With his passing, celebrating the great drummer, singer and composer through video footage
With his metronomic timing, calm vocal delivery, and movie-star good looks, musician Yukihiro Takahashi left an indelible mark on music and culture. The co-founder of Yellow Magic Orchestra and, before that, Sadistic Mika Band, passed away on Jan. 11 after being diagnosed with brain cancer. The music world has been in mourning ever since.
A brilliant drummer with a stylistic flair to match, Takahashi first earned attention in the early and mid 1970s for his work with the Sadistic Mika Band, one of the few Japanese rock acts to make a dent in the West. In the TV performance below, Takahashi barely registers as a presence, though his frantic, inventive drumming propels everything. He makes a quick appearance – wearing a white bucket hat and horizontally striped shirt – with a killer breakbeat at the 2:42 moment.
Three years later he joined Ryuichi Sakamoto and Haruomi Hosono to form Yellow Magic Orchestra. To say it was a rhythmic shift for Takahashi is an understatement. With the Sadistic Mika Band, he was a busy presence, rolling through the bars as if trained by Jack DeJohnette. With YMO, at least in the early years, he was as focused and unrelenting, a human metronome.
Formed in 1978, Yellow Magic Orchestra moved from rehearsal space to international Japanese music ambassadors within a year. The band made its first visit to Los Angeles in 1979 when they opened for the Tubes at the Greek Theatre. YMO’s label at the time documented the visit with a fantastic short film. Watch it below.
While YMO became a force in Asia and the West, its three members simultaneously focused on solo endeavors. Though Sakamoto’s and Hosono’s work has earned much attention, Takahashi’s records are less known. His solo debut, Saravah!, came out the same year YMO formed and features both Sakamoto and Hosono. Instrumentally, it vibes like a jazz fusion record while laying a pathway for city pop.
All told, Discogs logs 43 solo Takahashi albums. Following the release of his debut, he went on to issue 13 records between 1980 and 1990. It’s an endless well of inspiration.
“Drip Dry Eyes” is perhaps his best known solo song – and, instrumentally and sonically, a ringer for the Chromatics – but perhaps that’s in part because it so effortlessly captures Takahashi’s charisma and way with a vocal line.
In 1986, the artist harnessed his charm in the opening scene for Poisson D’Avril (Japanese title: Shigatsu no sakana). Watch him make lunch, drink wine, do laundry, feed the dog, and chill in opening scene below.
Takahashi’s death from cancer marks the end of an era. A brilliant musician and singular presence, his passing serves as a poignant reminder not just of his work, but that his longtime bandmate and peer, Sakamoto, has been fighting the same disease on and off for nearly a decade. Currently diagnosed with stage IV cancer. Sakamoto has a brilliant solo album coming out Friday on Milan. Called 12, it was composed, Sakamoto says, after a recent surgery.
“After I finally ‘came home’ to my new temporary housing after a big operation, I found myself reaching for the synthesizer. I had no intention of composing something; I just wanted to be showered in sound. I’ll probably continue to keep this kind of ‘diary.’”
Sakamoto disclosed that he currently lacks the stamina to perform a full concert, so he recently began releasing a series of live-in-the-studio clips that, when listened to in sequence, he hopes will be taken as a concert. Here’s Sakamoto performing “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence” last month.