Thanatos of Funk: reissue of a whimsically eclectic album of electro-disco funk, light metal and hip-hop

Minoru Fushimi, Thanatos of Funk, France, 180g, 180GRELP02 vinyl LP (1985, reissued 2022)

For nearly 40 years after its first release in 1985 this album by Minoru “Hoodoo” Fushimi was much sought after and consequently hard to find by collectors for its whimsically eclectic combination of electro-disco funk, drum machines, synthesisers, hard rock guitar and shamisen playing, and early hip-hop – not to mention the fact that it was all composed, recorded, produced, designed and released by Minoru Fushimi himself. What is most remarkable about “Thanatos of Funk” (and a big part of its charm to collectors) is that at the time it was made, Fushimi was teaching high school students during the day and presumably was only able to work on the album’s songs in the late evenings. Now at last this album has been remastered and is available digitally and in vinyl LP format courtesy of French label 180g. With remastering, the album sounds fresh even though the music’s style and sounds are very much of their period and the songs are more or less restricted by the capabilities and limitations of the electronic instruments Fushimi was able to use.

The general presentation is amazingly clear and very polished, and all instruments, even those in the far background or delicate in tone, can be heard distinctly. With most songs featuring vaguely Japanese or other Asian melodies, and all done in a fairly spare way, the music sometimes appears a bit over-refined, even precious. How many of the ten songs are Fushimi’s own originals, I do not know: he covers Jimi Hendrix’s “Foxy Lady” so of course there is at least one cover. The inclusion of “Foxy Lady” and other songs with titles like “Gals’ Blues” speak to a rather droll sense of humour on Fushimi’s part given the nature of his day job. Several tracks feature electronically treated or distorted vocals along with the heavy thumping funk rhythms and those synth drum beats that sound like blown-up packets of potato crisps being hit together.

The album starts well with “Thanatopsis” and “In Praise of Mitochondria” which feature twangy shamisen in amongst the beats, the funk, guitar and a huge range of familiar 1980s-era synthesiser effects and tone wash. From then on, it tends to coast along on an even keel though individual songs do have their particular charms like Fushimi’s rapping (“Hensachi-sama”) and occasional lead guitar break-outs. The album can start to pall a bit around the halfway mark and the inclusion of “Foxy Lady” and smoky blues elements along on “Gals’ Blues” and “Disco Thesis” is not enough to save the music from sinking into its own electro-disco funk kitsch. By the time we reach the truly dreadful “Dompan (Private Funk)”, the twee quality is reaching alarmingly nauseous levels.

After a couple of spins to become acquainted with “Thanatos of Funk”, you’re best advised to hear the album in small bites of a couple of songs rather than playing it all at once from start to finish. Truly unique music it is but like a lot of outsider music made by DIY enthusiasts doing everything themselves, it does have a lot of hit-and-miss moments.