DJ and Vinyl Collector Endy Chen Gives Us the Lowdown on City Pop

By Bryan Grogan, July 30, 2019

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For the Record is a regular series where we ask local tastemakers about a cultural niche. This month we spoke to Zhejiang-based DJ and vinyl collector Endy Chen about Japanese music genre city pop. 

City pop music began as the Japanese answer to new wave in the late ’70s, with new money and a new lifestyle in Japan calling for a novel soundtrack. Combining a variety of musical elements, such as funk, soul, jazz and more, the genre was sometimes derided during the late ’70s and throughout the ’80s for being kitschy and aimed at the Japanese equivalent of yuppies. 

With the passing of years, however, city pop has once again come back into the mainstream with musicians offering their own slant on the form. With the emergence of new genres which have taken influence from city pop, like vaporwave, future funk and nu disco, the musical style has come back into vogue. 

We got in touch with DJ, vinyl collector and all-round musical archivist Endy Chen, who gave us more insight into his own thoughts on this style of music:

“Basically, to me, city pop is kind of like a large fusion of rock, funk and soul as well as jazz and even reggae. It’s more like a feeling, like that of a vintage style set within an urban setting.

“As for why this style of music rose to popularity when it did, I think that it had something to do with producers who began to use certain types of equipment to make their music, such as Roland 808s, DX-7 keyboard and many others. These producers obviously enjoyed the sound of this modernistic music, and it helped listeners relate to the rising standard of living in Japan at the time, so they could enjoy this ’80s music more and more.

“My personal favorite city pop album was made by Makoto Matsushita. His debut album First Light, which was released in 1981, is a fusion of rock, funk and disco with a bit of jazz. All of these, combined with his emotional vocal, make for a very mellow and urban sound. 

“I think people don’t really care to try to understand the lyrics, but mostly just enjoy the music. That’s the point of city pop music, simple, relax and slightly groovy.

“In fact beginning in the ’80s, Japanese music started to filter over to China in a very special way. As far as I am aware even on the Chinese mainland there were many Japanese pop songs that were covered around that time. At the same time there were many, many more in Hong Kong and Taiwan (Editor’s note: look up Sandy Lam’s album City Rhythm or Anita Mui’s cover of Marika Takeuchi’s ‘Plastic Love’ for reference).

“At the moment, old city pop vinyl records are at their highest price ever; let’s just say that they have reached crazy prices already. For me personally, I just love the simple, romantic sound of this genre of music, the songs have a loving feeling.”

Stay up-to-date with Endy’s musical exploits on Groove Bunny Records Bandcamp page. 

[Cover image courtesy of Endy Chen]

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