Yellow Magic Orchestra co-founder and prolific solo artist Yukihiro Takahashi has died, aged 71.

Yukihiro Takahashi’s management company, Hints Music, released a statement that the musician died at 5:59am on January 11th, from complications from pneumonia, and news of his passing started circulating in the evening of January 14th, UK time. The statement said that his 2020 surgery for a brain tumour was a success, and that he was regularly in and out of hospital since, working on his recovery and rehabilitation. But towards the end of 2022 his condition worsened. His family thanked the medical team responsible for his treatment.

Yukihiro Takahashi’s contribution to music is glacier-like; huge glistening peaks for all to see, and underneath an even more vast reserve of equally solid material. 

In the UK, he first came to the public eye in 1972 with The Sadistic Mika Band. Their appearance on The Old Grey Whistle Test remains one of that show’s iconic moments, with Whistling Bob Harris introducing them in 1975 to play two almost impossibly well-drilled songs, Takahashi’s focussed playing underpinning the band’s outrageous jazz/rock/synth chops while Mika herself, in a red dress and a knotted hanky on her head, fronted them with glamour and humour. They toured with Roxy Music and became Japan’s hottest musical export of the era, only to split up 1975 after their third album.

Takahashi was in demand as a session player and soon met up with Ryuichi Sakamoto and Haruomi Hosono, two more almost supernaturally talented young veterans of the Japanese music scene, and the three of them started Yellow Magic Orchestra in 1978. Their synthpop stylings and sharp visual aesthetic soon made them Japan’s most successful band of all time, with their 1978 eponymous debut and 1979’s ‘Solid State Survivor’ creating a synthpop boom in Japan which saw them hogging the top spots in the charts for months. 

They were globally feted from the Blitz Club in London where they hung out with Rusty Egan and Steve Strange, and forged friendships and collaborations with Japan’s David Sylvian and Steve Jansen, to Düsseldorf with Kraftwerk. In the USA, where the 1980 single ‘Computer Game/Firecracker’ sold 400,000 copies, their sound inspired many future architects of the techno in Detroit and had an immediate impact on New York’s emerging hip hop and electro scenes.

The frantic workload of YMO continued alongside all three members releasing numerous solo albums, and Takahashi’s prodigious output included collaborations with Bill Nelson and former Japan drummer Steve Jansen. In 2014, he was part of the extraordinary Japanese supergroup METAFIVE with Keigo Oyamada (aka Cornelius), Yoshinori Sunahara (of Denki Groove) and Towa Tei (Deee-Lite).

Depending on how you count them, there were around 50 Yukihiro Takahashi solo albums released between 1978 and 2018’s ‘Saravah Saravah!’, a re-working of his 1978 debut, ‘Saravah!’. 

His influence on electronic music is immeasurable as the public reaction to his death attests. He will be greatly missed.

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