Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Vinyl Revival: Reflections on this year's Record Store Day in Japan

I had planned on following up my pieces on the pesudo-idol Oomori Seiko with a snip of info on an interesting 7" single she put out recently by a newly formed independent label. As I snooped on her page for info, though, I noticed that two of her releases would be getting 12" vinyl treatments to commemorate Record Store Day in Japan this year, taking place this weekend on April 19th. So my focus and attention ended up taking a huge shift towards that topic, which will probably be better in the long run, anyways.

Green House is my favorite record store to go to in Okayama. They have also joined Record Store Day festivities. 

In the US and perhaps even in Europe and overseas there have been numerous stories popping up about the revival of vinyl amid declining CD sales and the rise of digital music. Since I listen to so much Japanese music, lack a record store in the area, and have very few friends into underground music, I had no idea that this had all been happening quite recently and was gaining some serious momentum, with many bands opting to release vinyl, from big name chart toppers on the radio doing sales of both CD and vinyl upon release, or the hundreds of aspiring bands who via bandcamp release their own records from their garage.

Still, this whole movement didn't entirely escape the Japanese music I listen to and just last year, Top Shelf Records, who churn out a lot of vinyl records from various bands, signed toe of post-rock fame to their roster and pressed their entire discography to vinyl. Tapes were also making a comeback next to vinyl, with a lot of emo and post-rock bands getting US released tapes from places like Meatcube label and Keep it Together Records. When I saw names I was familiar with releasing stuff in the US - and not on CD, I realized that the vinyl movement (or perhaps, because it included tapes, too, an alternative to the CD movement) was encompassing quite a bit of the underground scene and encroaching upon Japan.

Recently I contacted a Japanese musician about releasing his work on tapes and he thought that it was a grand idea. He was well aware of vinyl being popular among foreign musicians but said that it might be a bit too early for Japanese bands to start exclusively releasing vinyl like their counterparts in the US. He gave a practical reason: Japanese apartments are tiny and CDs are much more convenient for the space-conscious Japanese citizen. Not many people have vinyl players on hand, too, perhaps because it was rare for bands to release stuff on vinyl and they could just opt for the CDs anyways.

Eiichiro Taruki's "Analog" will be on sale during Record Store Day Japan
Hopefully the future of vinyl has a greater outlook than the dude on the cover

Record Store Day Japan seems to ignore these reasons and has set out to release a pretty varied catalog of exclusive records. Last year the output was miniscule, given it was the first year, but this year there are some huge names on the list from all across the Japanese music spectrum. Big name rock acts Asian Kung-fu Generation are pressing their first EP on a 12" and Quruli has a 7" single for release. Most surprising are the releases in the pop category: Kimura Kaela and Yasutaka Nakata's world-famous Kyary Pamyu Pamyu both show face in the Record Store Day release catalog. Finally, jazz rockers the band apart have two singles and two new faces to the singer/songwriter idol scene that I've mentioned on this blog before, YeYe and the aforementioned Oomori Seiko, are releasing 12" albums. You can view them all on the official release page.

Of course, whether Record Store Day will inspire a cult following and a flock of the masses to purchase vinyl records to listen to their wares is entirely unclear - they may just gobble up these limited edition releases for their collectors value and have them as display. I just read the article on Record Store Day from the Japan Times (I'm glad I'm not the only one paying attention to the event) and the shopkeeper they interviewed was wary of the event losing its intended purpose and just being an outlet to acquire these collectors gems. He is critical of the mail order system but I think that should be kept to a minimum. I'm sure some consumers in Japan just can't get to record stores but still want to take part by purchasing the records(hint: people like me, who don't live in Japan).

Still, the fact that Record Store Day has definitely been upped a level in Japan is pointing to Japan perhaps catching on to the trend in other countries of becoming vinyl-centric in the underground community but with the penchant for Japanese consumers to gobble up anything limited for the sake of it being just that, the music market will have to market vinyl carefully so these records are actually listened to and the format becomes more than just a niche collectors piece. It may take awhile, but the seeds of change seem to be sprouting just a little bit for the vinyl scene in Japan. And when I think of this video and others that have highlighted the fact that Japanese people buy CDs for anything but the music when it comes to idol groups, maybe vinyl is the saving grace for the underground community to migrate to a format that doesn't come with all the same stigma.

If you're in Japan this week, check out the main page to see which record shops are in the area and for everything else about the event.
And for an even better insight on Record Store Day (and a much better organized, researched, and well written article) the Japan Times Article I mentioned earlier in the post is a must read.


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