Artist Spotlight: Flipper's Guitar, music

Artist Spotlight: Flipper’s Guitar (week three)

Every month, Memories of Shibuya will be taking a look at a different artist or group, with featured songs – one per week – highlighting the peaks (and, occasionally, troughs) of their musical career.

Continuing his in-depth look at one of Shibuya-kei’s most vital groups, this week W. David Marx examines the inspiration behind one of Oyamada and Ozawa’s biggest hits (that would later become the lead single for their wildly ambitious and psychedelic final album, Doctor Head’s World Tower).

When we last left Keigō Oyamada and Kenji Ozawa of Flipper’s Guitar in late 1990, the duo were enjoying mainstream fame — and self-medicating the ensuing anxiety through cultural prankery. Thinking their music fit a little too easily into the world of J-pop and Olive, the two KOs went on the hunt for a more aggressive sound. Like always, they looked to England for inspiration — Primal Scream released their iconic “Loaded” in February 1990 and The Happy Mondays’ Pills ‘n’ Thrills and Bellyaches dropped in November. Madchester made an obvious genre to copy.

So the boys bought a sampler, got some tips on programming from friends in hip hop group Scha Dara Parr, and in March 1991, released, “Groove Tube,” their first attempt to clone UK dance-pop. In just the first few seconds of the track — a chaotic burst of free jazz stolen from “Flash, Bam, Pow” on The Trip soundtrack — Flipper’s Guitar signaled a departure from their previous incarnations. The rest of the song expands upon that statement: the rhythmic backbone is a loop of the “Amen” break with wah-wah guitar and a velvet chorus of female vocalists à la “Sesso Matto.” The pre-chorus is marked with house-y digital piano stabs. There is a bridge with cut-up orgasm samples and a “Twilight Zone” reference. A few key parts, however, retain the FG legacy: Oyamada’s soft and sexy vocals are identical to the Camera Talk era, and like all good Flipper’s Guitar songs, the melody borrows directly from another — this time, Primal Scream’s August 1990 single “Come Together.”

The video only further pushes the Japanese-Madchester direction: seizure-inducing strobe cuts, op-art spirals, 8mm acid color, psych hand lettering, mannequin makeouts and maracas, Sean Ryder-approved outfits, writing with bowling pins. The influence of British dance music becomes even clearer in the little-known B-side “Groove Tube Part 2,” which strips everything except for the Amen break, the bass, and occasional vocal.

Despite its radical elements, “Groove Tube” still managed to become one of Flipper’s most well-known singles. The song accompanied an auto ad for the Mazda Familia, and model-singer MEG covered it in 2003. Even now, the KOs should get kudos for successfully creating a J-Pop version of Madchester and then somehow having the Japanese music market embrace it. Outside of what Nakata did with Perfume some six ago, such acts of modern artistic exploration are nearly verboten in Japanese popular music this day and age.

Part one, part two, part four.

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