The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'shibuya-kei'
Néojaponisme has a detailed five-part series on Cornelius' Fantasma, one of the defining albums of the 1990s Shibuya-kei genre of polychromatic, postmodern Japanese club-pop, looking at Oyamada Keigo's earlier work (with Pastels-referencing indiepop combo Flipper's Guitar) and subsequent work (which rejected the whole ethos of reference that Fantasma was about in favour of minimalism and introspection).
The piece starts off by placing Shibuya-kei, the movement Cornelius epitomised and helped define, in a specific historical context: the brief age of the music nerd, which arose after commodity rock'n'roll and ended when the internet made obscure knowledge instantly available, when knowledge of the obscure corners of popular music was a form of cultural capital:
The music nerd’s mission often boiled down to listening to what others did not, thus upsetting one of the art’s fundamental tenets. From ancient bone flutes to West African drum circles to jazz cafés to dancing the Charleston in front of blaring Big Bands, music had been a group activity for most of its existence. Music had always been social, yet the music nerd now mostly enjoyed it as a solitary pursuit. Hearing a song in the privacy of one’s own room was not even possible until the early 20th century, and not particularly common until the advent of the small transistor radio, the personal stereo, automobile speakers, and the Walkman. So between this technological change and a corresponding social one wherein pop music rolled over elite musical art forms like opera or ballet, the ingredients were there for the spontaneous genesis of thousands of music nerds. And as music fragmented to an unbelievable degree in the 1980s and 1990s, music nerds became even more intense and even less social.The 1990s were the golden indian summer of music nerddom; the internet was already starting to chip away at the cultural capital of the obscurantists (there had been USENET newsgroups discussing genres and microgenres and meticulously detailed discographies in ASCII text files, though they hadn't made it out to the as yet non-computerised outside world), and within a few years, information hyperinflation would wipe out vast amounts of cultural capital; but in the late 1990s, the musical obscurantism bubble was at its peak. In the West, this manifested itself through the sampling, quoting and citing of artists like Beck, the Beastie Boys and Stereolab; in Japan, it found even more fertile ground:
There may be traditional aspects of national philosophy and educational theory that influenced Japanese pop culture’s particularly obsessive mode of learning and understanding, but the artistic practice of detailed study and imitation of form certainly reached its peak with consumer society’s insatiable interest in the West after the War. Youth wanted to do completely alien things like dress like Americans and listen to American music, and magazines had to take up the key role of explaining detail by detail exactly how and why to do such a thing. Holistic sub-cultures like Hippies and Punks got analyzed down to their respective quarks so that Japanese teens could build them back up again from a bunch of imported scraps. These days the otaku nerd gets all the credit for originating Japanese information obsession but this was just a structural outcome of the Japanese model of cultural importation. In the act of bringing one culture over to another, bit by bit, every single possible cultural category becomes a series of consumable lists, and as a logical extension, mastery and memorization of those lists ends up as the most worthy test of true fans, believers, and adherents.The piece then continues with an overview of Oyamada's career, before and after Fantasma, a track-by-track examination of Fantasma and the influences it references, and a history of its release in Japan and the west.
Additionally, there's an older piece on the history, cultural context and legacy of Shibuya-kei here:
Shibuya-kei was ultimately an attempt to create a Japanese analog to the indie music cultures that had developed in the U.S. and U.K., but the Japanese artists ended up succeeding far beyond their international peers in impacting the entire Japanese music market. Shibuya-kei was not just the emergence of a new genre. The appearance of Flipper’s Guitar in 1989 was a pivotal event in the surfacing of “independent” culture into the Japanese mainstream consumer market during the 1990s, setting the stage for a wider cultural movement in media, fashion, art, and interior/graphic design.
Japanese electropop band YMCK are known for making catchy pop songs with instrumentation sounding like 8-bit Nintendo game music. And now you can do the same: they've just released a software synthesiser plug-in that emulates primitive 8-bit sound chips like the one in the Nintendo Famicom. Named the Magical 8-bit Plug, it is free-as-in-beer and available for MacOS X (in AudioUnit format; sorry, Cubase users) and Windows (in VSTi format); it even comes with a demo MIDI file.
Things I have been listening to over the past few days:
- Broadcast, Haha Sound -- the followup to The Noise Made By People, follows on from it, combining '60s retro sounds, sweet vocals, clunky basslines and jangly tweeness with glitchy experimental electronica (which makes sense, with them being on Warp and all). The first song sounds like Julie Andrews or something, whereas the second one is the token attempt to ride the electroclash bandwagon (thankfully the rest of the album leaves that particular well-flogged horse carcass alone). Some of the interludes are quite nice too; in particular, the bad-acid-trip quality of Black Umbrellas.
- Pizzicato 5, Happy End of the World -- Electronica combined with shagadelic retro kitsch, stylised as only the Japanese can do it. The lyrics are mostly in Japanese, and the music varies from drum & bass and house to Bacharach-hop, vintage film scores and lounge exotica. Very cute and quite groovy.
- Cornelius, Point -- I didn't like this much; it's a bit on the bland side. Also, the birdsong samples sound like something you'd pick up in a New Age crystal shop.
- Death By Chocolate, s/t, and Zap the World -- The product of an English schoolgirl's obsession with chocky bars and the Swinging Sixties. Wears its retro stylings very much on its sleeve, and is also interspersed with short spoken-word pieces in which the narrator describes what various colours mean to her and enumerates her favourite things. Most of the music is somewhere in Mid-State Orange territory. Possibly too clever for its own good.
- Chicks on Speed, The Rereleases of the Unreleases -- A collection of tracks from Chicks on Speed combines laptop electronics, punk sensibilities and ironic detachment. Has some good moments (the ironic house track Glamour Girl, and their cover of The Normal's Warm Leatherette) and a lot of filler, including many <1-minute filler tracks. Annoyingly, though, the liner notes are printed inside the packaging, which means that the only way to read them is to tear it apart. Which was probably some sort of artistic statement.
- Manitoba, Up In Flames -- this has been growing on me. Think My Bloody Valentine meets Múm. Understated, reverb-drenched vocals, glitchy beats and layers of environmental sounds, processed guitars, tinkling music-box sounds and odd instrumentals. I'll probably get Start Breaking My Heart, their (more electronic-sounding) first album, soon.