Like my previous music posts, this isn’t meant to be an intense musicological explanation of what shibuya-kei is. My imagined audience for this post is people who already sorta know what shibuya-kei is, and are curious about The Early Stuff. But I will give a quick and trendy Kelp explanation.
Kelp, I Don’t Go Here
Like a lot of musical styles, shibuya-kei is named after a place associated with the sound, in this case the perennially hip Tokyo neighborhood of Shibuya.
“TOWER RECORDS Shibuya” by DeepSkyBlue (CC BY-SA 3.0)
The -kei suffix is basically ‘style’ – this is the same kei as other aesthetic terms in Japanese, like the “visual-kei music scene” or “otome-kei fashion”. The generally agreed upon timeline places the beginning of shibuya-kei in the 90’s, but certain key names, such as Pizzicato Five, get started in the mid to late 80’s. My shorthand for “why does shibuya-kei sound like that” is below:
- Outside Japan: heavy influence from earlier eras of pop music, particularly 60’s era UK and American hits, as well as yé-yé style pop music from Europe. Also a lot of funk, soul, and jazz, particularly bossa nova.
- Inside Japan: a through line from テクノ歌謡 techno kayo, the New Music movement*, and new wave synth pop. Also a clear conversation with current electronic music popular globally at the time, such as house, hardcore, and breakbeat. (The early 90’s were also when Avex Trax started putting out club mixes from Juliana’s, for people familiar.)
- Computers: samples samples samples! drum samples, bassline samples, vocal samples, layered samples, lots and lots of samples. Also ‘quotations’ and what not. The increasing accessibility of making electronic music with just a personal computer and a handful of software programs I think is often understated in discussions of shibuya-kei.
*Explaining the New Music movement is sorta beyond the scope of this post, but here I’ll just say it’s the progenitor of city pop.
As you can imagine, this means that while a lot of shibuya-kei music can sound very similar, you also can get stuff that sounds very different. My goal for this post is to help people who are interested in The Older Stuff, which may or may not be considered shibuya-kei. These groups (or the people that were in them) often form a tidy bridge both to dig back even further (into other compatible 80’s outfits) as well as keep going forward (to the early 00’s era, where big names like Nakata Yasutaka get started).
aka, the one you probably know already. I’m here mainly to highlight their early work with 佐々木麻美子 Sasaki Mamiko, as opposed to the more well-known Nomiya Maki era. (They also worked with Original Love vocalist Tajima Takao in between, and Original Love is often included in shibuya-kei lists, which I don’t dispute.)
Recently, a compilation with unreleased tracks from this time was put out, to my slight disbelief. These were sort of a Pizzicato Five fan white whale previously. The whole thing is priceless. The video below is NOT that compilation, but it’s the one that I found readily available.
Yes, a YMO member is involved. Y’all should know the drill by now.
While we’re on a Non-Standard kick, I feel obligated to shout out one of my favorite techno kayo groups Shi-Shonen.
A nice postcard courtesy of @bgmtechnodelic on Twitter
A great example of how a lot of the shibuya-kei aesthetic was already brewing in 80’s synth pop music.
Literally from France! Worked with Hosono Haruomi! Again, perfect example of how the shibuya-kei vibe wasn’t a new deal.
Any fans of Detroit Metal City will likely recognize that name, but in my experience she’s otherwise not very well known by Western shibuya-kei fans. Maybe people know her from her work with Momus? I dunno.
She’s also on a Katamari soundtrack
It’s hard to convey just how intensely Kahimi Karie embodies shibuya-kei, so I’m just going to continue listing videos.
Crue-L Grand Orchestra
Frequent collaborator with Kahimi Karie and many others on Crue-L Records. Very “ultimate house dance mix” focused, I would say.
5th Garden/Comoesta Yaegishi
Just makes sense to put this here. This was put out on Pizzicato Five’s Konishi Yasuharu’s subprint Readymade, aka ********* (I’m sure there’s a reason why they did that, but I never bothered to look into it).
Speaking of Readymade, they put out a decent compilation of early shibuya-kei, although a good chunk of it is much later than 1991. Maybe Konishi likes palindromes? I dunno.
When I went to look up their earlier stuff, I found a track of theirs on a K-Hin Bros. compilation and just nodded to myself…
Eight years later, they sound like this.
Date of Birth
My favorite track of theirs is called “Fresh Chapter Mixed Up 1967”, which tells you all you need to know.
A great example of a band that got started earlier and eventually ended up on shibuya-kei label Trattoria, a sub-print of Polystar founded by proto-shibuya-kei group Flipper’s Guitar (and later just straight up shibuya-kei group Cornelius) member Oyamada Keigo. (Yeah, that’s that one guy who very understandably was recently lambasted by both the Japanese and global press. He is a key figure in shibuya-kei and really just electronic music in general though, and is gonna pop up a lot. Like on a list of “Kahimi Karie’s exes”.)
Kaji Hideki was in this outfit, which prolly doesn’t mean anything now, but will be helpful to know if you keep down this path, I promise. Also on Trattoria. Sometimes they put a “The” in front of the name.
aka, the band Pizzicato Five’s most famous vocalist, Nomiya Maki, was in prior. Poking around on discogs, I see there’s also a Suzuki Saeko connection (and predictably other Moonriders connections), as well as a handful of people from the Yapoos/Halmens crowd.
Wait, what? But yeah. I mean, Towa Tei was in this joint. The obvious track to post is Groove is in the Heart, but I’m going with the one I need to put a FLASHING LIGHT WARNING on (it’s…a lot).
I also found this interesting edit while poking around – I had vaguely remembered a Thierry Mugler connection, but I had forgotten about this particular show.
By the way, did you know Towa Tei sometimes releases music as “Sweet Robots Against The Machine”? Now you know.
Fantastic Plastic Machine
Another one you might point at and say “I know that guy!” But do you know Calin?
Anyways, FPM started out on Readymade before moving over to Avex. One of my favorite early tracks is probably The Girl Next Green Door, off his second album Luxury.
A later act, to be sure, but still late 90’s. Yukari Fresh is one of the better examples of “just how many samples can I stitch into a catchy pop tune”. Other reccs include Losfeld, Halfby, Qypthone, Oh! Penelope, Akakage, Mansfield, Cusbismo Grafico, and Miniflex, in no particular order.
Well, that’s the end of that. Time to hang out in natey’s stream again to get an idea for next month’s music post.