Recent years have seen plenty of avant-leaning, club-coloured sounds from Japan, with notable examples including Wata Igarashi’s immersive techno, Kyoka’s beat-driven vocal collages, and Keita Sano’s rough-n-ready dancefloor weapons. As such, the sudden return of Shinichi Atobe in 2014 was a timely and welcome one, although whether it was coincidence or otherwise is impossible to say—it probably won’t shock nor move you to learn that little is known of the guy. He’s never given an interview, and his releases have never been accompanied with anything so self-important as personal details.
Indeed, calling it a ‘return’ is a bit of a stretch. Prior to 2014, Atobe’s activities amounted to little more than a single blip on the radar. This was 2001’s Ship-Scope, the penultimate release on Basic Channel’s Chain Reaction sub-label. It opens with a warm, warbling drone, simmering below layers of hiss and distant, glittering synths. The track is something of a signature move for Atobe—a brief, beautifully crafted sketch that quickly evokes heart-wrenching melancholy. What follows is some of the most compelling material released by the dub-techno stable. “Plug & Delay” was made for the seabed, a sluggish four-to-the-floor that thuds beneath a syrup-thick mixture of shadowy synth-stabs. It’s a deep and disorientating listen, until closing track “The Red Line” clears the air with rattling percussion and bittersweet pads.
One thing we do know about Atobe is where he lives. His hometown of Saitama City is the capital of Saitama prefecture, itself a part of Greater Tokyo’s eternal sprawl. This puts him just over an hour from much of the action—from Shinjuku’s grotty basements, to Shibuya’s plush megaclubs, to Shimokita’s record shops. Whether he bothers with any of them is uncertain, but it’s clear he didn’t stop making music during his 13 years of radio silence. 2014’s Butterfly Effect, compiled and released by Demdike Stare on their DDS imprint, was billed as a compilation of new and archived material put together in the years since Ship-Scope. Much of the 12-track LP sees Atobe going deep once again, channeling the soft, emotional majesty of DJ Sprinkles, Anthony Naples and others through a more clinical lens. On other tracks, he goes off-script with fragmented electronics and doom-laden drones. Ship-Scope had hinted at a forward-thinking, experimental approach, and Butterfly Effect gave Atobe the space to really get weird.
In relative terms, 2016 has been a prolific year for Atobe. He followed up Butterfly Effect in July 2016 with the mini-LP World, appearing once again on DDS, but his latest release, Rebuild Mix 1.2.3., appears courtesy of young Amsterdam-based label Jadac Recordings. The story goes that label-head Daniël Jacques approached Atobe to remix a track from his Discovery Change (Part 4) EP. Atobe had different ideas, instead obliging Jacques with three brand new tracks on a CDR via post.
Rebuild almost functions as a neat introduction to Atobe. Each of the three tracks highlights something different, and “Mix 1” is him at his most straightforward. What really sets him apart from other producers is how well he sculpts his sound, masterfully positioning the elements within. The beat couldn’t be simpler—flat clicks over a steady four-four thud, yet said clicks are so finely balanced on top of the dreamy house chords and lush bass swells that they become totally compelling.
On “Mix 2” we hear Atobe the sound artist. Notes from a piano slowly drift up through dense layers of reverb, like bubbles rising to the surface of a still lake, eventually reaching us like sound through the walls of an isolation tank. At two minutes long it’s the shortest of the lot, but it’s so pretty it’s as if it were made to be looped indefinitely through Tokyo’s sweltering summer nights.
“Mix 3” is a curveball from the genre-hopping Atobe. It slows the tempo down to hip-hop territory. A blown-out piano bangs out heavy chords over a crunched-up, crackle-heavy beat. It’s a welcome if not odd addition—one that suggests Atobe works in a world of his own, where what sounds good is simply what sounds good. Rebuild is great nonetheless, and very encouraging to see—if, as reported, the tracks were made brand new, than perhaps we can expect more in the not-so-distant future.
Shinichi Atobe – Rebuild Mix 1.2.3. is out now.