While celebrity deaths don’t faze me much, David Bowie’s was pretty crushing. To have a small celebration of his life, some friends and I watched The Hunger and Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence. I’d never seen the latter, and was pleasantly surprised at the layers of meaning and fantastic soundtrack (not to mention The Kiss.) Even better, the movie reminded me of Ryuichi Sakamoto’s existence. I had heard and loved his film scores for years, but had no idea he was an actor (who wears his everyday new wave/glam makeup while playing a military captain, but whatever.) After a bit more digging I realized that not only does Sakamoto have a thriving solo career, but he was also a member of Yellow Magic Orchestra, who are pretty much the pioneers of synthpop in Japan.
Yellow Magic Orchestra was one of the first bands to focus on synth music in the 70s. While Kraftwerk was a big influence on them, they wanted their music to be “less minimalistic, made more varying use of synthesizer lines, introducing ‘fun-loving and breezy’ sounds, and placing a strong emphasis on melody in contrast to Kraftwerk’s statuesque ‘robot pop.'” Incorporating a lot of pop and italo-disco elements, YMO gained popularity worldwide with their innovative use of the newest synth technology and their great composition skills.
Here’s my favourite song by them, Key: