Piko Piko – A look at Picopop on the 34th birthday of Yellow Magic Orchestra’s debut

Yellow Magic Orchestra (1978)
Back in 1978, on 25 November, pioneering Japanese group, Yellow Magic Orchestra released their influential, eponymous, debut full-length. The album and group are widely credited with being very influential on the development of several music genres, including ambient, chiptune, electrohip hop, house, J-pop, synthpop, and techno, to name a few.


The band (also known as YMO) were also on influence on another Japanese scene that emerged around the dawn of the 21st Century, picopop (or ピコポップ). Bands and performers such as EeL, Hi-Posi, Motocompo, Plus-tech Squeeze Box, Sonic Coaster Pop, and Strawberry Machine updated the shibuya-kei (渋谷系) style popularized in the 1990s by Cibo MattoCorneliusFlipper’s Guitar, Pizzicato Five, and Original Love by adding some good, old fashioned, electro elements with a sensibility that often recalls YMO.
Capsule Plastic Girl Capsule More More More
Capsule in shibuya-kei mode –> Capsule in picopop mode
Shibuya-kei had initially drawn largely on bossa novajazz, lounge, and yé-yé. In the late 1990s and early 2000s it began to evolve into “picopop” for for the “piko” sounds of classic game sound effects and scores.  Some acts, like Capsule (カプセル), began their careers making shibuya-kei before thoroughly transitioning into picopop. Others, like Yukari Fresh Colorful System, combine elements of both closely associated scenes.

Usagi-Chang abcdefg*records YMCK live

Usagi Chang (Little Bunny) Records is the label most associated with pico pop although Motocompo’s Shibuya-based label, Poplot and Columbia Nippon‘s J-Pop branch, Heat Wave, also released popular picopop albums. In the past few years, abcdefg* have released (and re-released) picopop recordings.

 

The amount of electro elements vary from performer to performer and often song to song. Perhaps the sometimes ridiculously twee, kawaii, visual aspect is almost as important as the music. Judge for yourself by sampling the following picopop videos and happy birthday Yellow Magic Orchestra!

Plus-Tech Squeeze Box
Capsule
Cubismo Grafico
The Aprils
Macdonald Duck Eclair
Hazel Nuts Chocolate
Omodaka


Strawberry Machine

Hi-Posi


Motocompo 


Sucrette

naivepop or petitfool

YMCK

Laugh & Peace
Marino

 

Other artists to check out for those so inclined include: ColtemonikhaMisswonda, EeLSonic Coast PopNagisa Cosmetic, and Copter4016882. Ja!Update: In 2013 American singer from San Gabriel, Joanna Wang, released an album (Galaxy Crisis: The Strangest Midnight Broadcast) that marks a stylistic shift into Picopop — probably one of the first Americans to work in the genre.

*****
 

Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, writer, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities — or salaried work. He is not interested in writing advertorials, clickbait, listicles, or other 21st century variations of spam. Brightwell’s written work has appeared in AmoeblogdiaCRITICS, and KCET Departures. His work has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft & Folk Art MuseumForm Follows FunctionLos Angeles County StoreSkid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured in the Los Angeles TimesHuffington PostLos Angeles MagazineLAistEastsider LABoing BoingLos Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRW‘s Which Way, LA? and at Emerson College. Art prints of his maps are available from 1650 Gallery and on other products from Cal31. He is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

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