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Love List:
Ryuichi Sakamoto by Groovescooter (Georgie Zuzak & Paris Pompor)

Love List is our Spotify series where we ask Opera House friends to curate a playlist dedicated to something they love. Ahead of the Ryuichi Sakamoto | Opus encore screening this May, Paris Pompor and Georgie Zuzak from co-presenters Groovescooter have put together a Love List dedicated to Ryuichi Sakamoto. 

When it came to his art, Sakamoto was a true chameleon. The Japanese composer, pianist, record producer, and actor dabbled in a plethora of projects ranging from influential electronic albums to hugely popular film and TV compositions. Alongside his impressive solo career, he is also known as a founding member of Yellow Magic Orchestra, which pioneered electronic music throughout the 1970s and 80s.

In the years before his death in 2023, Sakamoto’s struggle with cancer left him unable to perform live. However, full of determination, Sakamoto sought to leave behind one final performance, a concert film featuring only himself and his piano. The result was Ryuichi Sakamoto | Opus, an achingly beautiful and intimate look into a maestro's journey through his discography one last time.

Paris Pompor and Georgie Zuzak are the founders of Groovescooter, an independent record label, production house, events company and remix team. For their Love List, Paris and Georgie take you through some highlights of Sakomoto’s immense body of music, in what will be a beautiful listening session. Turn up the music, tune out the world and listen to the work of a legend.

▷ Ryuichi Sakamoto - Opus

Sharing its name with the beautiful swan song performance-film we’re co-presenting at the Sydney Opera House, this solo piece from his 1999 album ‘BTTB’ beautifully demonstrates how Sakamoto’s melodies get under your skin.

▷ Ryuichi Sakamoto - The Sheltering Sky

Another gorgeously haunting melody from the maestro and another solo piano performance, this one from Bernardo Bertolucci’s 1990 drama starring Debra Winger and John Malkovich. Whether you rate the film or not, the soundtrack’s main theme is definitely praiseworthy.

▷ Ryuichi Sakamoto - Before Long

This one comes from Sakamoto’s wildly diverse 1987 LP ‘Neo Geo’ which was co-produced by Bill Laswell. At the end of this opening piano and electronics piece we’re tempted again and again to return the needle to the beginning, delaying the rest of the album which, by the way, features everyone from Iggy Pop to Bootsy Collins and Sly Dunbar!

▷ Sakamoto with Alva Noto - The Revenant Theme (Alva Noto Remodel)

Lush, cinematic and a great mix of piano with precise electronics, we have such great memories of seeing these two perform together at the Sydney Opera House in 2018. The sound was mesmerising and spotting SOH’s Head of Contemporary Music, Ben Marshall in the foyer after the concert, we immediately accosted him and said: “Ben, you have to invite Sakamoto back to perform next year and tell him to bring David Sylvian!” We would have robbed a bank to foot the bill and assured Ben he had at least two pre-sales in the bag.

▷ Fennesz & Ryuichi Sakamoto - 0401

A match made in heaven here as Sakamoto teamed up with Viennese electronic producer Christian Fennesz for the 2011 album ‘Flumina’. Fennesz’s guitarscapes and glitchy electronics always send our imaginations daydreaming (check out his stunning 2004 album ‘Venice’) and Sakamoto’s piano only enhances those reveries.

▷ David Sylvian & Ryuichi Sakamoto - Forbidden Colours

There were tears in the cinema at the Australian Premiere of ‘Opus’ as Sakamoto played an instrumental version of this much-loved signature piece. Some 40 years earlier, the impact of seeing ‘Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence’ at Canberra’s Electric Shadows cinema in 1983 cannot be overstated. Its forbidden queer love undercurrent and Sakamoto’s beautifully haunting theme score only became more emotionally devastating with the addition of David Sylvian’s vocals and lyrics. After leaving the band Japan, Sylvian is one of only a few artists who hasn’t put a foot wrong musically in the ensuing four decades.

▷ Japan - Taking Islands in Africa

Co-written by Ryuichi Sakamoto and David Sylvian, this closing track from Japan’s essential ‘Gentlemen Take Polaroids’ album is an evocative favourite of the pair’s collaborative works. Masterful synthesizer sounds and layered programming (Sakamoto turned up to the recording session with his Prophet 5) combine with organic and electronically sequenced rhythms. The song’s only let-down is the use of synth-bass rather than Mick Karn’s always brilliant, snaking fretless bass playing.

▷ Ryuichi Sakamoto - Riot in Lagos

Sticking with the African theme, this future-thinking piece from 1980 is credited not only with the development of hip hop, but also influencing everyone from Afrika Bambaataa and Mantronix, to Aphex Twin. Legendary UK dub producer Dennis Bovell was there at the song’s recording, having been introduced to Sakamoto by Don Letts. Rumour has it Sakamoto shipped all his synths from Kraftwerk’s studio in Germany to Bovell’s as yet unused studio in the UK. Bovell couldn’t quite believe it when a packed truck turned up one morning, just as the preceding phone call promised it would.

▷ Ryuichi Sakamoto - Tango

The romantic swoon here is undeniable as Sakamoto assembled a musical cast including everyone from Brazilian guitarist Vinicius Cantuária to accordion player Gil Goldstein. This tune is also a rare chance to hear Sakamoto on vocals, although there’s also an instrumental version and another one featuring the vocals of Colombian-American singer Soraya Cuevas.

▷ Thomas Dolby With Ryuichi Sakamoto - Field Work

Besides being Sakamoto fans, as “hyperactive” teens suffering through high school hellholes, we were big fans of bespectacled British beat/synth boffin Thomas Dolby. His first few albums from the 1980s including the brilliant ‘Golden Age Of Wireless’ and 1983’s ‘The Flat Earth’ were perpetually spinning on our bedroom turntables. Produced by Sakamoto, the largely under-the-radar ‘Field Work’ was first released as a 12” single two years later in 1985 and later included as a bonus track on one of ’The Flat Earth’s many reissues. We could only find a live version on Spotify (recorded in Tokyo on a 2012 tour of Dolby’s). The original’s opening stuttering vocal samples (no doubt programmed into the super-expensive Australian-designed Fairlight CMI which Dolby bought with his first ever record advance) the Future Shock-era electro-funk drumrolls, arpeggiated synths and slap-bass could plausibly be credited to Sakamoto alone if not for Dolby’s distinctive vocals where he namechecks Japan’s volcanic island Iwo Jima.

▷ Yellow Magic Orchestra - Firecracker

A standout from Sakmoto’s debut 1978 album with YMO, ‘Firecraker’ and the album’s opening track precursor (which sampled computer games) demonstrates just how innovative YMO were from the get-go. An update of the “father of exotica” Martin Denny’s 1959 tune, the Japanese melody and joyous bump of YMO’s version conjures a celebratory Tokyo night where the promise of pyrotechnics is only the start of the fun.

▷ Yellow Magic Orchestra - Behind The Mask

Another from YMO’s amazing catalogue, this one featuring vocoderized vocals which Sakamoto apparently first composed for a TV commercial. Interestingly Michael Jackson recorded a version for his mega-selling 1982 album ‘Thriller’ but legalities prevented it seeing the light of day until 2011. If you want to go down a rabbit hole you can find Human League and Eric Clapton versions too!

▷ Ryuichi Sakamoto and Robin Scott - Just About Enough

Another Sakamoto collaboration with a Brit, Robin Scott is probably most famous for being the man behind the guilty pleasure chart-topper ‘Pop Muzik’ by the economically named M. Interestingly that band’s third album featured Yellow Magic Orchestra drummer Yukihiro Takahashi. This curio was co-written by Sakamoto and Scott alongside African Head Charge’s Nick Plytas and the band-hopping multi-instrumentalist Adrian Belew. That makes it quite heavyweight in the composer department for such a bouncy synth-pop party tune.

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