Yellow Magic Orchestra is a hugely influential early Techno band that has been called the Japanese equivalent of Kraftwerk
, while their influence inside their home country has been likened to The Beatles
. They helped pioneer synthpop, modern J-pop, techno, and house music. The band was one of the first to use Sampling
Core members Haruomi Hosono, Yukihiro Takahashi, and Ryuichi Sakamoto had worked together off and on throughout the 1970s, and each had worked with early electronic instruments. However, it was Sakamoto's introduction to Kraftwerk, as well as a desire to make music that didn't ape Western musicians, that pushed them to create their own band. Shortly after Hosono's 1978 exotica-tinged album Paraiso
(credited to Harry Hosono and the Yellow Magic Band, which featured Sakamoto and Takahashi contributing,) they decided to use the name Yellow Magic Orchestra, parodying a fascination with the black magic fad in Japan at the time. Their debut album was intended to parody Western stereotypes of Asia while also exploring Asianness and the use of synthesizers.
Intended mostly as a joke, the album was a surprise hit, prompting the band to go on tour. One of these live performances was seen by an American A&M Records executive, and by the end of 1978 they had an international record deal, prompting the three to shift from solo careers to full support of YMO.
Over the next few years, YMO was the most popular band in Japan, and was regularly charting in America and Europe, with sold-out tours in all three areas. For 1979's Solid State Survivor
, the band brought in Chris Mosdell to write English lyrics. Both it and the follow-up, ×∞Multiplies
, were on the Oricon charts at the same time for seven weeks, a record that still stands. The band's music became a major influence on early Techno and Hip Hop pioneers, with the song "Riot in Lagos" is seen as one of the first to have a "techno" beat. After sampling "Firecracker" for his song "Death Mix," Afrika Bambaataa jokingly claimed YMO "invented Hip Hop."
After making the music-based movie "Propaganda," the band "spread out" in 1984: Although they shifted back to solo careers, the members would frequently perform with each other. They briefly reunited to record Technodon
under the name of Not YMO in the early 90s, and occasionally performed live as Human Audio Sponge. They officially reunited in 2007 as HASYMO' first for a Kirin beer commercial and single "RYDEEN 77/07," and then live at the Live Earth, Kyoto event on July 7, 2007. The band officially reverted to the name YMO in 2009.
- Yellow Magic Orchestra (1978)
- Solid State Survivor (1979)
- X∞Multiples /増殖 (Multiplation) (1980)
- BGM (1981)
- Technodelic (1981)
- Naughty Boys (1983)
- Service (1983)
- Technodon (1993)
This band provides examples of:
- Bilingual Bonus: Some of their song titles are in Japanese or Chinese, such as "Tong Poo" (which means "East Wind" or 東風 in kanji).
- Chiptune: Trope Makers in their self-titled debut album.
- Cover Version: Almost to the point of Pop-Cultural Osmosis in the case of "Firecracker" (Martin Denny) and "Pocketful of Rainbows" (Elvis Presley). There's also "Tighten Up" (Archie Bell & The Drells) and "Day Tripper" (The Beatles).
- Cut-and-Paste Translation: Since their album Solid State Survivor was not originally released in the US, the US version of ×∞Multiplies dispensed with the comedy routine tracks and padded the record out with songs from Solid State Survivor. The European version went further, by adding additional songs from their debut album.
- Dragon Lady: The title character of "La Femme Chinoise", who is called "the mistress of the Orient".
- Genre-Busting: The band made their own style of Synthpop, J Pop, Chiptune, New Wave and lots more.
- Gratuitous French: "La Femme Chinoise". A small part of "Ballet" has this as well.
- Japan Takes Over the World: Their first US tour was advertised as "See Japanese people play all those synthesizers they're building."
- And yet any synth anorak worth his salt can tell that the bulk of the synths they used back then were made in the US.
- Japanese Tourist: Referenced in their cover of "Tighten Up."
- Long Runners: YMO has performed almost continuously for almost 30 years.
- Lyrical Dissonance: "Taiso", "Rap Phenomena".
- Neoclassical Punk Zydeco Rockabilly: The Other Wiki list many of the influences include, among others, Kraftwerk, Giorgio Moroder, Isao Tomita, and more. One of the members described their music and its mix of influences as the equivalent of a Bento box.
- New Sound Album: BGM, Naughty Boys, Service, Technodon.
- Ode to Intoxication: "Radio Junk".
- Piss Take Rap: "Rap Phenomena" with MindScrewy lyrics.
- Pop-Star Composer: All three members in their later careers.
- Fake Radio Show Album: X∞Multiples.
- Shout-Out: The song titles on side B of their debut album are titles from Jean Luc Godard films.
- Sixth Ranger: Longtime producer and collaborator Hideki Matsutake, who frequently performed as part of the band's live ensemble, is usually thought of as the fourth member of YMO.
- Something Completely Different: The original versions of "Multiples" and "Service" are half comedy, half music album.
- Special Guest: Technodon has two.
- Sampling: Among the first, with BGM and Technodelic.
- Ska: Attempted an electronic version with "Multiples".
- Spelling Song: "T-E-C-H-N-O-P-O-L-I-S."
- Synth Pop: Trope Codifier. There is some debate by music critics whether they or Kraftwerk are the Trope Maker.
- Take That, Us: Virtually every television performance, especially "Propaganda."
- Textless Album Cover: "BGM", "Service".
- The Band Minus the Face: Averted. Although the members will frequently play YMO songs at their own concerts, they only advertise as YMO if all three core members are present.
- Those Wacky Nazis: "Propaganda" is heavy on fascist imagery, including red armbands.
- Visual Pun: Multiples, with clones of the band.
- Unplugged Version: Rydeen 79/07
- Word Salad Lyrics: Averted, thanks to English lyrics written by regular collaborators Chris Mosdell and Peter Barakan.
- Played Straight, "Pure Jam"