Ryuichi Sakamoto Is Combating Our BGM Problem with His Own Curated Playlists

The music at his favourite Manhattan restaurant was so bad that he couldn't take it anymore
Ryuichi Sakamoto Is Combating Our BGM Problem with His Own Curated Playlists
As anyone who has ever been to Japan can tell you, one of North America's greatest failings is its utter lack of taste when it comes to BGM. In fact, most North Americans likely don't even know what BGM means (it's "background music," obviously). It seems Japanese music hero Ryuichi Sakamoto has finally had enough and gone to the extreme of combatting our terrible music choices by curating his own playlists.

As a newly published New York Times piece lays out, 66-year-old Sakamoto recently got so fed up with the horrible music selections of his favourite restaurant in Manhattan that he curated his own BGM playlists for the split West Village Japanese eatery Kajitsu/Kokage.

Here's how the NYT explains it:

The issue was not so much that the music was loud, but that it was thoughtless. Mr. Sakamoto suggested that he could take over the job of choosing it, without pay, if only so he could feel more comfortable eating there. The chef agreed, and so Mr. Sakamoto started making playlists for the restaurant, none of which include any of his own music.

Speaking of his hatred for bad music in public spaces, Sakamoto told the publication, "Normally I just leave. I cannot bear it. But this restaurant is really something I like, and I respect their chef, [Hiroki] Odo."

He continued, "I found their BGM so bad, so bad.... It was a mixture of terrible Brazilian pop music and some old American folk music, and some jazz, like Miles Davis."

When the writer suggested that some of those types of music might actually be good, Sakamoto replied, "If they have context, maybe. But at least the Brazilian pop was so bad. I know Brazilian music. I have worked with Brazilians many times. This was so bad. I couldn't stay, one afternoon. So I left."

In an email Sakamoto sent to chef Odo, Sakamoto wrote, "Who chose this? Whose decision of mixing this terrible roundup? Let me do it. Because your food is as good as the beauty of Katsura Rikyu. But the music in your restaurant is like Trump Tower."

To help remedy the situation, Sakamoto teamed up with New York music producer Ryu Takahashi to create playlists for Kajitsu and its sister restaurant Kokage. The results feature none of Sakamoto's own music, but as one of his playlists shows, they feature the likes of Roberto Musci, Bill Evans, Jóhann Jóhannsson, Oneohtrix Point Never, Aphex Twin, John Cage, Nils Frahm, Cliff Martinez, Eno Moebius Roedelius, and Gal Costa. There's even Canadian artists like Colin Stetson, Kyle Bobby Dunn and Chilly Gonzales.

The NYT got a hold of one of Sakamoto's playlists for Kajitsu, and you can listen to it below.

The NYT piece goes on to explain that Sakamoto is not done with his playlist curating and will be the "chief playlister" for Odo's next venture, a bar named Hall and a restaurant named Odo.

You can read more of Sakamoto's thoughts about how we are failing as a society when it comes to BGM over here in the full New York Times piece.

In related news, the new documentary Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda is currently playing theatres in North America and will beginning its Vancouver run at the Vancity Theatre starting July 28. You can see the list of Vancouver screenings over here and those in other cities here.