When the line-ups for each day of this year’s Fuji Rock Festival arrived, fans of Shibuya-kei got a surprise – Keigo Oyamada, better known by the name Cornelius, and Kenji Ozawa would be playing on the same day, Saturday. They were the core of the band Flipper’s Guitar, an outfit founded in the late 1980s that set the pace for one of Japan’s most exciting homegrown genres of the ’90s by taking ideas from obscure styles of music (Parisian pop, tropicalia records, all sorts of forgotten British bands) and introducing them to a new generation of listeners. The pair laid the way for artists such as Pizzicato Five, Fantastic Plastic Machine and Kahimi Karie to gain attention for a sound out of time – one so popular in the hip Shibuya district that it was called “Shibuya-kei.”
The intrigue for fans, though, lies in the two being so close to one another. Flipper’s Guitar broke up in the early 1990s, and reportedly not on good terms. The two were basically not talking to one another by the time they called it quits, and it has been hard to gauge what their relationship is like today. So them being in such close proximity to one another at Fuji Rock has set off some buzz…though regardless, having two heavyweights of J-Pop so close to one another is exciting regardless.
What have they been up to recently? Kenji Ozawa’s heyday was definitely the ’90s, as post Flipper’s Guitar he released some of the most popular and critically celebrated albums of the decade. Then he moved to New York City and…got kind of quiet, with a few releases here and there. But earlier this year, he put out his first single in 19 years, a nice bit of string-accented throwback pop that will take you back to the 1990s. Enjoy it in semi-bad-quality live rip form.
Oyamada, meanwhile, embraced the solo name Cornelius and released a string of albums experimenting in style and sound during the 1990s, to much attention and fanfare. But his breakthrough came in 1997 with Fantasma, a dazzling album that took the mish-mash style of Shibuya-kei to its logical conclusion. That one not only stood out in Japan, but also got considerable attention abroad. Those looks kept coming for subsequent albums, which saw him move away from Technicolor pop collage to deconstruction, creating songs full of sliced-up beats and intricately spaced out electronics. Like Ozawa, he went a long stretch of time without putting out new material…and also like his former bandmate, he’s back, with a new album out in June. Ahead of that, he shared the sweet, somewhat melancholic electro-fizzle “If You’re Here.”