Music modifications when expertise modifications. Few musicians have demonstrated as eager an consciousness of that reality as Haruomi Hosono, Yukihiro Takahashi, and Ryuichi Sakamoto, who collectively as Yellow Magic Orchestra (YMO) burst onto the scene making sounds that almost all listeners of the late nineteen-seventies had by no means heard earlier than — by no means heard in a musical context, a minimum of. They’d by no means seen a band make use of a pc programmer, nor deliver onstage a tool like Roland’s MC-8 Microcomposer, an early musical sequencer designed strictly for studio use. That YMO didn’t hesitate to make these unconventional decisions, and plenty of others moreover, gained them years as the preferred band of their native Japan.
It might be unimaginable for YMO to have emerged in some other place or time. “Japan had lengthy since remade itself as a postwar financial engine, however by the late Seventies it was changing into one thing else: a world emblem of techno-utopianism and futuristic cool,” writes the New York Times‘ Clay Risen. “Sony launched the Walkman in 1979, simply as Kenzo Takada and Issey Miyake have been taking on Paris trend runways with their playful, visionary designs.”
Japan had change into economically, technologically, and culturally formidable on a world scale, and YMO have been positioned to change into its excellent representatives: that they had the askew hipness and the cutting-edge sounds, but it surely was their humorousness, evident within the playfulness of their music, that took the remainder of the world unexpectedly.
You’ll discover no higher introduction to YMO’s work than the hour-long YMO concert at the Nippon Budokan at the top of the post. It happened in 1983, not lengthy earlier than Hosono, Takahashi, and Sakamoto packed the band up and returned to their already well-established solo careers. As a unit they’d achieved world stardom, enjoying overseas venues like Los Angeles’ Greek Theatre in 1979 and, unbelievably, going on Soul Train in 1980. Their early hit “Behind the Mask” even caught the eye of Michael Jackson, who recorded his own version of the song for Thriller however left it unreleased till 2010 — by which era YMO had reunited to carry out in Japan, Europe, and America, enjoying for brand new generations of listeners who had grown up immersed of their music, instantly or not directly.
Influences on YMO included the work of Brian Wilson and Giorgio Moroder, in addition to music from India, China, the Caribbean, the late-fifties-early-sixties “exotica” fad, and even arcade games. However their very own affect has unfold out farther nonetheless, shaping not simply numerous subgenres of digital music but additionally sure formative works of hip hop. In the event you hearken to YMO’s albums in the present day — almost 45 years after their business debut, and only a few weeks after the death of co-founder Takahashi — their music nonetheless, in some way, sounds totally Japanese. Like Isao Tomita (whose assistant turned their laptop programmer), YMO understood not simply that music modifications with expertise, but additionally that it emerges from a particular tradition, and of their discography we hear these rules pushed to their thrilling limits.
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Based mostly in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and tradition. His initiatives embody the Substack publication Books on Cities, the ebook The Stateless Metropolis: a Stroll by Twenty first-Century Los Angeles and the video collection The City in Cinema. Observe him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.