Next to idol music, the most popular trend or style of music to dominate Japan's indie music scene in recent years has been City Pop. But before I attempt to define and describe the nebulous, ass-backwards classification known as 'City Pop' I want to give a shout out to Eric Beyeler who came up with the alternate, better and seemingly most obvious title for this blog post: シティーポップ
That's right. It wasn't necessary for me to reach for derogatory wordplay on City Pop because the Japanese romanization itself is conveniently pronounced "Shitty Pop." But I kept my original blog post title cuz I'm pho king vain like that. ;)
The title and introduction foreshadow and suggest I'm not a fan of City Pop and that assumption is unequivocally correct. To me City Pop is bland, emasculating, innocuous and completely un-punk. But just like idol music which I generally dislike there are always exceptions to the rule (e.g. Maison book girl, Yukueshirezutsurezure, Koutei Camera Girl). I keep an open mind and there are a few bands associated with City Pop that I actually dig (somewhat).
Caveat Emptor: I will now try to explain City Pop and you'll probably end up confused af.
First of all, in the early 80s there was a trend in Japan where more and more bands wrote music with an extremely Westernized feel incorporating acid jazz and neo-soul/R&B with an urban style and carefree mentality. This movement was coined 'City Pop' and it fizzled in popularity by the end of the decade.
Listen to this playlist for examples of 80's era City Pop:
Jump ahead two decades into the 2000s and there became a revival in the popularity of City Pop. Well, actually that's not completely true. It's not that the style of music showcased in the playlist above became more popular but the term 'City Pop' was used in a new context to describe the recent surge in bands adopting a Westernized indie music 'vibe.' A lot of bands who were just doing their own thing with no concept of the idea of 'City Pop' were retroactively lumped into the new 'City Pop' movement. Once 'City Pop' became the new buzzword in the music industry's lexicon it birthed an explosion of new bands trying to emulate this hottest trend.
The genre 'City Pop' in today's context is extremely broad and vague. There's no clear definition of what constitutes 'City Pop' but at the same time there seems to be a particular style and aesthetic that loosely ties the component bands together. I say this because when I started listening to Japanese music and going to shows in Tokyo 8-9 years ago I noticed a growing trend in bands that took great pains to imitate prototypical US/UK indie bands. This disturbed me because I fell in love with Japan's indie/underground music scene precisely because it sounded so different from the generic, 'safe' indie music coming out of North America.
There were amazing bands like 凛として時雨, ミドリ and Chatmonchy so why would I be interested in Japanese bands trying to be clones of Modest Mouse, The Flaming Lips, Passion Pit, MGMT, CHVRCHES, Arcade Fire, Jamiroquai and Stone Roses? There was a growing list of Japanese bands that sound like they came straight off of US college radio except the lyrics were in Japanese. Bands like these were ubiquitous in North America and were of no interest to me. Instead, I gravitated to the Japanese bands making music that was more original, daring and characteristically different from what was popular in US/Canada.
It wasn't until last year I discovered the term City Pop and that most of the bands I ignored because they seemed to mimic the 'US college radio indie sound' (Ogre You Asshole, Homecomings, The fin., Awesome City Club, Yogee New Waves etc) fell into this particular genre. According to whoever wrote this article for TSUTAYA Records even group_inou, Suiyoubi no Campanela and ??nisenenmondai are considered City Pop but I seriously beg to differ.
Anyhow, to me City Pop is Japanese pop music with a pronounced Western indie influence that tends to have a dreamy, chill, carefree, neo-soul aesthetic. It's the hottest thing in Japanese indie music these days and the cutest and hottest girls are found at concerts featuring City Pop bands and not at the shows that I frequent. *sigh* hahaha. Sometimes you can tell if a band plays City Pop just by looking at their name. e.g. Awesome City Club, never young beach, Ykiki Beat, Marquee Beach Club, club'89 Helsinki Lambda Club are more straightforward pop-punk but this video by them has a city pop vibe and I wouldn't be surprised if they're trying to crossover like シャムキャッツ did and capitalize on their city pop sounding name. LOL. DALLJUB STEP CLUB and JABBA DA HUTT FOOTBALL CLUB = City Rap? LOL
Although I maintain City Pop sounds too derivative of Western indie music I have to admit it has developed a slight twist that gives it a distinctively Japanese sound and style. I can't put my finger on exactly what it is but it's a relaxed, optimistic and youthful tone that gives City Pop an atmospheric quality but with more clarity and tightness than the garage-y ethereal feel of North American bands like Best Coast and Alvvays.
and three bands that are managed by my friend Manabu Kitazawa:
Yogee New Waves:
never young beach
Manabu decided to move away from post-rock and was a visionary in becoming the manager of Yogee New Waves, never young beach and D.A.N. who helped catalyze the City Pop revival. In fact he has been bugging me for years well before City Pop became the hottest trend to include Yogee New Waves in the NMFT tour. He sent me pre-release albums by all his city pop bands and invited me to their shows. I'm incredibly happy for Manabu Kitazawa since his marquee bands are three of the biggest names in City Pop at the moment. But as much as I like the guy, Manabu couldn't talk me into bringing his bands to Canada because for the most part they aren't too different from bands found in North America.
Now some City Pop bands I actually like include:
ミツメ (mitsume) Their song "cider cider" is one of my favourites. It fucking RULES! But sadly, I've seen them live and found them overall to be a bit boring except when they play 'cider cider' which is my cue to geek out. LOL. My friend Sharon who saw Mistume perform recently shares a similar assessment of their live show.
Yoshida Yohei Group: Their drummer Kyohei Takahashi was the drummer for FAR FRANCE and NMFT vol 1 alumnus Kulu Kulu Garden. <--- from 1:40 on is AWESOME. Note: Ryotaro Aoki who was the mastermind behind Kulu Kulu Garden wrote this great article on City Pop. Yoshida Yohei Group are solid live but they have at least 7 members and since they're signed to P-vine Records I'm sure the manager will want to come as well. There's no way I'm bringing 8 people for just one band unless their name is NATSUMEN. ;)
And finally, one of the main reasons I'm writing this article:
雨のパレード (Ame no Parade)
As many of you know, Ame no Parade was the first band I chose to headline the line-up for NMFT7 last year. But then I had to change the tour schedule to accommodate PENs+ and otori who could only find time to come to Canada in June. I thought it wasn't that big of a deal to change the dates six months in advance but it turns out Ame no Parade's management already had an album release set in stone for June and they ended up not being able to participate in NMFT7. Since last year Ame no Parade have skyrocketed in popularity and are now signed to Victor Records. Also, since last year they have changed their style from the experimental/post-rock which made me fall in love with the band in the first place to full blown City Pop. Even though I greatly prefer Ame no Parade's older material, they still put on a great show and I'm reasonably close with the band and manager. They're an up & coming 'buzz' band on a major label but they really, REALLY wanted to come to Canada last year and I'm sure they'd take part in NMFT 10 if I asked them.
If Ame no Parade is a band you'd like to see as part of NMFT 10 then post your approval and thoughts in the comments section. If your name is Geoff Spence or someone that doesn't want Ame no Parade on the NMFT10 roster then please also voice your opinion. You guys can also vote for other City Pop bands but I'll probably ignore those comments. LOL.