Breaking Through: Wata Igarashi


Late one Saturday night this past September, Wata Igarashi ticked off one of his production dreams. He was in the crowd at The Labyrinth, the famed Japanese techno festival, where each year he works the door and takes in the music, and during Nuel's closing set he heard something familiar coming through the Funktion-Ones. "I could tell from the first hi-hat that came in that it was my track," he told me over Skype from Tokyo a few months later. The cut was Igarashi's remix of Ruhig's "Pulse Width," a sizzling, hypnotic techno track released earlier this summer on the Berlin label Midgar. 

And then Nuel's copy of the record began to skip—first once, then again and again. I'd been in the crowd that night and remembered the exact moment, though it hadn't been more than a blip in an otherwise flawless night of music. But I can imagine for Igarashi, the universe would have felt brutal in that instant. He had a good sense of humor about it when relaying the anecdote to me, though—he was mostly concerned that Nuel would be embarrassed to have a story printed about his record skipping. It probably helped that the following day, Peter Van Hoesen, a longtime Labyrinth resident, played another of his tracks, one he'd signed for Stealth, his new mix compilation and curated EP series. This time it went off without a hitch, and Igarashi was practically moved to tears.

Igarashi is relatively new to techno, and he's even newer to being in the limelight. Getting there, though, has involved a longer and more circuitous route than his modest discography, ample enthusiasm and youthful appearance would suggest. I first met Igarashi at the beginning of this year in Tokyo. He'd been hired as my translator for the piece I wrote for RA about Roland. When I arrived at his apartment on the morning of the interviews, he was waiting outside with his 909, which he brought along as a kind of homecoming pilgrimage. In the car to Hamamatsu, Igarashi spoke fervently about techno releases, Berlin nightclubs and the intricacies of electronic music production, but he also held forth on psychedelic rock, Jimi Hendrix, more experimental music and guitars. I got the sense that techno isn't Igarshi's first deep musical relationship, but that he's also not a serial monogamist with styles.

By the time we spoke over Skype months later, it had become clear that 2015 was a breakout period in Igarashi's career. "A few years ago, I was just one of these guys who enjoys DJing and making music," he said, sounding truly surprised that he's now mentioned in the same breath as many of the artists he takes inspiration from. Chris SSG, formerly of the influential techno blog mnml ssgs and a friend who's worked with him on musical projects in Tokyo, sees a broader context for Igarashi's upswing: "After Nobu, he has established himself as one of the best techno artists in the country," he told me. "I am really hoping that Wata can play an important role in strengthening the techno scene here in Tokyo."He's been a skate-punk, a jazz-head and a commercial composer, but Jordan Rothlein found out how Wata Igarashi is fast becoming one of Japan's top techno artists.