Born in Tokyo in 1978, The Yellow Magic Orchestra was an electronic music collective that pioneered the use of programed drums, digital sampling and and sequencers. All the sounds that would soon dominate the post-punk and new wave music that was clawing it’s way out of the guitar dominated seventies. Along with Germany‘s Kraftwerk, YMOheavily influenced the early use of synthesizer’s as the primary instrument for an army of musican’s just stepping in the ring in 79/80; including Soft Cell, New Order and Depeche Mode. Even Detroit techno pioneers the Belleville Three (Derrik May, Kevin Sauderson and Juan Atkins) have sited YMO as a primary influence. Detroit’s techno/rock hybrid Cybotron (Richard 3070, Jon 5 and Juan Atkins)is perhaps the best example. The band’s funky Alley’s of Your Mind and Cosmic Cars echoing the hard cyberpunk / proto-techno feel of YMO’s classic track, Technopolis.
More than a unique sound and style, YMO member’s Haruomi Hosono, Yukihiro Takahashi and Ryuichi Sakamoto used their music as a deliberate statement / parody on western orientalism. Turning the band’s mix of disco, funk and traditional music into a social commentary of the western depiction and imitation of Japanese culture. With growing domestic and international record sales, YMO came to an interesting decisionin 1984, just as they were on the verge of international commercial success. The band collectively seeking a sankai or need to spread out into their own (musical) orbits. Each member taking the time they need to persue an active and rewarding career individually.
Already a veteran of the music business before the Yellow Magic Orchestra, Ryuichi Sakamoto had been the primary songwriter for the band. His song Behind the Mask become an important hit for the band and it was later covered by both Michael Jackson and (the empty Armani suit) Eric Clapton. For Sakamoto songwriting had always been an important part of his development. Collecting sounds, samples, beats and rhythms from across every culture (and decade) and incorporating them into his ever changing music. Colloborating with a wide range of vocalists and performers; including David Bowie, Brian Wilson, David Sylvian and James Osterberg.
Released in 1987, Neo Geo is the album that, once again, brought international success to Sakamoto. Featruing performances with Sly Dunbar, Bootsy Collins and Iggy Pop, Neo Geo blends the sounds and styles that reenforced that meaning of the album’s title; new world. There is a fresh funkiness that Sakamoto hasn’t provided since YMO. The one-two punch of tracks Before Long and Neo Geo get the party started right. This is the sound of electro art-funk. Sharp, thick bass that is ready for the dance floor. Although, it must be said, the hybrid of sounds does not serve every track well. And, at times, the album gets caught up in that mid to late 80s polish. Nevertheless, there are many real gems to be found here. Specificly, the lush croon that Iggy Pop uses on the track, “Risky“. This is the electronic backing that Mr. Osterberg should use more often. Sakamoto providing a simple yet dynamic soundscape for the intriguing lyric and brilliant performance. You haven’t heard it? What are you waiting for?!