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Fresh Kicks 195: Stones Taro

Stones Taro standing in a black sweater in front of a wall

Kyoto’s Stones Taro sprints from acid-scorched techno and electro into sizzling breaks and garage for the Fresh Kicks series, and chats to Ben Murphy about his love of ‘90s UK dance music, his NC4K label with Lomax, and his local scene

The snapping snares and bass barrages of Stones Taro have become a ubiquitous presence in the sets of many DJs. Since 2017, this Kyoto-based DJ/producer (real name: Taro Nakano) has been releasing everything from crisp garage cuts to meticulously crafted breakbeat, all with an ear finely tuned to the needs of a dancefloor. With releases on many of today’s hottest UK underground labels, from Scuffed and Time Is Now to Hardline Sounds and Dansu Discs, his tracks are much in demand, and he’s highly prolific, with four EPs and multiple tunes released in 2022 alone. 

On ‘99’, on the recent V/A ‘Columbia Road’ EP for Sub Merchants, he chops up ‘Funky Drummer’ breaks and bleeps with a familiar vocal sample, underpinning it all with a huge square-wave bass tone — but on ‘Champion Stone’ from his ‘Lost City Archives Vol. 4’ release, Stones Taro demonstrated his command of 2-step, with a dubbed-out, minimalist groove, warping subs and ragga vox snippets. UK dance styles have long been his particular passion.

“I love UKG, because of that beat programming that deformed the swing of house, and the experimental bass sound [of it],” says Taro. “The more I dig for UKG on Discogs, the more interesting sounds I find. I still listen to Wookie and MJ Cole albums heavily. I love jungle music, too. Jungle features revolutionary beats, in which when you’re energetic, you can dance fast to the rhythm and get high, and when you’re tired you can chill out, swaying side to side with half the rhythm. Even listening to it now, mid-’90s Moving Shadow stuff sounds futuristic.”

Stones Taro first got into electronic music when he moved to Kyoto for university and began to visit clubs in the city, and nearby Osaka. Having been in a hardcore punk band, using a DAW to record his songs, he harnessed it to create dance tunes instead. “I got excited about the making process, which is completely different from band music, and got hooked on it,” says Taro. Since then he’s steadily honed his sound, with each track dedicated primarily to rhythmic impact and club play — while maintaining plenty of hooks and melodic touches to engage the ear. His label NC4K, co-run with Lomax, has a specific musical ethos; dedicated to their love of classic “’90s house and UK dance music”, its output is designed to get people moving first and foremost.

“NC4K will probably never release a song that is too experimental to dance to,” says Taro. “Nor will we express caricatured Japanese-ness in music. We want to create a place where we and our friends can purely express what we feel on a daily basis — what is new and interesting musically.”

When he DJs, Taro prefers sparse-sounding tracks, with the Instinct label a particular favourite. “Songs that have the repetitive, sustained groove of house but incorporate the sub-bass techniques of bass music have always been the main focus of my DJ sets,” he says. “Recently, UK funky has felt like a perfect fit, and the percentage of UK funky in my sets is increasing.”

Though house remains the dominant dance genre in Kyoto, Taro thinks that his hometown is gaining a new affection for his more bass-heavy sounds. “I feel that there are so many more opportunities for UKG, breakbeats and jungle to be played, especially at our parties,” says Taro. “Also, there are so many more producers in Kyoto who are producing those genres.”

Looking ahead to his own material, there’ll be a new Stones Taro two-tracker for NC4K this spring. “The 2-step sampled Saint Etienne classic on it is my favourite, so I hope you’ll get it,” he says.

Listen to Stones Taro's Fresh Kicks mix below.