Ryuichi Sakamoto & YMO: Big in Japan and America Too

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YMO—Yellow Magic Orchestra—was the most popular Japanese pop band in the 1980s.  Not only were they huge in Japan, but also in Europe and the U.S.  The band—Ryuichi Sakamoto on keyboards and vocals, Haruomi Hosono on bass and keys, and Yukihiro Takahashi handling drums and lead vocals.  The band formed in 1978, rising to huge fame in the 80s.  YMO’s success coincided with not only the bubble economy in Japan in the 1980s, but also the tremendous innovations in music technology:  drum machines, electronic keyboards, guitar synthesizers, and the birth, in Japan, of the compact disc. YMO anticipated the growth of electronica, and onstage they reflected glamour and the latest fashion trends.  It didn’t hurt that Ryuichi Sakamoto was a classical pianist steeped in Debussy and Jobim’s bossa nova, as well as being a fashion plate who modeled for Chanel and other top Parisian fashion houses.   He also starred with David Bowie in the 1983 film Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence.  Sakamoto’s lovely soundtrack is still getting airplay on KCRW almost 30 years later.

Yellow Magic Orchestra is here in LA for their first concert since 1979.   Great that it’s at the Hollywood Bowl, because they’ll get first class production treatment.  This is even more extraordinary given the band mainly produced their records in studio and rarely gave live concerts.  I never met Hosono, though he has recorded some experimental innovative albums playing toy instruments and creating unusual sonic landscapes.  Takashi is less known here.  Sakamoto has concertized frequently in the U.S.  I interviewed him several times on Morning Becomes Eclectic, and he’s been back to KCRW many times since.  I put my interviews into my first book, Stolen Moments:  Conversations with Contemporary Musicians.  When I asked him about his dream band, he said it would be the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, with John Coltrane and Jimi Hendrix soloing.  One can only imagine how great that would be!!!!!!

Here’s a link to a live set Ryuichi did with me on KCRW last October: