I first heard Japanese electronic/synth-pop artist Yukihiro Takahashi last week when Alex Low (Hellaluya) was DJing Jef Barbara‘s show and he played Takahashi’s “Drip Dry Eyes”. I found out the song using Shazam and later looked him up online.
Turns out Takahashi’s greatest claim to fame is as drummer and lead singer of the influential Japanese electronic band Yellow Magic Orchestra. However, Takahashi’s been putting out solo albums since 1978, apparently most notably Neuromantic, a solid collection of English synth-pop songs that includes the aforementioned “Drip Dry Eyes”. Though not particularly incredible or unique among the era’s many synth-pop albums, it’s aged fairly well and in the light of 2014’s reassessment of 80s sounds and styles feels like a minor lost treasure.
If anyone wants to recommend other Takahashi (or Japanese rock) works for me to check out or post about in Obscurity Points, let me know in the comments.
Alright, we’re in March now and I’m 22 – crrayyyy-zaayyyyyy. So here’s a couple tunes from the last couple weeks. It’s like half little-known stuff, half popular stuff so it might get taken down (damn you record labels – people can dl those songs anywhere!!! I’m popularizing your stuff!) so download it while you can.
Our good friend from Montreal who makes sexy indie-Rn’B (or something) Jef Barbara‘s got a new track on the Decoder Magazine #001 comp – which is available now PWYC, with all funds going towards the first issue of said magazine being put out by the Decoder Magazine (former Get Off The Coast) crew.
A little while ago I posted a track by Montreal experimental disco-pop artist Jef Barbara, off his full-length debut Contamination, out now on AMDISCS. Since then, I’ve kept coming back to the album, each time becoming more and more engrossed in its sound, style, and the strange, sexy character that is Jef Barara. A while ago I managed to interview him over the phone and talk about what the French lyrics mean, singing gay manifestos, and George Michael‘s Faith.
M: So, I don’t speak French, so I don’t know what some of the songs are about, but I’d like to. What is “Charlotte Et La Piano” about?
J: It translates to “Charlotte and the Piano”. Charlotte was basically part of this short-lived band that I had a few years ago called Jef And The Holograms. We only ever released an EP, back in 2009, and I wrote the song as a tribute to her. She was playing keyboards in the band and the piano is her main instrument so I figured I’d just write this song about her.
M: How about “Larmes De Crocodile”? What does that mean?
J: “Crocodile Tears”. It’s actually the only song I didn’t write the lyrics to on the album, they were written by Dominique Vanchesteing, who helped me a lot with the album, he also produced it. I see it as a kiss-off to a lover who has cheated on you but it’s jibberish, it’s a silly pop song. The lyrics translate to “Dry your silly crocodile tears/there will be more guys, don’t you fear.” Somebody actually posted a comment on YouTube under the video that said, “Don’t you worry little f*g, somebody out there will love you because guys are easy.” I thought that was a pretty accurate summary of what I sing about.
M: Listening to the album, I felt some of the songs had this interesting kind of crossbreeding between French cabaret and disco – are those influences of yours? Do I even know what I’m talking about?
J: I mean, I’m a Francophone – though I live in both languages – and my parents used to listen to a lot of what they call chansonnier, stuff like Jacques Brel and Serge Gainsbourg, so of course, it’s part of my cultural DNA. I don’t know in regards to French cabaret specifically – I see the French songs [on my album] as just pop songs, so whether they’re in French or in English, for me it doesn’t really make any difference.
I find there’s a wide span of sounds and influences on the record. I like to compare my album to pop albums from the 80’s on which you had a huge span of different styles that were adapted in a coherent pop context. I’d say it ranges anywhere from soft rock to synth disco; on “Flight 777” there’s more of a sort of krautrock kind of feel to it. I like to tackle many genres, it doesn’t limit itself to disco or French cabaret, it’s all in the mix. The objective of the album was to make a coherent whole with many genres, like those albums from the 80s. George Michael’s Faith for instance, on which you’d have a dance-ier song, which would lead up to the next, which would be jazzy cabaret, etc.
M: Your songs depict an interesting French underground alternative-culture world – was this also a goal of the album, to give listeners a glimpse of that world?
J: The whole point of ‘Jef Barbara’ is that I have this really eccentric audio-visual universe that I try to convey on the album. It’s a fantasy world. The songs come from me and I wouldn’t have written them if I didn’t experience what I sing about to some extent, though not necessarily always in the first degree. But ‘Jef Barbara’ is a concept, that’s what it is. It’s definitely a world that I like to fantasize about – it’s something that I’m still creating. Even in the videos where I’m all glammed up, it’s something that I’ll do once in a while to go out, dressing up as such or talking about the stuff that I talk about, but it’s not something that I do on a day to day basis. For me, it’s all about fantasy; it’s all about creating a vision similar to that of the glitter rock androgynous pop stars of the 70s and 80s.
M: What was it about those artists that you found intriguing?
J: It’s hard to tell why those things hit you. In the end, and as I said in regards to French music earlier, you have a certain set of influences that usually come from past experiences you have in your life. Some of your relatives might have listened to that type of music and [because you’d hear it a lot when you were around them] it just naturally becomes a part of you. Growing up and seeing Prince, Grace Jones, Donna Summer and Bowie definitely shaped my artistic identity.
M: Homosexuality seems to be a big part of the ‘Jef Barbara’ package. Is that something you intended or is that something that just came about naturally?
J: I recognize that there’s something almost subversive about singing gay manifestos like “Les Homosexuals” and “Wild Boys” and it’s also very much a part of me. I could have said integrity but what does it mean? It’s just a part of me. I create a fantasy world but the experiences that are recounted on the album are not entirely fictitious. I take what I have and what I grew up with and blow it up to very artistic, theatrical proportions. But yeah, I am a complete homosexual.
M: What are your plans for the future?
J: Well, I finished recording the album a few months ago and I just went into the studio to record a Stevie Moore song, so we did a power-pop meets Berlin-era Bowie cover that I’m pretty excited about, and that’s probably going to come out as a single. And I’m also thinking my next album – Alex, from Dirty Beaches, sent over a couple tracks that he’s willing to collaborate on with me.
Or were you thinking more like, bigger picture? Not specific projects?
M: Is there a bigger picture plan?
J: Like, of course I’d like my records and videos to reach out to the largest number of people. I’m just doing what I do and so far I’m happy. The people that have responded are sincere and I know it’s not a result of a build-up corporate hype – the people who are interested are genuinely interested. So if my songs can get to even more people, I’d be thankful for that.