Sanpo Disco has been one of my main sources for music discovery for months. If you’ve heard me DJ, chances are I’ve gotten that song you loved from a Sanpo Disco mix. For me, it’s an incredibly healing series of mixes – they’ve aided me through stressful all-nighters spent painting to bouts of anxiety.
Run from Melbourne, Australia, Sanpo Disco is a brainchild of Rowan Mason. It’s a mix series and less regularly, a party that goes by the name of Endless Sunset. Rowan takes care of the website, the design work, the parties and the mixes.
It’s all done expertly: each aspect is considered carefully and they all compliment one other.
We’ve been navigating our way through a cosmic time difference to chat about his work, unique influences and plans for the future.
Hey Rowan! How’s it going?
Not too bad, just working away at a poster design… must sleep soon!
Is all the design and illustration for Sanpo Disco done by you?
I’m responsible for putting the website, logo and mix covers together and have taken some of the photographs for the mixes, but the vast majority of photos were taken by my close friend Eloise Grills. I recently helped organise a party here in Melbourne called Endless Sunset and worked on the flyer for the event. Since doing that I’ve been asked to do a couple of others for some bands here. It’s stressful keeping deadlines alongside full time teaching!
I completely understand how hard it is to have that work balance alongside other projects you’ve got going on. What do you teach?
I teach English at a school for newly arrived migrants who are learning English so they can transition into secondary education at mainstream schools.
What made you want to start a mix series?
I wanted to meet more people who enjoy making and playing music, and to create an outlet for my own interest in mixes, DJing and collecting records. I’d also like to use this platform to share mixes from lesser-known DJs in Melbourne and Australia to a wider audience.
I like how mixes are so accessible in every day life – they can soundtrack pretty much anything. A super upbeat disco mix on a bus journey, or a dreamy Balearic mix whilst going for a jog.
Definitely, I listen to mixes pretty much all the time. If I’m riding the train, exercising, correcting work or making a poster. I think it makes it easier to feel comfortable in transit or while concentrating on something that might otherwise be quite dry.
Why the name Sanpo Disco?
The name Sanpo Disco stems from my time studying in Osaka. By chance, I walked into a large bookstore in Shin-Osaka called Kinokuniya and found a short manga titled “Sanpo Monogatari” by Jiro Taniguchi. It translates to “Story of Walking”. It’s a series of short stories about a salary man who likes going for a stroll whenever he has free time.
When people expressed interest in making a mix for the series, I asked them to make something that they could walk to or listen to in transit.
They’re very simple stories – in one he gets locked out of his apartment and goes for a night stroll, buys some milk tea from a vending machine and runs up the stairs outside his apartment to view the sunrise from the rooftop. I like this appreciation for everyday situations and the word “Sanpo” stuck with me because of that. At the time I was starting to take an interest in dance music – by chance I was drawing in a sketch book and graffiti-ed “Sanpo Disco”. I remember thinking the rhyming of the second syllable in each word sounds nice. When I decided to create a mix series I wanted most of the mixes to be quite downtempo and Sanpo Disco resurfaced as a fitting name. When people expressed interest in making a mix for the series, I asked them to make something that they could walk to or listen to in transit. So the name is aligned with the mixes in that way.
I love the meaning behind the name :) It’s almost as if you could be soundtracking the salary man’s strolls, with each mix in the series suiting a different scenario or time of day. You’ve made me want to seek out this comic now.
Yeah definitely, check it out if you’re interested. I think there’s an English translation called “The Walking Man”.
There’s a definite calmness that seems to run through the series that’s part of the Sanpo sound, which is also helped by the artwork. I always know what kind of mood I’m in when I’m listening to a Sanpo mix! How did your time in Japan influence your taste in music?
I was in Japan 5 years ago on exchange for a year. It was 2010 and I was doing some Japanese cultural units and Japanese language study at Osaka University. There was a special program there for international students taught in English. At the time I was interested in Japanese music, but my knowledge wasn’t particularly vast and I was only starting to appreciate dance music – listening to pretty entry-level stuff.
I feel Japan has a culture of hobbyists and enthusiasts, which stems from the school ‘club’ culture and maybe the need to assert an identity within a dense urban environment.
I saw some of the local bands like Neconemuru, OOIOO, DODDODO, Ooruitaichi and a few others – the underground music scene is actually pretty interesting in Osaka. The real influence came when I returned to Melbourne and my close friend Simon introduced me to Bamboo, C Grade and the Animals Dancing parties here. That was when I started taking more of an interest in dance music and collecting records. Mostly I was just going to parties though and never really thought I could DJ. But I bought a few records from local stores on a whim and from there it started. Since then I’ve increasingly become drawn to electronic music produced in Japan during the bubble-period. I love the production techniques and the way distinct genres like reggae were appropriated and evolved into something uniquely Japanese. It’s also incredibly easy to dig for Japanese music because so many of the key figures collaborated and had side-projects.
Additionally, I feel Japan has a culture of hobbyists and enthusiasts, which stems from the school ‘club’ culture and maybe the need to assert an identity within a dense urban environment. I like the way people there personalise their apartments and have niche interests in obscure aspects of contemporary culture. I often feel that space is personalised and objects are curated with more consideration in Japan than in Australia. There is a strong interest in the aesthetics and feel of things in Japan generally. I think this same will to personalise space and appreciation for aesthetics has influenced my approach to constructing this platform for mixes.
I honestly thought that Sanpo Disco was Japanese, the influence that Japanese culture has had is very clear. Would you like this to become a career at any point?
I’m not sure if I could make a living out of Sanpo Disco or DJing. But through creating the series, I’ve been asked to host the event I mentioned earlier called Endless Sunset at Hugs&Kisses. Making the poster for Endless Sunset has led to some other work designing posters and DJing at the event has led to more DJing. So although it’s not providing money in itself, it has definitely provided opportunities for making a small amount of money. I’m trying to interview people and release a short publication at the moment and also release a tape. Maybe this will lead to producing vinyl one day, I’m not sure. I have lots of other ideas floating around. It would be great to earn enough from these activities that I could work a little bit less and have time to pursue my creative interests more readily.
If Sanpo Disco were to become a full time career for you, do you think it’d hinder the fun and ease of having your own (personal) project? I feel that control is incredibly important when it comes to unpaid projects – the ability to fit things around your life and be as relaxed or intense with it is something that I really enjoy. A worry for me with Equaliser is that, if it were ever to become a proper job then I wouldn’t enjoy it as much. It’s also hard to make money without feeling like you’re selling out in a way.
Working totally independently means you need to be super disciplined. I feel that I’m someone who really needs structure and people who depend on me at work – to ensure that I’m able to focus on creative pursuits outside of work. Like when I’m on school holidays I end up sleeping in and being half as productive creatively as I am while I’m working full time. My time at work allows me to make some clear decisions about how I’ll spend my time outside of work… maybe because, being full time, that time seems so precious. Whereas without work nothing seems particularly pressing. I start making excuses to do things later and later. That said, part time would possiblly give me enough structure and also more time to be creative. So in answering your question, I think the issue for me isn’t so much whether the creative activities would lose meaning, it’s whether I’d be disciplined enough to commit to them.
Do you try and bring the Sanpo vibe to Endless Sunset? It’d be really interesting to see what a space curated by you would look like – I’m a massive fan of parties having several dimensions to them. Like you said, ambience and aesthetics can make or break a good party.
I would definitely take a holistic approach to whatever party I was involved in. The artists would need to compliment each other musically and the space would need to compliment the artists. The concept behind Endless Sunset was to recreate Olafur Elliason’s weather project and put an actual sunset inside the club and allow the music to be informed by the ambience created by the sun and lighting in the club.
People are welcome to play obscure music and experimentation is totally welcomed and the warm-up set build up sometimes continues until later in the night.
I’ve collaborated with Hugs&Kisses and been involved in booking artists, designing posters, purchasing materials, installing everything and DJing a little bit. I think the Sanpo vibe is there, in that people are welcome to play obscure music and experimentation is totally welcomed and the warm-up set build up sometimes continues until later in the night. However, it is still definitely a dance event – but I like the idea of a space where people can listen to music that is ordinarily heard in a mix or at a calmer setting like a bar, with more emphasis placed on listening rather than chatting with friends, like the vibe of a Pipilotti Rist exhibition at a club at 2am.
Our top 5 Sanpo Disco mixes
AZ (Revelation Time)