Music Musings: Metafive (2014-Present)

Yukihiro Takahashi (third from left) & Metafive - Source: Natalie.mu
Originally posted on the now-defunct Japanistas.com.

With his penchant for classy hats and Thom Browne suits, friendly grin, and slightly raspy timbre, 64-year-old Yukihiro Takahashi hardly appears to be a techno composer or a drumming powerhouse — but appearances can be deceiving!

Beyond Takahashi’s stylish exterior lies a lifelong musical innovator with an impressive number of successful projects under his belt. An industry pioneer, Takahashi has helped mold electronica, j-pop, synthpop, new wave and even hip hop music as we know it today, and he continues to do so through his super group Metafive: recording artist and producer Keigo Oyamada aka Cornelius; Japanese-Swedish singer/songwriter Leo Imai; electric instrumentalist, Tomohiko Gondo; former Denki Grove member and DJ, Yoshinori Sunahara; and DJ and record producer, Towa Tei.

Takahashi’s formal introduction to the music industry came from his time as the drummer in the Japanese British glam rock-inspired group Sadistic Mika Band, known best for their acclaimed 1974 album Kurofune(黒船), “Black Ships”.

As the first Japanese band to tour the United Kingdom, the Sadistic Mika Band’s unique sound drew attention, especially regarding their ability to create Western-style music in an undoubtedly Japanese manner. They went on to appear on both BBC Radio and BBC TV.

Nevertheless, The Sadistic Mika Band in its original form disbanded in the mid-70’s, yet there have been a number of revivals of the band under several names over the years, including a 2006 revival with Kaela Kimura in Mika Kato’s place.

After Sadistic Mika Band’s disbandment, Takahashi went on to begin a successful solo career. Simultaneously, he was a member of world-renowned group the Yellow Magic Orchestra along with bassist, producer, and songwriter Haruomi "Harry" Hosono, and composer, pianist, and two-time Golden Globe, Academy, and Grammy award-winner Ryuichi Sakamoto.

The Yellow Magic Orchestra in the early 80’s. – Source: Factmag.com
Created by Hosono, YMO was meant to be a temporary project, but after gaining international recognition, the band played spectacular lives and recorded esteemed albums together for several years.

YMO performed in the States and Europe, samples of their music laid the foundation for several hip-hop tracks (i.e., Afrika Bambaataa’s “Death Mix”; Jennifer Lopez’s “I’m Real”), and their electronic sound influenced several video game composers.

Although they have reunited briefly several times since, YMO essentially broke up in 1984, and the members returned to their illustrious solo careers. Takahashi went on to participate in several musical units (Sketch Show, pupa, The Beatniks, In Phase) and collaborate with other musicians (Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra, Love Psychedelico). Actually, Takahashi’s prolific propensity to collaborate is what created Metafive.

Similar to YMO, Takahashi’s Metafive was meant to be a temporary group for live performances, yet it has solidified itself into a seemingly long-term unit. After dropping their live album Techno Recital in 2014, Metafive started this year with an incredibly unique first album, Meta.

Techno Recital (2014)
Source: Play-asia.com
As the live album’s title suggests, Techno Recital is a fun, contradictory exploration of Takahashi’s work, mainly from the 1980’s, a time when Metafive were growing up; in fact, member Leo Imai was born in 1981, the same year YMO’s hit “Cue” was released!

Takahashi admitted to The Japan Times, “What I asked them [Metafive] to do was half-parody”. Thus, Techno Recital is a collection of covers, which, albeit light-hearted, attempt to stay true to the originals. Core fans of YMO might find Metafive’s recreations disruptive of the YMO’s hits’ legendary status, but fans of electronica will enjoy the intricate, ambient nature of the tracks. 

Meta (2016)

Announcing their presence as an official unit, Yukihiro Takahashi & Metafive teased fans in December 2015 when they released the studio version of “Don’t Move”, their first album Meta’s opener and one of its many English tracks.

The killer track, which alludes to the tension of being a performer, beautifully showcases each member’s skills, especially Gondo’s incredible talent with electric wind instruments and Imai’s intense vocals. However, the studio version sounds more dynamic than the album release version.

Meta is an album of contrasts: sometimes garish, sometimes ethereal. Occasionally, the two tones collide in the same track as in “Gravetrippin”, “Disaster Baby”, “Threads”, and “Maisie’s Avenue”, which features a interesting harmony between Imai and Takahashi’s distinct voices.

Sticking to many of the core features of electronic music are deliciously computerized tracks “Albore”, “W.G.S.F”, “Whiteout”, “Threads”, and “Love U Tokio”. “W.G.S.F.” is arguably the most impressive of these tracks with its several layers of sound, one of which is reminiscent of medieval music. “Love U Tokio”, a laid-back number that pays homage to a certain major city in Japan, gives a nod to YMO’s 1979 song “Technopolis” as it uses the same “Tokyo” electronic sample.

Remakes of Towa Tei’s “Radio” and Metafive’s “Split Spirit”, which was used in the anime Ghost in the Shell: Arise, also appear on Meta. Both tracks are made richer due to expert mixing and Gondo’s instrumentation.

All in all, Meta is a spectacular album, which respectfully updates 80’s techno music into futuristic melodies. Fans of the genre will salivate over this, while electronica newbies will truly be transcended into another dimension.

Metafive will be performing with other great artists including Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra and the legendary Akiko Yano during Takahashi's Tokyo annual summer music festival World Happiness. There is a 90% chance that I will have coverage of the event, so look out for it! ;)

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  1. Very nice. When YT first announced Metafive I remember thinking...I really hope this becomes a real band and not some one-off. I dug the Techno Recital album (all of YT's live albums are great) but it's like...why recruit an allstar band to play by-the-numbers versions of your 80's hits?

    Luckily, that debut - what a great album, easily one of my favorites of the year. I'm almost stunned at how cohesive and collaborative the band sounds - very unusual for a supergroup. They sound so incredibly tight and on-point, even if the songs weren't good (and they are) the thing would be notable for just how great the band is. Now I admit, you really couldn't come up with something further up my alley if you tried - I was predisposed to absolutely love this thing. But I'm still listening!

    1. Thanks for reading! I thought the same thing when Metafive was formed, so I avoided Techno Recital for awhile, ha!

      They really are a talented group, and I hope they stick around for awhile, a least a year or so more. Meta is seriously a rare album, you don't see that level of greatness very often.

      Their new EP Metahalf (just posted a review of it) isn't nearly as good as Meta, but there are some nice points. Can't wait until/if/when they release another full-album.