look at what has made the producer’s music so vital throughout all these years while re-introducing its essence from a whole new perspective.
Apart from the greatest-hits angle, Kawai had another reason behind the self-sampling concept of West Members: if he’s going to end up repeating himself once more while making a new Tofubeats album, he explained, then might as well reference himself in the most literal way. But a repeat is a too self-cynical take to properly outline the course of Tofubeats’ decade. A refinement would be more like it. Following his work from the Lost Decade collection is to witness his love of 20th century J-pop and forward-looking online dance music coalesce into a singular pop sound. The warm electro-funk textures may sometimes scan retro, but the beats move to the most current rhythm.
The consistency in Tofubeats’ work lies more in theme, specifically the power of music and its relationship with the modern world. One of his most notable early singles, “Suisei,” which got even more famous once it was covered by DAOKO, has him crooning about music’s ability to reorient one’s focus to the preciousness of today and away from the stress of tomorrow. He revisits the idea again and again. He called up pre-internet J-pop icon Chisato Moritaka to sing about this “wonderful music streaming from the computer” as if she’s responding to the music real time on “Don’t Stop the Music”; he asked “is there an album you liked recently” to anyone who might be listening in the middle of “SHOPPINGMALL,” where he wandered aimlessly searching for some genuine emotional connection.
Kawai cuts up the latter track from Fantasy Club for one of the standout tracks in the DJ Newtown album. The fragment of that rhetorical question can be spotted from an immediate listen of “SHO,” but the snippet is shredded and distorted beyond recognition. The producer’s own words get completely reassigned in context with his vocals pitched up to a pipsqueak and drilled down on the track, serving the same thrilling base function as the surging bass line or the thumping four-on-the-floor drum beat. “More than a nice car, I want to make a classic/ it’d be nice if it makes someone ecstatic,” he sang elsewhere in “SHOPPINGMALL.” “SHO” inverts that ambivalence and channels that desire to please to its most extroverted form.
Simple, shallow thrill is the virtue of DJ Newtown. It’s self-satisfied with Kawai happy to create more for the sake of creating. The busy arrangement leaves no room for stray thoughts, and the BPMs stay high to sustain this constant state of activity almost as a distraction to think about doing anything else. West Members can be the antidote to cleanse some of the overthinking of details that can come from Tofubeats’ deep introspection. “Positive,” from the 2015 album of the same name, disguised its strained sentiment to almost force upon a mindset of optimism through jangling guitars, candied piano keys, and the bubbly voice of Dream Ami. DJ Newtown’s “POS” extracts the advertised positivity in the Tofubeats single and expands it into a full-blown, bouncy house cut.
Kawai isn’t necessary offering a corrective or a complete rewrite of its original source in West Members. Rather, he’s highlighting what was already there and amplifying it through a new lens. Tracks like “SHO” and “POS” remind that a crowd-pleasing personality has always been part of Kawai but just hidden from plain sight due to more heady matters occupying his creative process. It’s the present self recognizing that mode of fun in a past self who couldn’t quite see it in himself at the time. Now with a wiser perspective and a more savvy hand at beat production, Kawai brings that to the forefront in the most satisfying ways.