Aficianados of Japanese music will be truly nourished by this latest selection by Nick Luscombe for Wewantsounds, with a focus on a key label and the sumptuous city pop genre. Tokyo Dreaming presents a wide range of ear charming music, with surprises even for the devoted collector of this canon.
Nippon Columbia – one of Japan’s oldest music labels – is also one of its most collectible thanks to its sub-label Better Days. In the late 70s, Better Days became a hotbed for Tokyo’s new generation of pop artists eager to experiment with ambient, electro and funk. Armed with a string of new Japanese-made synthesizers and drum machines – slightly ahead of the shift towards electronic music composition – producers made cutting-edge music, which has since become highly sought-after by a new generation of Japanese music lovers.
Nick Luscombe has long been a leading advocate of Japanese music from this era and has handpicked a selection of some of the best music released on these labels for the Wewantsounds label. According to Nick: “Tokyo Dreaming is a look back to an incredible era of Japanese music, that still sounds and feels like the future. It was a moment when brand-new music tech from Japan helped forge new ideas and experiments that permeated pop, soul and jazz and helped create new forms of music including electro and techno. The perfect meeting point that would help create a new soundtrack for modern living.“
The selection starts with The End of Asia by Ryuichi Sakamoto from his 1978 ground-breaking debut Thousand Knives Of (reissued last year by Wewantsounds). The track became a staple of Sakamoto’s and YMO’s live shows and was even re-recorded by the group for their 1980 album X Multiplies.
The track is followed by Mariah’s cult Armenian folk flavoured synth pop classic Shinzo No Tobira (1983), which first spread outside of Japan when the Scottish DJ duo Optimo started playing the track regularly at their shows.
Ryuichi Sakamoto was just reissued by the label also – read all about their double pack, featuring unheard versions in the West.
Chika Asamoto’s Self Control (1988) and Jun Fukamachi’s Treasure Hunter (1985) are more examples of must-hear songs in the synth-pop canon.
Yumi Murata’s rendition of Akiko Yano’s Watashi No Bus and Hitomi “Penny” Tohyama’s Rainy Driver both from 1981, move closer towards the slicker, funkier sound of city pop.
Tokyo Dreaming superbly showcases the breadth of 80s Japanese music and the way electro-pop was a playing ground for musicians to experiment with many styles, as showcased by Akira Sakata’s dub-enfused Room from 1980, Kazumi Watanabe’s discoid Tokyo Joe (1980) and Juicy Fruits’ “kawai” robotic techno pop song Jenie Gets Angry.
The selection flows effortlessly between many shades of synth and ends with two cult classics in the form of Yasuaki Shimizu’s Semi Tori No Hi and Shigeo Sekito’s ambient-jazz masterpiece The Word II from his highly sought-after album Kareinaru Electone (The Word) Vol.2 which, although recorded in 1975, perfectly announces the synth revolution to come. Tokyo Dreaming showcases the groundbreaking sounds of a city turned giant sonic lab, which was restlessly inventing the music of the future.
The label says: “Nick is a highly respected and in-demand music influencer who discovers great music from all over the world and shares it internationally through his many radio shows and DJ sets. He has been in charge of music selection for various radio programs since 1999, and from 2010 – 2019, was the DJ for the popular BBC Radio music program Late Junction. He has also curated and presented music shows for Monocle and British Airways radio stations. He has worked as both Chief Music Editor at iTunes and Director of Music at London’s Institute of Contemporary Art, and is the founder of MSCTY.”