Although it has not technically been a phenomenon born of 2015 (it’s not even fair to call it a phenomenon, as an avid ear-to-the-floor music listener), this seemingly endless stream of 30+ year-old Japanese dance music has made a stampede through my ear canals this year. Mainly thanks to Hunee’s release of Sounds from the Far East and many overdue reissues, the window to Japan’s early club music has been pried open and finally realised as a worthy addition (especially financially) to many people’s deep house/soul/funk music collections.
There are so many tracks that could and should be in a playlist like this, but just to give a chewable sample, here are the starters:
Tatsuro Yamashita – ‘Dancer’ (1977)
Incredible arrangements and locked-in rhythm section off the album, Spacy. We don’t know what they’re saying, but we love the way they say it. One of the many joys this wave of Japanese music has brought is a new found love of dancing along to sub-100bpm tracks like this. Dear DJs this summer: More slow dance tracks please!
Yasuko Agawa – ‘LA Nights’ (1986)
There are very few other textures that beat one of vibraphone on top of wah guitar and a Fender Rhodes. Picked up in 1987 for release in the UK under Bluebird. It’s also not the only good track on the record.
Takako Mamiya – ‘Love Trip’ (1982)
A track that really lets you hear how beautiful the enunciation of such a foreign language can be. The opening piano riff evokes those musical intervals we associate with sounds of the Orient, with much of the track evoking Steely Dan. More goodness to be found on her album of the same name.
Soichi Terada – ‘Purple Haze (Edit)’ (1992)
We could have chosen any Terada track, but drop out of the kick drum and the placement of the closed hat really gets one into a deep house frenzy. One of the main distinctive features of early 1990s Japanese deep house is the use of high pitched and tone bell-like synth sounds. It’s very prominent here, and the bass synth is so thick you can almost touch it.
Yasuaki Shimizu – ‘Umi No Ue Kara’ (1982)
A favourite from Shimizu’s record, Kakashi. Perhaps not too dancefloor-friendly, but the surprise that some of those musical changes bring around are amazing. You can certainly hear the oriental influences in this one.
Mariah – ‘Shinzo no Tobira’ (1983)
There are undetones of Prince influences here. Very ‘out there’ synth sounds make for an eerier, more upbeat dance track.
Cosmos – ‘Midnight Shuffle’ (1982)
From the album Bourbone Suite, this track brings true boogie to the table a year before ‘Thriller’. There had been plenty of disco boogie stuff before, but this certainly stands up to anything Western from the same musical period.