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A disorderly bunch they are, this group Japan. Long, dyed hair, eyeshadow, lipstick, bracelets, brooches and very conspicuous clothing; Japan certainly catches the eye.

It has taken Japan – not exactly an inconspicuous name either- several years to find their current  members. Their music has also developed considerably during this time. Recognition could not be far away. The group’s touring schedule got increasingly crowded, and record-companies started to get interested as well.

About 15 months ago the band signed a contract with the young Hansa/Ariola-company in England. The single “Don’t rain on my Parade” and the LP “Adolescent Sex” were the first fruits that this alliance bore. Ears were pricked up, eyebrows were raised…some ears were stuffed up, many eyes were closed…a considerable number of wallets were pulled out as well however, and thus the sales of these first records were not unsatisfactory. Japan became, as is said, ”known”.

For some time now, a second LP has been out: “Obscure Alternatives”, which is already causing a lot more commotion in the international pop scene. Imagine everybody’s surprise when at the time of this record’s release, the title-track of the debut-LP achieved hit status in the Netherlands.

Unfathomable, this success of Japan. Unfathomable as well those Japanese, actually.

... David Sylvian (founder, singer, rhythm-guitar –player and composer of virtually the entire of Japan’s oeuvre): “Yes, it’s true that the first record is mostly about sex, but that doesn’t mean that I go all crazy over sex. Most of the time I find it tedious. It’s really only any fun when you’re experimenting with it.”

Steve Jansen (drums): “I find out that as I grow musically, I start playing in an increasingly simple fashion. I know very little about the technical side of drumming and I want to keep it that way. I don’t like to talk about drums; I find the subject boring. I’d much rather listen to them.”

Rob Dean (guitar): “We deliberately put ourselves outside of our environment. We find it difficult to adapt to a society which, out of some sort of instinct, keeps destroying things instead of trying to fathom the reasons behind this.”

Mick Karn (bass and saxophone): “When you try to understand the meaning of a painting, the last thing you would do is ask the painter what he has wanted to express by it; by making the painting he has already answered this question. We have been asked a hundred times why we dye our hair and wear make-up, and what we’re trying to say with certain songs; it’s all about self-expression…you should feel what the artist is trying to express.”

Richard Barbieri (keyboards): “Right now I am focusing mainly on synthesisers; at the moment I am more interested in sound than in music; I think I will end up not playing music anymore at all. Just sounds. But still a melodious kind of sounds, like in “Rhodesia” on “Obscure Alternatives”. In the middle part you just hear this whining Moog -sound; it’s a solo, but it doesn’t sound like that at all, it’s just atmospheric sounds. That’s what I filled the entire record with, actually. Sounds, just sounds, I think can fit very well into a song and appear as music, even though that’s not really what they are.”

In short, an unfathomable bunch which, through a musical ripeness expressed on two powerful records, is winning many fans by means of unusual sounds.

Japan: the group of the rising sound !

Originally published in The Record, Holland, January 1979. Article translated by Jasper Vink.


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