Even In Techno-Charged Japan, Vinyl Makes Comeback

At a record store in Tokyo
At a record store in Tokyo
Hiraku Iwasaki

TOKYO â€" The large speakers at Quattro Labo, a music bar near Kichijoji Station in western Tokyo, mostly play U.S. rock music from the 1960s and 1970s: Bob Dylan, Ry Cooder, the Allman Brothers Band. Not only that, but the sound has a depth to it â€" along with the distinct scratch-and-pop effect â€" that makes it clear it's being played not on a computer or CD player, but on an old-fashioned record player.

The music cafe and dining bar, which celebrated its first anniversary on Nov. 1, was launched by Parco Co., a major operator of fashion retail businesses. The idea was to provide people with a space to enjoy music in a relaxed way.

Nearby, the HMV Record Shop, which opened in August last year in Tokyo, has some 80,000 records available, along with a record player priced at 9,980 yen, or about $80. On Nov. 3 â€" designated records day by the Recording Industry Association of Japan â€" the shop held a seminar for vinyl beginners on how to use a turntable, and how to appreciate the vinyl experience.

In Tokyo â€" Photo: Christian H.

This may be the heyday of digital music, in Japan as much as anywhere else, but at the same time, vinyl records are making a slow but steady comeback as people rediscover the warmth of the sound the analog format contains.

"The sounds of vinyl are filled with realism, and the large covers are very artistic, like paintings," says a 37-year-old woman and HMV Record Shop customer from Gyoda, Saitama Prefecture.

Vinyl records peaked in the late 1970s, when nearly 200 million were manufactured annually in Japan. Their output sharply declined after the advent of CDs, however, which first came out in 1982 and became the primary way of listening to music. Vinyl records were handed a further blow when Apple Inc. began its online music-distribution services.

A turning (back) point came in 2012, when the Beatles albums were reissued on vinyl records. The beauty of their sound captured people's attention once again, which led to more great jazz and rock records being reissued in the format.

Beatles vinyls in a Tokyo store â€" Photo: choo chin nian

This year, popular Japanese artists such as singer-songwriter Masaharu Fukuyama and idol girl group AKB48 released new songs on vinyl records, and the production quantity of vinyls recovered to more than 470,000 by the end of September, already surpassing last year's annual figure.

Business is busy trying to catch up with the trend. At Nagaoka Co. in Higashine, Yamagata Prefecture, which manufactures vinyl record needles, monthly output had been hovering below 100,000. Since last year, however, it has recovered to almost 200,000.

Although this is still far below the 1.2 million units of the company's heyday in the early 1980s, Masahiro Suzuki, president of the company, is positive. "The demand is constantly rising," he says. "So we increased the amount of equipment as well as the number of employees."

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Air Next: How A Crypto Scam Collapsed On A Single Spelling Mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money for a blockchain-powered e-commerce app. But the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors. A cautionary tale for the crypto economy.

Sky is the crypto limit

Laurence Boisseau

PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.

Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.

Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.

Share capital of one billion 

The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).

The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.

Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.

While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.

screenshot of the typo that revealed the Air Next scam

The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down

compta online

Raising Initial Coin Offering 

Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.

For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".

Finding culprits 

Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.

Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.

Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.

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