Pizzicato Five in concert at the 1998 Roskilde Festival. Since we take requests, and since you asked, here is a sample of a band who were huge throughout the world, yet didn’t do nearly as much in the U.S. – why? Absolutely no good reason. Pizzicato Five were the spearhead of a Japanese music genre known as Shibuya-Kei. It was an eclectic form of pop music and an aesthetic that flourished in the mid to late 1990s. Emerging as Japanese retail music from the Shibuya district of Tokyo, artists purveyed a cut-and-paste style that was inspired by previous genres based on kitsch, fusion, and artifice. The genre was strongly influenced by 1960s culture and Western pop music, especially the orchestral domains occupied by producers Burt Bacharach, Brian Wilson, Phil Spector, and singer Serge Gainsbourg.
Unlike other Japanese music scenes, Western audiences did not necessarily cross over into anime fandoms, but rather indie pop enthusiasts. This was partly because many of its bands were distributed in the United States through major indie labels like Matador and Grand Royal. Flipper’s Guitar, a duo led by Kenji Ozawa and Keigo Oyamada (Cornelius), formed the bedrock of the genre and influenced all of its groups, but the most prominent Shibuya-kei band was Pizzicato Five, who fused mainstream J-pop with a mix of jazz, soul, and lounge influences. Shibuya-kei peaked in the late 1990s and declined after its principal players began moving into other music styles.Popular in Tokyo in the 1990s. Shibuya-kei known for eclectic and energetic compositions that often pay homage to late 1960s English-language pop music. The catchphrase “A New Stereophonic Sound Spectacular” captured the group’s ironic stance and eager attitude.
The band’s American debut came in 1994 with the release of the EP Five By Five on Matador Records. This was quickly followed by a full-length album, Made in USA, a compilation of tracks from their last three Japanese albums which sold 200,000 copies worldwide.
Shortly before the release of the next album Overdose in the same year, Keitarō Takanami quit the band, leaving Konishi and Nomiya as the only remaining members. In February 1995 the two set off on a successful 14-stop tour of Europe and America. Another compilation, The Sound of Music was released in October 1995, again featuring various tracks from the Maki-era albums.
After the 1996 release of the album Romantique 96 and several singles including the hit Baby Portable Rock, in 1997 the band formed its own label, Readymade Records, and released the commercially successful album Happy End of the World – the only album to be released unchanged in both Japan and the rest of the world.
In 1998, the band released The International Playboy & Playgirl Record in Japan. It would be released a year later worldwide with a slightly different track-listing and the shortened title (which was also its Japanese title) of “Playboy & Playgirl”.
1999 came and Pizzicato Five released the “JBL Maxisonic” series of EPs, followed by the album Pizzicato Five™. It included songs from each of the 3 EPs in very different forms: “Darlin’ of Discothèque” is shorter and instrumental, “A Perfect World” is a lounge-style rearrangement sung by guest vocalist Mieko Hirota and the new song “20th Century Girl” is based on the B-side “Room Service”, originally written by Masumi Arichika of TV Jesus.
In 2000, Matador Records released Pizzicato Five™ under the somewhat less confusing name of The Fifth Release From Matador. The CD version of this left out the first song “Love Again” but added three extra tracks (one from each of the JBL Maxisonic EPs), while the LP version shared the same title but deviated still further from the original track-listing. It would also be Pizzicato Five’s last American release.
Needless to say, if you’ve never heard Pizzicato Five before, prepare yourself – it’s high-voltage and doesn’t let up for the better part of the hour this concert goes for. Aside from a few breathless and over-eager asides from the Swiss DJ, the concert proceeds at a break-neck clip, leading you to wonder why band members didn’t pass out of stage from sheer hyper-activity.
Listening to this concert also reminded me of several other similar acts, which were big in Japan in the 90s, which I will most likely run for the rest of the week.
But get ready for this one.