Makoto Shimizu, the fierce Samurai warrior of the electronica dance world is probably well-known for his terrific drum & bass kicks for LTJ Bukem’s Good Looking label, but with this new release, Primitive, an EP he just put out on Apollo Records, he shines on his own, with a range that extends beyond any one limiting pigeonhole. Electronic dance music, to be sure, but with the wide array of subgenres into which the electronica style has morphed, Makoto takes the drum & bass angle and expands on that theme into something of a muscular, beat-heavy, “gotta dance” vibe.
Way back in the 20th century; well, back in 1999 (that was still last century, technically), Makoto burst forth into the ears of the many with his ethereal singles “Far East” and “Enterprise” on the Good Looking Records label, alongside of some of his cohorts, Seba, Aquarius, Big Bud and Nookie, to name a few. In the intervening years Makoto’s gone on to enhance his sound and vision for some of the releases he’s done for various electro-indie labels, such as DJ Marky’s Innerground, Zinc’s Bingo Beats and now he’s gone and started up his own imprint, Human Elements.
Makoto takes, as a big influence, Ryuichi Sakamoto, the Japanese composer and front man for Yellow Magic Orchestra. From Sakamoto, Makoto’s embedded elements of texture and atmospherics as well as the structure of sounds and he takes his work very seriously, as does Sakamoto.
The result is a series of intricately layered tracks that cut to the bone. The five songs on Primitive go by quickly, so fast because they are seamlessly woven together into tracks uncluttered with extraneous noise. Each sound has its place here. The opening cut, “Primitve” features a sort of Brazilian jazz rhythm, that underscores the well-placed sharp bass lines; it also features some sampled horns and low-sounding synthesizers that are in the background. The whole of it can be summed up as an energetic call to the dance floor. I’ve heard it called “stripped down”, but I don’t get that at all. It’s got a moment where the rhythm pervades and encircles the listener’s ears, but after a short lull it inflates into a big moment and then goes down into a sparsely instrumentalized work – I wouldn’t call it “stripped down” at all – its funky drum & bass work are the perfect undercurrents for what’s layered above it. The Latin rhythms are really infectious grooves that you can’t resist and, to add even more flavor there’s a great little break in the middle where a keyboard comes in and noodles around for a bit, then gets gradually mixed out and comes back again to fill in gaps and such. Just as you’re getting into the groove of the title track, it starts to fade out and in steps “A Spiritual Thing” with its snappy snare and cymbal work at the beginning and after a – compartively – spare beginning, it opens up with a big sound: horns, keyboards, et al, all swirling around the main component which is that damned infectious drum & bass swirling around and around.
Things start to mellow out with the middle track, “Sapphire Eyes”. After the first two roiling, sweaty dance floor wonders, it chills out. “Sapphire Eyes” is a beauty, though. It’s a slowed down, dreamy, lush tune that has a sensual texture to it and makes for a nice bridge, a sexy mid-point. After “Sapphire Eyes”, “Planet-o” is another slower number. It moves away from the cascading club energy atmosphere of the first two tracks. Makoto seems to be trying something out on this cut; a Vangelis-like, new-age spirit envelops the mood and towards the end, is complemented with a laidback groovy guitar that noodles a bit in a smooth jazz feel and then fades out.
Rounding out the EP is “Ritual”, where things up a little, but never going back to the fiery opening two cuts. Of course, this is only a 23 minute EP, a pretty short showcase for someone like Makoto. You can’t expect five tracks that are all alike, for one thing and, unfortunately, there’s just not enough time to explore and evolve a theme. It would’ve been better had there been more time to develop a structure that comes full circle by the end. It’s as if, on Primitive, Makoto is unable to do this and gets cut off after a point, unable to make his way back, under the disco ball. But the mood of “Ritual” is effective. It’s a mellow, but funky dance number that, instead of working one up, takes you down, puts you back on your feet.
I do like what Primitive has to offer. I would, though, like to hear an extended session of Makoto’s to be able to enjoy what musical galaxies he visits and to hear how he uses that expressive drum & bass technique, which is part of what makes this so damn infectious! If you’d like to explore more about Makoto or his fellow Apollo artists, check out www.rsrecords.com for more info (Apollo is a subsidiary of the Belgian R & S Records label). -KM.