DIGER ROKWELL Samples Japan with Digpan

In 2018 we celebrated a decade of Diger, 10 years of magical beat making by Diger Rokwell. Towards the end of the year the local producing powerhouse unveiled the third installment of his Beat Tourism collection, announcing third LP Digpan. It’s an exploration of Japanese music and culture, packed with samples of thrift store records and the odd field recording too. It’s out Friday January 18 and being kicked off the very same day via a launch at The Bird with Henry Kissinger, Nathan Jay and Rok Riley in support. TAHLAH STRANO reports.

For folks who aren’t familiar with the beat tourism concept, it’s you travelling to places far and wide collecting sounds and records, and this particular release landed you in Japan…

So my wife was pregnant at the time and was like, “we’ve got to go on a trip!” It was January 2015, we had to have one last trip before we had a child and locked down for two and a half years. I said, “I wanna go snowboarding” so we chose Japan and took my nephew Jake, who’s really into fashion, and had a great time in the thrift stores, looking around the second hand clothing stores spending all his money. As per usual, what I do when I go overseas is, especially to exotic and beautiful cultures, especially somewhere like Japan or Cambodia or Sri Lanka, is collect some sounds. When I was in Japan I looked in their records stores and was like “oh there’s a 50-100 yen section,” which is basically a dollar. So I just started pulling out records based on their covers, if they had a cool cover I’d be like “ooh that’s the record for me,” because my Japanese is zero. I did Japanese in year eight and failed pretty miserably.

I just started collecting records and doing a little bit of field recording and just had a suitcase full of records that were the equivalent to Australian op-shop records, the nostalgia records that you get in Australia. Japanese record culture is quite amazing; I could’ve spent thousands and millions of dollars over there because their records are just next level. But I decided to go the more budget route and just stick to those little bins. I came back home and started going through the records, saving little samples and snippets and started composing tracks from them. It’s kind of like the sample roulette, you don’t really know what you’re going to get and it’s kind of accidental music.

That’s the most interesting part to me; you didn’t have any means to listen to these records when you were purchasing them. So you got home and had a couple of surprises I’m sure, some duds and a couple of rarities as well?

Even in the duds there’s always a little bit. So what you’re doing when you’re sampling is looking for anything, it might be a stringed instrument, a sound, a person’s particular nuance when they’re speaking or it might be a beat or percussion parts or keys. So it’s really just saying “wow that record isn’t really one I’d listen to but it’s got that bit on it or that little string part on it.”

It’s also a two-prong approach; you sample records but also get the zoom mic out for field recordings…

Yep I just do some atmospheric sounds like people walking down the street or a restaurant sound. Also sampling things like chopsticks, four of the tracks have percussive parts with chopsticks, which I recorded while I was over there fooling around with a bouncy chopstick rhythm. If I got more organised I probably might’ve filmed it and made a movie or doco out of it. That’ll come later once my process for how I do this becomes a bit more refined, and I might even apply for funding one day.

What can folks expect when you play live this Friday?

Tonight [at the launch] is two sets. There’s a Digpan set, which is basically exposing some of the source materials at the beginning and then getting into the beat and rocking the beat for a while. So there are nine tracks on Digpan and it’s probably about a 20 minute set.

Then I get into more instrumental bass, live electronica, playing things from (previous releases) Rows, Sprouts and Seeds and other things I’ve done along the way – some unreleased material too. This live set is a sample one at the beginning, and then the second one will be me waxing lyrically on my keyboard and guitar and wailing gloriously. It’s sometimes a bit difficult to know what angle I’m tackling when I have two methods – one where I sample other people’s music and then I sample, essentially, myself, with instruments I play… quite crudely, in my home studio. Tonight will be Digpan and then classic Diger Rokwell stuff.

Do you have a favourite track from the record?

I think Ichi, Ni and Kyuu are all good. There’s always some beats that you just throw in there cos it’s filler, not killer. But I’d say that this is a really solid release in terms of composition, it’s not just beat music, it’s songs. I enjoy all of them because they all have different stories and all different accidental euphoria that comes from them. For instance, Ichi is basically where I found a record and at the start of the record a band leader goes “one, two, three, four” and then I found another person doing a count in Japanese and it kind of formed the basis of the theme for the album. Then you know, you have parts that kind of have this patty instrument part, and then you find this flute part that fits seamlessly – and that’s where as a sampling person you kind of strike gold. They’re all my babies, but Ichi kicked it off, I was going to call the tracks after numbers.

You were in Japan in 2015, have you visited anywhere since or know where the next Beat Tourism installment will come from?

We went to New Zealand, but didn’t do anything [music wise] there because it was more of a holiday, we were in a campervan and having a campervan on the South Island of New Zealand is stressful enough. I’d love to go to Indonesia, I’ve already started that project – I do have records at home from Indonesia. I’d love to do one for Indonesia because I’m an Indonesia teacher and the music culture is just amazing – It’s over 300 languages and cultures in Indonesia and they all have their distinct musicality and musicology, that would be awesome. The funny thing is with Sri Diger, it was probably about two or three years ago people in Sri Lanka started hearing it and then just two weeks ago this girl who works for a music magazine in Sri Lanka has asked for an interview about the record.

It’s like global delay…

Yeah like global delay. People found out and there were a couple of tracks people like because they had the disco sounds people were playing in some of the clubs in Sri Lanka. It kind of takes a while for people to take it up.