This month, Memories of Shibuya is highlighting the work of another Japanese DJ who has been keeping the spirit of Shibuya-kei alive. Going by the name of “polygra”, this Tokyonite has been spinning Shibuya-kei sounds at parties around the city for over a decade – you can find him on Soundcloud here, and enjoy our exclusive interview below the jump!
Q: Your DJ name, “polygra”, is interesting – where does it come from?
I started using the name when I was 19 years old. After Shibuya-kei fell out of fashion in Japan around 1999-2000, the new trend was to do desktop publishing on the recently-introduced iMac platform. Because I knew that various “graphic units“(2) were around, I wanted a name that fit with the feeling of the trend at the time.
Additionally, in high school, I would never get 100% on any individual test, but would regularly get 80% across all subjects – as “poly” as a prefix means “multifaceted,” this name suited my personality well.
Although it probably would seem like the name comes from “polygraph,” this is actually not the case at all (laughs).
Q: How did you meet up with (BOY MEETS GIRL DJ) Toshiya Sekine?
A: I met Toshiya while DJing at “Ozaken Night”(3) party – an event focused mostly on Kenji Ozawa songs – that we had both been invited to as guest DJs in 2001. After that, until about 2006-2007 we played Shibuya-kei club events together monthly.
Q: You made a “Kahimi Karie-only Mix”, but is Karie your favourite Shibuya-kei artist?
A: Of course she is! Without her I never would have known Serge Gainsbourg, Momus, (Philippe) Katerine or Jean-Luc Godard!
Also, when I was in high school, I used to listen to her “Kahimi Karie’s Music Pilot” radio show on NHK-FM – that’s a big reason as well.
Q: When did you first hear Kahimi Karie? Have a favourite song, favourite album?
A: I probably first heard Kahimi Karie in 1995, on the Trattoria Records compilation album Prego! ’95 – “Elastic Girl” was my first Karie song.
My favourite song of hers is “A Fantastic Moment,” particularly because of its “neo-acoustic disco” sound and Japanese lyrics that are so rare in her songs. It’s a duet with Hiroshi Kamayatsu, which is also nice; my second-favourite Karie song is also a duet, “Son of a Gun” with Cornelius.
My favourite album from her is Girly, I think. But, honestly, I prefer my own mix (laughs).
Q: What bands and artists have you been listening to lately?
A: Well, I haven’t been listening to much music recently.
There is a recent album I bought, though, and it’s one I think you and your readers would like. It’s a comprehensive 10-disc compilation covering the years from 1982 to 1994 of the musical collective “Keihin Kyoudaisha,” and it’s absolutely stuffed with the most important players in Shibuya-kei. A very enjoyable listen.
Q: So what does “Shibuya-kei” mean to you?
A: To me, the meaning of Shibuya-kei is a particular view point.
Before I was introduced to Shibuya-kei, I loved techno music, read fantasy novels, and played nothing but Mega Drive and PC-Engine(4) games; truly, I was a nerd (laughs).
Shibuya-kei really changed my life. If I hadn’t been introduced to Shibuya-kei, I never would have studied computer graphics, started to play guitar and DJ at parties, paid more attention to my clothes… it’s probably only because of Shibuya-kei that I was able to get a girlfriend (laughs). Although Shibuya-kei is a musical genre for some, to me it’s a whole lifestyle.
Generally, though, I think it can be described as a movement in Japan, characterized by the mixture of acid jazz and Japanese pop culture.
Q: In an interview I did with Momus recently, he said “Shibuya-kei is dead.” Do you have the same feeling?
A: Momus’s statement is true on the surface, but I think that, instead of dying, elements of Shibuya-kei were absorbed into everyday life in Japan.
I don’t know where Momus lives right now, but I think that there should be a MUJI store there. The MUJI brand sells a Shibuya-kei inspired lifestyle, with a series of compilation CDs providing the music to go along with it.
At the same time as MUJI, “fast fashion” brand UNIQLO penetrated the market, with other brands like ZARA, H&M, GAP and the like being worn along with the Japanese companies. With this kind of combination of European, American and Japanese clothing, it’s like mainstream fashion in Japan has adopted the “remix” aesthetic of Shibuya-kei.
The world of music isn’t the only place one can find Shibuya-kei style either. In Japan, people who work on anime and video games’ music have been affected by Shibuya-kei as well. The most famous of these are ROUND TABLE’s (Katsutoshi) Kitagawa and Orangenoise Shortcut.
So, I don’t think Shibuya-kei has died – rather, it’s melted into different aspects of Japanese culture.
Q: As a last question, do you have any big plans for the future?
A: My daughter is 2 years old now, so I hope to teach her about Shibuya-kei (laughs).
1. Japanese lacks a distinction between R and L – in the katakana script used for foreign loanwords, “glam” and “gram” are both written “グラム”
2. “Graphic units” refers to groups of graphic artists, most notably Shibuya-kei affiliated studio Groovisions
3. “Ozaken” is Kenji Ozawa’s nickname, usually written in katakana, but in the case of Ozaken Night it was written with the characters “王子様” – “ouji-sama”, an honourific title for a prince
4. SEGA Mega Drive (known as the SEGA Genesis in North America) and PC-Engine (known as the Turbo Grafx in Europe and North America) were both Japanese game systems known for their more “niche” titles when compared to the more-popular Nintendo systems.