And Finally Artist News Beef Of The Week

Beef Of The Week #414: Ryuichi Sakamoto v bad restaurant music

By | Published on Friday 27 July 2018

Japanese artist, composer and record producer Ryuichi Sakamoto has achieved a lot in his 40-odd year career. Just his output as a member of The Yellow Magic Orchestra alone is worthy of a dissertation. Then there’s his soundtrack work, which has won him an Oscar, a BAFTA and a couple of Golden Globes. He also composed music for the opening ceremony of the Barcelona Olympics. Plus he’s produced artists from Paul Oakenfold to Aztec Camera. And that’s all on top of his own lengthy discography.

His latest project, though, is… a playlist for a restaurant in New York. This unlikely sounding story was uncovered by journalist Ben Ratliff, who then wrote about it for the New York Times. Having been told by a friend that Sakamoto had curated the music being played at an NYC Japanese restaurant called Kajitsu, he sought confirmation of that fact from said restaurant. When management there confirmed it was so, Ratliff then got in touch with Sakamoto himself in order to ask the obvious question: “why?”

The short answer is that Kajitsu is Sakamoto’s favourite restaurant but he hated the music they were playing there. “I cannot bear it”, he says of situations where terrible music is being played in a public space, but “normally I just leave”. However, “this restaurant is really something I like and I respect their chef, Odo”. Nevertheless, on one occasion the terrible background music got too much. “I couldn’t stay, one afternoon”, he says. “So I left”.

Departing simply because of the background music does seem rather extreme, but Sakamoto takes sound very seriously. The NYT article notes that he “often uses a decibel meter on his phone to measure the volume of the sound around him”. And it does seem that the musician had been working quite hard to force himself to sit through his meals at Kajitsu.

But it was “so bad, so bad”, he says. “Really bad”.

“It was a mixture of terrible Brazilian pop music and some old American folk music, and some jazz, like Miles Davis”, he explains. All stuff that would be fine in the right context, but not while you’re trying to relax with some finely crafted Japanese food. Except the Brazilian pop, for which there is seemingly no right context. It’s “so bad” he reiterates.

So, following that fateful afternoon when the background tunes became just too much, Sakamoto offered to take over the restaurant’s playlist himself, if only so that he could carry on eating there. They took up his offer, but it wasn’t an immediate success, it seems. An initial collection of ambient music selected by Sakamoto proved too dark.

I know how he feels. I recently inserted fifteen minutes of somewhat ‘difficult’ noise-pop into a DJ set in a café in the middle of a sunny Sunday afternoon, which had fairly mixed results too. By ‘mixed’, I mean ‘entirely negative’.

Although I enjoyed it, which I think is the most important thing. Some of my faculties may be a little off, though. My mealtimes are all soundtracked by a three year old repeatedly shouting “Alexa! Play ‘Shake It Off’!” at the moment.

Having subsequently finessed his Kajitsu playlist, Sakamoto says he now plans to update it for each new season, so it appears he’s in this for the long haul.

There are companies out there which do this sort of work for swanky eateries and retailers of course, so Sakamoto didn’t necessarily have to go to all this effort. But it does mean that he can now be sure of being able to enjoy a meal at his favourite restaurant without any jarring musical moments. And it’s quite a coup for a Japanese restaurant to find itself in possession of a bespoke playlist made by a bonafide Japanese musical legend.

I get the impression that Sakamoto is doing this simply because he likes the food at Kajitsu so much. But maybe this could be a new revenue stream for artists everywhere. I’m sure restaurants and other businesses would pay handsomely to have the right playlist by the right artist.

Burgers soundtracked by Bieber. Coffee by Beyonce. You could buy your fruit and veg listening to songs chosen by Mumford & Sons. Pick up your dry cleaning to some of George Ezra’s favourite songs. And then everything else will just be fucking Drake.