Concert Review: City Pop Night

The future for future funk and city pop is as bright as ever.

2022, for me, has been the year of future funk and city pop. 2022 saw the release of Macross 82-99’s “Sailorwave III” and Yung Bae’s “Continental Groove” both just days from each other in March. I then talked about both albums in my highly controversial — on Reddit at least — essay “Dear Future Funk” in April. I then saw Yung Bae, along with the plethora of other future funk artists, during his “Continental Groove Tour,” which I wrote about for our A&E Summer Hits. As someone who has been listening to the genre since high school, this year has been something I could have only previously dreamed about. I would have been completely satisfied had my year ended with Yung Bae’s tour in September, I could not foresee any further events taking place in the remaining months of 2022. Yet, to my surprise, on Dec. 3, Night Tempo announced the “City Pop Night” event at Hollywood’s famous Fonda Theater. To further my surprise, Night Tempo was the headliner — up to this point he had primarily been the opener for Yung Bae’s shows — with support from JQ from Nulbarich and Ginger Root. I couldn’t believe my eyes — an event where city pop, the name given to 80s Japanese pop and where future funk gets most of its samples from, was given center stage in the title. This wasn’t a Night Tempo show or a Ginger Root show; it was an event entirely dedicated to city pop and other facets of Japanese culture, and it accomplished just that. 

The “City Pop Night” event was much more than just a music event, but also just a general appreciation for Japanese culture. The event was sponsored by several Japanese organizations including Japanese Products Produce INC, The Japanese Food Product Overseas Promotion Center, and both the Consulate General of Japan and Japan Foundation of Los Angeles, among others. The great amount of sponsors meant a lot of attention could be placed on making the event an enjoyable experience outside of just the music. 

The Fonda Theater has an outdoor patio where several food distributors set up stands to hand out free samples of their products. This completely caught me by surprise, as I knew there was going to be food at the event, but I didn’t think it would be free. Some of the stands included Yakult and their world renowned yogurt drink — quick aside: I actually didn’t know that Yakult was a Japanese product until earlier this year, I always thought it was Mexican, hopefully I’m not the only person who didn’t know that. Cheese tarts from BAKE were also featured, one of which was the most decadent dark chocolate tart I’ve ever tasted, wagyu beef from the Kirika Corporation that was cooked to perfection, melted in your mouth, and had the best ratio of meat to fat. Lastly, Autec — a company that specializes in sushi making machines — made an appearance with really good onigiri and sushi. In addition to the stands with free samples, the event also handed out goodie tote bags with the event name on them with items such as instant udon, sparkling orange juice, tea bags, tofu, and even an entire bottle of teriyaki sauce. This event was completely worth it alone for all of the treats that it gave to attendees. In addition to these perks, LA-based popup record shop We Share Records, owned and operated by DJ tsUgu Itagaki, who performed a small set at the patio, was at the show. From them, I purchased my Moby Dick of records, city pop idol Anri’s 1983 record: “Timely!!” Needless to say, I completely fell in love with this event, and I hadn’t even listened to any music up to this point.

JQ opened the night with a DJ set that, although wasn’t specifically Japanese city pop, still featured music from the 70s and 80s. He played mainstream hits like Toto’s “Africa,” Bobby Brown’s “Every Little Step,” “Turn Your Love Around” by George Benson, and would finish the set with Wham!’s iconic Christmas hit “Last Christmas” to really get the crowd into the spirit of the holiday season. While I personally really enjoyed his music selection, I would’ve liked to see more emotion from JQ as he mostly stayed stationary behind his turntables during his set, although he did have an instance of great crowd interaction where he gave a fan a free beer.

Before covering Ginger Root, I would like to cover headliner Night Tempo first. I want to establish that I love Night Tempo and his discography — I truly don’t think he has any bad tracks; all of his music can be danced to and is enjoyable to listen to. As a pioneer in the genre of future funk, it’s great to see the impact that he’s having on the genre and this event is proof of that. I think he did deliver on the music front of his performance. His set included a lot of his notable remixes of tracks like Kaoru Akimoto’s “Dress Down,” Anri’s “Lady Sunshine,” and, obviously, Miki Matsubara’s “Stay with Me.” I absolutely enjoy Night Tempo’s rendition of these songs and his ability to transform them into club/party music. However, much like JQ, what I think could take Night Tempo to the next level as a performer is an increased stage presence. Yes, he does have a fun gimmick of always wearing a shirt and tie to his performances. Yes, he does jump around during the show and have audience interaction through having the crowd turn on their flashlights and wave side to side. All of this is great, but it still leaves something to be desired, especially as the headliner. I don’t say any of this to knock Night Tempo down, as I really enjoy his performances and he has improved considerably since I first saw him open for Yung Bae in November 2021. I truly think he can only go up from here.

Now, Ginger Root. Oh, man, where to start? Ginger Root, a so-cal music project from Huntington Beach, California, definitely stole the entire show. My first experience with the group was when they opened for Hippo Campus in April 2022 at the North Park Observatory. I enjoyed how singer Cameron Lew would alternate between his normal microphone and a red phone that would add a grainy effect to his voice. In addition to Lew’s humor throughout the show and willingness to play his band’s rendition of anime openings, this small detail really hooked me onto the band. This time around, they had an entire production team to help them produce an amazing show. On both ends of the stage were CRT TVs that at first broadcasted the band’s logo, but then showed a live stream of the performance from the perspective of the band’s cameraman on stage — who deserves a shoutout for his amazing camera work.

Alongside the small details of Lew’s iconic red phone and the TVs, the band at one point played the intro to their music video for “Loneliness,” where fictional pop idol Kimiko Takeguchi quits right before a show and leaves her manager scrambling to find a replacement. I mention this because the cigarette-smoking manager from the video made an appearance during their show, which I thought was an amazing act.

As for their music, I believe Ginger Root is the best modern incarnate of city pop we have seen to date. They utilize several of the components of past pop like their strong, unique baselines, especially notable in tracks like the aforementioned “Loneliness,” their breakout hit “Loretta,” and crowd favorite “Weather.” In summation, Ginger Root is the perfect culmination of retro sound and visuals and is always a treat to watch perform.

Unfortunately for me, the night that was “City Pop Night” eventually came to a close. I think this event was one of the most important events for the city pop and future funk scene, and it will be the catalyst for a rise in such events. The future has never been brighter.

Photos by Helix Creative Solutions

One thought on “Concert Review: City Pop Night

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