Yasutaka Nakata is probably my favorite musician/producer/DJ/overall badass working in Japan right now and most of the J-pop world agrees: after seeing a slew of releases from his own work, side projects, and work with girl groups and female vocalists of all kinds, Nakata’s sound has been replicated, copied, bastardized, and inspired the world of Japanese pop desperate for a piece of the electro house pie. The following are seven songs paying homage to the wonderful world of disco (of course, not disco in the Western sense of disco) either written or produced by Yasutaka Nakata or one of his desperate doppelgangers. Can you spot the faux discos? Answers beneath the cut.
Perfume: ONE ROOM DISCO
Mitsuki Aira: CHINA DISCOTICA
80_pan: Disco Baby (song not featured on YouTube)
Ami Suzuki: can’t stop the DISCO
capsule: Robot Disco
Perfume: CHOCOLATE DISCO
pLumsonic!: Sentimental Disco (at 1:09)
Perfume: “ONE ROOM DISCO”
Perfume is perhaps the best and most prescient example of the Nakata sound. Having worked with the girls since their indie days, the girls have made both electro and performing sharp choreography in heels look inviting. Featured on their second original album Triangle, “ONE ROOM DISCO” features both traditional dance influences and all the heavy house synths that make Perfume’s sound an interesting series of sophisticated elements within naive narratives.
Mitsuki Aira: “CHINA DISCOTICA”
Despite her attempt to be the next MEG, Aira lacks the genius of a Nakata, instead working with producer Terukado Ounishi. Though more experienced through her work as a vocalist in various dance genres, Mitsuki’s sound relies heavily on vocoder and sci-fi elements that are absent from Nakata’s work. Her angle, while not refreshingly unique in a country that treats its cartoons like national treasures, still provides her with a few ardent fans that are quickly losing faith in a simple simulacrum.
80_pan: “Disco Baby”
While so much of the music featured on this list is far more influenced by 80’s synth pop than disco, this is the one track that wears its influence on its sleeve: with a softer sound and a practically precious backbeat, 80_pan lack the professional appeal of Nakata’s work, which leans heavily towards sharp production and smart image control. Without a carefully crafted niche to sink into, 80_pan remain something of a footnote in the cult canon of electro grave diggers.
Ami Suzuki: “can’t stop the DISCO”
When Ami Suzuki collaborated with Yasutaka Nakata for “FREE FREE” in 2007, the single resurrected the pop star’s career and inspired collaborations with several local house and club artists such as RAM RIDER and Sugiurumn for DOLCE, one of her most innovative and musically successful albums. After the brief collaboration, Nakata paired up with Suzuki again in 2008, this time to write and produce an entire album, Supreme Show, a quiet chart-topper that didn’t inspire any further collaborations but settled neatly into the brilliance of the Nakata canon.
capsule: “Robot Disco”
Heavily inspired by Pizzicato Five’s hip, shibuya-kei sound, Yasutaka Nakata’s original group capsule, featuring vocalist Toshiko Koshijima, is entirely unrecognizable from its sound today: a completely dance-centric outfit whose sound continues to add dubstep-heavy bass and vocal loops as it strays from its whimsical 60’s pop theme into techno productions whose influences scale everything from 8-bit to onomatopoeia. As an expendable instrumental interlude, “Robot Disco” doesn’t do the DJ any favors, but within the context of the album, offsets what was quickly becoming a signature sound.
Perfume: “CHOCOLATE DISCO”
Written in the earlier days of Perfume’s career, “CHOCOLATE DISCO” is perhaps the greatest song about Valentine’s Day that isn’t about hreartbreak, loneliness, sadness, or even, necessarily, love. It’s about chocolate! Observers of cultural tradition, Perfume infuse the song with trite anecdotes of giving and receiving confections on one of the world’s most emotionally divided holidays. Aided by Nakata’s compositions and still heavy on melodic rhythms, “CHOCOLATE DISCO” is one of the group’s most beloved singles, made all the more sweet by the group’s eventual overnight success story.
pLumsonic!: “Sentimental Disco”
With an album better suited to the ending credits of anime from the early 90s with a healthy dose of high-pitched female vocals, pLumsonic!’s Yuu and Yasushi.K have probably spent more time scouring the depths of Tomoe Shinohara’s discography than Nakata’s. But the sound remains the same: quintessentially technopop productions portraying a dubious and always laughable prediction of the “future sound” rather than admit its almost textbook interaction with the present musical climate. Still, it’s an homage to one of the country’s most innovative musical geniuses: in cases like these, imitation really can be flattering.