1st Unit: Underpass Records EP

Rush Hour | Rush Hour Store | V/A | RH-STOREJPN12


Reissue of early Japanese house outing by Junichi Soma, Shuji Wada and Katsuya Sano. 

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Format: Vinyl
Reissue of early Japanese house outing by Junichi Soma, Shuji Wada and Katsuya Sano. Comes with insert with liner notes.

All musical movements require a spark to set them alight; in the case of Japanese house music, that spark was provided by the forward-thinking resident DJs of The Bank in Roppongi, Tokyo. In 1989, to celebrate the ground-breaking club’s first birthday, the venue released a 12” EP featuring first-time productions from three of its DJs, Junichi Soma, Shuji Wada and Strong Katsuya AKS Katsuya Sano.

Widely considered to be one of the first ever EP of house music produced in Japan, 1st Unit was never officially released. Instead, 500 of the 1000 copies pressed were given away at The Bank’s first birthday party, with the rest initially being sold not in local record stores, but rather the venue’s own in-house shop. Three decades on, the 12” is finally set to get its first worldwide release via Rush Hour’s Store JPN Series.

The record has its roots in The Bank’s willingness to give its ever-changing roster of DJs a free hand to play what they liked – at the time a rarity in Tokyo nightclubs, whose musical offerings usually revolved around strictly defined playlists. At The Bank in 1989, it was not only common to hear European body music and the kind of post-disco New York productions associated with Larry Levan’s sets at the Paradise Garage, but also acid house – something not offered at the time by other clubs in the city.

This cutting-edge blend of sounds, combined with the venue’s unique decor (it was modeled on the inside of a London bank, complete with a cashier’s window to take entrance fees), made The Bank a go-to spot for young party-goers, celebrities and forward-thinking Japanese musicians (Ryuichi Sakamoto was reportedly a weekly visitor).

When it came to celebrating the club’s birthday by cutting a unique record, it made sense for The Bank’s owners to turn to three of their most exciting resident DJs, who were assisted by Heigo Tani and Jun Ebi. The collective name, 1st Unit, was chosen to reflect the fact that all three resident DJs were debutants with no previous studio experience.

As this reissue proves, the music remains timeless, magical, and authentic to the sound of American house productions of the period – albeit with occasional twists,. Katsuya Sano’s EP opener, ‘I Need Love’, sounds like a twist on Larry Heard productions of the period – all jacking TR-909 drums, undulating analogue bass, dreamy JUNO synthesizer chords and evocative vocal samples.

The influence of Chicago acid house is also evident on Junichi Souma’s ‘Ubnormal Life’, whose unusual title contains what he says was an intentional misspelling. Driven forwards by restless drum machine handclaps, sweet chords and rising and falling melodic motifs, the track is an energetic and uplifting treat.

Perhaps the most influential of the three tracks at the time – within Japan at least – was Shuji Wada’s similarly misspelled ‘Endless Load’. Deeper and more melodic with a more expansive arrangement, the track’s combination of marimba-style lead lines, tribal drum patterns, dreamy chords and jazz-funk influenced bass offered a loose blueprint for the more successful and better-known Japanese deep house tracks that followed.

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1st Unit: Underpass Records EP