Watching 23-year-old DJ Kentaro on the turntables is like watching a bullet train blast off from Tokyo at the speed of light, making a quick stop on Mars before darting into the nether regions of the solar system. Japan's No. 1 turntablist and huge celebrity in his own right is a self-described “no waller,” breaking down musical barriers between genres. DJ Kentaro is an equal-opportunity destroyer — hip-hop, breaks, drum 'n' bass, house, electro and reggae music get sliced, spliced and ferociously scratched into one another, yet he somehow manages to also incorporate video work into his routine.
First touching the turntables at the tender age of 13, Kentaro started competing in Japan's DMC competitions by only 16, became the Japanese champion in 2002 and subsequently nabbed the 2003 DMC World Championship with the first-ever perfect score in the competition's history. He has tied with Eminem in a vote for Japan's top hip-hop artist, as well as toured with The Roots, The Pharcyde and extensively by himself all throughout Europe and Asia, yet some American turntable fetishists still scratch their heads a bit on mention of his name. Nevertheless, the UK's esteemed Ninja Tune label aims to change all that by choosing him to provide the mix for the second volume of its neoclassic Solid Steel mix series, On the Wheels of Solid Steel (Ninja Tune, 2005).
The mix, put together in Apple Logic Pro 7, is a chop session of pristine selections from the Ninja back catalog. Kentaro's choices are uncanny and manage to fit his musical personality perfectly — from the rather obscure drum 'n' bass of Animals on Wheels to the overlooked “Up to Jah” by DJ Vadim, the mix is a throwback to the eclectic, mashed-up Ninja mixes of yore. It's turntablism without being a turntablist record, heady without being obscure for those not in the know. But most of all, it's a damn good mix. “I've probably listened to the entire catalog in the past,” Kentaro says. “There were so many good tracks from Ninja Tune, but [the ones] in my mix would be my favorites. I just wanted to keep the groove of the mix, especially from my intro to the drum 'n' bass beginning, and try to keep that tension until the end. I tried not to break the groove too much or put too much turntablism in.”
To truly take in the DJ Kentaro experience, it's a must to catch him live, which these days seems to be on festival stages scattered throughout Japan, where he works his magic in front of tens of thousands of screaming fans. Kentaro's stage rig is more complex than the traditional DJ setup, including Technics SL-1200MK2 turntables; a Technics SH-EX1200 mixer; Pioneer's DJM-909 mixer, DVJ-X1 DVD turntables and CDJ-1000 DJ CD players; and a Korg Kaoss pad. “The Pioneer DJM-909 is a real quality mixer,” Kentaro says. “It's got a really nice fader and great effects. I love the feeling of its touch panel.”
Kentaro's secret weapon, however, is his visual side. He travels with his own personal VJ crew, GEC, which uses Sony MiniDV decks and the Edirol V-440HD multiformat video mixer to run looped and configured images to the DVJ decks onstage so that Kentaro can visually “scratch” the video feed in his routine. “Usually, we discuss what sort of images to put [in] for my set, but it depends on the routine,” he says. “Some parts we plan out with the VJ, but sometimes it's up to them for the visuals. We always do the rehearsals at least twice before the shows, though.”
So with the release of Kentaro's Solid Steel mix and his seemingly limitless skills continually turning new heads, 2006 should bring more of the DJ and his multifaceted show over to this side of the pond. “Europe has a really good massive scene,” Kentaro says. “But, unfortunately, I've never been to the U.S. I've got the working visa now, but nothing has happened yet. I'd love to go!”