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 2 – JAPAN: Life In Tokyo UK 12″
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.
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.