Major Force West – 93 to 97

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Album Review by Mark Bayross

This is a compilation of material from Major Force, the legendary Japanese hip-hop duo of Toshio Nakanishi (aka Toshi) and Masayuki Kudo (aka Kudo). As the title of this album indicates, they have been turning out music for most of this decade under a variety of Major Force monikers (Major Force West Productions, Major Force West EMS Orchestra…).

They first worked together as Melon, after Toshi’s former band, the groundbreaking The Plastics, spilt in 1981. Kudo, a former DJ at Tokyo’s hip Pithecanthropus Erectus club, was drafted in as the band’s resident DJ / technician and together they set about creating a futuristic fusion of hip-hop, soundtrack music and ambient grooves that lasted until 1988 and produced a seminal album in 1987’s DEEP CUT.

When Melon, and its side project Water Melon, finished, Major Force West was born, initially also including Hiroshi Fujiwara, who left to start the Goodenough clothing label, and Kan Tagaki, who left to record on his own (one of his compositions is included here). Major Force West was conceived as a free-wheeling project, which its creators used as a project through which to collaborate with like-minded musical voyagers in the UK (by now their home) and beyond – DJ Millo from Bristol’s Wild Bunch collective, and Tim Simenon amongst others. Mo’ Wax’s James Lavelle met Toshi in a record shop on Portobello Road in 1992 and signed Major Force West to his label. Since then, a number of landmark releases have emerged, along with work on the blueprint for the U.N.K.L.E. project and a collaboration with Howie B on Skylab.

The band’s history should give you an idea of the sounds contained within this album: bass-heavy, horizontal beats with bizarre fades and beats over the top. From time to time, distinctive new sounds rise from the haze (hammond organ on “MUGAN – IN THE MORNING, sitar on INDIA 2000, strings and piano on SONIC SCALE FOR PERCUSSION NN. 113). The effect is part Massive Attack and The Orb, part Stockhausen and John Cage – snippets of these sounds scurry in and out of the mix, while a funky, dubby beat drives the listener on.

As with all music of this nature, its enjoyment factor changes according to the mood of the listener. It is the ultimate chill-out soundtrack and will no doubt satisfy the most ardent space-head. Sans herbal help, the experience becomes more of an exercise in enduring a lengthy lack of excitement. That’s minimalism for ya.

3 stars