If you’ve ever visited a Shinto shrine, there’s a good chance you’ve heard the ethereal sound of gagaku, or traditional Japanese court music. It’s not exactly something that you’d throw in a club mix after “Turn Down For What,” though at one point it was used to accompany dances at the imperial palace. While Lil Jon may get your body shaking, with gagaku, which literally means “elegant music,” shaking isn’t really the goal.
Still, that didn’t stop DJ Krush, one of Japan’s most famous and respected turntablists, from getting together with a few gagaku musicians to play one of the most beautiful sets you’re ever likely to hear–and at a Tokyo Red Bull Music Academy event, no less!
Performing at The Tokyo National Museum’s Gallery of Horyuji Treasures in October, the legendary DJ Krush played a show not quite like anything we’ve ever heard before. Combining the otherworldly sounds of electronica and good, old-fashioned vinyl scratching with taiko, shakuhachi, and several other gagaku instruments, the set would fit perfectly into the Princess Kaguya soundtrack.
As DJ Krush explained, he never cared about the traditional music of Japan when he was young, but as he grew older, the music took on a special importance for him. He even looked slightly nervous about preforming with the gagaku “masters!”
For their part, the traditional musicians were excited about the unique take on classical Japanese music. While traditional performances have strict rules, they said, with Dr Krush they could forget the way they were supposed to play and just have fun with the music. Check out the short documentary from Red Bull below for more information on the performance.
The music itself is something you simply need to hear. The traditional musicians take center stage for much of the set, the ethereal winds and strings lulling the audience into a dream-like trance. DJ Krush is mostly content to slip in and out of the mix, accentuating the traditional music with electronic sounds and melancholy scratching, though he continually adds to the performance with a calculated touch. While the music probably won’t become a club hit anytime soon, it’s definitely some of the best chilled-out music we’ve heard.
But don’t take our word for it–give the set a listen with the player below!
If you’re interested in hearing “real” gagaku, here’s a video from UNESCO. Head over to YouTube to read a description of the music and history in the description.
Gagaku isn’t exactly the easiest genre to enjoy, but we have to applaud DJ Krush “bringing traditional Japanese music to the youth” and doing it in such a mesmerizing way. Hopefully there will be a follow-up soon!