Continuing a tradition that dates back to Flipper’s Guitar and their early ’90s “Martians Go Home” program for Yokohama FM, Shibuya-kei superfan Ikuno (@cybele70) served as guest DJ for a program by the name of “Papiru” – “butterfly” in the native dialect of Miyako Island in Okinawa – bringing a lovely assortment of Shibuya-kei sounds to local FM radio along with her. Her Soundcloud page features four of the shows she DJed for, but the cream of the crop is this month’s featured mix, her introduction to él Records, Mike Alway’s short-lived (but massively influential) Shibuya-kei precursor. Highlighting the label’s pitch-perfect homages to neglected styles of yesteryear, as well as its twisted sense of humour (The Monochrome Set’s hilariously vulgar “The Mating Game” makes a welcome appearance), in “Welcome to the World of él Label” you can hear the genesis of Shibuya-kei – even as the artists of Alway’s label were completely unaware of what they would inspire. In personal correspondence, Ikuno mentioned how Flipper’s Guitar temporarily made the obscure label – which Alway had already abandoned by the time Three Cheers for Our Side came out – into essential listening for fashionable young Japanese, largely through the then-trendy Olive magazine. Kenji Takimi further pushed the link between él and Shibuya-kei with his influential label Crue-l (home to Kahimi Karie’s first single, “Mike Alway’s Diary“) which combined the Japanese “kuruu” (狂う) – meaning “to go mad” – and the él moniker for an unusual bilingual pun (I always assumed it was a play on “cruel,” but Ikuno says Karie herself explained the “kuruu” meaning so I defer to her authority on this one).
Although Alway has revived the él name for a new imprint, the new label is devoted entirely to reissues of existing material; the days of él originals, like the ones in Ikuno’s show, ended in the late ’80s. While it would be interesting to hear new music the man deems worthy of putting his stamp of approval on, maybe in Shibuya-kei he saw that a new generation had already picked up the torch – and without the need to push forward, he’s now free to more fully explore the past.