Moroder Week: Day 2 – JAPAN – Life In Tokyo 12″

moroder week header

After the bombshell of “I Feel Love” hit with a thunderclap in 1977, lots of acts wanted to work with the Italian producer. Sparks were among the first, but so were JAPAN, the cult [with a lower case “c”] glam rock revival band then floundering in the shoals of public indifference. One of the conditions was that the song be co-written by Moroder, who obviously knew a thing or two about maximizing his earning potential. The teamup was mooted and the band were up for it, so they decamped to L.A. to record. The band discovered that the producer had “sketches” for the OST he was working on for the movie “Foxes,” that he offered up before the band started to fit into the framework the producer offered. The ultimate irony? Even working with hit-maker Moroder failed the band as they were ahead of the musical curve in 1979 with this electrodisco classic. The band would either be mortified or justified in seeing the song become a hit two years later when they were far in advance of the sound offered here.

MORODER WEEK Day 2JAPAN: Life In Tokyo UK 12″

japan life in tokyo UK 12" cover 1981

Hansa ‎| UK | 12″ | 1981 | HANSA 12-4

Like other tracks of this time period, the sound of “Life In Tokyo” was based heavily on the Moroder distinctive sequenced bass synths run through a delay to double the attack for plenty of machine energy. Where this song differed drastically from “Tryouts For The Human Race” or “I Feel Love” was that the tempo was slower here. The vibe was decidedly louche and decadent as by that point in time, JAPAN were heavily into their “Roxy Music phase.” This single was the herald of the second phase of the band as they left Dolls/Stones raunch by the wayside. The single was also much more of a match between the band and the producer than we sometimes find in Moroder projects.

There were Rob Dean guitar leads here that could have passed for dubbed out synths. Mick Karn’s distinctive bass was still there even with the sequencer setting the tempo. Richard Barbieri programmed his usual textural shadings, that drifted like dry ice fog throughout the somewhat vaporous song. Drummer Steve Jansen’s timing was such that he never had any trouble playing with machines in the band, so he punctuated the song with the right fills to keep it cruising forward. Singer David Sylvian was no longer snotty and petulant, but had moved into his prime as a disaffected, angst-ridden artiste. Casting a jaundiced eye on it all while nursing his Gauloises.

japan life in tokyo 12" remix 1982 cover

Steve Nye remixed this in 1982

This 12″ was initially released in 1979, even in America! I first came across this record in the 1981 UK Hansa reissue shown in the photo as their first label were cashing in on the viability of JAPAN years later as their earlier records fit like a glove into the now scene of ’80-’81 in the UK. Where this mix differed was in the long, “second” movement where a new arrangement cut a 28 bar swath through the song where contrapuntal sax from Karn, sounding very much like the horn charts that would happen two years later on “The Art Of Parties” while early examples of his fretless bass technique could now be heard in the mix. In 1979 it was deemed sufficient to keep the groove going for a few minutes with little melodic development for the disco floor. 1982 would bring another 12″ on Hansa, this time remixed by current JAPAN producer Steve Nye in more radical form, but that’s outside the purview of Moroder Week. At the very least, this single announced a new JAPAN to the world that sat in the thick of the modern new sound that would breeze through British pop as Futurism/New Romantic/The Cult With No Name.

Next: …Ostberliner

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10 Responses to Moroder Week: Day 2 – JAPAN – Life In Tokyo 12″

  1. At this point in his career, Moroder was a bit of a one-trick pony — but what a trick it was, and how well he worked that action! Like Sparks and some others he worked with, he seemed to be very interested in artists that were at turning points in their own musical journey and open to his influence. The sheer amount of popular and artistic achievement he put together right the way along his career path is truly impressive.


    • postpunkmonk says:

      chasinvictoria – I disagree with your assessment of Moroder. I recall the synth-glam of “Son Of My Father” from the early 70s. I heard the Chickory Tip cover but they basically cloned the song! Hyper-catchy bubblegum with an innovative Moog twist. A few years later came the silk-sheet disco of “Love To Love You Baby” and a different sonic footprint that had a huge impact on disco’s development. When he dramatically changed the rules with Donna Summer again in 1977, I mark that as his third reinvention. And there would be more to come from this guy.


  2. Ade.W says:

    Monk , its articles like this that get me to listen to things that I haven’t played for a good while. So the album No1 in Heaven has been on, followed by both 12″ versions of Life in Tokyo, and to finish, side 4 of Donna Summers Bad Girls LP. A mini Moroder fest. Thanks Your work is done here.


  3. Thombeau says:

    When I discovered Japan in 1981, it was a life-changing event, and of course I’ve been a Sylvian fan ever since. So I am slightly embarrassed to say that I did not know that Moroder was involved on this track! I was aware that it sounded Moroder-esque but it never occurred to me that it was the real deal! (Or else I knew it back then but it’s so long ago that I’ve completely forgotten!)

    Also just wanted to add that your writing is wonderful and I quite enjoy it.


    • postpunkmonk says:

      Thombeau – Thanks for the [very] kind words. My m.o. of writing this hastily during my lunch hour often leaves much to be desired, but that’s the way I do it. I don’t have the free time to make this blog all that it could be so we’ll just have to use our imaginations. Though JAPAN recorded “Life In Tokyo” with Moroder, I felt that they bested him in getting that sound down even better with John Punter on “Quiet Life” and “European Son.” The original 12″ mix of the latter is my absolute fave rave JAPAN tune.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Steve Shafer says:

        YES! They out-Moroder Moroder with Punter on “Quiet Life” and “European Son,” both of which are absolutely brilliant (the latter is my favorite Japan track). Thanks for this terrific Moroder-fest, though. I really do love his work and his impact on New Wave/post-punk!

        Liked by 1 person

        • postpunkmonk says:

          Steve Shafer – Moroder had many different sides to him, which makes him an interesting player. If all he did was “I Feel Love,” I’d rate the man a genius, but he’s all over the musical map if we look carefully. We’re not even getting within a mile of his innovative synthwave soundtrack style, which was based on “I Feel Love” but went in a completely different direction. I’d even suggest that it was Moroder who was an influence on John Carpenter’s soundtracks. Which 42 years later are a genre unto themselves. Every act I treasure rated “I Feel Love” very highly. John Foxx picked it as one of his top ten songs in Smash Hits, I think. Simple Minds were blown away by it and formulated their finest track as a response to its stimulus. Then it was also a formative influence on the The Future/The Human League, who changed their direction completely upon Martyn Ware hearing that song.


  4. Echorich says:

    “Louche and decadant” – exactly what Life In Tokyo is! There’s a sort of abandon, devil may care feel about the track.
    The “2nd Movement” is where this version takes me to places that only John Punter’s European Son comes close to. I can just imagine Moroder judging this band and spotting that Mick Karn was the real star. He allows Karn’s bass to be a rubbery mamba slithering through the entire track.

    Liked by 1 person

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