Tag: Japan (Page 1 of 10)

2021 End Of Year Review

As the world steadily emerged from a painful pandemic that put many lives on hold, nostalgia appeared to be the commodity most in demand as the music industry took steps to recover.

No matter which era, anything musically from the past was more desirable that anything that reminded the public of the past 20 or so months. The first escape destination in the summer for many restricted to staying on their own shores were the established retro festivals.

Meanwhile television provided an array of documentaries ranging from chart rundowns of past decades and informative classic song analysis on Channel 5 to Dylan Jones’ look at ‘Music’s Greatest Decade’ on BBC2 and Sky Arts’ ‘Blitzed’ with all the usual suspects such as Boy George, Philip Sallon, Marilyn, Gary Kemp and Rusty Egan.

SPARKS had their own comprehensive if slightly overlong film ‘The SPARKS Brothers’ directed by Edgar Wright, but the Maels’ musical ‘Annette’ starring Adam Driver was a step too far. Meanwhile the acclaimed ‘Sisters With Transistors’ presented the largely untold story of electronic music’s female pioneers.

It was big business for 40th anniversary live celebrations from the likes of HEAVEN 17, THE HUMAN LEAGUE, OMD and SOFT CELL, while other veterans such as NEW ORDER and ERASURE returned to the live circuit with the biggest indoor headlining shows of their career.

Meanwhile for 2022, Midge Ure announced an extensive ‘Voices & Visions’ tour to present material from the 1981-82 phase of ULTRAVOX.

Also next year and all being well, GOLDFRAPP will finally get their belated 20th Anniversary tour for their marvellous debut ‘Felt Mountain’ underway while there are rescheduled ‘Greatest Hits’ live presentations for PET SHOP BOYS and SIMPLE MINDS.

Always money for old rope, but also giving audiences who missed them at their pioneering height an opportunity to catch up, ‘best of’ collections were issued by YELLO and TELEX while JAPAN had their 1979 breakthrough album ‘Quiet Life’ given the lavish boxed set treatment. Meanwhile, while many labels were still doing their best to kill off CD, there was the puzzling wide scale return of the compact cassette, a poor quality carrier even at the zenith of its popularity.

“Reissue! Repackage! Repackage! Re-evaluate the songs! Double-pack with a photograph, extra track and a tacky badge!” a disgraced Northern English philosopher once bemoaned.

The boosted market for deluxe boxed sets and the repackaging of classic albums in coloured vinyl meant that the major corporations such as Universal, Sony and Warners hogged the pressing plants, leaving independent artists with lead times of nearly a year for delivery if they were lucky.

But there was new music in 2021. Having achieved the milestone of four decades as a recording act, DURAN DURAN worked with Giorgio Moroder on the appropriately titled ‘Future Past’ while not far behind, BLANCMANGE took a ‘Commercial Break’ and FIAT LUX explored ‘Twisted Culture’. David Cicero made his belated return to music with a mature second album that was about ‘Today’ as Steven Jones & Logan Sky focussed on the monochromatic mood of ‘European Lovers’. Continuing the European theme but towards the former Eastern Bloc, Mark Reeder gave a reminder that he was once declared ‘Subversiv-Dekadent’ and fellow Mancunians UNE became inspired by the ‘Spomenik’ monoliths commissioned by Marshal Tito in the former Yugoslavia.

For those who preferred to immerse themselves in the darker present, Gary Numan presented ‘Intruder’, a poignant concept album produced by Ade Fenton about Mother Earth creating a virus to teach mankind a lesson! Meanwhile ITALOCONNECTION, the project of Italo veterans Fred Ventura and Paolo Gozzetti teamed up with French superstar Etienne Daho to tell the story of ‘Virus X’! The video of the year came from UNIFY SEPARATE whose motivation message to ‘Embrace The Fear’ despite the uncertainty reflected the thoughts of many.

Despite the general appetite for nostalgia, there was some excellent new music released from less established artists with the album of the year coming from Jorja Chalmers and her ‘Midnight Train’ released on Italians Do It Better. The critical acclaim for the UK based Aussie’s second long playing solo offering made up for the disbandment of the label’s biggest act CHROMATICS, as it went into its most prolific release schedule in its history with albums by GLÜME, JOON, DLINA VOLNY and LOVE OBJECT as well as its own self-titled compilation of in-house Madonna covers.

As Kat Von D teamed up with Dan Haigh of GUNSHIP for her debut solo record ‘Love Made Me Do It’, acts like DANZ CM, CLASS ACTRESS, GLITBITER, PRIMO THE ALIEN, PARALLELS, KANGA, R.MISSING, I AM SNOW ANGEL, XENO & OAKLANDER, HELIX and DAWN TO DAWN showed that North America was still the creative hub as far as electronically derived pop songs went.

Attracting a lot of attention in 2021 were NATION OF LANGUAGE, who with their catchy blend of angst, melody and motorik beats welcomed synths as family in their evolving sound while also providing the song of the year in ‘This Fractured Mind’, reflecting the anxieties of these strange times. At the other end of the spectrum, DIAMOND FIELD went full pop with an optimistic multi-vocalist collection that captured the spirit of early MTV while BUNNY X looked back on their high school days with ‘Young & In Love’.

ACTORS delivered their most synthy album yet while as LEATHERS, they keyboardist Shannon Hamment went the full hog for her debut solo effort ‘Reckless’. FRONT LINE ASSEMBLY released a new album and some of that ‘Mechanical Soul’ was brought by their Rhys Fulber into his productions this year for AESTHETIC PERFECTION.

In Europe, long playing debuts came from PISTON DAMP and WE ARE REPLICA while NORTHERN LITE released their first album completely in German and FRAGRANCE. presented their second album ‘Salt Air’. There was also the welcome return of SIN COS TAN, KID KASIO, GUSGUS, MARVA VON THEO, TINY MAGNETIC PETS and MAN WITHOUT COUNTRY.

Featuring second generation members of NEW ORDER and SECTION 25, SEA FEVER released their eclectic debut ‘Folding Lines’ as fellow Mancunian LONELADY added sequencers and drum machines to her post-punk funk template. But Glasgow’s CHVRCHES disappointed with their fourth long player ‘Screen Violence’ by opting to sound like every other tired hipster band infesting the land.

The most promising artist to breakthrough in 2021 was Hattie Cooke whose application of traditional songwriting nous to self-production and arrangement techniques using comparatively basic tools such as GarageBand found a wider audience via her third album ‘Bliss Land’. In all, it was a strong year for female synth-friendly artists with impressive albums from Karin My, Laura Dre, Alina Valentina, Robin Hatch and Catherine Moan while comparative veterans like Fifi Rong, Alice Hubble, Brigitte Handley and Alison Lewis as ZANIAS maintained their cult popularity.

In 2021, sometimes words were very unnecessary and there were fine instrumental synth albums from BETAMAXX, WAVESHAPER, КЛЕТ and Richard Barbieri, with a Mercury nomination received by Hannah Peel for ‘Fir Wave’. But for those who preferred Italo Noir, popwave, post-punk techno and progressive pop, Tobias Bernstrup, Michael Oakley, Eric Random and Steven Wilson delivered the goods respectively.

With ‘The Never Ending’ being billed as the final FM ATTACK album and PERTURBATOR incorrectly paraphrased by Metal Hammer in a controversial “synthwave is dead” declaration, the community got itself in a pickle by simultaneously attacking THE WEEKND for “stealing from synthwave”, yet wanting to ride on the coat tails of Abel Tesfaye, misguidedly sensing an opportunity to snare new fans for their own music projects.

With THE WEEKND’s most recent single ‘Take My Breath’, there was the outcry over the use of a four note arpeggio allegedly sampled from MAKEUP & VANITY SET’s ‘The Last City’. But as one online observer put it, “Wow, an arpeggiated minor chord. Hate to break it to you but you might want to check out what Giorgio Moroder was doing 50 years ago. We’re ALL just rippin’ him off if that’s how you think creativity works”. Another added “If a four note minor key arpeggiated chord can go to court on the basis of copyright law, we are in for a hell of a few years my synthy friends”. It outlined once again that there are some who are still under the impression that music using synths was invented by Ryan Gosling in 2011 for ‘Drive’ soundtrack ??

There were also belated complaints that 2019’s A-HA inspired ‘Blinding Lights’ had a simple melody and needed five writers to realise it… but then, so did UTRAVOX’s ‘Slow Motion’ and DURAN DURAN’s ‘Rio’! Collaboration, whether in bands, with producers or even outsiders has always been a key aspect of the compositional process. If it is THAT simple, do it yourself! As Andy McCluskey of OMD said on ‘Synth Britannia’ in 2009 about the pioneering era when Ryan Gosling was still in nappies: “The number of people who thought that the equipment wrote the song for you: ‘well anybody can do it with the equipment you’ve got!’ “F*** OFF!!”

Over the last two years, THE WEEKND has become the biggest mainstream pop act on the planet, thanks to spectacles such as the impressive gothic theatre of the Super Bowl LV half time showcase while in a special performance on the BRITS, there was a charming presentation of the ERASURE-ish ‘Save Your Tears’ where he played air synth in a moment relatable to many. But everything is ultimately down to catchy songs, regardless of synth usage.

So ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK would like to present a hypothetical case to consider… if someone uses the arpeggio function with a sparkling patch from a Juno 6 synth in a recording, does Cyndi Lauper sue for infringing the copyright of ‘All Through The Night’ or the original songwriter Jules Shear or even the Roland Corporation themselves as they created it? More than one producer has suggested that THE WEEKND’s soundbite came from a hardware preset or more than likely, a software sample pack, of which there are now many.

However, sample culture had hit another new low when Tracklib marketed a package as “A real game-changer for sample based music. Now everyone can afford to clear samples” with rapper and producer Erick Sermon declaring “Yo, this is incredible. They’re trying to put creativity back into music again. By having samples you can actually pay for and afford”.

Err creativity? How about writing your own songs and playing or even programming YOUR OWN instrumentation??!?

One sampling enthusiast even declared “I might go as far as to say you don’t really like dance music if you’ve got a problem with adding a beat to a huge (even instantly recognizable) sample”… well guess what? ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK LOATHES IT!!! ?

In 2021, music promotion became a bit strange with publicists at all levels keen more than ever to have their clients’ press releases just cut ‘n’ pasted onto online platforms, but very reluctant to allow albums to be reviewed in advance in the event of a potential negative prognosis.

While cut ‘n’ paste journalism has been a disease that has always afflicted online media, in a sad sign of the times, one long established international website moved to a “pay to get your press release featured” business model.

The emergence of reaction vloggers was another bizarre development while the “Mention your favourite artist and see if they respond to you” posts on social media only added more wood to the dumbing down bonfire already existing within audience engagement.

It was as if the wider public was no longer interested in more in-depth analysis while many artists turned their publicity into a reliance on others doing “big ups” via Twitter and Facebook. But then, if artists are being successfully crowdfunded with subscriptions via Patreon, Kickstarter, Bandcamp and the like, do they need a media intermediary any longer as they are dealing direct with their fanbases?

However, it wasn’t all bad in the media with ‘Electronically Yours With Martyn Ware’ providing insightful artist interviews and the largely entertaining ‘Beyond Synth’ podcast celebrating its 300th show. Due to their own music commitments, Steven Wilson and Tim Bowness were less prolific with their discussion show ‘The Album Years’ but it was still refreshing for commentators to be able to say that a record was sh*t when it actually was, rather than conform to the modern day adage that all music is good but not always to the listener’s taste!  And while various programmes came and went, other such as ‘Operating//Generating’, ‘KZL Live’ and ‘Absynth’ came to prominence.

Post-pandemic, interesting if uncertain times are ahead within the music industry. But as live performance returns, while the mainstream is likely to hit the crowd walking, will there be enough cost effective venues to host independent artists? Things have been tough but for some, but things might be about to get even tougher.

However, music was what got many through the last 18 months and as times are still uncertain, music in its live variant will help to get everyone through the next year and a half and beyond.


ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK’s year in music is gathered in its 2021 Playlist – Missing U at
https://open.spotify.com/playlist/4rlJgJhiGkOw8q2JcunJfw


Text by Chi Ming Lai
17th December 2021

MUSIK MUSIC MUSIQUE 2.0 1981: The Rise Of Synth Pop

1981 is the year covered by the second instalment of Cherry Red’s ‘Musik Music Musique’ series.

1980 was something of a transition year for the synth as it knocked on the door of the mainstream charts but by 1981, it was more or less let in with welcome arms. From the same team behind the ‘Close To The Noise Floor’ compendiums and the most excellent ‘Electrical Language’ boxed set, ‘Musik Music Musique 2.0 1981 – The Rise Of Synth Pop’ presents rarities alongside hits and key album tracks from what many consider the best year in music and one that contributes the most to the legacy of electronic music in its wider acceptance and impact.

Featuring HEAVEN 17  with ‘(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang’, OMD with ‘Souvenir’ and the eponymous single by VISAGE, these songs are iconic 1981 canon that need no further discussion. Meanwhile the longevity of magnificent album tracks such as ‘Frustration’ by SOFT CELL and ‘I Remember (Death In The Afternoon)’ by ULTRAVOX can be summed by the fact that they have featured in 21st Century live sets alongside their parent acts’ hits.

Although not quite as celebrated, ‘You Were There’ from pastoral second John Foxx long player ‘The Garden’ captures the move from stark JG Ballard imagery to something almost romantic. DEVO are represented by the LinnDrum driven ‘Through Being Cool’, the opener of the ‘New Traditionalists’ album which comes as a statement that the mainstream was their next target; the Akron quintet were one of the many acts signed by Virgin Records as the label focussed on a synth focussed takeover that ultimately shaped the sonic landscape of 1981.

Then there’s TEARS FOR FEARS’ promising debut ‘Suffer The Children’ in its original synthier single recording and The Blitz Club favourite ‘Bostich’ from quirky Swiss pioneers YELLO. Another Blitz staple ‘No GDM’ from GINA X PERFORMANCE gets included despite being of 1978 vintage due to its first UK single release in 1981. The use of synth came in all sorts of shapes and FASHIØN presented a funkier take with ‘Move Øn’ while the track’s producer Zeus B Held took a more typically offbeat kosmische approach on his own ‘Cowboy On The Beach’.

Pivotal releases by JAPAN with the ‘The Art Of Parties’ (here in the more metallic ‘Tin Drum’ album version) and A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS ‘(It’s Not Me) Talking’ highlight those bands’ then-potential for mainstream success. But in the battle of the New Romantic boy bands, the sitar tinged DURAN DURAN B-side ‘Khanada’ easily blows away the SPANDAU BALLET album track ‘Reformation’ in an ominous sign as to who would crack it biggest worldwide.

The great lost band of this era, B-MOVIE issued the first of several versions of ‘Nowhere Girl’ in December 1980 on Dead Good Records and its inclusion showcases the song’s promise which was then more fully realised on the 1982 Some Bizzare single produced by the late Steve Brown although sadly, this was still not a hit.

The best and most synth flavoured pop hits from the period’s feisty females like Kim Wilde and Toyah are appropriate inclusions, as is Hazel O’Connor’s largely forgotten SPARKS homage ‘(Cover Plus) We’re All Grown Up’. But the less said about racist novelty records such as ‘Japanese Boy’ by Aneka, the better… the actual nation of Japan though is correctly represented by their most notable electronic exponents YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA with ‘Cue’ from ‘BGM’, the first release to feature the Roland TR808 Rhythm Composer.

With these type of boxed sets, it’s the less familiar tracks that are always the most interesting. As the best looking member of TANGERINE DREAM, Peter Baumann had a crack at the single charts with the catchy Robert Palmer produced ‘Repeat, Repeat’ while former Gary Numan backing band DRAMATIS are represented by ‘Lady DJ’ although its epic A side ‘Ex Luna Scientia’ would have equally merited inclusion. But BEASTS IN CAGES who later became HARD CORPS stand out with the stark dystopia of ‘Sandcastles’.

The one that “should-have-been-a-pop-hit” is the ABBA-esque ‘I Can’t Hold On’ by Natasha England and it’s a shame that her career is remembered for a lame opportunistic cover of ‘Iko Iko’ rather than this, but the delightful ‘Twelfth House’ demonstrates again how under-rated Tony Mansfield’s NEW MUSIK were, and this with a B-side!

The rather fraught ‘Wonderlust’ by THE FALLOUT CLUB captures the late Trevor Herion in fine form on a Thomas Dolby produced number with a dramatic Spaghetti Western flavour that is lushly sculpted with electronics. Over a more sedate rhythm box mantra, ‘Love Moves In Strange Ways’ from BLUE ZOO swirls with a not entirely dissimilar mood.

Mute Records founder Daniel Miller was breaking through with his productions for DEPECHE MODE in 1981, but representation on ‘Musik Music Musique 2.0’ comes via the colder austere of ‘Science Fiction’ by Alan Burnham. ‘West End’ by Thomas Leer adds some jazzy freeform synth soloing to the vocal free backdrop, while ‘Surface Tension’ from ANALYSIS is an appealing instrumental.

The strangely accessible weirdness of CHRIS & COSEY’s ‘This Is Me’, MYSTERY PLANE’s ‘Something To Prove’ and the gritty ‘Brix’ from PORTION CONTROL will delight those more into the leftfield, while AK-47’s ‘Stop! Dance!’, the work of Simon Leonard (later of I START COUNTING and KOMPUTER fame) is another DIY experiment in that aesthetic vein.

Some tracks are interesting but not essential like Richard Bone’s ‘Alien Girl’ which comes over like an amusing pub singer SILICON TEENS, Johnny Warman’s appealing robopop on ‘Will You Dance With Me?’ and the synth dressed New Wave of ‘Close-Up’ by THOSE FRENCH GIRLS. For something more typically artschool, there’s the timpani laden ‘Taboos’ by THE PASSAGE and SECOND LAYER’s screechy ‘In Bits’.

More surprising is Swedish songstress Virna Lindt with her ‘Young & Hip’ which oddly combines showtune theatrics with blippy synth and ska! The set ends rather fittingly with Cherry Red’s very own EYELESS IN GAZA with the abstract atmospherics of ‘The Eyes Of Beautiful Losers’ although they too would eventually produce their own rousing synthpop statement ‘Sunbursts In’ in 1984.

Outside of the music, the booklet is a bit disappointing with the photos of OMD, TEARS FOR FEARS, HEAVEN 17, B-MOVIE and a glam-bouffanted Kim Wilde all coming from the wrong eras. And while the liner notes provide helpful information on the lesser known acts, clangers such as stating Toyah’s ‘Thunder In The Mountains’ was from the album ‘The Changeling’ when it was a standalone 45, “GONG’s Mike Hewlett” and “memorable sleeve designs by Malcolm Garrett’s Altered IMaGes” do not help those who wish to discover the origins of those accumulated gems.

But these quibbles aside, overall ‘Musik Music Musique 2.0’ is a good collection, although with fewer rare jewels compared with the first 1980 volume which perhaps points to the fact that those who had the shine to breakthrough actually did… 40 years on though, many of those hit making acts (or variations of) are still performing live in some form.

Was 1981 the most important year in synth as far becoming ubiquitous in the mainstream and hitting the top of the charts internationally? With VISAGE’s ‘Fade To Grey’ becoming a West German No1 in Spring 1981 through to SOFT CELL taking the summer topspot in the UK and culminating in THE HUMAN LEAGUE eventually taking ‘Don’t You Want Me?’ to No1 in the US, the sound of synth had done its job. Setting the scene for 1982 and 1983, further editions of ‘Musik Music Musique’ are planned.


‘Musik Music Musique 2.0 1981 – The Rise Of Synth Pop’ is released on 15th October 2021 as a 3CD boxed set

https://www.cherryred.co.uk/product/musik-music-musique-2-0-the-rise-of-synth-pop-3cd-clamshell-box/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
12th October 2021

Lost Albums: AKIKO YANO Ai Ga Nakucha Ne

World music reissue label Wewantsounds release Akiko Yano’s 1982 solo album ‘Ai Ga Nakucha Ne’ outside of Japan for the very first time. Co-produced by Ryuichi Sakamoto, the record was notable for featuring the talents of JAPAN band members Mick Karn, Steve Jansen and David Sylvian.

Fusing rock, jazz, avant pop and Japanese folk, Akiko Yano was a successful singer/songwriter in her homeland before touring the world as a keyboardist with YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA. Her high pitched vocal style inevitably drew comparisons with Kate Bush but in 1981, her husband’s connections led to a new approach.

With Ryuichi Sakamoto having already collaborated with David Sylvian on ‘Taking Islands In Africa’ from JAPAN’s fourth album ‘Gentlemen Take Polaroids’, he and Yano travelled to the UK. With a strong Yen, recording facilities in London proved to be cheaper than in Tokyo and so it was at Air Studios that they teamed up with the Lewisham combo and their producer / engineer Steve Nye following the completion of ‘Tin Drum’.

Translated as “there must be love”, ‘Ai Ga Nakucha Ne’ states its case with the bilingual opening title track of the album, giving a platform for the JAPAN rhythm section both instrumentally and vocally, while not deviating from Akiko Yano’s own distinctive style. The glistening textures of Sakamoto emanating from his beloved Prophet 5 also leave no doubt as to who is producing.

Although ‘Kanashikute Yarikirenai’ adopts a West Coast demeanour, particularly when complimented by JAPAN live guitarist David Rhodes’ solo, it is all offset by Sakamoto’s haunting synth tones. Continuing on a similar highway, ‘What’s Got In Your Eyes’ has more that driving Californian feel to it and translates smoothly thanks to English lyrics provided partly by YMO collaborator Peter Barakan.

‘Oishii Seikatsu’ and ‘Michi De Battari’ come as appealing interludes, the former shaped by a marimba figure and the latter with traditionally Japanese textures although all approximated using electronics.

The best track on ‘Ai Ga Nakucha Ne’ is the vibrant and funky ‘Onnatachiyo Otokotachiyo’; it sees Steve Jansen demonstrating why highly regarded session drummers like Gavin Harrison regard him as a key influence in the art of percussive painting without overplaying. Stabs of synthetic brass from Sakamoto, Yano’s own piano work and Mick Karn’s trademark fretless slides combine to make this a superb highlight.

The speedy ‘Aisuru Hito Yo’ is more four-to-the-floor despite the tribal congas from Motoya Hamaguchi, containing the spacey overtures that these days gets referred to as Citypop and laced with the jazzy cosmic surfin’ of early YMO. But this is hardly surprising as the drums are helmed by Yukihiro Takahashi plus there is also much to enjoy with Sakamoto’s technopop work here ranging from blips and rings to pulses and sirens to sweeps and growls.

Written entirely in English by Yano, ‘Sleep On My Baby’ is a slice of quirky fusion pop with the distinctive backing vocals of Mick Karn.

But while Karn was perhaps less fluid trhough much of ‘Ai Ga Nakucha Ne’ than he had been with  his bass work as part of JAPAN on account Sakamoto directing the exact notes that were required, he provides a bit more of his fretless signature sound here if a bit more sedately and less up front.

The guitar driven ‘Another Wedding Song’ is more of a funk soul art piece rather than a conventional song but Haruomi Hosono joins the party on bass guitar with Takahashi for a YMO reunion on the jazzy pop of ‘Donnatokimo Donnatokimo Donnatokimo’ which evokes the magical sunsets of the Ryukyu Islands with its rootsy Japanese variation on steel guitar from Hiroki Komazawa.

The gorgeous piano lullaby ‘Good Night’, written by the unconnected classical musician Yuji Takahashi with words by Yano and Peter Barakan, saw the Japanese songstress duet with David Sylvian and its interplay will delight any fans of the JAPAN frontman or Sakamoto’s film soundtracks. A fittingly perfect if very short closer, it was subsequently used on a domestic Seiko watches TV commercial.

A number of JAPAN and YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA enthusiasts are likely to be hearing ‘Ai Ga Nakucha Ne’ for the first time as this sixth Akiko Yano solo album was only released in Japan and they will undoubtedly enjoy a number of the tracks due to their instrumental and vocal connections. While Akiko Yano’s music didn’t export in large numbers, she gained a cult following in Europe and her music broke down barriers.

Today female Japanese singers are able to perform to packed theatres in London while the synthwave fraternity has adopted within its wider family, the Citypop that was pioneered by YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA when she was part of their live presentation.

Always prolific and often releasing an album per year, as recently as 2018, she worked with American synth duo REED & CAROLINE on ‘When We’re In Space’ for her collaborations collection ‘Let’s Go Together’ while she has released three more long players since. It may have taken nearly 40 years but the vast catalogue of Akiko Yano is now able to be more widely appreciated.


‘Ai Ga Nakucha Ne’ is released by Wewantsounds on 8th October 2021 as a vinyl LP and CD, pre-order from https://wewantsounds.bandcamp.com/merch/akiko-yano-ai-ga-nakucha-ne-deluxe-black-vinyl-edition-with-24p-colour-booklet-and-gatefold-sleeve

https://www.akikoyano.com/

https://www.facebook.com/akikoyano.official/

https://twitter.com/Yano_Akiko

https://www.instagram.com/akikoyano_staff/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
Colour photos by Bishin Jumonji, studio photos by Pennie Smith
18th September2021

A Short Conversation with RICHARD BARBIERI

Photo by Debi Zornes

Richard Barbieri releases a new album ‘Under A Spell’, but despite beginning his recorded career in 1978 with JAPAN, it is only his fourth full-length solo offering.

Preferring a collaborative format, when JAPAN disbanded after five albums, Barbieri continued working with his former band mates David Sylvian, Steve Jansen and Mick Karn. It was while he was in JBK with the latter two that he met Steven Wilson of NO-MAN and PORCUPINE TREE who recorded and performed live with the trio.

This led to Barbieri joining PORCUPINE TREE and playing on nine of their albums. During this period, Barbieri also recorded an album with Tim Bowness of NO-MAN and two albums with Steve Hogarth of MARILLION.

His most recent release was the five part ‘Variants’ EP series that comprised of unreleased tracks, new material, live versions including his JAPAN composition ‘The Experience Of Swimming’ and the aural curio ‘1979 Rehearsal Room’ which was based around an atmospheric cassette recording made in rehearsals for the band with which he made his name.

Inspired by strange dreams that Barbieri was having triggered by the anxiety and isolation caused by the pandemic, sombre atmospherics are very much the dominant template for ‘Under A Spell’, capturing dark textures, introspective moods and cerebral downtempo rhythms over its nine tracks.

The unsettling demeanour of ‘Serpentine’ is a particular case in point, inspired by a nightmare that Barbieri had and aurally illustrated by sinister piano, jazzy vibes, schizophrenic cries and the fretless bass of Percy Jones.

While there are no conventional vocals, previous collaborators Rylander Love and Steve Hogarth have their voices manipulated and treated by Barbieri as if they were another instrument, with the phrase “Wake up, wake up, come back alive…” making its eerie presence felt on the album closer ‘Lucid’.

Photo by Dave Van Hout

Richard Barbieri had a quick chat about the making of ‘Under A Spell’ and the upcoming ‘Quiet Life’ deluxe boxed set.

Had the “clearing of the vaults” for the ‘Variants’ series helped with focussing on a direction for ‘Under A Spell’?

Not really. The ‘Variants’ series of EPs was a way of staying creative without having the pressure of making a follow-up to ‘Planets & Persona’.

When I was finally ready to make another album, the Covid virus began to take hold in Italy and the UK. From that point on, I had to make a quite different album to the one I intended.

How does ‘Under A Spell’ differ from ‘Planets + Persona’ in terms of concept, sound design and additional musicians?

It’s more introspective and essentially a home recording, though it does feature a good amount of musical performances from the same group of musicians on my recent works.

Some performances were recorded remotely and some I derived from past recording sessions and used them again, but in different contexts. The concept and working process of ‘Planets…’ was outward looking and expansive in nature. ‘Under A Spell’ is informed by vivid dreams and a strange and surreal exterior atmosphere due to the first strict lockdown in the UK.

Photo by Carl Glover

With everything going on outside, had this affected your approach to ‘Under A Spell’?

Definitely. It also changed the compositional process because I focused even more on the atmospheric and textural elements. I let things evolve and tried to make it a very immersive listening experience.

Is there more use of software this time around or are your vintage synths still very much present?

I use a bit of everything. For the first time, I have a dedicated work room / studio so I have all my gear to hand. I used the usual old analogues (Roland System 700 Lab series, Prophet 5, MicroMoog, Yamaha CS-01) and some newer analogues like the Dreadbox Medusa and NYX. Also the Roland SE-02 mono synth. I used some Arturia software instruments, especially the CS80 emulation.

What is your favourite track on ‘Under A Spell’ and how did it come together?

Although it’s probably the hardest listen, I managed to completely achieve the atmosphere I wanted on the opening title track. It has a full complement of performances, some improvised and some heavily processed and mangled. The basis hinged around a jazzy vibraphone progression that I had wanted to use for a long time, combined with muted acoustic guitars and trumpets and whispering voices. I think it sets the scene very well.

Photo by Fin Costello

JAPAN’s ‘Quiet Life’ album gets the deluxe boxed set treatment in March 2021, how does it stand up for you 41 years on and how do you look back on your own contributions?

I’ve heard the remaster of the album and it sounds wonderful. It’s my favourite JAPAN album and that particular period represents the happiest time for me as a musician. My contributions became an integral part of the band sound for the first time really. I love the textural elements, the orchestrations and how the electronics blend with it all. It’s very much an album of that time but it stands up well and I think it has a beautiful organic quality. It’s a sophisticated work made by kids.


ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to Richard Barbieri

‘Under A Spell’ is released on 26th February 2021 in CD, red or black vinyl and digital formats by Kscope, pre-order from https://burningshed.com/tag/Under%20A%20Spell

https://www.facebook.com/RichardBarbieriOfficial/

https://www.instagram.com/richardbarbieri_music/

http://www.kscopemusic.com/artists/richard-barbieri/

https://richardbarbieri.bandcamp.com/


Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
15th February 2021

ROB DEAN: The Quiet Life Interview

Although JAPAN had something of a shaky start with their first two albums ‘Adolescent Sex’ and ‘Obscure Alternatives’ in 1978, the seeds of an more electronically assisted direction were sown on the Giorgio Moroder produced single ‘Life In Tokyo’ in early 1979.

Now acknowledged as the bridge between growly funk-rock JAPAN and the more familiar, mannered and artier version of the group recognised by most today, ‘Life In Tokyo’ was a key interim milestone in their career as the first recording that the band were happy with.

The classic quintet line-up of JAPAN with David Sylvian, Mick Karn, Steve Jansen, Richard Barbieri and Rob Dean had found enormous success in the country of Japan as well as having more moderate but significant sales in Holland and Canada. So their German-owned label Ariola Hansa persevered, while manager Simon Napier-Bell was still convinced he had group of future stars on his hands.

For their third album ‘Quiet Life’, front man David Sylvian adopted a more crooning baritone style of singing. Meanwhile Mick Karn’s distinctively fluid fretless bass was pushed right up to the front, intricately complemented in the rhythm section by drummer Steve Jansen. Taking in a more atmospheric European approach compared to their earlier work, guitarist Rob Dean and keyboardist Richard Barbieri provided the exquisite textural backdrop.

Produced by John Punter who had worked on ROXY MUSIC’s ‘Country Life’, JAPAN had found a willing conspirator in the studio who not only believed in them, but who they got on well with on a personal level. The Englishman loved the band so much, he even went to tour with them to mix their live sound. But as the quintet embraced synthesizers, sequencers, E-Bows, muzak and orchestrations, some critics accused JAPAN of being a lavish Roxy rip-off.

‘Quiet Life’ was issued in December 1979 in Holland, Japan and Germany before being given a UK release in January 1980.

Although the album peaked at No72 in the UK, it was a major step forward as a quality timeless work that all five members of the band were collectively satisfied with.

Despite their melancholic outlook on life and their detached demeanour, the public eventually caught up with JAPAN when their style was embraced by the New Romantic movement, with the title song even belatedly becoming a UK hit when released as a single in September 1981.

‘Quiet Life’ consolidated JAPAN’s success in Japan itself, reaching the Top30. Their audience also expanded in Europe, pointing them in the right direction and towards Virgin Records who released the albums ‘Gentlemen Take Polaroids’ and ‘Tin Drum’ before the band finally disbanded in late 1982 after their biggest ever concert tour which took in the UK, Europe and the Far East.

With a new remaster of ‘Quiet Life’ by Miles Showell at Abbey Road and boxed set due, Rob Dean kindly gave an eye witness account into the making of an album that still stands up 41 years after its UK release.

Between the ‘Obscure Alternatives’ and ‘Quiet Life’ albums, JAPAN were in a state of transition from the growly glam funk of ‘Adolescent Sex’ to the mannered artful combo people remember them for today. How conscious had this been as David Sylvian’s voice completely changed, while Mick Karn came to the jazzy fore with his fretless bass playing and your own guitar style moved from rock to something more textural?

Well I think a band owes it to itself (and its audience) to evolve and grow. The first album was basically a band in its infancy attempting to make a cohesive record with a large list of original songs that had been accrued up to that point. The second was a band more accustomed to playing as a live unit and finding its identity with its newest material.

There is always I think an indication of the direction a band will take somewhere from one album to the next. For ‘Adolescent Sex’, it was ‘Communist China’, for ‘Obscure Alternatives’ it was ‘The Tenant’. It all comes down to influences and what the band was generally listening to moving forward.

By the time of creating the material for ‘Quiet Life’, it was KRAFTWERK, Eno, Moroder, Peter Gabriel and Bowie of course to name a few. So to answer your question, I think we all felt that ‘Quiet Life’ had to be drastically different to what preceded it and the band as musicians were finding their own respective voices. Clearly Mick’s approach to bass and David’s change in vocal style were strong motivators in this. For myself (and Steve and Rich I’m sure), it felt like a logical progression also.

Photo by Patrick Lichfield

‘European Son’ (which didn’t actually get an official release until 1980 on the Japanese edition of ‘I Second That Emotion’) and ‘Life In Tokyo’ were two songs recorded in that interim period but both are quite different to the majority of the material on the ‘Quiet Life’ album, how was it finding your feet as a band with a new direction?

Obviously ‘Life In Tokyo’ was seen as a “one off” with Giorgio Moroder at the helm. Had it been a big hit as was hoped by all involved at the time, then perhaps it would have been a logical step to have him produce the third album. If he had, then I’m pretty sure it would be quite different. For one thing, he pushed for co-rights on tracks that he produced.

‘European Son’ was in some ways a song that would suggest that Giorgio wasn’t needed to create an electro-disco song. The reason it didn’t get released until much later was purely because it was never totally finished. Live, we played it in a few different incarnations but I did not record any part I was happy with on it, and that is mainly why. I was concerned foremost about not creating ‘Life In Tokyo version II’. So that one was a bit of a struggle.

As far as “finding your feet with a new direction”, the notion doesn’t really enter into it. You don’t really think about it, other than creating parts for songs that you feel fit and that you are all happy with just as you always do.

Can you remember your thoughts when the band were presented with the songs for ‘Quiet Life’?

Most were presented in the rehearsal studio as they always had been, with David playing a chord structure on guitar and us all starting to build from that. I do remember clearly that he and Rich had been working from home on the germ of an idea which was the song ‘Alien’ (which was at one time going to be the album title, until we learned that Ridley Scott’s film of the same name was due for release!) and in this embryonic stage, it was very different – a slow, brooding, somewhat uncompromising piece. I guess we all felt it wasn’t working and so it was shelved and resurrected in a far more palatable form later on.

In terms of arrangement, what was discussed between the band members? What was the dynamic at the time?

I remember we were in a cab on our way to a first meeting with John Punter and David Sylvian mentioned for the first time using orchestration on a couple of tracks. This was a surprise, but not in any way a negative one. It felt right, considering the songs that we were creating and their more epic scope. As far as general arrangements, we all knew when we were onto something that worked I’d say. We were all very positive about what we were doing and where the new material was going.

How crucial was producer John Punter in the realisation of the ‘Quiet Life’ album?

When we met John Punter, we all hit it off straight away. His warmth and enthusiasm was infectious and from our first meeting, we had nothing but positive thoughts about the forthcoming album sessions.

He made the entire experience a relaxed and enjoyable one for everyone involved, and I think that comes across in what was produced.

John Punter co-produced ROXY MUSIC’s ‘Country Life’ but apparently Bryan Ferry wasn’t too impressed about him working with JAPAN?

He told us that he bumped into Bryan Ferry at AIR later on and was berated for working with us. Whether in jest or not, I can’t say. I guess Bryan Ferry must have thought we were invading his territory or something.

What was it like to work at AIR Studios in terms of atmosphere, environment and equipment? Was Richard Barbieri quite lost in the range of keyboards and synthesizers that were available there for example?

AIR had a wonderful atmosphere. The four studio complex meant there were always interesting artists to brush shoulders with and converse with upstairs in the cafe and pool table area. It was impeccably run and a very positive environment to work in. The studios themselves were all state-of-the art. Despite what you might think, there were not banks of musical equipment to be used other than grand pianos, though. Any instruments other than our own would be rented from outside.

It was cool to go to the nearby pub for a break and be sharing a pint with the likes of Chris Thomas, and John Cale… yes, even David Sylvian went to the pub! I think it helped that John Punter was so well-known and liked around AIR.

THE PRETENDERS were there recording their debut album. Chrissie Hynde was very nice to us but the rest were kind of jerks. One day we arrived at the studio and the guitarist, James Honeyman-Scott had left us a bag full of cheap make up. He thought it was funny. We caught him giggling with his band mates about it, like kids playing a prank in the playground…

Would you be recording the songs one by one, or would there be several things going on at once depending on mood and ideas?

Generally the aim would be to get a definitive take of the drums first, then bass, and so on. Some days would be designated for a particular song and some for a particular instrument, it varied. If there was a problem with one, we would move onto another.

The title track was pivotal and is now held up as an iconic electronic pop single. Can you remember how the song developed and how everyone worked their parts in, because it does sound very much like a joint effort where everyone is firing on all cylinders?

‘Quiet Life’ was pretty much totally realised in our dingy rehearsal room in Willesden. I think the bass part was very integral to how the song developed. As was expected, Mick and Steve worked very tightly together. Sometimes we left them to work on their parts for a while and then added to that. I think the sequencer was part of the strong foundation too. The E-Bow solo was improvised in the studio, but the rest of the guitar parts were already established.

‘Fall In Love With Me’ featured a blistering E-Bowed lead line from yourself, how did you find adapting to this technique, had it opened up a whole new world for you?

Well actually, there is no E-Bow on that track. The verse guitar part is distorted fuzz guitar. But I was however very happy to discover the E-Bow. For a while, I was endeavouring to create thick sustained lead lines with mixed results. Invariably when recorded, they would sound trebly and thin when placed into a track. The E-Bow eliminated this. It was as if it was made for me.

Both ‘Fall In Love With Me’ and ‘Halloween’ had these fading endings to when the band stops playing, had there been any debates as to whether to have them like “live band endings” at full volume or were the fades intentional as a concept?

Some songs are created to end and others not. When recorded, those didn’t have distinct endings but kind of kept steaming ahead. In the mixing stage, the idea of long fades seemed appropriate for both. It just so happened that they just about made it to the end of the takes! And within the context of the album, they worked in respect to the start of the next track. In the case of ‘Fall In Love With Me’, it’s just one of those driving, insistent rhythms that as a musician you are enjoying so much you don’t want it to end, so a fade eliminates that conundrum. Plus, John Punter loved a long fade!

Although lyrically, many of the songs on ‘Quiet Life’ have this doomed romantic demeanour about them, ‘Halloween’ was about the Cold War aftermath of Berlin and the rockiest track on the album? It screams rather like the film of the same name…

Well I think the title conjures up darkness and menace and therefore there needs to be some urgency to the guitars too. A scream seemed appropriate. Even the auto-wah guitar figure in the middle section tied with the synth emphasizes that.

‘Alien’ allowed to you play at being Robert Fripp, had he become a big influence on you by this time? Who were the other guitarists you may have looked to for inspiration on the ‘Quiet Life’ album?

When you have a new toy, you naturally want to play with it! In this case there were two, the E-Bow and my new Gibson RD Artist guitar with its Moog designed active electronics which proved to be a match made in heaven for me. Both very instrumental in the new sounds I was creating. My strongest influences then were naturally Fripp, but also John McGeoch (I was a huge MAGAZINE fan), Ricky Gardiner, Carlos Alomar and Earl Slick.

You didn’t play on the en Français piano mood piece ‘Despair’, so what happens when you are told that your contribution is not required for a track?

I saw ‘Despair’ as something of a companion piece to ‘The Tenant’ from ‘Obscure Alternatives’. I wasn’t instructed to not play on it, it was my own decision. I am always of the mind that if it is not essentially necessary, then why contribute? I didn’t want to play some cursory E-Bow if the piece didn’t require it and that’s how I felt in this case.

Often when I wasn’t needed, I would be reading quietly in a corner somewhere or perhaps playing Space Invaders upstairs. Sometimes if it was anticipated that this would be a lengthy period, then I would catch a film matinee.

In the case of ‘Despair’, there was a bit of labour over Mick’s efforts in trying to play bowed double bass on it. Although he was unquestionably a talented multi-instrumentalist, in this case it defeated him and an outside session player was brought in. Memorably Kate Bush was in Studio 1 and invited to listen to a mix of it by Jon Jacobs, the tape op who had worked with her on ‘Never For Ever’. She sat cross-legged on the floor while we all sat around quietly and when it was over, in typical KB fashion she said “Oh wow, it’s so big, isn’t it?”

Photo by Patrick Lichfield

The ‘Quiet Life’ album includes a reinterpretation of THE VELVET UNDERGROUND’s ‘All Tomorrow’s Parties’ but that wasn’t originally recorded during these sessions, but appears to originate from the same time as ‘European Son’ at DJM Studios? How did the decision to do a cover get made? Did you like the song yourself?

I was of course familiar with the song from THE VELVET UNDERGROUND. I had seen Nico live a couple of times and loved her voice, too. As a band, it was not unusual for us to take someone else’s song and adapt it and this was no exception. I personally was very happy with how it turned out. I think we changed it up sufficiently to put our mark on it. It was way better than Ferry’s rather average version, which came much later, I might add!

The ‘Quiet Life’ album was notable for the use of an orchestra on ‘In Vogue’ and ‘The Other Side Of Life’. The end results were quite beautiful but how was the challenge for the band of integrating your parts into this classical template?

In both cases, the band tracks were complete (except the finished vocal which would be added last). So it was not a case of us adapting to the orchestral arrangements but the exact reverse. Ann O’Dell was given a rough mix of both to write her score around.

So in the case of ‘The Other Side Of Life’, for instance, I think the already recorded instruments would have influenced the feel and approach that Ann O’Dell took with the score. The orchestra played off the syncopation of the bass and drums in the long instrumental outro quite noticeably too.

It is on record that ‘Quiet Life’ was the first album that all five band members were totally satisfied with… in an album of great moments, do you have a particular favourite moment?

I think it was actually standing in the studio while the orchestra were playing on ‘The Other Side Of Life’. Listening to an orchestra playing live to the music you helped create is a real buzz, I can tell you. It took those tracks to an entirely other level. I almost got a stiffy! As a track it was a new high mark of maturity for us.

The instrumental ‘A Foreign Place’ was recorded during the album sessions and shelved, although it came out as a B-side in 1981. Was there any other material that you worked on like ‘Can’t Get Enough’?

Like what? We never had a song with that title! But to answer your question, the band were always very low on unreleased material. Basically what was recorded was officially released… eventually.

The ‘Quiet Life’ album cover photo session with Fin Costello saw the band captured behind glass, yet the finished artwork only had David Sylvian on the front! A sign?

The original concept for the cover when it was still titled ‘Alien’ was of five fold-out panels with each panel a photo of each of us with our own concept. I don’t think there was ever any doubt that David’s would be the front panel. I’m sure that’s what Simon Napier-Bell and Hansa had in mind. Plus from ‘Obscure Alternatives’ onwards, Fin Costello was always putting him front and centre. By that point, it was already a given so no surprise to anyone.

So you had this great album in the can but the UK label doesn’t want to release any singles off it, not even the magnificent ‘Quiet Life’ title song, and a cover version of ‘I Second That Emotion’ was released instead. Was this a Simon Napier-Bell intervention? What did the band think?

I wouldn’t say it was SNB’s doing. As a creative entity where the band was concerned, he was a bit of a non-starter and by that time, his input was somewhat minimal. All he could do was suggest and that mostly fell on deaf ears. I’m sure it was Hansa being desperate after the lack of success with ‘Life In Tokyo’ which must have seemed like a no-brainer. By that point they were panicking and really had next to no idea how to market us.

So a song that people ought to be familiar was all they had to relate to (despite rumours to the contrary, the song was our choice, however). After all, they were all BONEY M and Amii Stewart. They didn’t have a clue. And I think us being associated with that label didn’t help our credibility either.

‘Quiet Life’ was undoubtedly JAPAN’s breakthrough record, how did you feel when the album was embraced by the New Romantic movement and then the title song was a belated hit single in 1981?

Unfortunately having left and living in California by that time, I was as you can imagine somewhat removed from that. Still, you always have to believe in yourself and it wasn’t a surprise. It was, of course, well-deserved and definitely not before time. I was proud to have been a part of it. It would have been nice to have performed just once on ‘Top Of The Pops’ but I still have enough good memories of that time to keep with me.

What are your thoughts on the ‘Quiet Life’ album now with this deluxe reissue, does it still trigger any emotions 40 years on?

For many many years, anything that referred to those times felt like I was talking about a different person. Of course recently, I’ve been recording again and so I’ve grown to be more comfortable with that period of my life and in a small way, I have been assisting BMG with this reissue. I just want it to be the best it can under the circumstances and something the fans will appreciate. To me at this time, it’s all about the fans and their continued support. It’s something I am very proud of. Six people working towards the same goal. A time of great adventure, creativity and happiness. I’ll stop now. There’s something in my eye…

Of course, this era of JAPAN have their legacy, most notably in the form of DURAN DURAN, do have you any thoughts? ?

I like to think that without us, there might not be a TALK TALK… but why does everyone keep referring to a character played by the actor Milo O’Shea in ‘Barbarella’? I don’t get it…


ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to Rob Dean

‘Quiet Life’ is reissued by BMG on 5th March 2021 as a 3CD+LP Abbey Road half-speed remastered deluxe edition boxed set featuring the original album and non-album tracks ‘Life In Tokyo’, ‘European Son’, ‘I Second That Emotion’ and ‘A Foreign Place’, as well as the full 1980 ‘Live at Budokan’ concert

Pre-order direct from Burning Shed at https://burningshed.com/artists/japan-artist

The official JAPAN store at https://japan.tmstor.es/ offers an exclusive bonus ‘Life In Tokyo’ CD EP with pre-orders of the bundle only

http://www.nightporter.co.uk/


Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
Photos by Fin Costello except where credited
19th January 2021

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