This month’s Carhartt WIP Radio show is brought to you by Alex Prat, the DJ, producer and record label owner, better known as Alex From Tokyo. Born in Paris and raised in Tokyo during the 80s and 90s, Prat grew up in the “golden era of the club scene” in the city, developing an ear to the ground for Japan’s burgeoning electronic and dance music movements. His introduction to the underground scene would prove life-altering, occurring in 1988 at Roppongi nightclub The Bank. “After that, I dove straight into music and DJing,” he remembers.
In 1995, Prat juggled DJing with work as a promoter, translator, and coordinator for labels like Laurent Garnier’s F Communications and the Paris-based Yellow Productions, inevitably bridging the gap between Japan, Europe, and the USA. Five years later, he debuted his music production project Tokyo Black Star alongside producer Isao Kumano, focused on creating futuristic, funk-inspired house tracks. The group has since expanded to include musician Kenichi Takagi.
Prat cemented his influence on the global music landscape by founding the label World Famous in 2002, which has released and remastered records from the likes of Dan K and Bing Ji Ling. Additionally, Prat runs omotesound, a sound design project which has seen him work on numerous films and runway shows, as well as with high-concept restaurants like Wagyumafia. And to include another endeavor onto Prat’s ever-growing list, he hosts a bi-monthly radio show on the Belgian platform Kiosk Radio, titled ta bi bi to.
This fall, Prat will be releasing Japan Vibrations Vol. 1, a compilation which in his own words, sounds like “the heartbeat of Tokyo: electric, eclectic, and always surprising.” The record, which features the likes of legendary musician Haruomi Hosono and the late Ryuichi Sakamoto, launches in Japan on October 13th and will be marked by a November tour through various cities including Hokkaido, Paris, Berlin, and London. The compilation releases globally on November 13th.
For this episode of Carhartt WIP Radio, Prat has created a mix featuring tracks from Japan Vibrations Vol.1, blending an array of styles from Japanese jazz and funk, to city pop and deep house. Accompanying the mix is an in-depth interview, in which Prat vividly recounts his life growing up in Japan’s cultural epicenter, while also detailing the seminal japanese labels that influenced him, his favorite music videos of all time, and his potential plans for the compilation’s second installment.
You’re set to release the compilation Japan Vibrations Vol. 1. What is the story behind it? And what would you like to achieve through it?
Alex From Tokyo: Japan Vibrations Vol.1 is all about taking you through the electric heartbeat of Japan's dance music scene from the mid-80s to mid-90s. For me that’s a personal journey, as a music lover who grew up in Japan and started DJing there. Japan is a place I’m deeply connected to. But beyond my own story, the album paints a picture in sound of an era that was truly electric. The eleven tracks I chose touch on many electronic styles coming out of Japan, from ambient and deep house to techno. The common thread is time, an era in Japan when artists were mixing global sounds with a Japanese touch. They took what was happening worldwide and made it their own. That mix of influences is what this compilation is all about.
The idea is to present the Japanese scene to a new generation, and to pay homage to the artists who shaped the landscape and inspired me. There isn’t much information available outside of Japan or in English, so I felt it was important for me to share these stories with the world. To unearth a time capsule and write a love letter at the same time. For the opening chapter I wanted to showcase legends like Haruomi Hosono alongside more unsung club heroes. Every track is a story, a moment, a memory. A celebration! My goal is to tell the real stories behind the music, the artists, and the scene. I don’t see this compilation as something strictly for the heads and otakus but the first page in a wider cultural project. My hope is that audiences will be inspired to explore the Japanese scene and experience the vibes for themselves.
If you could describe the sound of Japan Vibrations Vol. 1 in a sentence, what would it be?
Alex From Tokyo: Like the heartbeat of Tokyo: electric, eclectic, and always surprising, yet with a soothing rhythm that feels like home.
In addition to Haruomi Hosono, the record also features artists like Silent Poets, Yasuaki Shimizu, and Ryuichi Sakamoto. How did they come to be a part of the project?
Alex From Tokyo: I've had the privilege of crossing paths with all of these artists over the years, especially the newer wave of electronic musicians. Some of us even came up together in Japan back in the early 90s and have stayed in touch ever since. My label, World Famous, has been a platform for projects that I'm directly involved with, like Tokyo Black Star. The compilation will be our 7th release and it's definitely our most ambitious one. I felt it was only right to release this project on my label, given how personal and dear it is to me. And luckily, I've got an amazing crew of friends and partners, including the Carhartt WIP team, who've all been part of this journey. Special shoutout to my great friend Ken Hidaka, who was instrumental in coordinating the licenses. I'm just grateful that when we reached out, everyone was as excited as we were to bring this vision to life. It's been a true team effort.
You’ve previously lived in Japan. What was that like? How was the music scene back then?
Alex From Tokyo: I grew up and lived in Japan for 25 years. In 1988 at the age of 15, I went to my very first underground club called The Bank, in the nightlife district of Roppongi in Tokyo. It changed my life and after that, I dove straight into music and DJing. The underground club scene was totally blossoming. So much new music was coming from New York and London, so the energy was exciting. It was also the 80s – the peak of the economic boom in Japan where anything and everything seemed possible.
I started DJing with some friends from school. Small underground parties and clubs began popping up all around Tokyo; hip hop, acid jazz, trip hop, house, techno, and jungle parties. My first official DJ gig was in 1991 at the legendary seven-storey club GOLD in Tokyo, it was one of the most futuristic mega-clubs I have ever been to. However, the ultimate club where I got my education was Space Lab Yellow, a more intimate, underground venue which opened in December 1991 and closed in 2008.
I was traveling between Paris and Tokyo for the first half of the 90s, but in 1995, ended up staying in Tokyo during Japan’s second electronic music boom. I worked in music as a DJ, promoter, translator, and coordinator between Japan and the rest of the world, for French labels like F Communications and Yellow Productions. I began working for the Tokyo branch of the London record shop Mr Bongo in the heart of Shibuya. That was very exciting. We used to receive all the latest promos from Europe and the UK, and pass them on to Japan’s best DJs. We were also the first record store that had listening stations.
Shibuya was the epicenter of alternative and street culture, it felt like a global cultural village. They say back then Shibuya had the highest concentration of record stores in the whole world. Club music was exploding, and local labels started popping up. You could find all the latest releases in every genre of music in the shops, sometimes even before they were released in New York or London. Club and DJ culture was en vogue, for sure. You had all the world’s greatest DJs and artists flying to Tokyo every weekend.
Looking back, it was a crazy time. There were small underground clubs and bars all around Tokyo. There was even an ambient club in Nishi Azabu right around the corner from Yellow. It was definitely the golden era of the club scene in Japan.
"Looking back, it was a crazy time. There were small underground clubs and bars all around Tokyo. It was definitely the golden era of the club scene in Japan."
What are your favorite Japanese record labels and artists from that time?
Alex From Tokyo: There weren’t many underground dance music record labels in Japan until around 1992, including the ones on this compilation. Among them are Syzygy Records, Sublime Records, Frogman Records, Transonic Records, Bellissima Records, Dub Restaurant Communication, and Crue-l records. A label from the late 80s that hugely impacted me is Major Force and its crew: Hiroshi Fujiwara, Toshio Nakanishi (aka Tycoon Tosh), Kan Takagi, K.U.D.O, and DJ Milo.
Another favorite dance music label from that era was Soichi Terada and Shinichiro Yokota’s underground DIY label Far East Recording. Their records were very limited and hard to find. Connected to Soichi Terada were La Ronde (1991) and La Ronde II (1992), two very important house music compilations connecting NYC and Tokyo, which were produced by Hisa Ishioka and released on the Japanese label B.P.M. Featured on one of them is the deep house classic Low Tension, by Manabu Nagayama and Soichi Terada.
Next, is a great sub-label under Spiral Records called Newsic, produced by the Wacoal Art Center in Aoyama, and operating between the late 80s to the mid-90s. They released contemporary experimental classical, electronic, ambient, new age, and jazz from the likes of Yoshio Ojima, Motohiko Hamase, and Yoshiaki Ochi.
If you are into experimental electronic music, an essential Osaka label is Vanity Records, which released some ground-breaking music between 1978-1982 from Sympathy Nervous, BGM, R.N.A. Organism, and Normal Brain. There is also EM Records, which has been releasing and reissuing interesting, out-of-the box music since 1998. This cutting-edge, psychedelic style is very much a part of Japanese music.
There’s also a great Japanese jazz label called Three Blind Mice that I discovered later when working at Mr Bongo. They launched in 1970 and released the early albums of greats like Isao Suzuki and Terumasa Hino.
In 1999, while I was still working at Mr Bongo and also helping run their sub-label Disorient Recordings, I collaborated with the French label Yellow Productions on a compilation project called Bossa Très…Jazz – East meets West, between Japan and Europe. I coordinated the Japan side, selecting tracks from Calm, Kaoru Inoue (aka Chari Chari), Kyoto Jazz Massive, Jazztronik, and Utsumi.
There is so much good music in Japan I love, for example from the Japanese city pop legend Yamashita Tatsuro and the artist Shintaro Sakamoto, to the new wave band EP-4 from Kyoto. It’s endless and that’s a great thing.
What was most challenging about making Japan Vibrations Vol. 1?
Alex From Tokyo: Producing a compilation is a lot of work, a true labor of love. I really took time to clarify my vision, choose the right starting point for the project, and come up with a tracklist. Telling the stories in written form too, writing all the texts, was a big challenge. Huge thanks to my wife Lindsey for helping me find my voice.
How important are the non-musical components aspects of a release, like packaging and album art?
Alex From Tokyo: Remastering tracks from the past 25 to 40 years was crucial. I immediately turned to the top-notch sound and mastering engineer Isao Kumano, my partner in Tokyo Black Star and PHONON, who worked wonders. The tracks now sound refreshingly new.
For the album art, I collaborated with the talented graphic designer and DJ Takehiko Kitahara, who I've known since our 90s clubbing days. Photography plays a huge role in the album's aesthetic. We've included rare images from photographers like Meisa Fujishiro and Tokyo's own Beezer. Additionally, many of the compilation's artists, as well as some of my closest friends, contributed photos from that era, and I've added some from my own archives.
All the accompanying texts are presented in both English and Japanese. From the outset, it was imperative that we embrace both languages. This compilation celebrates Japanese music and its scene, and it's a narrative we want to share with the world.
Lastly, having the support of Carhartt WIP – a brand deeply woven into music – is a big deal. Their support has been invaluable, and there's even a special t-shirt in the works to commemorate the radio show and album release.
You are planning to tour the release through Europe, Asia, and the USA. What do you aim to achieve with it?
Alex From Tokyo: I've been dreaming about sharing this project for years and now's the time. With the tour, my goal is to go back to the basics: hosting intimate parties with a great music selection on high-quality sound systems.
The tour begins in November in Japan, where my journey started. It's going to be incredibly special and emotional reconnecting with everyone there. The plan is to play almost every night for about ten days, covering regions from the North in Hokkaido to the South in Kyushu.
After Japan, in collaboration with my agency Sounds Familiar, we've scheduled a series of intimate release parties and in-store events across Europe from mid-November to December. Locations include Paris, London, Berlin, Amsterdam, and more.
I've also loved touring Asia, especially over the past decade, thanks to the vibrant music community there. We're currently planning some more dates and I'll be returning to The Observatory in Ho Chi Minh City, where I have a residency. Japan Vibrations is a long-term project, and the intention is to keep touring with it in the future.
Are there plans for a second volume of the compilation?
Alex From Tokyo: You'll have to wait and see, but generally speaking it will be a continuation of the series with a fresh theme for that installment. Beyond just music, I see this evolving into a broader cultural endeavor. For me that means books, art exhibitions, documentaries, and more – all giving a window into the scene, the music, the people, and even the fashion and graphic design that has shaped it.
How did you go about selecting tracks for your Carhartt WIP Radio mix?
Alex From Tokyo: I blended tracks from the compilation with other pieces from the same artists, including a few exclusives. My aim was to give the radio show its own flavor, making it distinct from the compilation, even though the compilation itself is structured like a DJ set.
Do you have any idols when it comes to music from Japan?
Alex From Tokyo: Growing up in Japan, I was constantly surrounded by the presence of Yellow Magic Orchestra – they were on TV, the radio, billboards, you name it. They've been a fixture in my musical journey. Of the trio, Ryuichi Sakamoto stands out as a major musical idol for me. I've had the privilege of meeting him a few times, both in Tokyo and New York, and it was an honor to collaborate with him on this compilation. His early departure was truly a loss for us all.
How do you think music from Japan in the 1990s has left its mark on history?
Alex From Tokyo: Many talented Japanese artists from the 1990s, such as Susumu Yokota, Rei Harakami, Towa Tei, Nobukazu Takemura, Keigo Oyamada (aka Cornelius), Yoshinori Sunahara, and Ryoji Ikeda are celebrated outside of Japan and have certainly left their mark on the music scene, continuing to inspire new generations worldwide. Even today, I occasionally hear someone say, "I just discovered Susumu Yokota and his music is genius!"
Has music always been an important part of your life?
Alex From Tokyo: My dad is a huge music fan, especially of blues and rock. Growing up in Tokyo, he'd go to record stores every week to check out the latest releases and make mixtapes for dinner parties. Sometimes he'd play records. One of my best friends in school had a dad who worked for Sony Music Japan. Through him, I was introduced to hip hop and later, underground dance music. I loved parties and dancing. I started hitting Tokyo clubs at 14. From then on, music became my life.
Which records shaped your life?
Alex From Tokyo: There are a few albums I remember vividly that have traveled with me through all the places I've lived: Ryuichi Sakamoto’s Ongaku Zukan, Manuel Gottsching’s E2 E4, The Upsetters’ Super Ape, Fingers Inc.’s Another Side, Virgo’s Virgo, The Wild Style OST, Boogie Down Productions’ Criminal Minded and Bomb The Bass’ Into the Dragon.
What is the most surreal moment you’ve had during a DJ set?
Alex From Tokyo: I once played a private party in Colombia, in a beautiful mountain resort outside Medellín, close to where Pablo Escobar used to live. The party was going off, people were really enjoying themselves, and I was super into it. Suddenly, a crazy storm hit and the electricity blew! Everything went pitch black and stopped abruptly. The party was over and had to rush for shelter. Being deep in the jungle of Colombia, it was quite a surreal moment.
Which artists are you listening to these days?
Alex From Tokyo: The first names that come to mind are Carlos Niño and Surya Botofasina. I’ve just come back from a family trip to California, where we had the great fortune of experiencing a sublime, spiritual live set in honor of Alice Coltrane featuring the above. Ever since then, I can’t get enough of Surya Botofasina’s debut album Everyone’s Children, and the brand new album by Carlos Niño & Friends, (I’m just) Chillin’, on Fire.
If you didn’t have a career in music, what do you think you would be doing?
Alex From Tokyo: I'd still be deeply connected with Japan in some way. I love the cultures, languages, history, art, food, all of it. Music is at the core of my life and I've always wanted to blend it with these other passions. Come to think of it, I’m already mixing these worlds together with my sound design projects as Omotesound. The restaurant Wagyumafia is also a great example – shout to Hisato-san and Horie-san for being such great innovators and partners.
Do you collect any other items besides records?
Alex From Tokyo: Though I’m not really a collector kind of person, I have to say I’m a big fan of Sukajan, a kind of a bomber jacket, originally inspired by US army bombers and baseball jackets dating from the end of WWII, and which featured embroidery, silk and Japanese influences. I have a nice little collection.