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Music / David Sylvian

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David Sylvian (born David Alan Batt, 23 February 1958) is an English musician who may be best known for appearing in the New Romantic / Glam Rock band Japan in the late '70s to the early '80s. After a bit of a falling out with his band following some inner tension between members (some of which was reconciled with a reunion under a different name in 1991 in the form of Rain Tree Crow), he pursued a solo career, crafting music that was more mature and artsier than his previous work, which has since gained a respectable cult following. Sylvian has also dabbled in poetry, visual art and photography. He has been photographed by Anton Corbijn (who also produced some of his music videos), and has collaborated with Ryuichi Sakamoto (more closely in his solo material) and with King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp (their efforts combined produced two albums in the early to mid '90s). Sylvian was married to Prince protégé Ingrid Chavez from 1992 until 2003.


His solo works represent an artistic "evolution" (if you will,) as Sylvian proceeded to dispose of the flamboyancy, get a hair cut, and adopt more Baroque, Chamber and Jazz influences that slowly began to resemble the latter-day, sophisticated Art Pop works of artists like Peter Gabriel or Talk Talk (with a little bit of Avalon-era Roxy Music thrown in for good measure.) This is particularly present in 1984's Brilliant Trees; but he took an even more stripped-down approach in 1987's Secrets of the Beehive, which extracted the electronics from that album and the soundscapey "Gone to Earth," and replaced them with lush string, violin and piano arrangements. After some collaborations and a twelve year (!) wait, he made a solo comeback in 1999 in the form of Dead Bees on a Cake, which took a slightly darker, more Ambient approach to his classic pop leanings.


David takes a very serious, crafty approach to music, but it's always all-around artsy. He's also known for being a bit of... a hermit. Don't expect him to come out of hiding unless it's for something important.


  • Brilliant Trees (1984)
  • Alchemy: An Index of Possibilities (1985)
  • Gone to Earth (1986)
  • Secrets of the Beehive (1987)
  • Plight & Premonition (with Holger Czukay, 1988)
  • Flux & Mutability (with Holger Czukay, 1989)
  • The First Day (with Robert Fripp, 1993)
  • Dead Bees on a Cake (1999)
  • Blemish (2003)
  • When Loud Weather Buffeted Naoshima (2007)
  • Manafon (2009)
  • There's a Light That Enters Houses with No Other House in Sight (with poet Franz Wright, 2014)


  • Bi the Way: David mentioned in the '80s that he had slept with men as well as women, but he didn't have much interest in sex. Many thought he was gay when he would wear makeup in Japan's early days, so this doesn't come as much of a surprise.
  • Cover Version: With Japan, he covered "Don't Rain on My Parade" by Barbra Streisand, "All Tomorrow's Parties" by Velvet Underground, "I Second That Emotion" by The Miracles and "Ain't That Peculiar" by Marvin Gaye. Early on, the band often performed a cover of The Rolling Stones' "Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)" live and recorded an unreleased studio demo of it, as well as recorded unreleased cover versions of Velvet Underground's "Venus in Furs," Bob Marley and the Wailers' "I Shot the Sheriff," The Isley Brothers' "This Old Heart of Mine," and an unreleased Chic cover believed to be "Le Freak."
  • Distinct Double Album: The first disc of Gone to Earth is comprised of vocal pieces and the second is entirely instrumental.
  • Domestic Abuse: "When Poets Dreamed of Angels":
    She rises early from bed
    Runs to the mirror
    The bruises inflicted in moments of fury
    He kneels beside her once more
    Whispers a promise
    "Next time I'll break every bone in your body"
  • Early Installment Weirdness: The first two Japan albums, and to an extent Quiet Life, feature David using a rather different vocal style to his later smoother work. Also, the first album Adolescent Sex is very guitar and synth heavy, with lyrics predominantly about dancing and comparing relationships to political events (something that was very popular in glam rock). Sylvian's appearance was rather different then, with long dyed blond hair and makeup (the other members of Japan had similar styles, because Sylvian wanted to make the group stand out.)
  • Follow the Leader: Sylvian himself was heavily inspired by the New York Dolls, David Bowie and Roxy Music. Asian and jazz influences influenced him more and more as he went on. His detractors constantly mention the Roxy Music influence. Duran Duran were heavily inspired by Japan and are often considered to be their spiritual successors. The band were recording their self titled debut near where Japan were recording Gentlemen Take Polaroids, and rumour has it that they chose that studio just so they could meet the band.
  • Foreign Culture Fetish: He went in for Japanese culture in a big way, appropriately enough for someone in a band named Japan. He frequently collaborated with Ryuichi Sakamoto and was in a relationship with a Japanese photographer named Yuka Fujii, who shot many of his cover photos.
  • New Sound Album: All of them, but the two that are particularly worth mentioning are the Japan album Quiet Life, in which he shows off his deeper voice, ballad and Asian influences for the first time, and the solo album Blemish, which began his current experimental career.
  • Surreal Music Video: His work with Anton Corbijn.
  • Take That!: When a then-career-spanning box set called Weatherbox was put out, Virgin Records demanded for a new hit single to go with it. He came up with "Pop Song," which consists of a unconventional mallet-on-piano-strings bass part, and a synthesizer set on flute that is flying across the keyboard with two open palms.


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