ENTERview: DJ Ronin Plays by His Own Rules in Japan

The way I see it, he gives you two options:
1. Shut up and listen.
2. Shut up and dance.
His demands as a hired, professional DJ are no requests, no stupid outfits or strict dress codes, and hours of uninterrupted time on the wheels of steel. Sounds simple for a man who let’s his music selection walk for him and the party peoples’ praise talk for him. We sat down with DJ Ronin to find out what makes his job so difficult in Tokyo.

ENT東京: Let’s knock the basics out of the way. Where are you from? How long have you deejayed? What genres do you play?

DJ Ronin: I’m originally from the DC area. I grew up in the suburbs of Maryland right in between Bmore and DC. My hometown is pretty diverse so I was fortunate to be exposed to a lot of different kinds of music. Hip Hop was my first love but I also listened to a lot of Pop, Reggae, Hardcore/Punk (shout out to DC’s Bad Brains the most influential hardcore band ever!), Metal and Classic Rock. A lot people are surprised when they find out that I’m probably the worlds biggest Led Zeppelin fan. I’ve always loved listening to music and talking about what I was listening to with my friends so becoming a DJ was a was a natural transition. I bought my first pair of 1200’s and a 2 channel Gemini Mixer in 1995. I’m not really big on classifying what genre of music that I play. I found that by doing that here in Tokyo you can easily wind up being labeled . If the music is tight I’m going to play it. I like to think that I only play quality music. If I have to categorize myself I’ll say that I generally like to play Hip Hop, Reggae, and R&B.

ENT東京: How long have you lived in Japan and have you been actively deejaying that long?

DJ Ronin: I’ve been in Japan for about four years and I’ve been deejaying here for the past 3 years. I started playing at parties for a cool chick named Monique. She runs M&U entertainment here in Tokyo and she asked me to play at her monthly Rhythm & Booze party. I got my first break in the Japanese scene from a cat named Katsuyuki “The Controler” Suzuki from Spicy Chocolate. Spicy Chocolate is one of the most famous Reggae Sound Systems in Japan and probably the most popular in Tokyo. Katsuyuki asked me to be a resident DJ for his monthly party Bomboclat Night at Club Asia. Big up to my man Katsuyuki! Thanks for always looking out!

ENT東京: Give us a brief description of the typical club scene of your respected genres, as seen in the USA vs. Japan.

DJ Ronin: My true love is real gritty hip hop and that scene hasn’t thrived in the States since the mid to late 90’s. But I have to admit that if I want to hear tight beats back home I can easily do that. Like any major city in the world today, DC and Baltimore’s club scenes are dominated by mainstream Black Pop music. When you go out to the major clubs you’re not going to get a dose of quality music. You’re going to hear the same stuff that you hear on the radio and in the clubs in Tokyo. But you can always pop into a lounge or bar and you can easily find underground music if you want to. In Tokyo, that’s not so easy to do on a consistent basis. Almost all of the clubs here are really mainstream and genre specific. Unfortunately, for the most part they all play the same music. I haven’t found many consistent spots where I can go and listen to underground or classic hip hop. Of course you can find underground shit here but not on a consistent basis. It’s not like you can say, “It’s Thursday and I know club X is gonna be rocking tight Hip Hop tonight”. What I also noticed here is that people in the club scene have low expectations for their clubbing experience. They aren’t looking for a unique experience at all and they don’t seem to mind the generic cookie cutter experience. When I started going out to clubs there was a thriving underground scene on the East Coast. Hip Hop hadn’t been completely accepted commercially so you couldn’t hear Hip Hop on the radio. Well, at least not any of the tight shit. Often times the club was one of the first places that I heard new tracks. I remember being with my boys and being like “Yo, is that the new Jeru?” When I go out I want a unique experience. I don’t want to know every song the DJ is going to play before I walk through the door. I want some surprises and I want to hear a DJ play from their heart. I want to be forced onto the dance floor because the music is calling my name. I think that I should clarify that I’m not against Pop music. If the beat is phat that’s all that matters to me. I just don’t want to hear all the same songs everywhere I go.

ENT東京: What are the differences between DJ cultures in the USA vs. Japan in these scenes?

DJ Ronin: In Tokyo there are thousands of DJs. Here everyone and their mother is a DJ. Where I’m from it’s a very small community. I think it’s great that a lot of people are into DJing here. The more people that are involved will keep pushing the boundaries of the art form. The thing that frustrates me is that because there are so many DJ’s here, it gives promoters a lot of power to control what is being played. If you won’t play all the commercial top 40 hits they can and will easily find someone that will. In the States it’s a little bit different because of the relationship between music and American culture. If you go to a mainstream American club, of course you’re going to hear commercial music but the DJ is still going to play some classics. You’re probably gonna hear old skool Dancehall, R&B, and Classic Hip Hop and if they throw on some Brand Nubian or The Islely Brothers the place will erupt. That’s because almost everyone in the club knows the classics. Here in Japan it’s a lot different. There isn’t that same connection to the music so if you drop stuff that they’re not familiar with you’re not going to get that same kind of reaction. Of course they will react to Biggie and Tupac but if you throw on Michael Jackson’s Don’t Stop ‘Till You Get Enough they’re not going to respond to it like we would in the States. Thus, you get DJ’s that only play the music that people here are familiar with. It almost seems to be a never ending cycle. Because of this, I don’t really get a chance to really hear a lot of Japanese DJ’s personal style when they play at the popular clubs. Sometimes people misunderstand what I’m saying and they think that I’m dissin Japanese DJs. But that is far from the case. I get frustrated a lot here only because creativity isn’t encouraged and usually it’s stifled. There are some really tight DJs in Japan. Their music selection is on point and their skills are undeniable. However, they don’t get the recognition that they deserve. You don’t see them very often in the major clubs because they don’t play mainstream music. If you’re lucky you can catch them in smaller venues that allow them to express themselves. For the most part, in the States we recognize those that have talent and skill and we don’t stifle their creativity. Talented American DJ’S aren’t left in utter obscurity. We at least are familiar with their names and definitely recognize their talent and appreciate what they play. Just to put it out there. I think that you might be surprised to hear that my mentor is a Japanese cat . He is a DMC no tricks battle scratch champion and he has the nicest skill set of any DJ that I personally know. Thanks for sharing the knowledge Hibiki 先生!

ENT東京: What is your approach to your DJ style?

DJ Ronin: When I DJ I like to play the kind of music that will make your head nod and hopefully get you dancing. Do you remember listening back in the day to the Friday 12:00 mega mix on the radio? The DJ is just killing it with back to back to back super tight joints and you can anticipate the next track and you’re dying for it to come on and then he blasts you with a song that you almost forgot about. That’s the type of shit that will send you into a frenzy! Driving down the highway you could tell who was listening to the same radio station because they were straight grooving in their car. That feeling is what I want to try and recreate. If I’m rockin’ classic Hip Hop I want you to feel like you’re in High School again. Or if I come at you with some R&B gems I want you to feel like you are back in the Ford Tempo sitting next to your Dad. I want the listeners to go on a journey with me and I want them to feel what I’m trying to convey and get lost in the moment and in the music.

ENT東京: What has been some reactions from Japanese and foreign crowds to your sets?

DJ Ronin: LMAO… The reactions I have experienced have been mixed but overall they’ve been pretty good. I’m a little sensitive about the music that I play so I’ve had to learn to be thick skinned. Like I said I’ve experienced both sides of the coin. I have played to predominantly Japanese crowds and I have completely cleared dance floors. At the same time I’ve had foreign crowds that completely ignored my sets too until I threw on what they expected to hear. These days a lot of people are used to going through the motions, so sometimes they don’t give something different a chance. But I must say that I think true music lovers enjoy what I play. Especially the hip hop heads. There aren’t very many of them out there so It’s the dopest feeling when they say thank you. I don’t want to sound corny but I really want people to enjoy what I play. I do this because I really love music and what people think really matters to me. So, It’s a great feeling when people say that it was nice to hear different kinds of music or when they ask me “who sings this song?” I wish I could really explain to you how good it feels when they feel and enjoy what I’m trying to convey to them. When they start screaming and shouting on the dance floor it’s the tightest feeling in the world! When I hear that shit that’s when I know that we have a connection.

ENT 東京: In the future, what type of parties and consumers would you like to spin for, or what type of people/events should book you to DJ for them?

DJ Ronin: I would love to play at a party for people that want to go out and have a good time and enjoy funky music. I would love to play for anyone that wouldn’t mind possibly hearing Donnie Hathaway, The Roots, Grace Jones, Grand Puba , Raekwon, Barry White, and The Ying Yang Twins all in the same set. I’m only looking for a place that’s like that, so if you’re a promoter and you have an event like this hit me up or at least put me on the guestlist so I can get my groove on! But In all seriousness, I just want play for people and at places that accept and want to hear quality music.

ENT東京: What goals do you have in the next year as a DJ in this market or abroad?

DJ Ronin: That’s a good question but unfortunately I haven’t given it much thought so I don’t want to just blurt something out. Over the past year I have spent a lot of time going out and listening to DJ’s play around the city. I really wanted to know who was out there, what they were playing, and how they approached DJing. This year I just want to get more exposure and play as much as possible.

Contact DJ Ronin: dj-ronin@hotmail.com

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