Damp Circuits Oscar Young Band : -7" EP- (HK,1976,re.2013)****
-Damp Circuits: The Golden Era of Synthesizers In East Asia, Vol.1-
Oscar Young, also known as Yang Road Fire, or Yang Daohuo, is a celebrated figure in the far East, who is as far as I know a Hong Kong based musician and producer from the 60s-80s who worked on a huge amount of albums (certainly over 30) with song and instrumental music and movie scores. His own band was the go-go band The Apollo. Singers that he produced include the famous Teresa Teng (from which I heard only mellow styles) or Frances Yip. Most instrumental albums were released under different variety of names like Oscar & Orchestra, or Oscar with the electric organ orchestra etc. While the go-go sounds took care for elements like fuzz and wah-wah guitars, funky bass lines and organ, incorporating elements of beat, surf, soul, rock, and disco, his own instrument, the synths, gave it his own touch of exotica for which people rank him in the realms of people like Martin Denny or Perry & Kingsley or the exotica of Dick Hyman, but as a figure/producer you can eventually also compare him with the cleverness of Illajaraaja or so. This is one of the first releases we ever received from that area and it shows a very creative, powerful result. It is an EP or 7” with four instrumentals.
The foundation of the first track (-a winner-) shows colourful exotic percussion (congas and other exotic rhythms, with some close in range funky guitar) mixed with analogue synths with a section of low and of high melodies, mixed with some funky wah-wah guitar rhythms and just a bit of accompanying lalala singing.
The second instrumental shows more electric guitars responses mixed with synth and a variety of more Moog-like sounds, mixed with rhythm box rhythms and electric bass: a pleasant go-go funk-pop instrumental.
The third track shows samples of an enthusiastic group on stage shouting and clapping, while the band plays a Chinese melody with an exotic arrangement of rhythms. This track has an almost funny, pleasurable exotic sound.
The last track more clearly used the sound of a Moog, some electric guitars and funky rhythms on bass an electric organ. You can hear a few funky riffs and a returning weird guitar effect pushing itself forward with it the rhythms. It has a kitschy touch on the synth melody. It is a groovy go-go fun track with a funky element, but this is not necessarily meant to dance on it.
I must say that most tracks that I have heard before from this region (Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong) for me weren’t really winners. Some music from the 60s/70s I founds either too mellow, or I found not so inventive as if they mostly showed more imitating elements than local references or visions. The oldest pop music from Hong Kong, which showed references to Hollywood film music, still had its own charm by making use of Chinese melodies (40s/50s). The 60s in that area a bit too often imitated the English/American pop styles of the 60s without adding much news to it and where I hardly ever sensed as much personal direction of traditions or creative or inspired qualities of its own compared to for instance what could be heard in Korea, Japan or Thailand or Cambodia for instance. So, in the end, and compared to all the other examples from that region, for this EP as an example from Hong Kong, I hardly ever sensed so much power of originality; here everything just fits perfectly.
It is a very good introduction that could make anyone more curious to the Far East music scene from the sixties. Well done !
Life Records Oscar Young : Oscar Music vol 1 (HK,re.2013)***°
After having heard the EP reissue, Oscar Young’s music sounded interesting enough to me, in order to get a more clear impression of his music, I have ordered the first 3 volumes of his music via Singapore (-the CD is as far as I understood pressed in Hong Kong and distributed in Malaysia, I am still not sure how much these countries always hang together equally well-). I guess each 2CD compilation is also the reissue of two original LP’s, but for volume 1 I can’t tell for sure.
On volume 1 we have so called “cha cha” music on CD1 and “rumba” on CD2. This is very much music like J.J.Perry with a “Chinese” touch. Some of it is a bit funny or amusing, almost cheap and minimal in production and sound, but this still is very effective. Almost every track has programmed rhythms mixed with two sections of Moog melodies responding to each other in two voices while the sounds are also enriched with electric bass, cow bell rhythms, and electric rhythm guitars. Two tracks (9,15) have also Chinese percussion. Often there’s a sort of exploitation of the funny sounds of the moog, but there are also the more Chinese-sounding keyboards. It is unclear to me how many of the rhythms are programmed or arranged (especially for the sounds of the shakers, with its tschick-a-tschack sounds I really can’t tell). But I like the result very much, which is like an exotic Chinese version of the usual Moog-based music of the ‘60s/70s.
The second album is similar. Some of it reminds me a bit of a Karaoke approach especially when covers are being interpreted. Never the less the attention to the music is strong enough to convince me. Most tracks are Moog-based, with rather exotic rhythms like these “Mexican” shakers and also rhythm guitar. Outstanding tracks might be track 4 (Chinese title), which is an Ali Baba-alike theme with different choices of synth sounds, electric bass and rhythm guitars, or also track 7, which includes a coconut rhythm and a Western trumpet and again a very good choice of different synth sounds. The last track has a bit more wah-wah guitars and drums, and even tends to freak out with it but then quickly fades out.
Life Records Oscar Young : Oscar Music vol.2 (HK,re.2013) cd1* /cd2 ***°
-Marching Song/The Sound of Taiwan's Tribesmen-
I guess that the first album is a conceptual one. Most of the tracks on it start with a rather toy-sound imitation of a war siren followed by more star wars-alike fire-fight imitations, then each time a hum-papa version of a soldier song is presented. These instrumentals are carefully arranged with synths, marching drums, electric bass and synth-based flutes, brass and rhythm guitar. The choice of such military or nationalist hymns related songs is a rather irritating idea which becomes worse by the absurd idea of making them sound like arranged Moog-based children songs. A few other tracks sound more like karaoke versions a bit too. Especially for this odd and not too recommendable association, this album becomes rather forgettable. It makes the funny aspect effect of it a bit too puzzling for its purpose in its own contexts. For a full album a Western rational mind might not even be capable of rationalizing the facts of it too much to also enjoy the idea as much. The one before last track is arranged without synths with more percussive instruments, real trumpets, and acoustic guitars, then is followed by a synths version, which strangely enough sounds better.
It is especially the second CD that is the winner on this second compilation. I know that it is the also in the West appreciated and collected album, which is called “the Sound of Taiwan’s Tribemen”. This features Oscar Young at its best. I recognized several tracks from it were taken to compile the previously reviewed EP (-I have noticed track 1, 6 and 9 on this album-). This track choice for this new EP was a very good one too; in fact it even lifted out most of the best tracks. The first track on the LP for instance distinguishes itself very easily and directly, for it features singers, exotic melodies, and a perfect balance of creativity and a good choice of instruments, with suddenly, a change of rhythm to focus more upon the electric guitar. Its combination of wah-wah guitar and exotic flair is especially rewarding. Various tracks have the same qualities, but not all of them show the same level of brilliance like on a track like this so that with this good pick we might tend to overestimate the composer a bit too. I also loved it very much when some singers started to participate with certain jungle-based fantasy words like “wa hoo” or “yee-haa” on two other tracks that were chosen for the EP. On the 15th track there’s a combination of jazzy electric piano mixed with a Chinese keyboard melody (with bass/drum), which is worth taking out as well. The last track features some violin and zither as well.
Life Records Oscar Young : Apollo Music vol.3 (HK,1969?,re.2013)***°
All tracks from this double CD fit well together. Here the approach of Oscar Young is arranging waltzes and classical music in a more popular music setting, based upon a lush orchestra, small contributions of guitar, organ, bass and drums, flute(s) and here and there a trumpet or once a violin solo and some vibes. This is all very light music, for a somewhat commercialised purpose. It is rather nice to listen to, on the edge of being a bit silly, but never ineffective. A few tracks might be used to dance to but also, some accents/mixes are still rather odd and on the edge of inappropriate for that purpose. Many classical music hits are used in it too (from “There comes the bride” (annoying inclusion for me, the first track, “Ave Maria” etc.), also in medley form. There is not too much keyboards used. The general rhythm is a kind of light hum-papa. All of it is entertaining in a happy light, joyful instrumental music way and with a small oriental “outsiders” touch towards certain in fact mostly western traditions of music.
"The Apollo (太陽神樂隊), is a Hong Kong prolific studio band that reached a cult status in the region during the late 60s / early 70s. Their name has probably been borrowed from the Teisco / Kawai manufactured Apollo model guitar from that time period.
They recorded a lot of instrumental albums, a few of them for New Wave Record Co. (新風) and most of them for Life Records (麗風); they were also featured as a backing band on countless releases by popular singers like Teresa Teng (鄧麗君), Pancy Lau (劉鳳屏), Frances Yip (葉麗儀), Stella Chee (奚秀蘭), etc. It should be noted that in the early days of the label, they were the only available band at Life Records headquarters, so this comes as no surprise...
Their instrumental records, often arranged by band leader Oscar Young (楊道火), a key-figure in the Hong Kong / Singapore music scene of the late 60s / early 70, usually feature a prominent guitar sound that has spawned a lot of imitators."
What is sure is that this compilation contains Apollo Music vol.1, and perhaps vol.2 of at least 29 volumes that exist.
The titles of vol.1 (on CD 1 are 2 less tracks) : Bridal March (Lohengrin), Ave Maria (Bach/Gounod), Parade of the Wooden soldiers, The whistler and the little dog, The wanderer's song, Skater's waltz, The swan lake, Voices of Spring, Auld Lang Syne, Old Friend's March, Hungarian Dance N°5, Turkish March (Beethoven), Danube Waves, March Militaire, Song in G String, Fur Elise.