Cibo Matto and Shibuya-kei
by Barry Walters | February 14, 2014
After Kurt Cobain died and the whole grunge thing got even bigger and more commercial in the '90s and spawned all sorts of watered-down metal-rap permutations, some people wanted to hear music that was bright and colorful and everything that grunge was not. The antidote was found in Japan, or, rather, the particular cultural center of Tokyo. Shibuya is kind of like Times Square, but more teenage and female, offering one of Earth's most intense shopping experiences. The neighborhood's ultra-trendy stores favored a more worldly and bohemian alternative to mass-market J-pop, one that was soon dubbed Shibuya-kei. Influential American indie label Matador Records popularized the scene's leading acts, Pizzicato Five and Cornelius, while other U.S. upstarts like Grand Royal, Minty Fresh and Emperor Norton brought over Buffalo Daughter, Kahimi Karie and Takako Minekawa.
At the same time, Cibo Matto -- a New York duo of Japanese ex-pats -- made waves with similarly eclectic grooves. Their 1996 debut album, Viva! La Woman, merged hip-hop, indie rock and electronica with a crazy-quilt spirit akin to the Shibuya-kei acts. The follow-up, 1999's Stereo Type A, picked up more of the jazz element key to the Shibuya sound, which similarly revived bossa nova, bachelor pad exotica, yé-yé, disco funk, synth-pop and other bygone styles that didn't favor dudes with loud distorted guitars.
After disbanding in 2002, Cibo Matto are now back with their third album, Hotel Valentine. High-spirited and stylistically diverse like Shibuya-kei's heyday, it's got us dipping into the back catalogs of these fearlessly fun acts that crossed genres with scholarly skill just before the Internet and iPods made musical internationalism ridiculously easy.