Just returning from his trip across Europe, we caught up with DJ and mastermind of the Balse Project, none other than the renown Yohei Abe.
Here, we talk about his experiences, influences, goals and how he’s put them all into his upcoming Balse event.
ST: Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule for this interview.
Before we start, you just got back from a trip all over Europe.
Where did you visit and how was your experience?
YA: Thank you for having me.
The trip was two weeks visiting Moscow Russia, Provence France, Florence, and Venice, Italy. The Moscow stay was really a day, so really I cannot say much, but I would love to make a longer visit to Moscow and St. Petersburg in the near future.
The trip was about nature, culture, and art. I constantly think of inputs that are natural, cultural, and artistic. I seek things that are authentic and genuine. This trip was very much planned to research these things, and of course with the intention of giving back through our Balse events.
The highlights of Provence was the nature and the visits to the studios and ateliers of the great masters: Henri Matisse, Paul Cezanne, Pierre-Auguste Renoir , and Jean Coctaeu. Florence was to research Renaissance. Finally, the climax was Venice, where I did the Venezia Biennale, the biannual contemporary art festival (http://www.labiennale.org). This was the first time I have visited Venice and the Biennale, and I believe Venezia is, hands-down, the best city to experience art, old and new, in one single location. I cannot think of any other place on earth where you can experience all this art. I plan to visit Venezia every two years for the Biennale.
ST: That sounds like quite the experience. Please tell our readers about Balse.
How would you describe it in your own words, and what can attendees expect to experience at a typical Balse show?
YA: Balse is an antithesis. Antithesis to what? Hard to explain, but I think you know the word “Balse” comes from the film Laputa Castle in the Sky (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Castle_in_the_Sky). It is the spell of destruction used at the climax by the heroin and the hero. It is a spell, actually, not to destroy the world, but to save the castle in the sky from villains. A spell to protect what is truly important. Balse Project follows this notion of seeking authenticity and art.
ST: It seems you’ve truly captured something special with this spell, as your fans regularly attest to.
Now, you’ve stated previously that you’d like to expand this experience to an international level.
Did you happen to go to any events or meet anyone on your recent travels who you feel would be a viable candidate for collaboration in this aspect of the project?
YA: I’ve done various events in Tokyo, NYC, LA, Berlin, Vienna, Cologne, and Detroit.
There is one local Barcelona artist, Busi (https://soundcloud.com/xavi-busquets-vidal). I would love to feature him and his team in our future events. I accidentally met him when I was in Barcelona for Sonar Music Festival in May 2014 (https://sonar.es/en/2016/). I went to an after party, and bumped into Busi, who invited me to another after party from 7am at a small warehouse space, where he played. It was the most memorable moment in the Barcelona visit. It would be wonderful to fly his team in and have a session with BALSE. I would love to meet more local unknown DJs from Russia, Eastern Europe, Germany, Italy, Spain.
ST: Sometimes, it’s those random encounters really lead to something special. Fingers crossed on that one.
On a personal level, who do you draw inspiration from for your own musical career? Who really got you starting to think, “Okay. This is not only something I want to do, but something I can do”?
YA: I don’t know. I don’t think it was just one incident. One of the triggers was when I moved to NYC. It was 2004. I rented a small room on 14th St, Avenue B, in East Village. I rented a place in Stuyvesant Town, a project. A block from my place was a tiny record shop, Ave B or C. I don’t even remember the name. It must have been only 200 sq ft. 10 people would barely fit. Anyways, that was when I first listened to minimal. Artists from Chile, Germany, etc. It was shocking. This passion still continues. Then I met Kompakt, the Cologne based label, as many of you know. Completely I fell in love. I visited the label in 2006. Spend a full two days at the label/record shop.
Classical is another strong influence. As a matter of fact, in private, 75% of the time I listen to classical. My roommate in NYC was a classical music critic. We went to the Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center after work, buying cheap tickets 30 min before the concert started. He goes several times a week and has gone to over 1500 concerts. He has influenced me with classical music, and I have influenced him with contemporary dance music in return. This was also when we researched high end audio equipment. We both got Rotel, the UK audio brand, amps, I got a Focal, French audio brand, speaker, and he got a B&W speakers, and we would compare sound quality listening to the same recordings, and discuss music and sound every night. He has a strong influence on my vision and direction. Actually, the visit to Germany that we just talked about, was not only for visiting the minimal scenes in Cologne, Berlin, and Vienna, but also to experience Berlin Phil and Vienna Phil. The routine during the trip was to do Berlin Philharmonie at 8pm, and then go back to my room, change, and to Watergate. Vienna Phil at 8pm, then to Flex.
Other deep influences include David Mancuso and his Loft parties. I truly respect his stance towards quality of sound, and I really enjoy the community that surrounds him, three generations of fans from teens to grandmothers and grandfathers. This spirit of gathering for music into our sixties and seventies is something we wish to continue.
ST: Some of those influences are readily apparent, as Balse is predominately house-themed.
So, what other genres and artists are you a big fan of outside of this field? Is there any you love, but would consider absolutely off limits for a Balse show?
YA: We are mainly classic deep house, techno, and minimal. I would like to also do classical music screenings. We have done in the past, a live broadcast of Berlin Philharmonie’s Digital Concert hall. I am open to genres.
One thing we don’t do is commercial Hollywood. We seek organic and authentic art.
ST: That’s rather touching, given the propensity of so many event promoters in Los Angeles to do the exact opposite. On the subject of staying true to your roots, your previous project, In The Backroom, was pretty successful. What was the reason for starting the Balse Project? Did you want to start something new or just incorporate what you were doing and move it in a new direction?
YA: Backroom is our roots. We started out, literally, in the hidden backroom of a local Italian restaurant in LA.
A shack, maximum capacity was 30. It had a very authentic underground feel. As we were playing, there would be random locals that strolled in from the back alley, intrigued by the sound.
Balse continues this philosophy, but expands on it. Balse is now more proactive, we want to present a vision. A core power and energy that creates, and propose what we believe to be essential and truly artistic. Something universal and stands the test of time. This might sound arrogant, but really, our wish is to develop something that would be considered timeless and valuable, 300 years from now. The name Balse has that intensity. We will work towards this vision, and we wish to seek supporters and collaborators to realize this.
ST: Shoot for the stars. Someone once said that if no one’s laughing at your goals, you haven’t set them high enough. Now, your events, both Balse and In The Backroom, have always had a very visual element in a way many events do not. For instance, there’s always a lot of visual artists involved, be they painters, photographers, ikebana artists, etc. You’ve even set up stations for people to create their own art at some of your events. This is something many can, and do, appreciate, but what’s your reasoning behind doing this while so many events fail to present much, if any, visuals accompanying their parties beyond perhaps dancefloor lighting?
YA: I am visual.
Sound is my language. Visual is my spouse. I really like working with Alex Andre, who has been my VJ, and really a key member of Balse Project. There is also Atsuko Minami and Tomo Otani, who are photographers and designers, and they are also my key organizing partners.
ST: Yes, they all do very masterful work and will hopefully continue to lend their unique talents to this project for a long time to come.
What are your primary objectives for Balse? Where would you like to see it in, say, a decade?
YA: My vision for Balse is to create pockets of this production locally in various cities and villages around the globe. Similar to how Boiler Room is doing their thing via the web, but Balse is truly brick and mortar, and tangible. We believe in actual human interaction. We believe in locally sourced and farm to table. In a decade, Balse should be conducting members only exclusive micro events all around the globe, every month.
ST: It’s amazing how much we can do and who we can be linked with, even simultaneously, across the globe in these times. International parties a great frontier to explore and pioneer, especially since not many have tapped into doing them yet.
Touching on expansion, you recently came into partnership with Poler Nights.
How do you feel this will affect your overall goals for Balse?
YA: I think the collaboration with Poler Nights is a great next step. I think we have similar mindset, and will mutually benefit in spreading the word to the community.
ST: The Poler Nights team is, likewise, very passionate about their musical art and bringing the best to their fans and guests. Looks like an all-around good fit.
Just to wrap things up, what’s your favorite part of presenting this event?
YA: I feel most satisfied when a guest comes up to me and tell me “I really appreciate you doing this. I have always been looking for something like this: down to earth, authentic, organic, and a welcoming community. Please carry on and serve the community.” The bottom line is, we are creating a community, a community who seeks authentic and highly artistic sound, a community that last and come together 30 years from now, regardless of their age or background.
You can catch Yohei and his team of personally selected DJs spinning all the best tracks at the next Balse event, scheduled for 10/03/2015.
Presale tickets are available through Eventbright: http://tinyurl.com/nndwomw
More details about Balse Project are available through these links: