There’s a reason London sounds the way it does. It’s the mixture of cultures and languages for one thing, that ongoing interchange which results in near constant creative upheaval. But it’s also the buildings, the roads, the actual structure of London; architecture produces a certain type of social engineering after all.
Last Japan has always been aware of the impact his surroundings have on his music. Perhaps that’s due to where he’s based: Bow, E3 is one of London’s most mythologised areas, arguably the birthplace of grime, a place that retains its distinctive hues and flavours even as the rest of East London succumbs to rabid, ceaseless gentrification.
New EP ‘LUNA’ is directly connected to Bow. Speaking to Clash, Last Japan explains that the buildings, the people, even the sound of the bus routes helped bring into being one of his finest artistic and aesthetic statements to date.
“I suppose it was the time that I wrote it,” he recalls. “It was winter, and while things weren’t bleak it had a specific tone to it. I feel when I was writing these tracks – whether I was going out to work, or just going round the area – it just really struck a chord with the music that I was writing.”
“I realised midway through the project that I was taking some sort of influence from there. Just the buildings, and I suppose the heritage Bow has, being where grime started and having that connection. It all tied in really well. It’s just something that I really tried to make influence my music even more so.”
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In a way, Bow has always been a shadow presence in Last Japan’s music. One of the most talented producers in grime, his work – whether instrumental or with a vocalist – has continually tethered itself to grime’s sub-low ideology while surging to occupy fresh space.
The music on ‘LUNA’ has deep roots. “It doesn’t go back as far as (2014 mixtape) ‘Ride With Us’ but I would say that some of these tracks were demos around the time that I did ‘Ascend’ with AJ Tracey. And when I did Boiler Room, one of the tracks from this EP was played by Letta. So yeah, they’re sort of dating to around that time.”
“Tracks like ‘Squad’ - I mean, that was just an absolute mistake… I was making another track at the time, and I was skipping through the synths and I came across that, played a couple of melodies… I was literally still in the middle of another project so I just bounced that little melody out and I had that on my computer for about two years.”
Affording his music time to gestate is one of Last Japan’s hallmarks. The producer’s catalogue may be slim, but it’s remarkably intense; nothing is wasted, each moment feels like a carefully sculpted piece of sound design. “I’ve always been fascinated by music to film,” he says. “I feel like you can look at something and the music can really set the tone of how that actually feels when you’re watching it. That’s something that’s been a big part of the music that I write since I started making it.”
“I’ve always had, like, another screen up with a film playing in the background with the sound of, just looping, and I’ll be writing to how that scene makes me feel,” he reveals. “It’s obviously a big part of what I do. And obviously taking into account the influence of someone like Hans Zimmer, who does it amazingly well. Trying to pull that influence into the music I make – which is sometimes hard, but it goes together really well so it’s satisfying to pull off.”
There’s a real science-fiction element running through ‘LUNA’ - from the title, down to the zero gravity elements of ‘Cold Skies’ or the dank dystopia of ‘Squad’. “I’m into science fiction, but I think for me it has to be something that could be real,” the producer insists. “I’m not that into the fiction element of it.”
“I love films like Interstellar, or even the ones that aren’t about space, like Inception. Those sort of films definitely influence the sort of music that I make, and even ‘Tether’ - the intro of this EP – that was built by cutting the audio from Interstellar, some audio scenes from Gravity, and just time-stretched those as much as I could, and messed about with it. That’s what creates this weird tension and rising to it.”
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The arc of the new EP is designed to be loosely narrative; Last Japan is telling a story, but it’s up to us to trace our own paths within it. “I mean, as well as the influence of Bow, I love space,” he says. “I wrote it as a story, this interstellar journey, and towards the end of it there’s a lot of warmth to it. I added that track at the end almost like a ‘safe to come home’ sort of vibe to it. Bringing me back down to Earth.”
There’s a definite vein of afro-futurism running through ‘LUNA’, which at times feels almost daring. To transport Bow into the future is to erase the current encroachment of gentrification; equally, the warm of Last Japan’s approach sidesteps the often cold, dystopian view grime takes of its surroundings, applying a still palpable sense of communal warmth.
“I definitely know what you mean,” the producer responds, when Clash puts this to him. “I think it’s just some of the sounds that I use. They’re generally quite warm. With stuff like (Wiley’s) Devil Mixes, I suppose in some ways I’m not the best producer at getting those icy cold synths – I find that quite hard. I think there’s still quite a bit of warmth that comes through.”
“Joker is on the same vibe – he makes hard-hitting grimy sort of tracks but his synth sounds are warm, and so are the chords he uses. So I feel like it some ways it’s sort of similar.”
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A producer often linked to grime's instrumental wing, Last Japan is also a stellar collaborator - ‘Ascend’ helped propel AJ Tracey, while this time round Prynce Mini features on ‘LUNA’ standout ‘Wrong One’. “When I started my career in music I was writing mainly instrumentals for the club,” he recalls. “And I think for me, personally, I took quite a specific step where I was like, y’know what? I want to write more music for vocalists. I suppose in a way it just stuck with me, to the point where I found it really hard now to write pure instrumentals.”
“One of the challenging things about this EP is releasing stuff that, at first, I was like, does this work without vocals? But it was something that I really wanted to do on this EP, to try and stay away from having too many vocalists.”
“That track (‘Wrong One’) was probably about my fifth attempt to get Prynce Mini on a track because I kept sending him stuff and he was like, I’m not feeling this one, I’m not feeling this one. So I sent him this track and he just went, yes! And came back with some amazing work. I just really wanted to work with Prynce Mini on this one. If I hadn’t then it probably would have been all instrumentals. He suits it well and brings another element to it.”
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Out now, ‘LUNA’ isn’t something to be understood too quickly; sure, some of these tracks pop off in a club setting, but as a whole, unified document it’s best to let it settle on you slowly, exploring its hidden alleyways and avenues. As usual, Coyote have given the EP a full vinyl pressing, with fans able to pick up a bonus track on the physical edition.
“There are still DJs doing vinyl only sets in clubs but it’s not coming back the way it used to be, anyway, so I think vinyl is definitely turning into a collector’s item,” he says. “It’s nice to have physical copies – even just for myself. I like being able to have it… whether that’s just showing them to my son, I like being able to have that element of it.”
“I think it’s great working with Coyote because they’re dead keen on putting out vinyl, on having physical copies of everything. I’m possibly going to explore a few other options for a limited version of this, so depending on timescales there might be something else dropping, which would be quite good.”
Promising more DJ sets and more material, Last Japan intends to make every moment of 2018 count. “I’m working on an EP with a Finnish producer called Inner, who is really good and people who read this should check him out. And I’m going to continue working on my next project today, work out what it will sound like and try to come up with something completely different. Just trying to work all angles!”
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'LUNA' EP is out now on Coyote Records.
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