Denki Groove are back with their first single in eight years, and the accompanying video is so good that it makes me want to throw a temper tantrum. An homage to the Japanese 1980s pop moment, directors Prince Tongha (DG’s Pierre Taki and Super Lovers/Super Milk Chan art director Tanaka Hideyuki) collected a large and diverse group of intentionally-unremarkable girls to act out Matsuda Seiko, Pink Lady, Pro Golfer Reiko, Sukeban Deka, and other iconic aesthetic moments of the “idol” era. The song’s not bad either.
Now this is the J-Pop I remember! The video shows Sony Music Japan at its best: slightly alternative production and catchy melodies mixed with high-level art-driven visuals. Imagine the entire label filled with acts like this (Judy and Mary, Supercar, Sunahara Yoshinori, Puffy, the Chappie album etc.) and you’ll realize why the mid-to-late 1990s showed such creative energy in the mainstream arena.
The more this decade progresses, the more I realize that the quality decline of Japanese music in the last 7-8 years has been essentially a generational problem. We tend to discount bands once the members start hitting their late 30s, but Denki Groove, Scha Dara Parr, Cornelius, and other core members of Gen X keep providing a level of pop music and visual that strives towards artistry and critical irony. Maybe the latest Cornelius stuff is less essential, but he’s still schooling everyone else.
This ragtag mopey Generation Y has basically rejected any sort of artistic pretension on the grounds that it gets in the way of fraternal compassion. Everything’s gotta be “real” — like Let it Be over Sgt. Peppers. You can’t be earnest and ironic at the same time, and they’ve chosen the former.
Although I have blamed Gen Y’s cultural malaise on their navel-gazing insularity, Denki Groove shows that you can create gold out of exclusively domestic source material. The problem again is Generation Y’s failure to know how to remix, sample, and recontextualize their own Japanese pop heritage. When you think the entire exercise of “contemporary art” is pretentious fakery, you limit your creativity to a small scale that will not impress anyone outside of your peer group. Denki Groove are a band that contributed to the idea of “Japan Cool,” and they seem to be the only ones these days performing up to the promise.