Haruomi Hosono @ The Old Market

by Harry Reddick, Jul 01, 2018

Haruomi Hosono wants you to know that he doesn't 'play techno music anymore’

Given that he has spent his whole career at the cutting edge of the possible music available to those willing to utilise technological advancement, it was perhaps something of a surprise when Haruomi Hosono last year released an album characterised by looking backwards. 

Full of music inspired by the 1940s jazz and pop Hosono grew fond of prior to recording, the album, titled Vu Ja De, is a sunlit jaunt through blues-filtered rock ‘n’ roll and covers of bygone country records – Hosono relished in casting a fresh eye over.As a result, the album resembles yet another distinct stage of the Japanese musician’s career, a far cry from the technicolour electronic experiments from his earlier exploits.

It was in this retro context that Hosono took to the Old Market stage in Brighton, alongside the bandmates who had performed on Vu Ja De, the terrific Daichi Ito on drums, Ren Takada on mandolin and guitar, Wataru Iga laying down the double bass, and Keito Saito on electric organ and accordion.

The bandmates may have changed since the YMO days, but from the outset, it was clear that the sense of humour characterising Hosono’s entire career had not diminished. As a stage presence, his personable nature is such to allow everyone in the venue to immediately feel at ease, frequently making self-deprecating jokes and entertaining the significant Japanese contingent in his mother tongue.

The music performed was similarly laid back, with the languid style of Ito on percussive duties keeping the band loosely bound within a particular aesthetic.

Hosono and company zipped through a variety of covers and some original material, mostly in the context of the country music inhabiting the latest album. Versions of Hoagy Carmichael’s Hong Kong Blues and Dale Hawkin’s Susie Q sat amongst meandering surf-rock laden with accordion and fidgeting double bass, while Hosono’s cover of Kraftwerk’s Radioactivity, a favourite of his performances for much of the last decade, was a highlight.

More deeply arranged than the rest of the set, and with a brooding, almost menacing atmosphere, Radioactivity found room for the more exploratory and sombre tones; Hosono has always had an interest in, and it helped that the performance as a whole was extremely tight.

 

Other moments missed the mark. The closing number post-encore saw Hosono invite two young Tokyo-based singers onstage from the audience, to perform Tokio Rush from the 1978 album Paraiso, which felt awkward and clunky, even accounting for the tongue-in-cheek nature of the original record.

Likewise, when Hosono announced to the audience his sleeper hit Sportsmen was next, an eager anticipation fell over the audience, which was duly stifled when he (comically, rather than sternly) announced as he doesn’t ‘play techno music anymore’, it would likewise be performed in a country style.

While again, the musicianship couldn’t be faulted, it was difficult to not feel a sense of disappointment at a seminal track arriving in what felt like a watered-down and anachronistic fashion.

Perhaps this gets to the heart of the difficulty in seeing a genuine legend like Hosono in the flesh at a later stage in their career (let’s not forget that Hosono to Japan is what Paul McCartney is to the UK).

Genuine legends do not sit still with their achievements, resting on the laurels provided by their early success; they continue reinventing themselves, trying different styles and aiming to move beyond creative typecasting, meaning each listener will have an individual sense of what kind of musician they consider said legend to be, according to which style or stage they fell in love with, and which memories that music will therefore inhabit. 

Translated into witnessing a live performance, it is difficult for the performance to live up to the idea of what it was going to be. This is how it was for this reviewer with Haruomi Hosono.

The Hosono that exists in my mind is one of the bizarre electronic atmospheres, traditional music blended with technological ingenuity, meaning that this performance, while evidently technically flawless and brimming with joyful exuberance, could never quite exist in the same plane.

Local Talk: Mr Bongo

We sat down with Mr Bongo to talk about 2017, new music, and the first of their 'Curated By' dates at Patterns on January

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