Talking Shop with Mule Musiq

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Welcome to the fourteenth edition of our series of short interviews affectionately titled Talking Shop. The majority of media and fan attention gets showered on the artists who create the music we love to listen to/DJ with/dance to, and for good reasons. But without the hard work, keen ears and business savvy of label staff, we’d be stuck only streaming tracks on Myspace. Mule Musiq, one of Japan’s leading techno/house labels, is the focus of our attention this time around. Owned and operated by Toshiya Kawasaki, Mule Musiq (and its sub-labels, Mule Electronic and Endless Flight) offers a uniquely Japanese point of view that’s helped popularize Force of Nature and Kuniyuki, while also hosting standout releases from Terre Thaemlitz, Minilogue, Henrik Schwarz, Lawrence and even Lydia Lunch (among many others). Mr. Kawasaki was kind enough to answer our questions about the differences between Japanese and Western music industries, the label’s origins and Mule Musiq’s philosophy for running a successful label. He acknowledged that his English isn’t perfect and encouraged us to make sense of his replies; hopefully our edits remain true to the spirit of his answers.

Please tell me about the beginning of Mule Musiq. Why and how did you start out? How did you decide on the name Mule Musiq?

I had worked for clothing company for long time before I started Mule Musiq. I founded a small label with the clothing company, but this label was closed after only one release for some reason. After that,I founded the select shop of CDs and some special products with another clothing company in Kyoto. At the same time I started Mule Musiq, but in the beginning it was not a label, it was a promoter company. I invited many underground artists such as Luciano, Henrik Schwarz, Optimo and other artists from Kompakt and Playhouse. There was not a special reason that I started Mule Musiq. Maybe the only reason is I often received much music from young producers, as I was always looking for new live acts for my party. Kompakt gave me the opportunity to distribut my release outside of japan. Actually it’s really difficult thing for Japanese labels. I wanted to have the name like a perfume, because it’s used everyday and good one is modern and timeless. Both [being] modern and timeless are necessary for my releases as well.

How did you select the artists for Mule Musiq’s roster?

When the label was started, almost artist were my friends.

Do you get many demos? What are some qualities you look for when sorting through them?

Now I get a lot. I actually have no expectations for the demos which come by e-mail in particular, but
I listen carefully to the demos that come by post and the process is important for me to release.

What is one of your favorite releases on your own label? Why?

Kuniyuki, “Earth Beats.” This track is a very uniquie fusion of Kraut rock,jazz, ethnic music and deep house. It’s very timeless and still fresh for me.

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According to many doomsayers, running a record label isn’t one of the “smartest” fiscal things to do. How do you keep Mule Musiq running with sales “as they are”? How has the closure of many distributors affected Mule Musiq?

First, I’m not the person who wants to do smart things! I’m working very hard for the label but still doing the promoter work and fashion business. But all industries [are experiencing difficulties] at the moment. I haven’t had a big problem from the closure of distributors, but in Toyko many record store have closed. Five years ago, there are over 80 record stores in one area, Shibuya. I go to the record store on Monday night and Saturday evening every week to buy new releases, but now there are no record stores which have the shipping from each overseas distributors every week.

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I understand the music/recording industry in Japan is different from the industries in Europe or America. Because Mule Musiq is from Japan, does it change the way you run your business and interact with labels/artists/distributors around the world? How so?

I live in Tokyo, but my all releases are distributed from Germany and manufactured in Europe. I haven’t thought about the difference of the industries between Japan and overseas, but the music scene where
I am now is like a small village, everything is close [together].

Do you think blogs like LWE help or hurt the music industry? Do you think blogs have a role in the future of dance music promotion? Do you read music blogs?

Yes, helping a lot and already a big role for the promotion. I always looking forward [to new content on] my favorite blogs. I like you!

There is no shortage of labels in dance music. What does Mule Musiq do to stand out from the crowd? What does Mule Musiq deliberately not do?

I’m doing what I want to do, and only this.

As technology advances further, vinyl is moving closer to becoming obsolete to many DJs. What are your feelings on this? Do you think the end of vinyl is in sight?

I hear some DJs are going to buy the vinyl again. Me too. I don’t download and [instead] buy the vinyl to save this world. But the sad thing is I have to sell mp3s to continue the label.

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What are a few other labels you respect/revere most?

I like the labels who have a wide range with good sensibilities, but there are very few. Almost all label go only one direction. I like DFA very much and Lawrence’s Dial is always beautiful.

What can we expect from Mule Musiq in the next year or so?

Many things to come! The CD release of our first ambient compilation called Enjoy the Silence, with all exclusive songs from DJ Koze, DJ Sprinkles, Thomas Fehlmann, Jan Jelinek and more. There’s a new compilation of Mule Electronic, My Favorite Things Vol.2, a Mule Musiq compilation I’m Starting To Feel OK Vol.3,an album from Lawrence album, and a Japanese artists compilation. There are also exciting 12 inches from Isolee, John Daly, Mark E, Minilogue, Soft Rocks, Move D and many more.

tibal  on May 29, 2009 at 7:22 AM

your label is dope, I love it, and the last Isolée release, Albacares is just outstanding.I was waiting for his true come back because everything he did since “we are monster” was diasapointing, and he’s finally back with such exquisite tracks, on mule musiq.Thx for everything you do, and please, I would love a repress of the force of nature (still going mix) transmute track, plus the albacares Isolée 12″ is out of stock everywhere.I can’ t find it.Help!
I also want to say that midtown 120 blues is the most beautiful thing I have heared in a very very very long time, best 2008-2009 album! A timeless materpiece.

chrisdisco  on June 1, 2009 at 2:48 AM

for those keen, a new livepa from one of mule’s best, koss: http://fairtilizer.com/tracks/39597/download

it really is impressive how well mule has developed. excellent combo of diversity and depth, not to mention the cool artwork. much respect.

si  on June 2, 2009 at 2:26 PM

nice one, love the 2 labels :)

kuri  on June 9, 2009 at 2:50 PM

Mule is definitely one of the most consistenly solid labels out there. Releases are varied but share a common sound or perspective. Good label to highlight.

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Concentrate on the Mule Musiq « a strangely isolated place  on May 29, 2009 at 3:15 AM

[…] Here’s an interview with Japanese label owner Toshiya Kawasaki courtesy of Little White Earbuds: […]

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