As anyone remotely interested in the Japanese music scene (or just the globally hip music scene in general) knows, City Pop has been having a little bit of a moment for a little bit of time. A fairly general term for 70’s and 80’s western influenced Japanese pop music, it has been a goldmine for DJs like Fuji Rock favorite Night Tempo with its odd dreaminess and hard to place nostalgia. Most people are just milking the old records though. Cameron Lew, better known as Ginger Root, however, has been going a step further and making it on his own.
A native Californian, Lew describes his sound as ‘aggressive elevator soul’, and the experience is wonderfully multilayered. He rose to a degree of internet fame through his quirky, retro-styled music videos (especially the wonderfully surreal ‘Loretta’), and his work has been continuing to build a mythology centered around the heyday of City Pop. He describes his 2021 EP City Slicker as the American soundtrack to a fictitious 1980’s Japanese film (complete with karaoke versions of each track on the B-side of the LP), and the 1983 Japanese recording industry set mythology behind his 2022 follow up EP Nisemono requires more explanation than we have space for here. He has created a world around his music that oozes Showa.
Set and setting aside, the thing that truly makes Ginger Root stand out is the sheer quality of the music itself. Lew is an accomplished multi-instrumentalist, responsible for all the sounds you hear on his recordings, and his songs are at once familiar and unique, finding that sweet spot between nostalgia and freshness that too few musicians can nail. It isn’t just spectacle with , the funkiness and catchiness of his music alone is well worth the price of admission.
He made his first appearance in Japan last year with shows in Tokyo and Osaka, and the demand for tickets was high enough he had to add extra dates. If you missed him then, be sure to be there for his Sunday Session appearance at Fuji Rock 2023!