MICK KARN, the acclaimed exponent of the fretless guitar, died today in London from cancer. He was a founder member of the British art-rock band Japan, formed in 1974 with David Sylvian, Richard Barbieri, Rob Dean and Steve Jansen, heavily influenced by Bowie and Roxy. By their 1978 album Adolescent Sex, Japan had developed a unique visual style and innovative sound underpinned by Karn’s sensual bass. In all but club membership, Japan *were* the original New Romantic band
Karn outside the Commonwealth Institute, Kensington (undated), photographed by © http://www.SteveJansen.com — Proceeds from the sale of Jansen’s photos have gone to help Mick in recent months
❏ Karn’s Facebook page notes this evening “Even on early Japan recordings, his highly distinctive fretless bass voice for which he is most renowned can be heard. By their swan song, critically acclaimed Tin Drum 1981, he was dubbed one of the best bass players in the world. He’d already supplied bass and sax work to Gary Numan’s Dance album and was the first Japan member with a solo record, Titles [hear audio below]. In 1983, Japan’s live album, Oil on Canvas, brought his playing to new ears: jazz legend Jan Garberek.”
❏ Update on Karn’s Facebook page, Jan 18 “Mick’s funeral service took place yesterday afternoon, Monday 17th January, in West London. The private ceremony was attended by close friends and family.”
➢ How Shapersofthe80s responded to the appeal for Mick Karn last June — plus Mick’s follow-up and background interviews
❏ Bassist John Taylor writes on the Duran Duran website “Nick and I first saw Japan at Barbarellas in Birmingham on their Obscure Alternatives tour and were blown away. They were so fresh, while every other band in town were tripping over each other in a rush to play the same three chords, Japan were brave in many ways. Mick changed my life in a good way. Quiet Life and Gentlemen Take Polaroids, Adolescent Sex and Tin Drum are amongst the best recordings made during the post-punk era in my view. Mick’s sax playing also was always interesting.
Adolescent Sex, the 1978 album
❏ Review by Amy Hanson at AllMusic of Japan’s first album Adolescent Sex (1978) says “A remarkable debut, the set snarls with leftover punk intent, a few glam-rock riffs, and a wealth of electronics that not only reach back to the band’s youth, but also predate much of what would explode out of the next wave of British underground… [Later Hanson continues…] The ‘wow factor’ of an incredibly funky bass and guitar on The Unconventional, repeated again on Wish You Were Black, is not only a surprise but leaves one wondering if the band were closet Chic fans … A more exciting album than just about anything else they’d ever record, Japan were young, hungry, and more than a little rough around the edges. Despite the slick R&B work twined in, it’s important to remember that this band were in the sonic foothold of an early edgy era — groundbreakers at their own inception. ”
Japan in the late 70s: Rob Dean, Mick Karn, Richard Barbieri, Steve Jansen, David Sylvian
A/V tracks featuring Karn at YouTube
➢ Mick Karn, Sensitive (1982) — His first album as a solo artist displays his creativity after Japan’s split, accompanied by Japan drummer Steve Jansen and keyboardist Richard Barbieri
➢ Knights of the Opium Moon (ft Mick Karn) — Track 6 from the London electronic band Furiku’s debut album (Like a Freak, May 2010)… This has to be among Karn’s last musical collaborations. Karn’s own discography lists the four-track EP Love’s Glove as his last published recording in 2005. Dom Agius of Furiku tells Shapersofthe80s: “We were approached by Mick and his management in late 2006 via MySpace. They’d heard our work and invited us to remix a track of his. They sent over a selection of basslines but rather than do a conventional instrumental remix we decided — as long-term Japan and Mick fans — to write and record a new song — the “missing track off Tin Drum” if you will. So we sifted through, chopped and redited maybe six of the basslines together and then we wrote Knights of the Opium Moon over that. Mick and his management were thrilled with the results.”
➢ View TV interview with Mick Karn for Talkin’ Jazz c1993
➢ View video: JBK — Bestial Cluster Dutch TV session
➢ View video: Sons of Pioneers — The best-selling album Oil on Canvas was recorded live during Japan’s six sell-out nights at Hammersmith Odeon, in November 1982, on their last UK concert tour. Japan’s final live performance was on December 16 in Japan. Worsening personal differences persuaded the band members to go their separate ways virtually at the height of their creative and commercial success.
Karn onstage at Hammersmith Odeon, November 17, 1982: Japan’s final UK tour. Photographed for Sounds © by Chris Dorley-Brown