TOKYO — 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 — along with the distinct scratch-and-pop effect — 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 — designated records day by the Recording Industry Association of Japan — the shop held a seminar for vinyl beginners on how to use a turntable, and how to appreciate the vinyl experience.
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In Tokyo — 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.
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Beatles vinyls in a Tokyo store — 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."