As one of the background players who has been quietly but crucially forming the sound of Shibuya-kei for decades, the songs that have benefited from multi-instrumentalist Hirohisa Horie’s golden touch provide a portrait of an exciting and diverse genre; all the better to choose his work for a spotlight. Last installment looked at his work with Kahimi Karie and his own group Neil & Iraiza, and this week finds our attention directed to his work with another studio player whose influence can never be understated.
Hideki Kaji may not be the most famous name in Shibuya-kei, but he’s been in the game longer than just about anybody – his group Bridge was releasing albums alongside Original Love, Pizzicato Five and Flipper’s Guitar at the tail end of the 1980s – and, just like Horie, he’s kept incredibly busy working as a session musician in addition to putting out music under his own name. Horie and Kaji have worked together on countless occasions, and from time to time the two work as a duo under the name “Dots + Borders” – most recently collaborating with Shibuya-kei inspired indie rockers SISTERJET under this name in 2013. Horie’s keyboard playing fits Kaji’s throwback rock sound like a glove, and for a run from 1996 to 2001, Horie was featured on every studio album of Kaji’s. While the music-show clip above features a more conventional keyboard instead of the harpsichord played on the studio recording (only so much one can do when working within the constraints of “what’s available on YouTube”), single “La Boum” was one of Hideki Kaji’s biggest hits, and one made memorable by Horie’s distinctive jazz-inspired play style.
One of the most important aspects of Shibuya-kei as a genre, however ambiguously-defined as it may be, is the idea of embodying an idealized version of the past. One of the most fun ways in which this tendency manifests itself is in the gleeful resurrection of things from the past of rock music that had overwhelmingly fallen to the wayside; Hirohisa Horie’s devotion to the painfully unfashionable likes of the Hammond organ, harpsichord and Fender Rhodes would have made him an outsider in any other scene, but in Shibuya-kei he found a place where his eccentric fascinations made his input essential.
The final highlighted selection in our spotlight series is a very recent one, and another collaboration alongside Hideki Kaji (seriously, the two are inseparable). Saku’s “FIGHT LIKE A GIRL” represents a meeting of past and future, with Kaji (who handles production and guitars) and Horie (keyboards) representing Shibuya-kei’s old guard as they pass the torch to a new generation of performer. Saku’s music is described as “neo-Shibuya-kei”, and the main difference between this new genre and the Shibuya-kei of old is that the ideal past being called back to was the domain of the Japanese performers she works with, while their points of reference in their own time were primarily Occidental in origin. Although the lyrics to the song explicitly name-check My Bloody Valentine, the actual song sounds distinctly Shibuya-kei – a happy inevitability when scene royalty is diligently working behind the scenes.
As he so often does, Horie plays double duty on the song, playing the lead and bassline simultaneously. Far closer to synthpop than his usual fare (the influence of capsule and the like hasn’t been lost on Kaji and crew), Horie’s work on “FIGHT LIKE A GIRL” is far from his showiest playing, but it’s no less essential for it. Unlike the guitar heroes that garner so much fawning attention from rock critics, Horie can show off when the situation calls for it, but he also has no problem staying in the background and letting the top-billed players hog the spotlight – an admirable trait, and one that’s unfortunately much rarer than it should be.
There’s much more to the work of Hirohisa Horie than we were able to feature in this spotlight series, but as his musical partnerships have been so wide-reaching, it’s only inevitable that he will be featured again.