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Powder’s unifying instinct

Driven by an inquisitive nature and an unshakeable love for the dancefloor, deep house innovator Powder is taking her passionate eclecticism beyond the cities of Japan to enrich the global scene. As she prepares for the release of her latest venture, a thrilling mix CD for Beats In Space, DJ Mag meets her to discuss origins, no wave, community, instinct and more...

Listening to Powder is like watching a synchronised swim routine. Agile, rhythmic movements appear as organic as they do complex, her sound as exhilarating as it is weightless. Patterns erupt and blossom while hypnotic ripples course from an electrifying core –  Lush melodies dart and weave around propulsive beats and fluid bass grooves.

But just as an individual swimmer is a single piece in a collective motion, Powder doesn’t wish to be the sole focus of your attention. A DJ in the truest sense, she seeks to craft and alchemise the atmosphere of the dancefloor, without ever needing to define it.

"I try to focus on providing the ‘background music’ for people who want to have their own crazy time,” the Tokyo DJ/producer – real name Momoko ‘Moko’ Goto – tells DJ Mag. “It’s more than dropping uplifting tunes for people who just want to dance. The beautiful thing is that the people on the dancefloor return the favor by dancing in a distinctively stylish and sweet way to the music. I sometimes copy their moves when I see them from the booth – It creates a shamanic experience, where I feel I’m also on the dancefloor. It’s an incredible sense of unity.”

While this sentiment could extend to any set she plays, Goto is describing in particular her experience at Discodromo’s beloved Cocktail d’Amore party in Berlin, a night that inspired the tracks on her 2017 EP, ‘H’, released via their label. Over its four tracks, ‘H’ showcased not only Powder’s impeccable technique for making tough, rhythmic house and techno with a melodic new-wave flare, but equally, the “instinctive behavior, welcoming nature, friendliness and positive incompleteness” of Cocktail d’Amore.

"‘H’ was strictly based on this party environment," she explains. "Like a sampler of the party experience. But it contains funny easter-eggs here and there, too – A mood like ’the joy released after creating a small anxiety’ and stuff like that.

“I simply love Discodromo and the homely vibe I feel from at Cocktail d’Amore,” she continues. “It’s just like hanging out with family.” 

That sense of unity and togetherness extends into her new release on Tim Sweeney’s Beats In Space Records. As part of the respected New York label and radio show’s ‘... In Space’ series, Powder has sculpted a mix comprised of the sort of ecstatic house cuts you exchange beaming grins with friends on the dancefloor to, ambient gems for an easy take-off and landing, and deep groove mutations that wrap around one another seamlessly. Mixing tracks by the likes of her friend Samo DJ (with Hidden Operator), Tornado Wallace, Lord Of The Isles, Acid Pauli and Don’t DJ, Powder once again shows her prowess in encouraging melodies and rhythms to work together to make one intricate and transportive whole. As she explains in the mix’s extensive liner notes, the tracks’ assorted motifs and tricks “are always ancillary and never playing the leading part of things, and the patterns themselves recognize this fact and act low-key.”

“Beats In Space is a platform which focuses on music you can dance to,” she tells us. “So I specifically tried to capture the rich musical experience of a good dancefloor.”

‘Powder In Space’ also features two gorgeous original cuts: The roaring, bass-led ‘New Tribe’, and ‘Gift’, in which Goto introduces a captivating levity through cascading percussive melodies – a spritely contrast to her sublime and introspective 2018 remix of Iury Lech’s new age classic, ‘Barreras’. These new tracks, as she explains, find Powder looking toward the poignant shared moments on the dancefloor, as well as to the importance of retaining your sense of self in a world that so often discourages it and, maybe, finding a community that, instead, embraces you for it.

"’New Tribe’ was about people who just try to live like themselves in this crazily globalized society.” she says. “People who then become their own tribe. On the other hand, ‘Gift’ is about the soft, kind moments on the dancefloor. I wanted to express that moment, when you want to say 'thank you' to something but you’re unsure what, you know? That feeling that happens when you’re passing through intensity and relaxation and finally come to a soft point in between.”

It wasn’t always the case that friendship and community would form the core of Goto’s musical output. For several years after moving from her native Nagasaki to Tokyo to work for a corporation in the Shinjuku district, her time was spent largely in isolation. Long, tedious working days of writing quotes and invoices left little room for a social life, while Tokyo’s rental situation made it more feasible and affordable for her to live in a small apartment alone than to share. Arriving home from work, she would spend long nights working on music, never thinking that her productions would be heard on dancefloors around the world.

“I didn’t even have time to plan what I wanted to make,” she admits. “So I never imagined my tracks being played in a club. I was just screwing around with my synthesizer, talking to myself and thinking of whatever comes from simple daily life. Actually, it’s still kind of the same, I just daydream about random things a lot.”

As you start to understand the nature and context of Powder’s early releases, like 2015’s ‘Spray’ EP on Samo DJ’s Born Free Records or ‘Highly’ on ESP Institute, you start to understand the subtle, but distinct appeal of her sound. As fit for home listening as they are for playing out, tracks like ‘Spray’, ‘MA KI’ and ‘BUSY PORT’ feel like they were born from dimly lit living room jaunts, like a sparse and submerged ‘Remain In Light’ or ‘My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts’.

“If it doesn’t sound good on my shitty speaker at home, I can’t really relate to it,” Goto explains. “When I started to put music out to the world, I intentionally hid who I was – nationality, gender, everything. Not at all to promote myself as a mysterious, anonymous character, but after making many tracks and listening to them myself for a while, I got curious to see people’s reactions and to hear what they really thought about it.”

The name Powder lent itself not only to that anonymity, but also to a sense of ownership over her contrasting work and home lives. The company she worked for provided specific metallic powders for electronics companies and, as the word was burned into her brain for hours and days on end, she became fascinated by its openness to interpretation.

“The flexibility of the word’s meaning creates a sort of authenticity, I think,” she explains. “I also like the uniqueness powder’s form itself. It can be soaked, applied to the skin – it changes colour and can be moulded like clay... After all, I like to keep the imagination of the meaning open.”

And perhaps it is the authenticity that holds fast and thrives in its malleability that brought Powder to the place she is today. From ripping Dinosaur Jr, Jamiroquai and TLC tracks onto cassettes as a teenager on the outskirts of Nagasaki to getting a part-time job in her local CD rental store, Goto’s trajectory has been paved by her openness and resolution.

“Since I was born far from the centre, the only thing I looked forward to doing as a kid was going to listen to stuff at that rental shop,” she remembers, “I didn't have a computer so I never even had a chance to even know about the one nightclub in the city.”

As the story goes, one day a customer came to the store and suggested that Goto come to a gig in the neighbouring city with them. It was there that she would discover the off-kilter, underground sounds that had been waiting for her all along. With a gifted copy of the Brian Eno curated ‘No New York’ no wave compilation for homework, it wasn’t long before she was hooked.

“I liked the original no wave artists – the people who got inspiration from the past movements, doing whatever they wanted to do. It was also overlapping with the ‘80s revival trend at the time where  DJs and bands were getting together through re-evaluation of electro, disco and dub. It looked cool to me, and also made me feel comfortable to be in that community.”

“However,” she adds, with a telling foresight to her communal ethos. “I became more interested in being the DJ who plays in-between the bands, and got deeper into dance music and electronic music. I bought a turntable and a computer and learned about the history on nerdy music blogs and in Tokyo record shops.”

Soon, the still Nagasaki-based Powder became a regular selector at parties in the nearby city of Sasebo, where the leftfield sounds she was becoming more entrenched in were more readily received.

“Nagasaki had a strong techno and jungle scene,” she says. “But in Sasebo, there was a strange post-commercial, house and disco interest with so much unheard and random music being played – everything from disco dub, electro clash, indie rock, deep house, euro dance and Hi-NRG type things.”

“It became somewhat of an oasis for all the alternative DJs with different tastes,” she continues. “We all looked for music in our own ways since there were no ‘go-to’ music blogs and, in my case, I was always checking new stuff from DFA, Maurice Fulton, Prins Thomas and Idjut boys and finding connections between them with minimal tech-house stuff like 8bit or Cécille. These were my earliest relationships with parties. It was entirely focussed on maintaining a space, gathering as many people to come as we could, and playing the new records we wanted to play.”

And really, apart from the breadth and scope of her endeavours, little else has changed in Momoko Goto’s musical pursuit. 2018 bore multiple highlights, with gigs in front of crowds both big and small at events like Lithuania’s Braille Satellite, Portland’s Limited Edition, New York’s Nowadays, Kieve’s Closer and London’s Corsica Studios standing as personal highlights.

Remarkably, she is still working a day-job, only now it’s a more flexible position for a friend’s company. Meanwhile, she’s focussing on her health and keeping motivated, while applying her gathered experience on the world’s club circuit to planning news parties at home in Tokyo – something she did with varying degrees of success in the past.

With tours lined-up in North and South America, Asia and beyond this year, and a new label, Thinner Groove, launched with releases from friends 5ive, Sonic Weapon and K-LINE, Powder has never been more embedded in the community she has helped build. And as the ripples of her movement within global scene course outward, her influence is felt everywhere. No matter how subtly.

You can pre-order 'Powder In Space' here.

Photo credit: Yamila De Pico

Want more? Check out our feature on the artists shaping Japan's vital techno underground...

Eoin Murray is DJ Mag's digital staff writer. You can find him on Twitter @eoin_murraye

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