We were blindsided by more sad news on Friday night. Yukihiro Takahashi, the drummer and vocalist of Yellow Magic Orchestra dies at the age of 70, after a two years of dealing with brain cancer. I was aghast to note that I had somehow missed the news of that when it first manifested in 2020, even as I was aware of the cancer issues that his bandmate Ryuichi Sakamoto has undergone in the last several years. Mr. Takahashi had first experienced what he thought were migraine headaches in 2020 and ultimately an MRI revealed the correct diagnosis, which saw him undergo treatment and surgery in the last two years of his life.
Mr. Takahashi had several years of Art Rock playing under his belt before ultimately forming Yellow Magic Orchestra with Haroumi Hosono and Ryuichi Sakamoto in 1978. His first claim to fame had been drumming in the Sadistic Mika Band, a rare early 70s Japanese Art Rock band who had crossed over to the UK. I first heard of them when I was reading the 1975 Roxy Music “Siren” tour book that an acquaintance had loaned me in the early 80s. Their three albums were all released on UK Harvest with the latter two being produced by Chris Thomas. The slot opening for Roxy Music then made much sense, thought I’ve still not heard The Sadistic Mika Band.
Afterward, Takahashi formed The Sadistics with three of his former bandmates exploring Jazz Fusion. Gigging steadily, Takahashi began crossing paths with Sakamoto and Hosono as he enlisted Sakamoto to produce his first solo album, “Saravah!” It was Hosono who saw the validity of a Japanese electronic band making Disco music for the world market and the three eventually formed Yellow Magic Orchestra.
By 1979, their Japanese debut album [given a new cover] was released on A+M Records in The States, and that was where I joined the story. I was hearing their single “Computer Game” played constantly on WOKB-AM radio in Orlando when I was in high school. This was the “black station” that played Soul/R+B/Funk that I would hear played in my art classes on occasion. I must have gotten my first inkling of Afrofuturism [decades before there was a word for it] between the synthesized sounds of Parliament with the great Bernie Worrell, and the tech-drenched trio of YMO who sold a lot of albums that year to mostly African American ears. YMO were undoubtedly the first Japanese band to ever be featured on Soul Train playing “Computer Game” in an event that dots the “i” and crosses the “t” on this exciting intermix of very different cultures.
YMO were always a band that I “needed to buy” but I never seemed to get around to doing so. But in 1981, the band’s Japanese label Alfa Records, made inroads to establishing a US beachhead with the label, and that year issued the third Yukihiro Takahashi album, “Neuromantic.” In 1981 and album with that title couldn’t help but attract my attention! So I bought it and discovered that Takahashi was aiming in a Roxy Music direction. Not the least by having Phil Manzanera and Andy MacKay playing on the album as well as Steve Nye engineering and mixing it! And as if that weren’t enough to garner my interest, Technopop royalty like New Musik’s Tony Mansfield was also playing on the album.
YMO were prolific in their six year window but by 1983 it was over as the band became a million selling act in their native land as well as the standard bearer of Japanese Rock/Technopop the world over. After their concentration on YMO, the members reverted to their solo careers, which had still grown concurrently with the YMO years. The following year, Takahashi released the great “Wild + Moody” album which couldn’t help to attract my interest with talent like Bill Nelson, Iva Davies, and Steve Jansen contributing.
It’s to my detriment that I don’t have a full compliment of YMO’s recorded output in my Record Cell. Over the years [particularly recent years] I have managed to act on buying the now rare YMO releases that drift into my orbit as well as the amazing lenticular edition of the last YMO album, 1993’s “Technodon.” The latest recording I have was the Zero Landmine “N.M.L. [No More Landmine]” project from 2001. It was a consciousness/fund raising project for an anti-landmine initiative with an astounding array of talent poured into it. Everyone from Cyndi Lauper to David Sylvian participated, and it’s the only recording to feature both YMO and Kraftwerk.
But there’s so much more where that came from. Mr. Takahashi was a prolific artist, with 43 solo releases dating right up to 2019 with a live version of “Saravah Saravah!” I’m so behind on just listening to music, but I really need to bust out that “Neuromantic” album and give it another spin. In the meantime, out condolences to Mr. Takahashi’s family, bandmates, and friends at what must be a time of painful loss.
The Sadistic Mika Band is well worth listening to. England’s See for Miles label reissued the group’s first two albums on a single CD in the late Nineties. Mr. Takahashi’s death is a great loss, one of far too many we’ve seen recently in the music world. His “Stay Close” collaboration with Steve Jansen is terrific. RIP.
James Pagan – I’m glad to hear someone weigh in on The Sadistic Mika Band! I suspected that they might be just my cup of tea in that Post-Glam, Pre-Punk netherzone where great bands like Doctors Of Madness, Cockney Rebel, and possibly even early Ultravox! existed.
The loss of Yukihiro Takahashi is utterly heartbreaking. I’ve been a huge YMO fan since college when a Japanese friend lent me several of their albums on cassette (“BGM” and “Best Selection”). Scouring the the local new and used CD stores I managed to get YMO’s double live album “After Service” (on red vinyl) and the limited edition boxed CD set of fellow YMO member Ryuichi Sakamoto’s “Playing the Orchestra”. Thus began a decades long love affair with YMO that continues to this day.
After college I lived in Japan for a decade. I was fortunate enough to be in the audience losing my mind at the Tokyo Dome for YMO’s Technodon reunion tour. And “Technodon”, their reunion album, was a mesmerizing tour de force. I’ll never forget how they FILLED the vast space of the massive Tokyo Dome, both sonically and visually. They had 5 video screens, 4 of which were drive in theater sized and even shot off fireworks. Ironically, when I saw U2 play the Tokyo Dome on their Zooropa tour a few months later, it made me appreciate YMO’s performance even more. U2, which had been explosive when I saw them in the Joe Louis Arena in Detroit on their Unforgettable Fire tour, was swallowed and seemed small in the Tokyo Dome. Not so with YMO!
And finally, living in Japan, I got to see first hand how tremendously influential YMO was on every single electronic, alternative, and indie band in Japan. EVERYBODY name checked them as a guiding influence and spoke of them with impassioned reverence. No other band but The Beatles were as influential in Japan.
Goodbye Yukihiro Takahashi.
Todd Lewis – Man, oh man. You saw the “Technodon” show while living in Japan? I just looked at pix of the Tokyo Dome. It’s hard for me to imagine any show in such a vast space. Then again, I only ever saw one stadium show. I learned it’s not for me. I would imagine the experience in Japan was vastly different to what I experienced with the Synchronicity tour by The Police. One of the worst days in my young life.
Still, The Police on the Synchronicity tour! I wish to god I’d seen them on that tour! I have a big collection of bootleg Police concerts and my hands-down favorite is a bootleg of The Police live at the Omni in Atlanta during their 1983 tour. AMAZING!! I believe it’s the same recording as their live video from that tour.
They later released a recording of that concert on “The Police Live!” double CD, but strangely the bootleg recording I have of the show is edited better.
But yeah, stadium concerts were pretty much the worst venue because before video screens the band looks like ants.
The Orb opened for YMO, so The Orb have playing the Tokyo Dome as a huge feather in their cap.
Todd Lewis – Oh, it was hardly the relative size of the band to the venue that was an issue! [for the record, I hate video screens at gigs] Though the music that day was certainly nothing to write home about, more than that it was the experience of being trapped in a stadium for nearly 12 hours with at least 50,000 young people that pushed me over my limit that dreadful day! The alcohol. The widespread drug usage. The cigarette smoke. The food [and worse… beer] being thrown. The very vibe itself was anathema to me. Add to that the pretensions of The Fixx, and The Police seriously past their sell-by date with a dreadful album and it was a worst case scenario for me. And I had to stay there. I was with a friend who drove and I had been assigned to write a college paper on the event.
Orb/YMO double bill.
Very sad – I was just thinking of him when I was listening to Bill Nelson’s Chimera, which ended up in my top 5 for 1983 in one of those Twitter polls (see what you’re missing 😂?). According to his website, Nelson started the project when Takahashi sent him some beats, which he then built songs on top of. Seems a very contemporary way to make a record and a bit advanced for 1983!
Jeremy Shatan – Bill Nelson needed to work in any way that yielded fast results. How else could he begin to meet his internal production quotas otherwise! I’m just glad that Takahashi and Nelson’s paths crossed for “Chimera” to happen. All of the cross-pollination that Yukihiro and indeed, the rest of YMO carried out with other artists had managed to cast a larger shadow than even that of YMO collectively.
I grew up a big YMO fan, discovering them along with so much other music in that formative window of 77-80. Whenever checking out import bins in those days, there seemed to always be a Takahashi album winking back a me to take a chance. I own more Takahashi works than YMO and Japan put together at this point. Yukihiro was most certainly the YMO member with the most Westernized ear and sensibility. He understood Western Pop as naturally as any US or UK artist, but his Art Rock and Jazz background made much of his music standout and unique.
Drip Dry Eyes – Neuromantic
New Red Roses – Neuromantic
Something In The Air – Neuromantic
Walking To The Beat – Wild + Moody w/ Iva Davies
Stay Close – Collaboration with Steve Jansen
Sayonara – What Me Worry?
Disposable Love – What Me Worry?
Providence – Once A Fool
Betsu-Ni – Collaboration with Steve Jansen
Dance Of Life – Ego – w/ Iva Davies
A River Dry – Pulse Project w/ Steve Jansen and Tony Mansfield
In This Life – Blue Moon Blue
There are so many others, but these have all stuck out for me and gotten a listen the past few days…
Echorich – We’ve gone in deepest on Sakamoto, seeing as how my loved one is such a fan. I can’t say I’ve ever seen too many of Yukihiro’s albums back in the day. I only just recently got “Wild + Moody” in spite of wanting it for 30+ years! And I’ve never heard of the Pulse Project! It seems like I need to rectify that like, pronto!
I mostly knew him from YMO, but what a bomb those guys dropped on the western world! Their incredible ability to mesh eastern music into the synth age as though it had been there all along just took my breath away!
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At last someone else who has heard of The Sadistic Mika Band. I seem to have 2 LPs, Hot Menu and another one just self titled. I don’t play them much but will give them a spin later. I did see them support Roxy Music at the Liverpool Empire on the Siren tour. memories eh ?
AdeW – I was surprised when I saw that “Siren” tour book and saw the pages for the opening act and there he was. That was 1985, I think.
he was one of my favorite ever musicians. I’ll rep a lot of his stuff but in particular I’ve been loving the albums released under the Sketch Show moniker with Hosono. YT felt like such a kind soul and you can definitely hear it on those albums.