Published on September 22nd, 2014 | by shibuya0
Shibuya district in Tokyo, Japan, is world-famous for its mind-boggling fashions. But there are many other things for which it is famous. Shibuya Kei is one of them. It is a sub-genre of the indie pop – nearly always electronic – music of Japan and is rather a blend of pop, jazz and synthpop.
Shibuya Kei got popular in the early 90s and spread fast throughout the country. Especially, the Japanese music corner of some retail music chains affiliated to other countries, like HMV and Tower Records, made them popular.
The name Shibuya Kei was given to bands which were influenced strongly by a combination of famous performers and studio auteur of the 60s. These include Brazilian bossa nova singers Joao Gilberto and Astrud, the Serge Gainsbourg’s French ye-ye music (especially, the Japanese version of the big hit Poupee de cire of France Gall, “Yume Miru Shanson Ningyo”), Brian Wilson’s innovative baroque pop styling and Phil Spector’s wall of sound productions.
Distinctive practitioners of Shibuya Kei are bands like Pizzicato Five, Flipper’s Guitar and Original Love. The popularity of the style increased by the 90s and term Shibuya Kei came into popular use and was taken up by many bands whose musical style reflected the mainstream sensibility more.
The style of Shibuya Kei was favored a lot by local businesses like HMV Shibuya of Shibuya Center Street which sold records of Shibuya Kei in its Japanese traditional music segment. Due to this, though some artists didn’t want to be labeled as Shibuya Kei, the name stuck to them, and also to some non-Japanese musicians like Dimitri from Paris, France, Momus of Britain, and the artists from the US – Phofo and Natural Calamity.
The name Shibuya-kei is derived from the utmost fashionable ward of Tokyo – Shibuya, which is also the capital of Japanese pop culture, and “Kei” in Japanese which means “system”, but in Shibuya-kei, it is more concerned with “style”; thus Shibuya-kei can be referred to as “Shibuya Style”.
Unlike the other Japanese music styles, such as Visual Kei, US fandom of Shibuya-kei doesn’t essentially intersect the anime fandom. Rather the bands were more up to hold their greatest appeal to indie pop fans. This is because during the latter half of the 90s, which was the time for the band being the most active, plenty of bands had albums launched in the US through big indie labels such as Grand Royal and Matador. Moreover, the vibe of 60s-meets-90s and its consequent influences – bossa nova, French pop, house music – was obvious in the bands throughout the globe. Noticeable correlations can be seen in the music of Momus (who performed with Shibuya-kei artists, especially Kahimi Karie) and Saint Etienne, but you can conclude the much slighter comparisons to the French house scene, 18th Street Lounge label of Thievery Corporation and bands like Belle and Sebastian and Bis.
If you want to go deep into Shibuya-kei music, it will be best for you to start with Pizzicato 5. The reason for this is amongst all the bands that emerged from this scene, Pizzicato 5 were the closest to break through on a huge scale in the US. “Twiggy Twiggy-Twiggy vs. James Bond” indeed found some exposure on radio stations such LA’s KROQ, although it was many years after the song was first released in Japan. It was also a club hit to quite a big extent. The group was pretty productive till its split in the early 2000s, thus there is an abundant discography to dig through.
Made in USA – Made in USA was released on Matador Records and is a collection of tracks of Pizzicato 5 that had been launched earlier in Japan. It necessarily serves as a full-length foreword to the band. You will get all songs like “Baby Love Child”, “Twiggy Twiggy” and “This Year’s Girl #2” here.
Cornelius – Cornelius started his career by performing in the band Flipper’s Guitar, but later picked a shining solo career. Apart from his solo performances, he created and remixed several artists, such as “Make Some Noise” from the album of Beastie Boys – Hot Sauce Committee Part 2. Also his Japanese import CD “CM3: Interpretations by Cornelius” features his remixes for bands like Bloc Party, Kings of Convenience, The Go! Team, and also the legendary Ryuichi Sakamoto and James Brown. Fantasma, the 1997 release of Cornelius was a huge college radio hit in the US. Check out tracks like “The Micro Disneycal World Tour”.
Fantastic Plastic Machine – Fantastic Plastic Machine is the stage name of Tomoyuki Tanaka, one of the most admired musicians of the Shibuya-kei scene. He is also accredited to having played in the very first Coachella festival.
Tanaka’s work incorporates various styles, basically of the party variety. It’s such a music that makes you dream of a party in a mid-century modern mountain-home!
Fantastic Plastic Machine is Tanaka’s self-titled debut, released through now-non-operational indie label Emperor Norton. The main attraction in it is “Dear Mr. Salesman”, featuring songs from Pizzicato 5 singer Maki Nomiya. Moreover, there’s also a cover of the early 80s’ hit “Steppin’ Out” from Joe Jackson. You should seek out this outstanding album from wherever you can – highly recommended!