10 Minutes with Yoko Ono

By Gillian Garr

John Lennon always supported the music created by his wife, Yoko Ono, and readily acknowledged that her work was underappreciated. But even he might have been surprised at how successful Ono has become in the realm of dance music.

Her first single to reach the charts was 1981’s “Walking on Thin Ice,” which reached No. 58 on the Billboard pop charts. But it was the song’s chart placing on the magazine’s Disco chart, where it peaked at No. 13, that pointed the way to the future. 1985’s “Hell in Paradise” also reached the Top 20 on the Hot Dance Club Songs chart, and in the new century, Ono has landed 19 songs in the Top 30 of the Hot Dance Club Play charts, including 12 No. 1 hits. Appropriately, her first No. 1 was a remix of “Walking on Thin Ice;” her latest was the single “Angel,” simply credited to ONO. It’s one of 11 remixes from her digital-only release “Angel (The Remixes) Part 1,” which handed over the track “Yes, I’m Your Angel” from Lennon and Ono’s “Double Fantasy” album for deejays and producers, including Dank, Dave Audé, Mike Cruz and Dutch Soul Cartel team Nicolas Vesters and David van Ansem, to rework. Goldmine chatted with Ono about her career as a dance music artist.

GOLDMINE: What experiences have you had in visiting dance clubs yourself?
YOKO ONO: I remember Sean and I were in a hotel in L.A., listening to the rain. Then we got a call that this is the time to go to the club, quick, quick! They had been arranging for me to go to the club for a couple of days. Sean said he wants to go, too. Both of us felt we must go. We went, and it was great! An ocean of guys moving like waves with the music. Sean and I had such fun. Never forget that one.

ono-logoGM: One thing I have said about disco is that it’s “mindless,” it had that “mindless beat.” I think of dance rock as having more of an edge, but there is still that propulsive beat. What do you like about a song that has a strong beat?
YO: It’s very similar to a heart of a giant with a strong beat. It’s great! It’s like being in the mother’s womb, listening to her body.

GM: After “Hell in Paradise” in 1985, there were no new remixes until 2001. Why such a long break?
YO: 1985 to 2001 — you nailed the most difficult time I had in my life. John passed away in the end of 1980, and I was suddenly feeling very strongly that he was never going to come back. I couldn’t make a dancing album, even though I heard dancing very, very faintly in the back of my head.

GM: What was it like when you first topped the charts with a “Walking on Thin Ice” remix in 2013?
YO: I am totally amazed. “Me on the top of the charts? No way!” says my memory bank. But it’s happening. I am very, very excited about it.

GM: What is it you like about working in music more than the other artistic mediums you work in?
YO: The vibration of music is not comparable to anything. I am an electronic energy floating through the space. Other media do not float so fast. Music comes out of your brain, even when you are fast asleep. That doesn’t happen with other mediums.

GM: How do you choose the songs that will be remixed? You don’t just limit yourself to a particular period of your releases.
YO: No, I don’t limit my choice to just one period. I just trust the words and sounds wiggling in my brain … like a neon sign.

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Photo credit: Charlotte Kemp Muhl and Sean Lennon/© Synaesthete

GM: How involved are you with the remix? Are you there at the time, or are you just presented with the final mix for your approval? If you are involved, what’s your input into the process?
YO: It all depends on the song. Most of the time, though, the freshness of the format alone excites me so much. I just listen to what was presented to me, and say “Yay” or “Nay.” Nay means they have to go back to the drawing board. But these are the greatest music makers in the dance field. They need to be given great respect, whatever they do. They are so, so intensely creative, it is a pity that rockers are not taking up on this format. I know they would love it. The mixing of dance music is totally different from mixing songs I’ve done before. I’m still enjoying the newness of it. It’s an amazingly independent and creative music. I’m in it like I’m walking in an acid dream, taking it all in.

GM: What have you learned about creating music, through making these remixes?
YO: That’s what I’m saying. I thought I knew it all and more. But that’s before I encountered dance music. Dance music is very, very special. The format itself is very now and revolutionary. I didn’t know that at all. So it’s very exciting for me. It’s similar to when I learnt rock coming from classical. Throws you out into the universe. Yeah, dance music is the sound of the universe!

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