Bring on the buzz

Special to The Times

Asian American producers have had a major influence in the world of hip-hop, and in Los Angeles, Asian American partiers make up the largest ethnic slice at many megaclubs, but people of Asian descent have been a rare sight in DJ booths and recording studios in the domestic dance world until recently.

Japan-born Satoshi Tomiie was one of the first people with trans-Pacific roots to dive into post-disco dance music production.

He was so much of a pioneer that many younger clubbers might not have known his work had he not embarked on a remarkable musical makeover recently that has made him a buzz-worthy producer and a fixture on the global superstar DJ circuit.


In the last three years, the New York-based DJ has spearheaded the dark “progressive house” sound with a record label, Saw Recordings, a well-received summer mix-CD “Nu Breed: Satoshi Tomiie” (Global Underground) and a song that put him on the post-rave map, “Love in Traffic.”

These days the 36-year-old is working on a mix-CD with DJ Hector Romero to be released on his own label in spring, and he’s spinning around the world, including an L.A. appearance tonight at the Mayan Theatre.

Tomiie’s been playing piano since he was 14, and he was making hip-hop beats in late-’80s Japan when cosmetics giant Shiseido asked him to produce a few tracks for promotional club events at which Chicago house music legend Frankie Knuckles would play. After meeting, the two collaborated in 1989 on “Tears,” a sublime house classic with the friendly but uncredited vocals of Robert Owens. The following year, Tomiie moved to New York. “I was amazed how friendly and warm people in the house scene were,” he says.

He soon became the third member of the revered Def Mix Productions trio of re-mixers that also includes Knuckles and DJ David Morales. “I’ve always said that Satoshi was Def Mix’s golden boy,” Morales says. “I knew that it would only be a matter of time before the world would know who he is.”

Tomiie’s subtle but traditional house-music touch (chunky beats, big vocals) was soon heard on tracks by artists ranging from Mariah Carey to U2, but he remained the most low-profile member of the Def Mix triumvirate until an album of his own songs, “Full Lick,” hit the streets in 2000.

The single “Love in Traffic,” a driving anime fantasy, was featured on superstar DJ John Digweed’s “Global Underground: Los Angeles” mix, and soon Tomiie was in demand on the club circuit, especially in Los Angeles, where many Japanese American fans turn out for his gigs.


“There were few Asian people in the scene when I started,” Tomiie says. “Now there are many Asian DJs playing, and they will become bigger, I hope.”

The 2001 launch of his label helped put New York and other East Coast operations back on the dance-music map. Saw Recordings joined Washington, D.C.’s Yoshitoshi and Addictive and would soon be joined by Gotham’s Pipeline label in pumping out the deep, dark drums and ominous whispers of “progressive house” vinyl that rocked club land and stole some of the spotlight away from English producers.

“There were not many record labels releasing this kind of stuff on this side of the Atlantic,” he says. “It’s my turn to help the younger producers, so this label is more out of my love of music. I don’t really make money.”

But, Tomiie says, the relentless push of tribal rhythms -- a push he helped create -- has become a cliche. He wants melody back on the dance floor.

“Nobody is really sitting in front of a piano and composing anymore,” he says. “Music has become so easy to make: By sampling other people’s records you can make a track. But there’s no creativity. I think it’s time to change.”


Satoshi Tomiie with Dave Ralph

Where: Mayan Theater, 1038 S. Hill St., Los Angeles.

When: Today, 9 p.m.

Cost: $20 advance; $30 at the door. 21 and older.

Info: (213) 225-5934, (310) 390-9889 or