The story of how DJ legend Larry Levan came to remix an obscure J-pop song and what happened after.
Larry Levan needs no introduction. The Paradise Garage DJ was a driving force in helping to shape modern dance music through not only his all-night DJ sets but also his own productions and remixes. Gwen Guthrie, Loose Joints, NYC Peech Boys, Jamaica Girls, Class Action, Nami Shimada. Wait, Nami who? Yes, among the underground and post-disco cuts Larry lent his skills to he also reworked “Sun Shower,” a song by Japanese idol singer Nami Shimada.
How did one of the most influential DJs ever end up remixing a deep album cut from a mid-level Japanese idol? The story is just as fascinating as you think it might be.
Chapter One: The Land of the Rising Idols
Japan has long had a massive music industry. The second-largest in the world, it serves a largely domestic audience. While there’s been some recent outreach into non-Japanese territories thanks to the popularity of anime and video games, it’s still primarily geared towards getting locals to part with their hard-earned yen. A major genre of the music industry is idol music, prepackaged pop stars (usually female) managed and produced by Svengali-like men. Think Britney Spears but on a much more pervasive scale. This was as true in the 1980s as it is now.
Meet Nami Shimada. In 1988, she released her seventh album for Nippon Columbia, Everytime I Look At You. The album was produced and written by musician Yosuke Sugiyama, who had been associated with Shimada since her earliest recordings. Placed on side two was “Sun Shower,” a catchy if bland J-pop song typical of the era. It wasn’t even a single. There was nothing in the song to indicate that people around the world would still be listening to it – and loving it – 34 years later.
Chapter Two: Far East Remix
Enter Soichi Terada. An up-and-coming Japanese deep house producer, Terada was self-releasing music on his label Far East Recordings. In 1989, he received a surprising call. Shimada’s producer, Sugiyama, had heard his music and wanted him to remix the idol. This was quite the break for a university student, especially when you consider that major labels weren’t in the habit of commissioning underground house remixes.
“Yes, it was,” Terada says emphatically when we asked him if remixing an idol was unusual. “However, I was so lucky to (do) those remixes as I wanted to do (them).” Sugiyama must have really liked what he heard in Terada’s cuts. With no major label suits breathing down his back, Terada set to work on six remixes, including “Sun Shower.” Terada told us he did the remix with an Akai S900 and S1000, Yamaha DX-7 and Roland D-50. “Almost all the elements were played by Akai hardware samplers based on my library,” he clarifies.
There was nothing in the song to indicate that people around the world would still be listening to it - and loving it - 34 years later.
The “Sun Shower” remix came out in December 1989 as one of the cuts on a remix mini-album called Mix Wax ~Nami Nonstop. A sample-heavy collection of pop dance tracks, the release is an interesting curio. It’s the sound of overground Japan discovering dance music for the first time. But Terada’s “Sun Shower” rework is the stand-out. Stripping away almost everything from the original song and leaving only Shimada’s vocals, he turns it into a pumping house classic.
Chapter Three: New York, New York
How was the record received in Japan? Was it popular? “Not at all,” answers Terada. After all, Japan at the time was obsessed with idol pop.
Realizing he’d have to go abroad to generate interest in his remix, Terada paid a visit to the record label. He had a plan in mind. “I asked Nippon Columbia to make 400 promotional 12-inch records,” he says, “and then brought them to New York in December 1989.”
Terada recruited some help stateside. Hisa Ishioka, who later went on to found seminal house label King Street Sounds, was running a party called Choice at the time. He made sure Terada’s remix got into the right DJ hands, like those of Victor Rosado and of course sometime Choice DJ, Larry Levan.
Chapter Four: In The Studio
By the time Soichi Terada met Larry Levan in 1990, the Paradise Garage had been shut for three years. Larry was gigging in New York, including at Sound Factory and, more importantly for our story, Choice, where he likely first heard “Sun Shower.” Aside from the fact that the lyrics are in Japanese, it’s a classic Larry Levan-style song. There’s a strong beat but it’s tempered by a fantastic melody. It’s also fairly minimal, with plenty of space in the mix. Terada was a huge fan of the New York dance sound and used to send demos to Sleeping Bag Records before starting his own label, so there was clearly some cross-pollination happening.
Usually remixes – especially major label remixes – come from decisions made by the top suits at the label. But not this one. Terada spearheaded the “re-remix” himself, locking in Levan as well as Mark Kamins, who had produced Madonna’s debut single, “Everybody,” and Grace Jones’ “Pull Up To The Bumper.” Terada explains: “I made a plan for re-remixing production in 1990 and then we had the studio session at the Sound Track Studio in New York in January 1991.”
For Levan’s mix, the DJ worked with a synthesizer player to add the parts he wanted. Apparently, they had trouble figuring out some of the notes, because he called Terada and left a hilarious message on his answering machine that said, “Mr. Levan calling Mr. Terada. Mr. Terada, I need to know the key of your fucking song!”
While Terada wasn’t in the studio during the recording, he was there for the final mix-down. When asked what he remembered about Levan’s studio techniques, he said, “He was very good at editing the master analog tapes. He edited many versions made by dub mixing (them) into a longer version.”
He was very good at editing the master analog tapes. He edited many versions made by dub mixing (them) into a longer version.
Chapter Five: Sun Showers
The Sun Shower Remixes 12” came out as a promotional single on Nippon Columbia in 1991. It featured Levan’s version, called Larry Levan’s Vocal Mix, and Mark Kamins’ Dance Mix, which he co-produced with the Ecstasy Boys during the same Sound Track Studio sessions. The two new remixes were backed by Terada’s version and an instrumental. Surprisingly, there was never an official single release, just the promo 12”.
Terada attributes the ongoing popularity of the song to a number of factors. “Larry Levan frequently played ‘Sun Shower’ (off) the promotional black label record in the early ’90s. I think that must be the reason why it (has been) popular over the years. And unclear rumours, unstable reputations and many unknown versions (including the H-Track) made it more mysterious.”
Quite a few of those “unknown versions” were cheekily released by Terada himself, first on his Far East Recordings label in the early ‘90s and later on different labels, including Creme Organization. And then there’s the “H-Track Edition,” the re-edit with the famous Larry Levan answering machine message at the front end of the track.
The song seems to have taken on a life of its own. Given its history, it deserves one.
Epilogue: Larry Levan and Japan
After a three-month stay in England in 1991 where Levan was greeted as a conquering hero by local punters, he took two months in 1992 to tour around Japan. Called the Harmony Tour, Levan played a number of sets, including at Gold in Tokyo in September 1992 with Francois Kevorkian. By all accounts, it was a wonderful tour, with Kevorkian calling Levan’s sets nostalgic and inspirational but bittersweet. Terada also met up with Levan again on that trip. But it was to be their last, as Larry passed away on November 8, 1992, not long after returning to New York.
Nippon Columbia finally recognized the importance of “Sun Shower” in 2019 by re-releasing the original Mix Wax ~Nami Nonstop EP as Re-Mix Wax Nami (Non) Nonstop, complete with a new set of re-edits by Terada. And Nami Shimada herself (now going by her birth name of Naoko) featured Levan’s remix on her compilation album, Songs Selected By Naoko Shimada. “Sun Shower” had finally come home.
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