Mick Karn 24 Jul 1958 – 4 Jan 2011


Mick Karn, bass player with the unique New Wave band Japan, passed away two days ago. Japan was one of the many exciting and interesting bands that I grew up listening to. There’s a bit in the film clip above at 2:24, where the drummer Steve Jansen looks at the camera, and to me that was the absolute definition of early 80s cool. And as a drummer in a band myself, I aspired to the kind of precise, effortless, and original drumming that has always characterised Jansen’s style.

One of the highlights of our set at the time was a rendition of Gentlemen Take Polaroids that segued into The Cure’s Fire in Cairo. I loved playing this Japan song.

Karn was a pioneer on the bass—he was no slouch on the saxophone and bassoon either—and while it’s quite incredible that he was self-taught and never learned to read music, perhaps that was responsible for his unique style. His sinuous fretless bass playing has been emulated far more than he ever received the credit for. Just listen to this bass line, how it manages to burble away in its own little world, and yet underpin and ground the entire atmosphere of the song.

80s music is often ridiculed for the fashions and the sugary pop, but from my perspective, a musician in my late teens and early twenties, it was a very exciting time for music. My band members and I would alternately laugh at, abuse and be annoyed by the ever-present Top 40 garbage, but at the same time there was an incredibly wide range of very original music available if you digged a little deeper. Early Simple Minds, Echo and the Bunnymen, The Cure, Talk Talk, Cocteau Twins, XTC, The Smiths—not to mention Australian bands like Hunters & Collectors, The Church, Midnight Oil, The Go-Betweens … all in their early heyday and striking out in completely original new directions.

Rest in peace Mr. Karn.

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Will
    Jan 19, 2011 @ 10:22:20

    So young, I can’t believe it. He was without doubt one of the most original bass players, one of those people whose ability is so good you never even visualise yourself getting close. Trying to work out what he was actually playing, let alone how he was doing it, was a real challenge for any bass player. His playing alone made Japan sound quite unlike any other band.

  2. anaglyph
    Feb 18, 2011 @ 10:31:58

    I always liked Japan. And David Sylvian continues to make some good music – not something that can be said of a lot of the bands that came out of the 80s.