Made In Japan

January 24, 2024

When most people think of Japan, they summon a range of images; serene Onsen (Hot Springs), cosy Izakaya and bustling city streets with neon-illuminated characters, a place where sophisticated technology rubs shoulders with a deep and ancient culture. But what does it sound like? Unfortunately - or rather unsurprisingly - many people’s experience of Japanese music outside of Japan probably comes from the background music at their local sushi bar, or perhaps from the 2003 Sofia Coppola film ‘Lost In Translation’. Like much of Japan’s popular culture, its deep musical heritage is a fusion of past and present, with a breadth of influences across time and distance.

Syn has been privileged to experience Japan’s very own sonic identity on a daily basis, having been based in Tokyo for over thirty years. Founded in Tokyo by Simon Le Bon, Yasmin Le Bon and Nick Wood in 1991, Japan is an inextricable part of Syn’s identity and story.

In 2020, Syn launched ‘Made In Japan’; a collection of contemporary Japanese music, and a musical vessel to take you on a sonic journey to Japan. Now in its third-year, Syn continues to collaborate with a network of talented musicians, sharing their craft and growing this varied collection. From ‘Volume 1’ of ‘Made In Japan’, Syn’s commitment has been to share authentic Japanese music with audiences through Film and TV licensing. With placements including The Sims 4 (EA Games), Tokyo Vice Season 1 (HBO), People Just Do Nothing (BBC), Pachinko Season 1 (Apple TV+) and Fistful of Vengeance (Netflix), ‘Made In Japan’ has established itself as a unique portal into a Japanese soundscape. From productions in Film and TV to Gaming and Live Experience, wherever a Japanese flavour is required, ‘Made In Japan’ offers a musical solution for licensees.

Now entering its fourth year, Syn has grown ‘Made In Japan’ to contain multiple volumes, with titles such as ‘Neon Geisha’ (Unequivocally Japanese, a threshold between deep tradition and cutting-edge contemporary), ‘Tokyo Hustle’ (The sound of the vast, bustling metropolis of Tokyo, in an electric tribute to our home-town) and - most recently - ‘Tokyo Twilight’ (A celebration of City Pop and the salad days of 1980s Tokyo).

City Pop emerged amidst the rapid emergence and boom of late-1970s and 1980s Japan. Inspired by, and consumed by, a largely urban audience, City Pop took inspiration from western music genres such as funk, disco, soft-rock and pop, becoming synonymous with the economic miracle of modern Japan. Popular US TV shows such as Tokyo Vice and Pachinko, as well as TikTok memes and online admiration from tastemakers, has inspired a recent revival of the City Pop genre, with Pitchfork signalling ‘The endless lifecycle of Japanese City Pop’ in 2021.

For ‘Tokyo Twilight’, Syn sought to recreate this much-loved genre interpreted through the ears of both modern musicians and original City Pop vocalists. Working with vocalists such as Makoto Sakurada, AYAKA, Emi Aramaki, Haru Minatoyama and yoko, Syn collaborated with songwriters, lyricists and instrumentalists to transport City Pop through the decades and into the 21st century. Recorded primarily at Syn Tokyo in Harajuku, with collaborations from Syn L.A. and Syn London, careful consideration was taken to authentically recreating this genre, ensuring sounds, lyrical content and vocal performance were all true to the City Pop genre. Emotional vocals, theatrical delivery, almost tropical undertones and shimmering synthesisers are some of the signature flourishes of this genre.

One celebrated guest vocalist featured on ‘Tokyo Twilight’ is Makoto Sakurada, from Towada City in Northern Japan. With an impressive career, including performing at New York’s Carnegie Hall, Sakurada is a multi-talented singer, songwriter and vocalist, with a loyal fanbase.

His characterful, stylised and authentic vocals featured on this collection on ‘City Lights’, ‘Sayonara Girl’ and ‘Hope Is In The Air’ demonstrate a timelessness in his voice; something that surely runs in his family with his daughter, AYAKA, also performing on track ‘Midnight Shower’.

Another extraordinary vocalist featured on ‘Tokyo Twilight’ is yoko. Long-time collaborator of Nick Wood’s, having featured albums including ‘Sound Virus’, yoko is perhaps best known as a founding member of Japanese band, ‘Zabadak’. Her track ‘Time To Move On’ from Tokyo Twilight has already pricked up the ears of music supervisors in Hollywood, and we’re excited to see her signature blend of caramel smooth vocals and cinematic emotion on the silver screen in due course.

A tribute to City Pop wouldn’t be half as much fun without saxophone, and we’re fortunate in Tokyo to work with some of the city’s brightest instrumental talent. Saxophonist Gustavo has collaborated with Syn previously at Ritz-Carlton Tokyo, Conrad Tokyo and Aman Tokyo, working closely with Syn’s Live Experience team for performances across these luxury hotels. Taking a break from the stage and visiting the Syn Tokyo studio, Gustavo played on tracks ‘City Lights’ and ‘Sayonara Girl’, adding that magical glitter than only live instrumentation can bring.

Inspired by the success of ‘Made In Japan’, and surrounded by a wealth of musical talent in Japan, Syn partnered with Tokyo-based record label, What’suppp Entertainment, to represent their roster of artists for licensing opportunities. Founded in 2014 by Producer and Artist, Katsuya Mouri, What’supp Entertainment specialises in dance-influenced music from Japan, with an impressive roster including DaNINKS (licensed by Syn for Tokyo Vice Season 1 on HBO) and Unite Satisfy (licensed by Syn for The Sims 4 on EA Games). With a catalogue of over 800-songs, Syn is proud to partner with What’suppp Entertainment to introduce this dynamic collection of music for placements in Film, TV, Gaming and Experience.

Syn’s journey to explore ‘What The World Sounds Like’ often looks far beyond the shores of Japan; with a team of global talent spanning five continents (so far, it’s been hard to find vocalists in Antarctica!), but Made In Japan has given Syn the opportunity to explore the wealth of music right on their door step, paying homage to the music that Syn is privileged to be surrounded by and sharing it with wider audiences through licensing opportunities. The geographical (and language) barriers which once limited content by region have been broken, and streaming giants like Netflix, Max and Apple TV+ are embracing content from all corners of the world. Syn believes this is a golden age; an age of experiencing sounds, tastes and textures from different cultures through media, and Made In Japan is a key ingredient in this feast for the senses.

Listen to the Tokyo Twilight playlist here: