Interview with Shin Ohsaki, the main man behind Tokyo, Japan’s Hue Records.
Tell me a little about the history of Hue.
Hue was established in March 2005 and it’s one of the labels run under Inpartmaint Inc. We are also a distributor called “p*dis” for various experimental music including underground hip hop. I started working at this company from June 2004. I wanted to start a new label for the unfamiliar music and that’s why hue started. Actually I am an only director of the label but our company has several labels besides hue and we are helping each other for the sales and promotions.
Is running Hue your full time job or do you also work somewhere else on the side?
It’s my full time job. But It’s not my only job. I am working for the label as well as importing work and sales…etc. Anyway, It’s too much work!
When did you first get into hip hop and who were some of the first artists you listened to?
I realize I am not a general hip hop lover. I’ve never listened to most hip hop classics so far; Hue is a label that such a guy is running. I think hue is not a hip hop label. I liked Beastie Boys 15 years ago, I think it was my first experience with hip hop.
Most of Hue’s releases so far have been those of Canadian or Belgian hip hop artists; when did you first come across rap from these countries?
First, I was inspired by soso’s Birthday songs in 2002. It was so beautiful. After that I started to get into Canadian hip hop. I met Buck65, Josh Martinez, Factor and Cavemen Speak. And I started my label. It’s just how things turned out.
A lot of your albums come packaged with Japanese translated lyrics; would you say the label’s Japanese fans understand most of the English in the music?
Most Japanese don’t understand English but want to know what issues the artists sing, so it’s kind if we put in some of the translated lyrics or liner notes.
Once a Hue, Always a Hue is one of the best compilation albums to come out in recent years; there are a lot of new names on there. Did you seek out each of the artists for that album or did some of them contact you?
Thanks. “To infuse the poetic and lyrical mind into hip hop “…that’s the concept of Once a Hue, Always a Hue. I sought each of the artists and asked them to give us their tracks. This is not hip hop, I think it was because I compiled this. Some kind of ‘affectivity’ is most important for this compilation. I am just interested in beautiful music, unfortunately this was so revolutionary that it has not sold so much…
“Vinyl is beautiful but a bad business…”
What can you tell me about new or upcoming releases on the label?
It would be Nomad’s second album, it’s awesome, I think you would be surprised with it. Also I am planning soso’s new instrumental project with DJ Kutdown early next year. Actually, I am also running another label called ‘lirico’, which is releasing awesome singer song writers in the world. Now I am focusing on lirico as well as hue.
So far Hue has released CDs only, are there any plans to do vinyl releases in the future?
I wanted to try vinyl releases but we can’t afford it… Pressing vinyl is much too expensive as you know. Vinyl is beautiful but a bad business…
Where do you see Hue five years from now? Do you have any long term goals for the label?
Hmm…It’s a difficult question. 2008 is a turning point for hue. It is a hard year for music industries in Japan, though I am not sure about foreign situations. The sales are getting less and less. Compared to 2006, our sales for most of the releases are about 40-50% off. I am running my label under a company so I need to value the amount of sales more. I think we will not be able to release what we could release in the past. It’s embarrassing… That is enough morbid talk for this interview. Anyway, I don’t have any long term goals now. I just want to do anything fun!
You’ve helped setup quite a few Japanese tours for Hue artists; are the hip hop scenes in other cities like Osaka and Nagoya connected with what’s going on in Tokyo?
Each cities have particular hip hop scenes. They are connected more or less.
How have the Japanese fans been receiving the tours you have put on?
I am not sure. I believe they enjoyed the tours. Organizing the tours is quite hard. I was always too tired and sometimes sick after each tour, so I always thought I would never do it! But I do it again… In fact, it is easier for me to go to their shows in Canada and Europe. But it is my great pleasure to give a chance to showcase their great performances to Japanese fans.
After having met a lot of the artists on the Hue roster, has anybody surprised you with how they were in person compared to what their music is like?
soso is especially interesting. His music is so sad and beautiful but he is so hilarious and sometimes drunk…haha. I was told “Get amped, Shin!” about one hundred times while he was in Japan.
Do you get a chance to travel outside of Japan much?
Not so much…Give me holidays! Hahaha.
When we went out for dinner with you last fall in Tokyo, I remember you were a meat eater, but now i hear rumours you’re a vegetarian? Did soso help convert you or why the change?
Exactly. Maybe so…soso helped and Nomad helped too. In fact, I watched the documentary movie called “Our Daily Bread” and I decided to be a vegetarian. It is quite hard for the vegetarians to live in Tokyo. But I started to learn to cook by myself so I have no trouble, though I am alone. Besides maybe soso knows, I don’t eat so much. He called me ‘skinny’ while they toured in Japan…hahaha.
Any last words?
Sad is beautiful. Beautiful is sad. Hue is going to be the strangest label in the world.
For more info on Hue Records check out inpartmaint.com/hue