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Members include Ryo Kamomiya (group member, 1984-88), various instruments; BravoKmatsu (joined group, 1995), guitar; Yasuharu Konishi(born on February 3, 1959, Tokyo, Japan), guitars, bass, samples; Maki Nomiya (joined group, 1990), vocals; Mamiko Sasaki (group member, 1984-88), vocals; Takao Tajima (group member, 1988-90), vocals; Keitaro (some sources say "K-Taro") Takanami(group member, 1984-94), various instruments. Addresses: Record company--Matador Records, 625 Broadway, 12th Floor, New York, NY 10012, website: http://www.matadorrecords.com. Website--Pizzicato Five at Matador Records: http://www.matadorrecords.com/pizzicato_five.

Pizzicato Five leader Yasuharu Konishi told the San Jose Mercury News, "I always think about pop not as pop music but just as pop art." Konishi, the musical director of the Japanese group--which makes a collage of obscure samples, dance beats, noise, movie chic and fashion absurdity--added, "Whenever I compose, I just imagine, in my mind, what to wear for the song." This celebration of surface pleasures has resonated strongly with international audiences, and has helped P5, as the group is called for short, to surmount the language barrier. Assisted by singer-model Maki Nomiya and a rotating crew of musicians, deejays, and dancers, Konishi has brought his "smile pop" to a growing cult audience in the United States as well. An attempt by Barry Walters of the San Francisco Examiner to describe the P5 concert experience was typically lengthy: "Imagine every great record you've ever heard stuck in a blender overlaid with the most experimental heavy metal guitar you've never heard combined with the most outstanding montage of video clips you can't imagine plus superadorable camp fashions, all synthesized through a demented Japanese consumerist impression of America," he wrote. "Then try to imagine something better than that and you might be begin to understand what happened Thursday night at the Great American Music Hall."

The group formed during the early 1980s. Konishi, who grew up adoring his family's lounge and jazz records, met Keitaro Takanami while the two were at Aoyama University in 1979; the pair started a band with another friend, Ryo Kamomiya. After several years the group enlisted vocalist Mamiko Sasaki. The group released its debut single, "Audrey Hepburn Complex," in 1985. The personnel shifted numerous times in the ensuing years; in 1988, Kamomiya and Sasaki departed and Takao Tajima joined the group, only to be replaced by Nomiya in 1990. Takanami eventually departed to do solo work; guitarist Bravo Kmatsu brought his thrashing, metallic theatricality to the group in 1995. P5 became increasingly popular in Japan; based in the hip Tokyo neighborhood of Shibuya, they continued to hone Konishi's eclectic vision.

"Pervasive" Pop Knowledge

This vision has a great deal to do with his enormous record collection, which boasts the now-hip "bachelor pad" recordings of Les Baxter and Juan Esquivel, the orchestral pop of Burt Bacharach, along with soul jazz, hippie folk, spy movie soundtracks, electronic dance music, and virtually everything in between. "I have thousands of records," Konishi told BAM. "I pick up stuff mostly from records of the '60s and '70s-- music before the digital age." He further commented that his favorites "have atmosphere or some kind of smell."

What binds these widely divergent styles together into P5 has as much to do with their retro charm as their musical reach. "We don't like to limit ourselves with one type of music," was Konishi's understated admission in Billboard. "When I first saw them," Atlantic Records executive Michael Krumper added in the same article, "it struck me that they're what Andy Warhol would create if he were putting together a band for the '90s." Krumper further noted that P5 "sample from every area of pop culture, reflecting their pervasive knowledge of pop music."

Fashion Sense, U.S. Appeal

Nomiya, meanwhile, helped crystallize the group's visual aspect. A veteran of the bands Hot Pink and Portable Rock, she has for the most part left the songwriting to Konishi so as to maximize her main task: "I choose the costumes, wigs, and makeup," she informed Puncture, and told Paper's Marisa Fox, "I love 60's fashion because it is so colorful and the materials, like polyester, are so new." Her frequent outfit changes during P5 concerts adds to their circus-like unpredictability. "Through myriad costume changes," observed Mercury News writer Yoshi Kato, "Nomiya takes on many personas--Diana Ross and all three Supremes, a Swiss mountain girl, a 1930s nightclub diva." Walters of the San Francisco Examiner characterized the singer as "[Japanese cartoon hero] Hello Kitty reborn as a drag queen." Konishi and P5's fans clearly view her as a major pop icon. "I have three superstars: [French avant-garde filmmaker Jean-Luc] Godard, Warhol, and Maki," Konishi asserted in Puncture. Reviewers have repeatedly cited a P5 song lyric that seems to capture her stylistic outlook: "cute, gorgeous, and in bad taste."

P5's records were largely unavailable to American audiences except as foreign imports until the group signed with Matador Records. Their first album for the label, Made in USA, a compilation of tracks from their substantial catalog of Japanese recordings, was released in 1994. Reviewing it, Johnny Ray Huston of the San Francisco Weekly dubbed them "easily the smartest, most stylish import concoction to hit the States this year." Thanks to heavy video and radio rotation for the single "Twiggy Twiggy/Twiggy Vs. James Bond," the group was able to garner an American following. "I think Matador has intelligent listeners," Konishi reflected in Puncture. "In Japan they have more sense of humor, and Matador has a sense of humor. Pizzicato Five is a joke. It means nothing."

"Hip Like Sushi"

Their second American release, The Sound of Music by Pizzicato Five, was released jointly by Matador and its parent company, Atlantic; the group also landed a song on the soundtrack to the film Unzipped, a documentary about fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi. Indeed, the group's style-obsessed eclecticism seemed to epitomize the post-MTV fashion universe. "They're about costumes and dressing up, full theatricality and spectacle," insisted Matador's Patrick Amory in Billboard. "They're all about style." Konishi claimed in Spin that the whole package made sense in performance: "Without the visuals," he asserted, "people wouldn't understand us." According to Paper's Fox, the group's "intention was never to be a straightforward band. Think of them instead as more of a conceptual band, part theater of the absurd, part veritably loopy musical outfit."

BAM described P5's appeal in terms of novelty: "They're hip like sushi; bubbly like imported champagne; strange and kitschy like Japanimation; theatrical like Kabuki, and fun like [fellow dance-pop internationalists] Deee-Lite." For Konishi, however, his group provides not so much a trip across cultural borders as unlimited travel through different eras. "Today, we have a time machine," he told Puncture. "It's called a sample machine."

The group's next album, Happy End of the World, was simultaneously released in Japan and the United States. Entertainment Weekly writer Matt Diehl remarked that, "not since [German electronic band] Kraftwerk has a band been able to conjure the future by referring to the past and make it seem as strange, glamorous, and relevant as this." Nomiya's sense of style was once an important factor in the final product. Diehl likened her vocal contributions to a "spacier age of Pucci prints and That Girl." Matador Records followed the release of the album with a series of limited edition 12-inch vinyl records, each containing remixed versions of songs off Happy End of the World. All of the remixed versions were compiled on one CD, Happy End of You, in 1998. The vinyl records and the CD feature remixes by like-minded artists such as Dimitri from Paris, Momus, Saint Etienne, and Gus Gus.

Playboy & Playgirl followed in 1999. Matador touted the CD as "moody and introspective ... a rich, slightly uneasy record." The first release of the new millennium was the accurately-titled The Fifth Release from Matador, which Magnet likened to an "electronic vaudeville show." Wall of Sound called Release "an intoxicating cocktail of beats and colors that swirl and explode like a Roy Liechtensten collage. When Pizzicato Five gets in this zone ... all the world's a runway, and everyone's a size four and working it on pinpoint stilettos."

Music, Models, and Mayhem

Konishi and Nomiya decided to part ways in 2001 and retire the Pizzicato Five name after one final concert in their hometown of Tokyo. They went out, in typical Pizzicato Five fashion, with an all-night concert featuring music, models, and mayhem. A compilation album of greatest hits, Pizzicato Five R.I.P.: Big Hits and Jet Lags, was released on the same day as their final concert, March 31, 2001. Konishi commented on his band's longevity in Metropolis Japan Beat, "We're like a well-made toy. We've lasted 17 years--that's more than most cars."

by Simon Glickman

Pizzicato Five's Career

Group formed in Tokyo, Japan, c. 1984; released debut Japanese single, "Audrey Hepburn Complex," on Teichiku label, 1985; signed with CBS/Sony Japan, released album Couples, 1987; signed with Matador label in U.S., released stateside debut, Made in USA, 1994; song "Happy Sad" appeared on soundtrack to film Unzipped, 1995; released Happy End of the World, 1997; released remix album Happy End of You, 1998; released Playboy & Playgirl, 1999, and The Fifth Release from Matador, 2000; broke up, released greatest hits/farewell compilation in Japan, Pizzicato Five R.I.P.: Big Hits and Jet Lags, 2001.

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