The legendary Japanese designer has worked with everyone from Nike to Pokémon. He’s also made dubwise dance and pop music…
Hiroshi Fujiwara is a name most often associated with fashion. Credited as the “Godfather of Harajuku,” Fujiwara is known worldwide for his far-reaching ideas as a tastemaker and his influence on the global streetwear phenomena cannot be mistaken (he was one of first designers to release clothes in small, limited-edition numbers). Sometimes forgotten, though, are his contributions to music and the underground club scene in Tokyo. Long before becoming a designer, Fujiwara was actually a session musician, producer, and DJ who brought crucial sounds from overseas back to his native Tokyo and, in the process, forged a singular musical identity that merged elements of punk, hip-hop, and dub with a uniquely Japanese aesthetic.
Born in the ’60s in the city of Ise, Japan, Fujiwara started frequenting clubs at a young age after listening to a compilation record called A Night at Studio 54. In his teenage years, he traveled to London where he spent time with fashion mavericks Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood, shared an apartment with Boy George from Culture Club, and became obsessed with punk. Tipped off by McLaren, Fujiwara expanded his travels to New York, where he would experience the golden age of hip hop and bring crates full of records back to Japan.
Fujiwara on his musical influences: “Punk has a lot of spirituality. It’s the kind of attitude that makes you do something a little strange or make fun of something popular. Hip hop is based on sampling, which is like reconstructing from what you already have, and that’s fascinating. This had an impact not only on music but on fashion as well.”
Stylistically, Fujiwara’s own music covers the spectrum, but a DIY punk attitude and dub/hip-hop sensibility remains consistent throughout. To get a sense of his approach: An early release on Japan’s first dance music imprint Major Force featured a spoken-word cover of The Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood” mixed with a downtempo hip-hop and dub inspired groove. Fujiwara would also remix Y.M.O. for Alfa Records, Michael Jackson for Motown, develop a Japanese lovers rock sound, produce house for pop singers, and fuse classical piano with dub. Recently, his 2005 album Classic Dub Classics was reissued as a mobile electronic Buddhist altar machine in collaboration with Crue-L.
Fujiwara continues to make music to this day alongside his countless other creative endeavors. His latest album slumber 2 was released in 2020 and blends various genres including city pop, vaporwave, disco, and funk.
Below, we’ve put together a selection of some of our favorite tracks by the Japanese culture king. Note that this is just a small selection of favorites. We hope this list encourages a deeper dive into Fujiwara’s world because there are so many other aspects and sounds to uncover!
Subliminal Calm – 誰もいない (Ain’t Noone Judge Us)
A sublime mix of country, dub, folk and soul music featuring Fujiwara alongside Mute Beat’s dub specialist Izumi “DMX” Miyazaki and reggae brass player Masayuki Kundo.
Luv Master X – Dawn (Dub’s Dub)
Luv Master X, a duo with Izumi “DMX” Miyazaki, presented a Japanese lovers rock sound that often featured sentimental melodies played on keyboards and steel pan.
Hiroshi Fujiwara – Dahlia
“Dahlia” is the opening track on Bill Laswell’s Abstract Depressionism compilation. Fitting under the ’90s illbient genre, the track features a dubwise soundscape with hip-hop style beat production and atmospheric piano.
Hiroshi Fujiwara – Crystal Dub
Closer to ambient than dub, Fujiwara skips the downtempo breakbeat on this one resulting in a wonderfully meditative piano track that reminds us a bit of Hiroshi Yoshimura’s environmental music.
Hiroshi Fujiwara – Dub Hunter
Verging on trip-hop, “Dub Hunter” smacks with sampled percussion and sub-heavy bass. Released on Atelier de Production et de Création (APC), a French fashion label.
T.P.O – Hiroshi’s Dub (Savanna Mix)
Tiny Panx Organization were a hip-hop duo consisting of Major Fore’s Kan Takagi and Hiroshi Fujiwara. They also made house music. “Hiroshi’s Dub” was apparently played by DJ Harvey, but we’re not entirely sure which version (there are a few great ones including one from Joe Claussell).
KoizumixProduction – No No No (Flipper’s + HF Mix)
Fujiwara produced a number of great tracks for the raspy voiced Japanese pop singer and actress Kyôko Koizumi. This remix features Flipper’s Guitar aka Keigo Oyamada (Cornelius) and Kenji Ozawa.
Hiroshi Fujiwara – La Dolce Vita (feat. Kahimi Karie)
The most dubbed out track on this list is also the cutest, featuring some carefree, wordless vocalizing from Shibuya-kei singer Kahimi Karie. Sounds like the soundtrack to a sweet life indeed…
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