Words by Rafe Arnott, photography by Silvia Gin. Image above: Time Capsule head honcho Kay Suzuki at his London home.
There’s a spirit of the familial within music circles adhering to the ethos born of the original New York City Loft parties organized by David Mancuso in the early ‘70s. The first of these events, called “Love Saves The Day” could be viewed as the beginning of a democratization of the private party – a movement away from the dance floors of commercial discos and clubs, one where music, not alcohol, was the focus, and where parents were encouraged to bring their children.
Mancuso’s parties quickly became a hit, and their personal, intimate nature added to the esoteric aura surrounding the tight-knit, music-first community he fostered within this unique approach. The fact he also used a highly-curated and expensive audiophile sound system to power these get togethers further pushed the experience to the brink of ‘ultimate sound’ for those in attendance, as most never had exposure to playback of that level of quality.
Photo above: Time Capsule's imprint is about "...sealing the feelings and the vibrations of our day..."
Despite the intervening decades since Mancuso first dropped the needle to move people, the idea of friends playing for friends, and family coming first continues on in organized parties like London’s Lucky Cloud Sound System, Beauty & the Beat, in venues like Brilliant Corners and Idle Moments, and in record labels like Kay Suzuki’s reissue-focused Time Capsule. The importance of giving back to the music community, supporting one another and engendering good will has allowed these dance party scenes to flourish and promote musical diversity on multiple cultural levels to the point where this small scale movement continues to foster a global reach and appeal.
Resistor caught up recently with Suzuki who hails from London, by way of Japan, to discuss running a record label, the East London music community, crate digging, album collecting, DJing and the ins-and-outs of making LPs.
Photos below: Details from Suzuki's home studio in London.
I swear, the moment you thought you knew about music, you will discover another chunk of new old music you never heard before. It will never end as long as your mind is open and you keep searching for that excitement.”
Rafe Arnott: Time Capsule occupies a unique niche in the record label scene – was there ever any question of it being something other than reissue focused?
Kay Suzuki: I believe the time will come when we encounter the right new music to put out, but it just hasn't happened yet. I believe in the process so let's see.
RA: Brilliant Corners, Beauty & The Beat – both sentinels of the London selector scene, did the label start simply as a way for you and your friends to press the music you always wanted?
KS: “Not exactly. A lot of time we already have the records, so it's more about making it available to share the experience with more people. I love music first and foremost, and I was always interested in contributing my energy to the music around me – whatever the role I play at any given moment. I knew how to make records and there's an endless stream of new, old music we’ve never heard before and it deserves to be heard by more people. The music I love is usually a pure reflection of consciousness from a specific time & space, and I discovered so many of them from within our community. I wanted to celebrate those discoveries and also the community that brought it to my attention, so that was sort of the motivation for starting the label. We bounce each other the ideas and I carefully assess if it's worth working for, not just financially, but making sure the music actually resonates in this time as well. It's all about the timing.”
RA: You grew up in Japan, you were influenced by music from the United States, and moved to the UK more than 17 years ago for "musical inspiration." Did these experiences position you uniquely to apply a sonic aesthetic to the label?
KS: “I think so. I started playing instruments around 11 years old and I’ve been making music since the age of 15 with a Four-track cassette recorder and an early Apple computer to run some midi sequencers before the colourful iMac came in. I never really stopped ever since except for a couple of years in between. I released my first record as a producer in 2007 and I’ve worked in a commercial studio as a mixing & mastering engineer, as well as a producer, so I think I know a lot of the technical side of music by now. I also started graphic design when I got that early Apple computer. I initially wanted to have a band, but no other suburban Japanese kids around me listened to soul or funk music, so I decided to program other instruments with that computer. Then I discovered the default graphic program, I made a funky poster to recruit band members and put it up on a local rehearsal studio. I ended up forming a band with much older musicians and continue graphic design for gig flyers, mixtapes and all of my records. That’s where Time Capsule’s visual aesthetic comes from.”
Photo below: Tora, the house cat with some of the many releases Suzuki has overseen for Time Capsule.
RA: How difficult was it to start Time Capsule? Did the process resemble anything like you envisioned it would?
KS: “I set up my first label – Round in Motion – in 2010 to put out my own album, so I knew about the technical process from production to distribution. It was much harder then as it was all a DIY experiment. There are so many ways to start or run your record label and the learning curve is steep, I picked up a lot from many people over the past 10 years. When I started Time Capsule I decided to license other label’s catalogues rather than signing friends. Luckily, Ken Hidaka, a friend and freelance music coordinator from Japan, taught me a lot about the reissue side of the business when I started. Finding the rights holders, negotiating the license offer, and dealing with copyright societies as a label (instead of a self-released artist) were all key learning experiences. By working with different sized record labels, I also learnt a lot about the industry’s financial structure and the publishing side of the music business. Time Capsule also launched a publishing arm recently so I’m constantly learning. I think it’s much easier to start something than keep on doing it for years.”
RA: Has the technical aspect of mastering/pressing at the label impacted how you listen to albums? Do you "hear" differently now knowing the ins-and-outs of the production chain?
KS: “Absolutely. But my hearing was much more developed by the real audiophile experiences I had at Lucky Cloud Sound System and Beauty & The Beat. I made some records prior to that, but I feel like it was more designed to play out in clubs or bars to get that sort of sonic impact. Since I was blown away by [Lucky Cloud’s] sound system, my ears have been trained and now I hear the micro details in the sound. I also started working in the studio just after that, which gave me massive improvements in my engineering skills and understanding of audio science.”
Photo above: Suzuki's main listening room features vintage Tannoy Arden loudspeakers.
RA: Do you contract out the pressing process, or do you have a dedicated facility?
KS: “We work with a broker called Qrates.com. They are based in Tokyo, but are working with a couple of different pressing plants in Europe. Qrates have a very technically advanced system on their website, but I'm very hands-on type of person, so sometimes I also personally get in touch with their engineers to make sure some details are correct. I learnt the very hard way through working with so many different pressing plants and brokers over the last 10 years, and my conclusion is that no matter who you work with, you need to know exactly what's going on in the production chain. So, in that way, Qrates has been incredibly supportive from the beginning and always attentive, understanding and sweet. They put up with all my nerdy questions and requests, and they are always improving their system.”
RA: What is the most important thing you've learned about yourself from running the label?
KS: “I’m surrounded by great friends and community that can share the great music.”
RA: Has running Time Capsule affected the process/style/intent of the way you dig for LPs?
KS: “Yes, for sure. It became less personal and more academic in a way. That doesn't mean I’ve lost my love for digging, nor lost my taste. I think my appreciation for music just got deeper and wider.”
RA: What do you think has changed in the way the public consumes albums – and music in general – over the last decade? Has technology made the hunt for rare grooves easier or more difficult?
KS: “The playlist culture has risen and I think it's great that more tools are available to consume digital music officially. We were listening to digital music 20 years ago too, but that was almost entirely pirated, so I think we improved when it comes to consuming music. I also feel there's more people into the analogue audiophile world and buying records in the last 10 years. Sure, hunting for rare grooves is easier than ever for most people, so that makes it harder for the older generation to go beyond, but that's always subjective in each period of time. You just have to go beyond deeper than everyone else at any given time. The moment you thought you knew about music, you will discover something you never heard before. It will never end as long as your mind is open and you keep searching for that excitement.”
Photo above: Suzuki's home studio features both digital and analogue software and hardware.
RA: If someone didn't know you, what could they glean about Kay Suzuki from his record collection?
KS: “Once I was invited to play at a party by this older, veteran DJ in Tokyo. He asked me if he could go through my record bag and I said sure. He flipped through everything and said "It's very interesting mixture of music, but it's a bit too spiritual.”"
RM: You're an artist/musician in your own right, and you've put out a handful of EPs and an album over the last 10 years from your other label Round In Motion. You've also worked with a few different artists through remixes and collaborations. Talk to me about this label and the musical influences/inspirations you draw on for your own musical output.
KS: “Originally, I was planning to release my album from another label, but that fell through in the end and after talking to a few people I thought it’s best to release it by myself, so Round in Motion was born. I had only put out some cheeky edit vinyl prior to this, so help from people around me at that time – which was a DIY producer/musicians community – really made a difference. Once I did it, I knew how to apply the process to other projects, so I kept releasing my friend’s music or our collaborations. A fellow London-based Japanese DJ/producer Koichi Sakai and I used to hang out with a lot of African musicians, so we put out a couple of records as Afrobuddha, which is basically a project for us to work with those musicians. These records have been hitting some silly prices on Discogs for years, but now another UK-based label, Mysticism, has just reissued the combined version of these records. I could have reissued it on Time Capsule, but it’s nice that someone else has done it for us instead of doing it all myself again. I also released a couple of records with another friend of mine, Leonidas, who gave me a lot of opportunities to play around his vintage analogue synths and drum machines at that time. I left all my hardware instruments and recording equipment in Japan when I moved to London, so it was amazing to go back to work on hardware after years of working “inside the box.” One of our collaboration tracks was picked up on DJ Harvey’s compilation in 2019. I kept putting out more remixes and re-edits from various labels and they are all coming from my personal connections and are pure reflections of my environments from each time.”
We were listening to digital music 20 years ago too, but that was almost entirely illegally pirated, so I think we actually improved when it comes to consuming music digitally. I also feel like there's more people getting into the analogue audiophile world and buying records in the last 10 years."
Photo above: Tora and Suzuki in the studio: "I left all my hardware instruments and recording equipment in Japan when I moved to London, so it was amazing to go back to work on hardware after years of working “inside the box.”"
RM: You helped open Brilliant Corners as head chef/graphic designer/audio technician and music programmer 2013 thru 2016. What was that experience like and how did that influence where you’re at today?
KS: “I met the owners of Brilliant Corners, Aneesh and Amit Patel, at Beauty & The Beat while we were helping carry those big speakers (Klipschorns). Aneesh kept telling me about his plan to open a bar, and eventually found a spot. They didn’t really know what to do with the big kitchen space in the back, so I told them we should turn it into a sushi restaurant. I was living in that neighbourhood for nearly 10 years and I saw the area was getting gentrified. There was no sushi restaurant nearby and I instantly knew that it would work.
“I had been working in a sushi restaurant during high school in Japan, so I knew the basics. The restaurant was across the street from one of the largest record and hi-fi audio shops in the region (it was the biggest branch of Disk Union, which is one of the most trusted second-hand record shops in Japan), so all the money I earned at the restaurant went straight to the other side of the street. Anyway, It was a really useful skill to have after I moved to London so I worked quite a few sushi restaurants in between my “bar DJ career.” I only worked in non-Japanese owned Japanese restaurants in London because I didn’t want to go back to those “Japanese societies” that I ran away from, and because of that, I gleaned a more European perspective of Japanese food and that’s how I created an original menu for Brilliant Corners.
“By this point, I was consulting other restaurants, making menus and hiring chefs, so I initially tried to hook up with another sushi chef I knew. He didn’t quite get that audiophile aspect of the business so I ended up becoming head chef. All the recipes were my inventions and they still serve some of them, so I’m quite happy with my creation there. I designed the kitchen, the menu – which kept changing all the time – and built their first website with the streaming & archiving system for DJs every night. Both Aneesh and Amit are really smart guys and have a great vision for the venue, so we just really clicked. We all learnt from Lucky Cloud Sound System and Beauty & The Beat – not just about the records and audio, but also a lot of David Mancuso’s philosophies and the way to build a music-driven community. It was a really magical experience for all of us involved, especially when it started. A lot of things happened organically and our friends and community just kept growing. We also installed a pair of good speakers inside the kitchen directly connected from the DJ booth, so our kitchen team was always pumped from the great music every night.
“Fast forward three years later, I couldn’t make music anymore because all my creativity was pouring into Brilliant Corners. We were becoming really successful, but I just couldn’t resist going back to making music in full swing. I peacefully left the restaurant, started working in a studio and managing label releases. After a while, I discovered Qrates and long story short, I teamed up with them to start Time Capsule in 2018. At one point, I realized I was surrounded by these incredible diggers and musicologists. I wanted celebrate these people and because I come from more of a musical background than record collector, I was sympathetic towards the artists who made these rare records. I thought this was another way to contribute my energy towards the music I love, and also my friends who brought this music to my attention.”
RM: How big is your current LP collection, and are you still curating mixes these days? With the pandemic it’s been a minute since you spun at Brilliant Corners, Beauty and the Beat or jetted to gigs on the continent or Asia, how are you keeping those skills honed?
KS: “To be honest with you, I don’t really consider myself much of a collector. Yes, I love to look for unknown records that excite me, but I’m not really a holder. I’m more interested in creation of all sorts. Yes, I’m still constantly looking for records and curating some mixes here and there, but I think my skill of reading the crowd is definitely rusty.
RM: I caught the Stamp The Wax mix you compiled from 2020. Is your manga/anime interest well known in DJ circles, or something that pops its head out only occasionally?
KS: “Again, this is just another reflection of my life this time. I met Rintaro, he runs a Tokyo-based online record shop called Vinyl Delivery Service a.k.a. VDS. He came to London a couple years ago and we became friends. His shop got a ridiculous amount of Japanese secondhand records (mostly near mint condition), so I’ve been helping him to spread those to European markets. Japanese records have been incredibly popular the last five-to-10 years, but there is so much more to discover, and we realized that there are a lot of incredible manga/anime soundtrack LPs from the ‘70s onwards. Both manga and anime industries are huge in Japan, so they have a lot of titles and big budgets to play with. I mean first of all, manga doesn’t even come with any sound – it’s just a comic book – why do they have a soundtrack LP? They are not usual library records with one-to-two minute tracks, many of them are properly produced full-length tracks or albums by some of the best musicians, composers and producers in Japan at their peak of their careers.
“Sometimes I feel like people in the publishing world just used the film company budgets to bring in their favourite musicians to make an album without worrying about any mainstream pop-market BS, and just went for the art of sound because the sales of the records are dependent on the popularity of a particular anime/manga. There are a lot of cover versions of those anime/manga main themes, the composer’s writing credit is the same as the main music, but they use different bands or one-man-synthesizer producers to reproduce those songs (and most of the time, you hardly recognize the original song because they only use tiny phrase or melody lines of the original). This was done essentially to exploit the publishing copyrights of the song by creating more recordings. Nippon Columbia’s series called Jam Trip and Digital Trip are good examples of these. A lot of them are instrumental, and you can hear they were recorded in a nice studio, featuring state-of-the-art recording equipment from that time. It was all a mix of serious jazz/funk to Motown soul, ambient, new age, synth-pop, experimental prog-rock to ethno-folk music.
“Rintaro and I have been digging these for a while now and since most of them were only in Japanese, and the visual aspect of the records have nothing to do with the music inside, it could be hard to dig if you are not from Japan. I’m planning compilations for Time Capsule, but turns out licensing is quite tricky, so it’s taking time. VDS recently opened its London shop as a part of Idle Moments, which is a wine and hi-fi audio shop run by the team of Brilliant Corners on Columbia Road in East London where the famous flower market happens every Sunday. I don’t think any other record shop in the UK stocks that amount of Japanese records, so I highly recommend everyone to visit.”
Photo above: A Cosmic Poet Revisited by Gratien Midonet is released April 30th on Time Capsule.
RM: What’s next from Time Capsule? What projects can fans look forward to?
KS: “We’ve just released our first remix EP on April 30th – A Cosmic Poet Revisited by Gratien Midonet. We think he’s a giant and his music deserved to be retreated by modern music producers so I've also asked my hero and fellow Japanese producer Kuniyuki Takahashi to remix Gratien’s soulful funk odyssey, which I think is an epic track, and perfect for opening up the long-awaited dance floor this summer. We also have my favourite producer duo from Berlin/Romania; Khidja’s psychedelic remix, as well as my reinterpretation of Gratien’s deep guitar groove. The next one will be an Angolan singer songwriter/guitarist’s compilation taken from albums between ’82 and ’88. It’s heart achingly beautiful music, and there are quite a wide range of styles from futuristic chugging drum machines, to Afrobeat, to low-key jazz funk and mesmerising acoustic guitar ballads. He’s also an intellectual who wrote books on Angolan traditional music and local languages. He’s a fascinating character. I can’t wait to introduce his stories. It’ll be released in late June.
“After that, we’ve got a collaboration release with Toronto label Séance Centre, and we are releasing a compilation of modern Gwoka music out of Guadeloupe from the ‘80s onwards. This will be the very first compilation that documents their scene, which never really left the island before, so I think this is going to be a historically important compilation. We are really proud of our progress so far. You can always expect unexpected from us!”