Yukihiro Takahashi, the drummer and lead vocalist for electronic music trailblazers Yellow Magic Orchestra, has died at the age of 70.
Takahashi’s office released a statement to the The Japan Times and NHK confirming Takahashi’s death on Jan. 11, citing aspiration pneumonia as the cause. Takahashi previously revealed that he underwent surgery to remove a brain tumor in 2020.
Takahashi, who was born in Tokyo, launched his career in the early Seventies, performing with his brother, Nobuyuki Takahashi, in the band Buzz and glam-rock group Sadistic Mika Band, which he joined after their original drummer departed. The group achieved success in the UK, opening for Roxy Music on their Siren Tour in 1975-76 and they appeared on BBC TV and radio. When the band disbanded, Takahashi continued on with some of the members as the Sadistics, and released two studio albums before splitting ways.
In 1978, Takahashi, keyboardist/vocalist Ryuichi Sakamoto, and bassist/keyboardist/vocalist Haruomi Hosono (previously of the famed Japanese rock bands Apryl Fool and Happy End) joined forces to form the supergroup Yellow Magic Orchestra. Utilizing synths, sequencers and drum machines, the trio were trailblazers in the electronic genre, ushering in the Eighties electro sound. They harnessed inspiration from other pioneers in the realm, such as Kraftwerk and Giorgio Moroder.
Their single “Computer Game,” which appeared on their debut eponymous album, became a surprise worldwide hit — making the Top 20 in the U.K. and making waves in the U.S. YMO’s sophomore set, Solid State Survivor arrived in 1979 and included English lyrics courtesy of Chris Mosdell. The success of the album outside of Japan also landed YMO an unlikely musical guest spot on Soul Train, resulting in a memorable performance and now-viral interview between Takahashi and host Don Cornelius:
YMO continued into the next decade with a series of releases — 1980’s Xoo Multiplies, two 1981 albums BGM and Technodelic, and 1983’s Service and Naughty Boys among them — they disbanded despite their huge popularity, as the individual trio members looked to pursue their initial solo careers; however, they continued to perform together in their solo endeavors, with Hosono and Sakamoto appearing on Takahashi’s first four solo albums.
In 1980, embracing the emerging synth-pop and city pop genres, Takahashi released his second solo LP Murdered By the Music, his YMO bandmates along with Mosdell’s English lyrics. It was followed the next year with Neuromantic, which featured Roxy Music’s Phil Manzanera and Andy Mackay as well as his solo hit “Drip Dry Eyes.” Takahashi next collaborated with Be-Bop Deluxe’s Bill Nelson and his YMO band mates for 1982’s What, Me Worry?
Takahashi also formed the Beatniks in 1981 with Moonriders’ Keiichi Suzuki, releasing Exitentialism., the first album in what would be a decades-long partnership.
The prolific artist — whose work spanned genres — continued to release solo records through the Eighties, and though YMO was primarily inactive, the members continued to collaborate on each other’s solo projects. Takahashi expanded into acting, soundtracks and video game music in the latter half of the Eighties as well.
In the 2000s, he reteamed with Hosono to form Sketch Show, and Sakamoto joined them in 2004 to form Human Audio Sponge.
In 2014, Takahashi toured with a supergroup known as Metafive, releasing a studio album, EP, and concert album in the later half of the decade. They released the single “Environmental” in 2020. Takahashi took time off to undergo brain surgery for a tumor shortly after the song’s release.
Following the news of Takahashi’s death, his YMO bandmate Sakamoto posted a gray square on social media, which served a vessel for fans to leave tributes to Takahashi.