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TK Joins the JAMS

By: Lawrence Eng

[This is dedicated to KLF fans everywhere, especially the klf-mailing-list people. Thanks to Daisuke Chew, James Kao, and David Conrad Welte for their input. TK images are from his website. Last Train image is from Mancentral. Other KLF images are courtesy of Andrew Pritchard.]

This is what TK is about. Also known as...

JPEG of Komuro

Komuro (furthermore known as Tetsuya Komuro) is Japan's number one music producer (as is explained in detail by James Kao), but he wasn't always so successful. How did Komuro get to the top of the J-Pop scene? Albeit, the band Time Machine Network (TMN), for which he was the producer/songwriter/keyboardist, was successful, but Komuro eventually surpassed even that group's highest achievements.

Solo Career and Lessons Learned

After leaving TMN, Komuro's brief solo career was interesting, but flawed. You can tell that he wanted to be a pop star, perhaps like his idol, Marc Bolan. Like Bolan, he wanted to revel in his own glory and self-importance (The Orumok logo is a picture of himself, he renamed Arisa Tomine to Tomomi Kahala to match his initials, 'Orumok' is 'Komuro' spelled backwards), but his solo career didn't give him the fame he wanted. He probably learned some important pop music lessons in the process.

  1. A man over 30 years of age as the center of a music act is not as likely to score a number one pop hit as is a girl in her late teens or early twenties, even if she is not as musically talented.

  2. Titling an album 'Digitalian is Eating Breakfast' is pretty cool, but the masses aren't going to get it.

  3. His own looks were pretty good, but not good enough to compete with the pretty-boy teen idols. Only a good-looking female singer could appeal to both teen males (for obvious reasons) and to teen females (who aspire to be like their favorite stars).

  4. His voice was rough and not very appealing on its own.

  5. His songs needed to be simpler and catchier.

Ditching his solo career, Komuro became a full-time producer, and in this function, he was able to achieve the fame he wanted. His strategy seemed to be: get a number one hit(s) as quickly as possible, worry about good, artistically-interesting music later.

Enter the KLF

JPEG of the KLF

In trying to figure out Komuro's influences as a pop musician (in addition to Marc Bolan and other musicians as stated on TK's homepage), I've come to suspect that Komuro was influenced to some significant degree by Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty of the KLF. The KLF are no longer officially a musical group, but Bill and Jimmy have continued working together over the years producing music, guerilla art, books, and just being themselves. Early in their career, after scoring a British number one hit single, Doctorin' the Tardis, they wrote a book called The Manual or How to Have A Number One the Easy Way detailing step-by-step what was necessary to achieve pop success, at least fleetingly. The Manual is a must read for any student of pop music. [Further information on the KLF can be found on the web.]

It is my suspicion that Komuro read and was influenced by The Manual. His recipe for success after 1991, beginning with his group trf, seemed to closely follow the formula laid out in The Manual.

Komuro had always been a fan of British rock, and in 1988-early 1989, he went to England (not the USA, mind you) to study pop music at its source, so to speak. This trip is particularly relevant. 1988 was the year that the KLF as the 'Timelords' hit number one with Doctorin' the Tardis and wrote The Manual, published in early 1989. Komuro, on a mission to study British pop music, surely must have heard Doctorin' the Tardis on the radio. Imagine if you will, TK walking around in a London bookstore and spotting The Manual: How to Have a Number One the Easy Way. Can you imagine him not glancing at the book? I'll bet he bought the book and studied it intensely.

In addition, it is possible that Komuro attended some raves where the KLF performed in early 1989.

The SAW connection

Another item to note about TK's British excursion: 1988 was a great year (out of many) for yet another team of elite producers, the Stock-Aitken-Waterman team (SAW). In The Manual, Bill and Jimmy speak of the SAW team (with whom they worked once) with much reverence and respect for being able to produce number one songs. The SAW team has produced hit after hit, and Stock-Aitken-Waterman have been called the "Hit Factory." Is it any surprise that Komuro made a solo album called "TK Hit Factory"? Komuro also produced later volumes of The Best of Eurobeat. The SAW team produced some of the earlier volumes. Lastly, Komuro produced a song for Banarama, a popular SAW girl-group.

Re-enter the KLF

Komuro's rapid rise to the top began with trf (tetsuya komuro's rave factory) in 1991, where he successfully fused Euro-dance rhythms with karaoke-capable lyrics, blending and bending genres to create something completely new and incredibly successful. Also in 1991, the KLF were at the top of their game popularity-wise. Note the similarity between the names 'trf' and 'KLF.' Remember that in Japanese, the l and r sounds are pretty much the same. Other Komuro 3-letter groups include dos and TMN. TM Network was eventually shortened to TMN in 1990 (they officially retired on May 19th, 1994). [KLF numerologists can have fun with that one: 1+9+9+4=23]

All that is gold does glitter

JPEG of Komuro

The "Golden Rules" spelled out in The Manual were very well followed by Komuro whether he read the book or not. Among the more obvious examples:

  1. Reuse tried and tested riffs, chords, and melodies when crafting pop songs. "Every Number One song ever written is only made up from bits from other songs... There is no point in searching for originality." As Bill and Jimmy said might happen, Komuro has been accused of being a music "thief." He reportedly has thousands of pop music bits-and-pieces stored on his keyboard to pull up whenever he wants. From my own listening of Komuro, I can tell that he unabashedly recycles music between the groups he produces. For example, the music on Namie Amuro's Concentration 20 sounds suspiciously similar to the music on Tomomi Kahala's Love Brace.

  2. Make sure the song has a good dance floor 'groove' (separate from the bass line) which will serve as its heart and soul. Komuro has successfully managed to do this in most of his songs, at least on the more popular albums. It is my impression that when Komuro debuts a group, he follows the Golden Rules more strictly than when he produces the group's second or third albums, which tend to be more innovative and less pop-oriented. In an interview, Komuro stated that, even before coming up with the melody of a song, he'll find the groove first.

  3. The chorus and the title are key! Bill and Jimmy know it, Stock-Aitken-Waterman know it, Komuro knows it and has used and reused this strategy over and over again. Japanese audiences find English sayings to be extremely catchy, and Komuro cashed in on that fact. In order to find the "line that the nation will know exactly what is [sic] been talked about," Komuro had a specific strategy, as James Kao explains below:

    He frequented a disco called Velfarre and often called women over to his VIP room and asked them to write down "keywords," short sequences of words that were "cool" or summed up important dreams and concepts to them. He then took these keywords and used them in his songs and song titles as catch-phrases and as the basis for longer lyrics, all to match his target audience.
    Bill, Jimmy, and the SAW team couldn't have suggested anything better.

    Of course, the main line of the chorus is generally an English phrase ("Don't Wanna Cry, Wow War Tonight, I'm Proud," etc.) as well as being the title of the song. The easiest way to figure out the title of a Komuro-written song is to listen to the English words of the chorus. This type of pop-songsmithing is predictable, but effective.

    Furthermore, Komuro keeps the titles simple. He knows that anything more complicated than 2-3 English words will only alienate his audience.

    "Do not attempt writing chorus lyrics that deal in regret, jealousy, hatred, or any other negative emotions."

    For the life of me, I can't think of any Komuro songs that give off bad vibes, but correct me if you think of one.

  4. Bill and Jimmy warn that the producer cannot be the main singer, and having no singer (just a DJ) doesn't work well for television. Komuro quit his solo career relatively quickly. Although he is no longer the main singer, Komuro still maintains a stage presence, playing guitar, keyboards, or piano while singing backing vocals. Bill and Jimmy have done much the same, producing and performing the music, but not being the up-front stars (ie. Justified and Ancient featuring Tammy Wynette). In picking his singers, Komuro chose trendy-girl 19-year-old Namie Amuro from Okinawa, kawaii(cute)-girl Tomomi Kahala, modern-girl Keiko of Globe, Candy-girl Hitomi, and dancehall-girl Yuki of trf, amongst others.

  5. The rest of the Golden Rules refer to some technical aspects of the music which I won't go into here, such as the bass line, the intro, bridges, the outro, etc. Needless to say, Komuro songs use conventional pop song structure with very little deviation.

In the final analysis...

The similarities between the actual music of the KLF and Komuro are not that great, except that Komuro favors keyboards, pre-programmed sequences, and techno-ish dance beats in his pop songs, just like the KLF--but that might be attributed to the general European influence on Komuro, not to Bill and Jimmy.

Like Bill and Jimmy and Stock-Aitken-Waterman, Komuro has managed to achieve success and stardom not as a high-profile performer but as a high-profile songwriter/producer. In terms of writing popular hits, Komuro can be considered even more successful than Bill and Jimmy, as Bill and Jimmy have deliberately moved away from pop music to pursue projects of various sorts. Komuro certainly has the Japanese music scene figured out, but he has not, to date, had any significant success in Britain or the United States (for lack of trying?), whereas the KLF have had hits in the United States as well as the UK. Komuro's sights are apparently set on Asia. It will be interesting to see what strategy Komuro will take should he venture into the American music industry, the world's largest.

My final bit of evidence that Komuro was inspired by Bill and Jimmy in one way or another:

Here is the cover of the KLF disc, Last Train to Trancentral (KLF Meets The Moody Boys Uptown) next to the cover of TMN's last single, Nights of the Knife:

JPEG of KLF coverJPEG of TMN cover

Here's some more for you conspiracy theorists:
Puffy, a popular Japanese girl-group, is produced by Tamio Okuda. Okuda is not quite as successful as Komuro, but he is almost as famous. On the insert of the Puffy CD AmiYumi there is a picture of Ami holding a large sitar like the one used in the What Time is Love video (Stadium House Trilogy). Just a coincidence, perhaps, but on the opposite page, there's a picture of a small toy police car that looks a little like Ford Timelord.

JPEG of Puffy
Conspiracy or Coincidence?
JPEG of Bill and JimmyJPEG of Ford Timelord


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Last updated on January 11th, 2000
Lawrence Eng