Who can argue that an apple falls far from its tree after listening to Demo Tape 1? Demo Tape 1 was a compilation of music curated by Ryuichi Sakamoto and Akito Yano for their Midi Inc. label. The premise was simple: ask anyone who tuned in to Ryuichi’s ongoing NHK radio program “Sound Street” to send a cassette demo of theirs. Personally sifting through all the submissions, Ryuichi would then pick the cream of the crop and release this album as a thank you for all the listeners who had stuck around through all his programs. The premise was simple but the output of Ryuichi’s call-to-action still remains startling.
Proving how influential Y.M.O. had been to a younger generation of Japanese musicians and listeners, Demo Tape 1 quite possibly showed how those same fans were plotting their own course in J-Pop’s evolutionary build. Through Ryuichi’s Sound Street radio program, Japanese listeners were able to get a first-hand account of exactly what music Y.M.O. members themselves were being inspired by and what went on behind the scenes.
Before the internet era, you can imagine how a younger generation being turned on to the sounds of New Musik, Steve Reich, and Parliament Funkadelic, played alongside homegrown music from the likes of Tatsuro Yamashita, Hajime Tachibana, and Y.M.O.’s more experimental, solo work, could have planted seeds in others, hemming new ways to make Japanese music. If you have the time, the whole Sound Street archive can heard here providing you with an idea of what territory Ryuichi and the Y.M.O. covered on-air.
Listening to Demo Tape 1 what’s most striking is how utterly, sonically diverse and legitimately well-produced all of these demos are. Some tracks show clear influence by the techno-pop of Y.M.O. but most show something else. Tracks that could pass off as post-punk segue into intriguing hip-hop productions. Then, other tracks that strike ambient or experimental notes, meet other tracks, from largely unknowns, that cross genre boundaries from classical to comedy, at will. To say that Y.M.O. fans had good taste would be an understatement. Demo Tape 1 displayed a bubbling underground hip to what Ryuichi had explored himself and quite ready to show something back to that musical master.
Is it surprising that a few who sent demos would go onto be leading lights themselves? The big name here is Towa Tei who would take the world by storm as part of Deee-lite. On Demo Tape 1 you get a song like “Cry” which offers more than a hint of the Future Pop we’re now experiencing. Putting aside that pitch-tuned proto-house nugget, you get beguiling proto-K-Pop tracks like Tomoko Asano’s “ヒンドゥー語ラップ「チベタン・ダンス」”Hindu Rap ‘Tibetan Dance'”.
Usually, listening to rap from that era sounds dated, but Tomoko succeeds in creating a track that sounds little else like rap you would hear then. More Koharu Kisaragi than Debbie Harry, a track like this should clue you in to how much inspiration Ryuichi took inspiration from Tomoko in his production work for “Neo-Plant” or his own “Steppin’ Into Asia”. Tomoko dropping a guest rap on “Steppin’ Into Asia” more than seals that idea for me. But that’s just one of the small “imagine what could have beens” found in this album. It’s a damn shame that other than those two tracks we’d never hear anything else from her.
The sparkling New Age of Michiko Mimura also coulda/shoulda led to something else — but didn’t. Tomoko Sasaki’s gorgeous neoclassical track “さよなら” must have set her up for something better — one that would be a future career as a video game composer. Obvious highlights in the compilation now, in hindsight, appear to be brief lucid looks into the future fates that would befall many who shared their intriguing, personal work here. Simply listen to the joyful work of someone like Seirou Okamoto. Is it any wonder he would soundtrack a Sonic the Hedgehog game or two? Who would expect the other big star of this comp would be Noriyuki Makihara, part of C.M.C.? Only in hindsight can we now appreciate how his huge stardom began in such bullish beginning.
Going back, the most fascinating thing for me about this compilation is how the best Sakamoto track isn’t one of the two he graced us with on this album. Once again Seirou Okamoto does something noteworthy. Out Sakamoto-ing his musical elder, on “Giappone”, Okamoto’s proto-techno track flirts with electro to create his own bit of fanciful, impossible to categorize, dance music: a sorta version 2.0 of “Tong Poo.” In the end, Demo Tape 1 remains this momentous occasion where we can exactly see what was going behind the minds of all those OG Y.M.O. listeners…and how intriguing their own work could be when collected.