A Rockapaedia Obituary
Mick Karn died aged fifty-two at his home in London on 4th January 2011 after announcing on his website that he had been diagnosed with advanced-stage cancer. The website announcement also stated that he had been struggling financially for some time, and appealed for donations to help pay for his medical care and provide financial assistance for his family. In addition, several people Mick had worked with, in particular Midge Ure, Porcupine Tree, and Masami Tsuchiya, announced concerts in support of the appeal. Funds raised by the appeal enabled Mick Mick Karn and family to move back to London where he received chemotherapy treatment, but, the cancer had spread beyond the possibility of control.
The website announcement also stated that Mick Karn had been struggling financially for some time, and appealed for donations to help pay for his medical care and provide financial assistance for his family. In addition, several people Mick Karn has worked with, in particular Midge Ure, Porcupine Tree, and Masami Tsuchiya, announced concerts in support of the appeal. According to a website update dated 3rd September 2010, the funds raised by the appeal enabled Mick Karn and family to move back to London where Mick Karn received treatment.
The band Japan, whose other members included David Sylvian, keyboardist Richard Barbieri and Sylvian's brother Steve Jansen as drummer, began as a group of friends, who all studied at Catford Boys' School. As youngsters they played music as a means of escape, playing Sylvian's two-chord numbers – sometimes with Mick Karn as the front man, sometimes with Sylvian at the fore. Guitarist Rob Dean joined the band later.
They christened themselves Japan in 1974, signed a recording contract with German disco label Hansa, with whom they recorded three studio albums and became an alternative glam rock outfit in the mould of David Bowie, T.Rex, and The New York Dolls. They switched to Virgin Records to record their subsequent albums Gentlemen Take Polaroids and Tin Drum.
As the band started to achieve commercial success with the release of Tin Drum, and "Ghosts", which reached the top five in 1982, tensions and personality conflicts between band members rose; Tin Drum was to be the band's final studio album. Long-simmering differences among the bandmembers came to a head when Mick Karn's girlfriend, photographer Yuka Fujii, moved in with Sylvian and the individual members forged ahead with their own projects. Mick Karn said in an interview that as tensions with their record company had abated following Japan's commercial success, band members began focusing on personal differences rather than on the common enemy.
Mick Karn played bass guitar and saxophone on Gary Numan's 1981 top ten hit "She's Got Claws" and tracks on the song's parent album, Dance. In November 1982, Mick Karn released his first solo album, Titles, just as Japan had announced their split. They did some low key gigs around London during the summer of 1982, and then went their separate ways. In 1983, Mick collaborated with Midge Ure on the UK top 40 single "After a Fashion", and in 1984, he formed Dalis Car with Peter Murphy of the post-punk group Bauhaus. The duo released one album, The Waking Hour, in late 1984. In the 1990s he worked with artist David Torn, Andy Rinehart and a number of Japanese musicians, and formed the multinational new wave band, NiNa. Latterly, he worked as a solo artist.
Mick Karn contributed to recordings by other artists, playing bass guitar on Bill Nelson's Chimera mini-LP, bass guitar and saxophone on Gary Numan's 1981 album Dance, and also played with Kate Bush and Joan Armatrading. In the 1990s he started the Medium Productions label along with Steve Jansen and Richard Barbieri, two of his fellow former Japan-members.
In 2001, Mick Karn began to work with Gota Yashiki, Vivian Hsu, Masahide Sakuma and Masami Tsuchiya in the band The d.e.p., or doggy eels project. In 2001, he worked with Paul Wong on his "Yellow Paul Wong" release. Mick Karn left London in 2004 to live in Cyprus with his wife and son, financially enabling himself to keep working as a musician/artist. In 2009, Mick Karn also released his autobiography, titled Japan & Self Existence, available through his website and Lulu, which details his music career, his interests in sculpture and painting, his childhood, relationships, and family.
After he died five of the tracks they did record were released on 5 April 2012 as an EP entitled InGladAloneness. The tracks were mixed by Steve Jansen, mastered by Pieter Snaper in Istanbul and the artwork for the EP was created by Thomas Bak with a painting by Jaroslaw Kukowski.
Mick Karn was essentially a self-taught musician. His first musical instrument was bassoon, with which he attended and passed an LSSO audition. After his bassoon was stolen from him, he purchased a bass guitar for £5. It was then he joined up with David Batt, who played acoustic guitar.
Mick Karn was principally the bassist within Japan, but also played all the wind instruments, including the saxophone; on Tin Drum, he played the Chinese suona (credited as 'dida') for the authentic oriental sound. Mick Karn's use of the fretless bass guitar, a relatively unusual instrument in modern popular music, produces a distinctive sound and playing style, which makes his playing immediately recognisable.
Mick Karn played an aluminium-neck Travis Bean bass on all Japan albums up to Gentlemen Take Polaroids. Mick Karn recorded Japan's last studio album Tin Drum with a Wal and had continued to use these, along with a headless Klein 'K Bass'.