Record Stores, Amemura, Andee and Josh

29Nov06

During the last couple of years I’ve been buying a lot of music through Aquarius Records, which is just about one of the best record stores in the world. Established in 1970 (almost just like me!), Aquarius is a San Francisco institution and specializes in avant-garde contemporary music ranging from massively insane symphonic alterna-pop, to minimalist aleatory improvisation, to obscure free jazz re-releases, to the darkest and drudgiest of black metal four-track basement tapes. What’s massively great about the Aquarius site is that every two weeks they review a ton of new albums and provide a few mp3 excerpts so you can get a flavor for the music yourself. I like tasty music myself, so over the course of time I’ve built up a good relationship with several people who work in the mail-order department (thanks Christine!), but I’ve had the most email contact with Andee, who recently came to Japan with his friend Josh.

We only had one night out together in Osaka, but this ended up involving a fantastic evening of record store raids, obscure third-story punk/goth/visual-kei themed stores about the size of a closet, and ticket-vendor ramen. In fact, I think Andee and Josh ended up showing me around a lot more than I ended up showing them around. Andee runs the Tumult record label when he’s not writing Aquarius reviews (check out the Tumult site for a most gloriously disturbing “hello” image), and Josh owns a San Francisco-based bicycle and motorcycle messenger service (called Joshco!), and both of them are really into record collecting. So we ended up heading to America-mura (or “Amemura,” as the kids like to say), the center of Osaka’s underground youth culture, and Andee and Josh took me to all the best record stores.

First up was King Kong Records, which has an incredible selection of used music for really, really cheap. Japan is notorious for it’s high CD prices (like, $25 or $30), but all the discs at King Kong seem to be in the $10 range or cheaper. And apparently they sometimes just whack a couple of bucks off the price for fun. The hanging head pictured at the top of the page can be found around the entrance of King Kong.

After King Kong we headed over to Time Bomb Records, which probably has about the best punk rock selection in all of the Kansai, including a copy of some ultra-rare, limited production, Big Black single that you can pick up for around $900. Time Bomb is also a record label and has recently released two Puzzle Punks albums (Puzzle Punks are Yamantaka EYE and Shinro Ohtake), Budub and Puzzoo, both of which are amazing. I also picked up a copy of OOIOO‘s latest release, Taiga, which features incredible cover art by Shoji Goto of Eagle Design. It was while we were in line waiting to pay for our CDs that we noticed a striking similarity between one of the band members in the flier advertising the next Acid Eater show, and the guy behind the counter who we were giving our money to. Akiba-san noticed us noticing, and then gave us directions to Alchemy Records, where fellow Acid Eater Masonna (aka Yamazaki Maso) works.

On to Alchemy in a second, but first let’s make a brief and non-chronological stop at Grave Records, where Chew, the drummer for Corrupted works. Grave is hard to find, but really worth the looking if you’re into black metal. Located on the second or third floor of an out-of-the-way building on the edge of Amemura, you might need to ask around to find it (you can find a map in King Kong), but you’ll find recordings here that you won’t be able to find anywhere else — I picked up an incredible noise/metal album by Thee Suicide Splooges, as well as Corrupted’s incredible beautiful and powerful llenandose de gusanos. By the way, that’s Josh on the left, Andee in the middle, and Chew on the right. We did make plans to grab a beer with Chew after he got off of work, but unfortunately Andee and Josh had to take an early train back to Kyoto and it didn’t end up working out.

In fact, the nice people at Time Bomb not only told us how to get to Alchemy Records, they actually walked us to the door. Alchemy, which has branches in Osaka and Tokyo, is a small, second-floor (but top flight), record store that specializes in avant-garde, noise, psychedelic, improvisational, and other strange and difficult-to-find musical rarities. In fact, alchemy’s motto is “Strange music for strange people.” Alchemy was founded by Hijokaidan frontman Jojo Hiroshige, who, in addition to being a member of what Aquarius refers to as a “legendary Japanese guitar-destruction, electronic-overload and vocal-screech noise outfit,” apparently also started one of the first businesses in Japan dedicated to the sale of collectible baseball cards. And speaking of “electronic-overload,” Masonna, one of the greatest noise artists of all time, just happens to work at the Osaka branch of Alchemy.

After a long evening of walking and record shopping in Amemura (and failing to find any examples of Josh’s holy grail of “hard visual-kei music”) we needed some food. We walked over to the Dotombori, which was simply exploding with people since it was a Friday night. Josh, who is nicely tall, managed to get this amazing shot of the Dotombori — it’s a photograph that actually gives a sense of scale to the hordes of people that descend on the place, but manages to include all the fun of the neon and mechanical crabs too.

I think we were all totally wiped out after all the record shopping, so we passed every place to eat that had a line (which was almost all of them) and ended up eating ramen at a slightly out of the way, but very delicious, ramen-ya where you could also grab all the kimchi that your heart desired. Plus the theme was orange, and I think that Josh, Andee, and I, all greatly admired the bright orange wear being sported by the friendly staff. Who could resist a Puku-Puku shirt from the Moko Family?



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