French born, now Japan based, record collector and DJ Alixkun is the co-founder of Jazzy Couscous, who first blipped on our radar with the Once Upon a Time In Japan compilation, co-curated by Brawther in 2015, which anthologised early deep house in the Far East and came at just the right time to ride a wave of increased public hunger for the sound. While music for clubs dominates much of what Jazzy Couscous do – mainly of Japanese origin but also further afield – they throw plenty of warmth towards softer sounds too. Their Kumo No Muko compilation series shines a spotlight on synth-pop and ambient from the 80s and, with the second one soon on the way, we had a chat with Alix about his life as a record collector. He’s also put together a 90 minute, vinyl-only mix titled ‘Jazzy Matsuri’ (matsuri meaning “festival”), honing in on Japanese Jazz.
Kumo No Muko Vol 2 is out now – buy from Juno.
DJs and producers often mention their musical education came through their family’s record collection. Was this the case for you? Can you pick out any pivotal records from your upbringing that informed your musical journey?
Well, I guess I’m no exception to this one. My dad used to be a big record collector and even had a small show on a local radio station in France. Records were all around me as I grew up. My father was heavily into Soul and 60’s/70’s Rhythm & Blues, Otis Redding, Al Green, Marvin Gaye…Unfortunately, as he and my mom divorced when I was 5, he sold his entire collection, and I then lost my precious access to this wonderful library. It’s a record from that time, 87 (I was born in 82), that stuck to my mind, and that I remember listening to often: Johnny Clegg & Savuka with “Third World Child”. Songs like “Asimbonanga” or “Scatterlings of Africa” definitely resonate in me even to this day.
People buy records for a multiple of reasons. What first drew you to collecting records and what motivates you to continue digging after all these years?
For me, it was very circumstantial. I started DJying with House music around 2003/2004. At that time, Detroit deep house was really my thing as I was discovering the likes of Moodyman and Theo Parrish. I was also heavily into the Masters At Work’s House sound, from 90~95, with all those B-side remixes of R&B artists. But all those were only available on 12inch records. It was very hard to find them with good sound quality on the internet at that time, and they were not released on CD for most of them, so literally the only way I had to play them, was to play them on vinyl. That’s how I started to massively buy house 12inch records, not so much for the media itself, but really because I needed the object to play the music! Then, when I arrived in Japan for the first time in 2005, it was like living the dream: Hundreds of second-hand record shops, filled with records, and a lot of good ones. This desire of exploring at the same time the 90s house music scene, and a new country that had so much to offer, I think that’s what kept me digging in Japan for all those years.
Where do you store your records and how do you file them?
I store my records home, on record shelves. Very traditional. As for the sorting, first I separate them in big categories, like House music, Soul, Jazz, Japanese…And then within those categories, I have subcategories. Usually, the first subgenre is by “style”, like New York House, or Japanese Ambient. Then within this sub-category, I usually go by artist, or label, whichever makes more sense (Like, for Masters At Work, it makes more sense to go by artist, but for Strictly Rhythm 12s for instance, it makes more sense to go with the label).
What are your favourite spots to go digging and why?
In Tokyo, I would mention the following:
Face Records: Selection is always great, in any genre, they have fair prices most of the time, and staff is super nice as well.
Ella Records: Same as the above. Their special sales can be very impressive sometimes, with a lot of rare records dispatched.
Coconuts Disk Ekoda: I discovered a lot of good Japanese records there. It’s a very laid back shop, in a quiet part of Tokyo. I really like it.
Any Disk Union shop: They’re incredible with their consistency in putting out very rare and fairly priced second hands records. It’s incredible.
In Paris, I would mention:
Heartbeat Vinyl: The best record shop in Paris for me. Awesome selection of Japanese, Soul, Funk, Jazz and House records, and great recommendation from Melik, the shop owner.
Listen!: A new shop that has just opened, and run by Thomas, an incredibly nice and seasoned digger, who knows Japan also very well!
Betino: THE legendary record shop in Paris. Do I really need to introduce it?
Digging isn’t just about the records you find, but the people who help you find them. Who are some of the colorful characters you’ve met on your travels in record stores around the world? Any unsung heroes you’d like to shout out?
Well, my ultimate digging buddies are Melik & Josh, the “Escalator/Elevator” team. Melik is the owner of Heartbeat Vinyl in Paris, and Josh is a British digger working for some Japanese record shop chains, helping them to go on digging tour in Europe. For the past 5 years, every year, twice a year, we’ve been hanging out together in Tokyo, cruising Japanese record shops and having a very good laugh. They’re very experienced diggers, and I’ve learned a lot just by tagging along. Among the DJs who come here on tour, I would mention Brawther, for his extensive knowledge of House music, Hugo LX for his incredible transversal knowledge and love for Japanese Music and Curtis (DJ 6TS) from Clique Record in Seoul, the biggest digger of Obscure Korean treats. Last, I’d like to shout out to QPchan, the nicest French digger in Japan, the Shibaura Sound System crew (Theo, Elliot, Arthur, Guy) and the whole Ideala Family: Sakamoto san (Visit his Tangram hair salon!), Yohei, Matsumura san, Adam etc…They’re all serious diggers, and I respect them a lot.
Is there a record (or records), that has continued to be elusive over the years?
Yes! Not many though. After 10 years in Japan, it’s extremely rare to not have had the chance even once to get your hands on any record. But it happened to me, with a record from The Ecstasy Boys called “Love & Dream”. It contains a track we’ve put on our Japanese House music compilation back in 2015, but I was never able to find this record, in stores or even online. I know it’s been sold on discogs twice, but I’ve always missed it. Brawther supposedly has a copy for me, but I’ve never seen it!
Do you prefer record shopping as a solitary process or with friends to nerd out with and search or strange sounds together? If the latter, who do you like to go digging with?
Those are two very distinct processes. Usually, I’d say I prefer to go alone, as I want to be the master of my own time when I go digging, to move from one shop to another. When you go digging with a friend, it’s rare that both end their session at the same time, and one always end up waiting for the other. But I also enjoy very much going with a friend, it’s just that when I go with a friend, it’s less “serious”, and I expect that I might not be able to listen to all the records I would have wanted to.
Walking into a record shop can be quite a daunting experience. Do you have a digging process that helps you hone in on what you’re after?
Since I visit record shops regularly (every weekend), I usually only go through their “new arrival section. If it’s a long time I haven’t done it, I go through the whole stock of the shop, just to make sure I haven’t missed anything in between. Also now, I tend to concentrate on “special sales”. In Japan it’s really a thing: every Saturday, all the disk union shops (there must be around 50) and all the HMV shops have “theme sales”. One shop might decide to go with a Japanese Synth-pop sale. The other might go for US disco 12inch sales. Etc etc…This is when the rare stuff come out, and the good thing is, those shops announce which record will go on sale before-hand, so you can make your little weekend plan depending on what you’re after. These 2 chains are really crushing the market when it comes to 2nd hand records. I of course sometimes also visit smaller & older shops, but the stock rotation is often much slower, and paying them a visit once or twice a year is usually enough for my needs.
How big a role does album artwork play in your digging?
For me it’s huge. I’ve come across tons of excellent records just by trusting my instincts regarding the artwork. I think the artwork says a lot about a record when you have no idea what it can be: If it’s a picture, the picture quality, the codes, the light, the haircut and clothes style of people on the picture. These are all elements of interpretation. For instance in Japan during the 80’s, there was a big boom revolving around traveling to a resort on some tropical island. If you see this kind of imagery on a record in Japan, you can be pretty sure it’s from the 80’s, and it’ll have some resort-inspired musical theme. It’s just an example among many others, but to me, artwork plays a very big role when trying to guess records I’ve never seen before.
Could you tell us a bit about the premiere we have ?
“Sur La Terra”, by Yasuno Tomoko, is the very definition of what was called “techno pop”, or “synth pop” in Japan in the 80’s. Production is handled by none other than Haruomi Hosono, a prominent member of Yellow Magic Orchestra, and maybe the most gifted Japanese musician who ever existed. His production on this track is typical of the kind of experimentation he would do in that era (84), laying down the bases for more electronic productions, while still keeping a jazzy groove in its keys & bass approach. Yasuno’s lyrics are sung in French, which is typical for that period of time in Japan, where you’ll find a lot of song or album titles in French. As a French native, I must say the Japanese accents adds cuteness to it, but makes it quite difficult to decipher 🙂
Casting the net wider now, who are some of the record collectors you most admire and why?
Here in Japan, I would mention Dubby, known internationally through his Ondas online shop. He was one of the first to excavate Japanese rare records, and I respect him for that.
The guy who helped me get a lot of my first House references, Tom Dallas. He had almost the complete collection of Moodyman and Theo Parrish productions back in 2004, I was so impressed.
Melik from Heartbeat of course. almost 30 years of digging, an incredible knowledge. I’m impressed every time we go digging together.
Last, I would mention Sakamoto san, from Ideala Family. Running a very 80’s inspired Hair Salon in Tokyo, he owns an impressive collection of Japanese ambient, obscure, leftfield records. I was literally amazed when I saw his collection for the first time.
And are there any young collectors emerging who we should keep a close eye on?
People I already mentioned above: DJ 6TS, the whole Shibaura Sound System crew for sure. I would add to them the guys from La Mamie’s, dedicated DJs, authentic diggers at heart, and Midori, the boss of Menace records.
Anything on the horizon you’re excited about?
The upcoming release of Matthieu Faubourg’s first album on Jazzy Couscous. One of the most talented young producer in France at the moment. Coming out this November.
You’re based in Tokyo how did that happen?
I arrived in Japan for the first time back in 2005. I loved it so much that I decided to stay, but couldn’t on the first try. Had to go back to France, then came back in 2008, and I’ve been living in Tokyo since then. I’ve been heavily influenced by Japanese sub-culture during my childhood. I grew up in the 80s in France, so you’re talking Video games, Anime, Manga, Toys…Literally everything the children love came from Japan at that time. I was just bound to come to Japan at some point in my life. One funny anecdote is, I remember listening to City Hunter 91′ OST back in 96, and I would dream about going to Japan someday. Fast forward 20 years later, I realize one of the songs that was on this soundtrack was actually produced by Soichi Terada, who I had met already and who had a song on our “House…Once upon a time in Japan” compilation. It just showed me how, as a kid, I was unconsciously heavily influenced by Japanese music through alternative media such as Anime or Video Games, and why I felt nostalgic when digging through Japanese productions of the 80’s after I arrived in Tokyo.
How have you seen Tokyo change over the years?
Tokyo changes at a very high pace. It’s very different from European cities in that regard. Japanese are used to taking down old buildings and building new ones, same goes for the record shops.
A lot of record shops have disappeared compared to when I first arrived in Japan back in 2005, but also a lot of new record shops have appeared.
In general, the record digging scene is very active here, but one thing that has changed since around 2014~15, is that Japan finally started to become conscious of the interest from foreign diggers in their past local productions. HMV started the trend by re-issuing classics such as Taeko Ohnuki’s Sunshower, or Hiroshi Sato’s Orient. Soon, others started to follow, HMV increased the pace of their re-issues, and a lot of compilations, including mines, helped to spread Japanese music to western territories. This triggered a slow but firm increase in prices locally. Some records that used to be sold for $20, $30 here would suddenly hit the shelves with a $200 sticker. It’s kind of inevitable, but it’s quite a bummer for a lot of diggers living in Tokyo. They basically have to pay prices paid by customers outside of Japan, which creates a weird phenomenon: local people consider a record is too expensive, so they don’t buy it. It’s also becoming too expensive for foreign diggers to make a substantial margin, so they don’t buy it either. Eventually, the only people who still find interest in such price ranges are foreign tourists, who can buy the record slightly cheaper than what they’d had to pay for in Europe/US. Most Typical example of this phenomenon is “For You”, by Yamashita Tatsuro. People have to realize, in terms of sales volumes, Yamashita Tatsuro is the equivalent of a Bruce Springsteen, or a George Michael. His albums were printed with millions of copies, so it’s nothing close to a rare record. 5 years ago, it’s a record you would find in any Tokyo record store for $5. Then it started to increase: $10, $15, $20…Then you started to not find this record anymore. And then when you’d see it again, it was at $30, then 40$…Now you’re lucky if you find it below $40. I’ve seen some shops trying to sell it for $70 or 80$. For a local, this just doesn’t make any sense. Even for foreign dealers, this is too much. This is totally hype induced, and some record stores are trying to take advantage of it, which is sad for local diggers. I hope this will settle soon, and only rare stuff will remain priced at that level.