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Yellow Magic Orchestra (YMO) is a Japanese electropop band formed in 1978, known for pioneering the electropop music genre. The principal members are Haruomi Hosono (bass), Yukihiro Takahashi (drums and vocals) and Ryuichi Sakamoto (keyboards).


Formation & early years

The band was conceived as a one-off studio project by Hosono, the other two members being recruited session musicians—the idea was to produce an album fusing orientalist exotica (of their cover version of Martin Denny's Firecracker) with modern electronics. However, the first album (with its cutting-edge production) was very popular, and the studio project grew into a fully fledged touring band and career for its three members.

Sakamoto first worked with Hosono as a member of his live band in 1976, while Takahashi recruited Sakamoto to produce his debut solo recording in '77 following the split of the Sadistic Mika Band. Hosono invited both to work on his exotica flavoured album "Paraiso", followed by electronic material for the anthology collection "Pacific". Following the release of the debut "Yellow Magic Orchestra" a live date at the Roppongi Pit Inn was seen by executives of A&M Records of the USA who were in the process of setting up a partnership deal with Alfa Records. This led to the YMO being offered an international deal, at which point (early 1979) the three members decided the group would be given priority over their solo careers.

Success and breakup

An advertising deal with Fuji Cassette and the group sparked a boom in the popularity of electronic pop music (called "Technopop" in Japan) that had an impact similar to that of The Beatles and Merseybeat in 1960s Britain. A testament to the influence of YMO on fashion is how many middle aged Japanese businessmen still have the "Techno cut" haircut, modeled after the group. Successful solo act Akiko Yano (later married to Sakamoto) joined the band for its live performances in the late 70's and early 80's, but did not participate in the studio recordings. On the other hand, the YMO trio contributed to her own albums and became part of her live band, during these same years.

Making abundant use of new synthesizers, samplers, sequencers and digital recording technology as it became available, as well as utilizing cyberpunk-ish lyrics sung mostly in English, their popularity and influence extended beyond Japan. Generally the band are highly regarded as pioneers of electronic music, and continue to be remixed and sampled by modern artists.

Solid State Survivor, released in 1979, was YMO's pinnacle recording in Japan, winning the 1980 Best Album Award in the Japan Record Awards. It featured English lyrics by Chris Mosdell, whose sci-fi themes often depicted a human condition alienated by dystopic futures, much like the emerging cyberpunk movement in fiction at that time. The album’s major single and YMO’s biggest international hit, “Behind the Mask”, with lyrics penned by Chris Mosdell, was later revised by Ryuichi Sakamoto for a 1987 solo release of the same name.

The band had stopped working as a group in 1984, after the release of their motion picture "Propaganda", the three members returning to their solo careers. The group were careful to avoid saying they had "split up", preferring to use the Japanese phrase meaning "spreading out" , and in fact the trio continued to play on each other's recordings and made guest appearances at live shows. Takahashi, in particular, would play YMO material in his concerts and as "lead singer" was arguably best placed to do so. To dodge lawsuits and "spread out" creatively they released the next one-off reunion album, Technodon, and credited it to 'NOT YMO' (YMO crossed out with a calligraphy X) or YMO in 1993. Instead of traditional vocals, about half of which features field audio recordings and samples of authors and scientists reading their work.

Post "breakup"

The early 2000s saw Hosono & Takahashi reunited in a project called Sketch Show. On a number of occasions Ryuichi Sakamoto has joined in on Sketch Show performances and recording sessions. He later proposed they rename the group Human Audio Sponge when he participates. Barcelona performance at Sonar festival and Wild Sketch Show DVDs chronicle these reunions, and include a tongue-in-cheek Japanese text only history of the group that spans to 2036.

The band have reunited in 2007 for an advertising campaign for Kirin Lager which lampooned their longevity and charted No.1 on various Japanese digital download charts (including iTunes Store chart) with the song "Rydeen 79/07", released on Sakamoto's new label commmons.

Recently performing live as Human Audio Sponge; Hosono, Sakamoto and Takahashi did a live performance together as Yellow Magic Orchestra for the Live Earth, Kyoto event on July 7 2007, which raised money and awareness of a "climate in crisis."

In August 2007, the band once again reformed, taking the name HASYMO or HAS/YMO, combining the names of Human Audio Sponge and Yellow Magic Orchestra. Their first single under this name, "Rescue", was written for the film Appleseed EX Machina. They released a new two song single titled "The City of Light/Tokyo Town Pages" on August 6, 2008.

HASYMO played two live concerts in Europe in the summer of 2008, one at the Royal Festival Hallmarker, London on 15 June, as part of the Meltdown festival of music curated by Massive Attack and another in Gijon, Spainmarker on the 19th. Although the primary YMO members (Yukihiro Takahashi, Haruomi Hosono, and Ryuichi Sakamoto) are effectively known as HASYMO and played both these concerts, these concerts were billed simply as "YMO" but featured only 4 YMO songs in each concert while the rest of the concert featured Sketch Show, HASYMO music and member's solo works.

A documentary film about lyricist Chris Mosdell and his various collaborators, Ink Music: In the Land of the Hundred-Tongued Lyricist, screened in Tokyo in June 2009. Mosdell is featured extensively as an interview subject, as are two of his YMO collaborators, Ryuichi Sakamoto and Yukihiro Takahashi. The film's soundtrack also features several of YMO’s songs, and solo recordings from Sakamoto, Takahashi, and Mosdell’s cult album Equasian.

A cover of "Kimi ni Munekyun" was used as the ending theme song for the 2009 anime Maria Holic, sung by Asami Sanada, Marina Inoue, and Yū Kobayashi, the voice actresses of the main characters.

In August 2009, the band played the World Happiness festival in Japan, featuring many Japanese artists. The band closed the night, and confirmed that "Yellow Magic Orchestra" is their official name, dropping the HASYMO title. They opened with a cover of "Hello, Goodbye" and performed old YMO songs along with their newer songs.


  • Hideki Matsutake has been believed to be the fourth member of YMO; he was sequencer programmer for YMO up until 1981, when he left to focus on his solo project "Logic System".
  • Towa Tei used to submit his demo reels to Ryuichi Sakamoto's radio show ("Sound Street" on NHK-FM) when he was a teenager. Towa Tei later became a member of American dance music group Deee-Lite.
  • American sci-fi novelist Bruce Sterling is a big fan of the band.
  • YMO appeared on the November 29, 1980 episode of the American dance program, Soul Train; they were one of very few non-black artists, and probably the only Japanese group, to appear on this predominantly-black program.
  • Señor Coconut released an album of YMO covers and collaborations called "Yellow Fever" in 2006.
  • The album Technodon features collaborations with the writers William Gibson and William Burroughs, both reading extracts from their works with YMO backing.
  • Many different chapters of Phi Beta Sigma International Fraternity, Inc. use the song "Computer Games" as their signature theme and stroll song.
  • Their song "Behind The Mask", covered and re-written first by Michael Jackson and keyboardist Greg Phillinganes and later by Eric Clapton, was sampled in the Goldie Lookin' Chain song "Your Mother's Got a Penis" on their album "Greatest Hits" (sampled from Greg Phillinganes' cover)
  • Video Game Composer Hitoshi Sakimoto is a huge fan of YMO which is where the inspiration came from. During the beginning of his work, he would often credit his name as YmoH.S.
  • Video game designer and composer Kenji Eno has cited Yellow Magic Orchestra as influential to his compositions.
  • Jennifer Lopez sampled "Firecracker" for her 2001 single I'm Real.
  • The 1982 SEGA arcade game "Super Locomotive" uses Rydeen, from the album Solid State Survivor, as a continuous loop soundtrack.
  • Firecracker was used as incidental music during one of Mr Spoon's vaguely psychedelic journeys to Button Moon, in the 1980s UK children's television series "Button Moon".


Original singles

  • "Firecracker" (1979, US)
  • "Yellow Magic" (Tong Poo) (1979, UK)
  • "Technopolis" (1979, Japan)
  • "La Femme Chinoise" (1979, UK) (Lyrics: Chris Mosdell)
  • "Computer Game" (1980, UK, Italy, Spain)
  • "Rydeen" (1980, Japan 1982, UK)
  • "Behind the Mask" (1980, UK, US, Italy) (Lyrics: Chris Mosdell)
  • "Nice Age" (1980, UK, the Netherlands) (Lyrics: Chris Mosdell)
  • "Tighten Up" (Japanese Gentlemen Stand Up Please) (their version of the Archie Bell & the Drells hit; 1980, US, Japan; 1981, UK)
  • "Cue" (1981, Japan)
  • "Mass" (1981, Japan)
  • "Taiso" (1982, Australia, Japan)
  • "Pure Jam" (1982, Spain)
  • "Kimi ni Munekyun" (1983, Japan)
  • "Kageki na Shukujo" (1983, Japan)
  • "Ishin Denshin (You've Got To Help Yourself)" (1983, Japan)
  • "Every Time I Look Around (I Hear The Madmen Call)" (1983, Holland)
  • Reconstructions EP (1992, UK)
  • "Pocketful of Rainbows" (1993, Japan)
  • "Be A Superman" (1993, Japan)
  • "Rescue / Rydeen 79/07" (2007, Japan) - Digital download release: 10 March 2007, CD release: 22 August 2007
  • "The City of Light / Tokyo Town Pages" (2008, Japan)

Original albums and variations

Live albums

Best of albums

Remix albums

  • 1992 Hi-tech/No Crime (Yellow Magic Orchestra Reconstructed) (UK compilation of remixes by British artists)

See also



External links

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