What made people start digging Japanese City Pop?

by Taishi Nagasaka May 22, 2019
What made people start digging Japanese City Pop?

When it comes to Japanese music of all kinds, Taishi Nagasaka is very well known in Berlin’s scene as DJ ONONiiONIONIION. In this part of his series he writes about his favorite Japanese music style – dandy, sexy and deep.

I have been wondering why City Pop has become so popular. If you organize a City Pop event in Berlin, you will get many clicks on Facebook. And when I sell vinyls, a lot of people ask for the famous musician couple Mariya Takeuchi/竹内マリア and Tatsuro Yamashita/山下達郎. By the way, I just found out that Tatsuro is my Senpai, which means that we went to the same Uni, Meiji University in Tokyo. But let’s start with the simplified definition of City Pop on the Wikipedia – in two languages, English and Japanese.

“City Pop is a loosely defined subset of pop music that originated in Japan during the 1970s and reached the peak of its popularity in the 1980s. It was originally termed as an offshoot of Japan’s western-influenced “new music”, but came to include a wide range of styles associated with the country’s nascent economic boom, such as AOR, soft rock, R&B, funk and boogie.” English Wikipedia

“City Pop It is not a formal musical term, but it was popular in the late 70’s and 80’s and emphasized the image of an urban city. It was an appeal towards people who had gone through the 60’s and 70’s, very easy listening, middle of the road, soft rock and pop.” Japanese Wikipedia (translated)

Comparing these 2 perspectives, I think AOR is the key word, an abbreviation for
Adult-oriented Rock such as Steely Dan, Boz Scaggs, Bobby Coldwell, Ruperd Holmes, TOTO, Chicago.

If you listen to these songs, you can hear that they are light: light guitar, light drums, pretty groovy bass lines, very easy listening and some kind of nostalgic.

The music reminds me of Sunday daytime concerts on festivals that you attend with your friends, sharing some joints, and for me it is also connected with a kind of Reggae feeling.

I also remember that I listened to Bobby Coldwell’s “Escape” a lot in a van when I was touring the United States with the British band Fat White Family. They had put it on our playlist – usually I was not listening to that sound – but it gave me a great feeling during the long travels, very cosy and a bit sexy. I sense the same atmosphere at these Jazz jam session that are popular in Berlin since about 5 years or maybe more and, I guess, started from Greenhouse Berlin.

While I was looking up the videos, my flatmate aka Vamilienfa†er popped in and called it Yacht Music and Schlager. Well, it is true and oh the irony: the fans of this music usually do not like Schlager at all, although it sounds a lot like it! Actually, in my opinion, all the popular western music is Schlager. Anyway, City Pop started in Japan in the late 70’s – and I would like to explain how it became so popular in western countries next.

From City Pop to Vaporwave

So yeah, nowadays, the new generation and the forever young generation love City Pop. I don’t remember how many people have asked me for City Pop or Japanese Bunk / Boogie since I sell vinyls, but I remember only some of them in Berlin were wearing baseball caps like in Hip Hop fashion. Anyway, talking of City Pop, I can not avoid mentioning Vaporwave. I thought it was the same, but I got it wrong until I started to do research. In fact, City pop has influenced Vaporwave.

Vaporwave is a genre that came out in the early 2010’s, and it is like a sign of internet culture. Also, the Japanese Wikipedia says “it is kind of criticism and satire against nostalgia for mass-produced artifacts and technology, consumer capitalism and popular culture, Yuppie culture in the 1980s, and New Age culture”

I personally feel it is like a collage in art terms. It is explained quite well in this video:

Vaporwave is like the design of moving amusement park attractions or many things in Neukoelln, Britz etc., that are also fake. In fact it might have come from the no license RIP OFF culture : )

Anyway, Vaporwave created Future Funk, which is more uptempo, and they sampled Japanese cartoon music from the 80’s and City Pop. It included Japanese words as well, but of course a lot of nonsense, too. So here it comes, this is the connection, this made some western people start digging Japanese City Pop. I remember I was excited to watch a club scene in an anime called Cobra. It was very dandy and cool, but also shiny, the colours were like in the 80’s or 90’s with some kind of a negative film feeling. So, this is how it has happened.

Western City Pop and Japanese City Pop

Maybe you should not trust me. But I feel that City Pop in western countries means something a bit different than in Japan. Western City Pop is only one part of City Pop, many people talk only about Maria Takeuchi and Tatsurou Yamashita. But it is not and I am missing the dandy side of City Pop. Check out this track:

Yeah, this is really my thing. I love the late 70’s / early 80’s Japanese music, dandy and sexy, deep and pop. Wowowow! It sometimes is like City Enka (Enka is originally Japanese pop music of the 60’s) which I looooove!!! I hope that the scene will eventually evolve. So why not do your own Japanese city pop digging on Youtube starting from the video above!

Gigs from 22nd May – 2nd June

22nd May (DJ): Acud Macht Sommer, Backyard Grand Opening (19:00-24:00)
26th May (DJ): SouthEast Asia StreetFood Festival, Kreuzberg (14:00-18:00)
27nd May (DJ): Pop Music From Japan, Slovenia and Greece! (16:00-01:00)
1st June (DJ): Japanese Summer Dance Party, Ondo Berlin 2019 (12:30-17:30)
2nd June (Jaguar No Me as a support): Frankie and the Witch Fingers + Supports


Header picture by Jezael Melgoza on unsplash. Thank you <3

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