While much of the music that makes up the ambiguously-defined Shibuya-kei genre is sampled from preexisting recordings, the scene’s collection of backing musicians were nevertheless every bit as essential to the creation of the Shibuya sound as anything played from a sampler – and among these talented studio players, gifted multi-instrumentalist Hirohisa Horie stands head and shoulders above the rest. With only a small scattering of solo works across a decades-long career, Horie is never one to hog the spotlight, but that isn’t at all to suggest that he wouldn’t deserve to.
Hirohisa Horie’s work has already been featured in a previous spotlight, as Momus covered “One Thousand 20th Century Chairs” – which Horie composed and sang on, in addition to playing guitar, bass, glockenspiel and piano – in the Kahimi Karie series, and it is inevitable that future spotlights will go on to feature more of his work as well. Having worked with Karie, Cornelius, Hideki Kaji and Pizzicato Five, among many others, one is never far from Horie’s influence when listening to Shibuya-kei. While he is proficient with a wide variety of instruments, he is most frequently featured as a keyboardist, with a noted fondness for vintage hardware – particularly his prized Fender Rhodes electric piano and Hammond B-3 organ.
On the above-embedded “Still Be Your Girl”, the final song on Kahimi Karie’s 1994 debut EP Girly, Horie’s keyboards form the backbone of the Caribbean-flavoured track, simultaneously playing the lead and bassline on his trusty Rhodes (an approach more famously used to brilliant effect by The Doors’ keyboardist Rick Manzarek). With the only extra musical input on the song coming from Keiji Tanabe’s drum-machine programming and Tomoko Kunimi’s trumpet playing, “Still Be Your Girl” logically should sound far sparser than it actually does, and the song stands as a testament to Horie’s ability to do much with very little.
Naturally, when Horie started a band of his own, it was a duo rather than a larger group – with a talent such as his, there was little need for any more than two players. Joining with fellow multi-instrumentalist Gakuji Matsuda, alias Cubismo Grafico, to form Neil & Iraiza in 1995, the group allowed Horie to flex his skills as a singer and songwriter outside of his work as a session player – while Neil & Iraiza has never been terribly prolific (with two albums and a small handful of singles to their name), what they lack in quantity is tidily made up for in quality.
Neil & Iraiza’s first album, released in 1997, was amusingly titled Johnny Marr?, and the Mancunian influence on their music is every bit as strong as that title would imply. Sounding like a pastiche of every rock group to come out of the “Madchester” scene (also a huge influence on Cornelius, not coincidentally in the slightest) – you can hear bits of The Fall, The Smiths, The Stone Roses, Soup Dragons and others throughout – Johnny Marr? proves with aplomb that you really don’t need samples to make proper Shibuya-kei. Horie’s guitars are energetic and chaotic throughout, showing a delightfully different side of the reserved keyboardist he most often plays on his for-hire work, and Matsuda’s drumming matches his playing in fervor – the duo works exceptionally well together, and while Neil & Iraiza haven’t released anything together since their This is Not a Love Song 7″ in 2003 (not a cover of the Public Image Ltd. song, although anyone who would assume that the reference was unintentional has a lot to learn about Shibuya-kei), they’ve never officially “broken up” – they still play shows as Neil & Iraiza from time to time, and there’s always the chance that, whenever the two incredibly busy musicians find the time to make a new album together again, they will.