The Decline of the Japanese Music Market, Part Two

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3. Everyone Wanted to be a DJ (in 1999)

When the indie kids fought to “save” vinyl records from extinction in the early ’90s, I doubt they knew that five years later Japan would become the world’s largest market for analog discs. There was moderate growth in vinyl up until 1998, but suddenly in 1999, the market went “off the wall” and sales more than doubled up to ¥3.6 billion yen. Most of the growth was in domestic releases (i.e., they were pressing both Japanese dance music and J-Pop onto collectible vinyl.) Vinyl sales for Western music grew only moderately, but it is unclear from the data whether this means Japanese-pressings of Western music or sales of records from Western labels.

But by the next year, vinyl sales were already down by almost 50%. Now in 2004, vinyl sales are even less than in 1994. Everyone apparently realized very quickly that you can’t do anything with turntables besides listen to other people’s music. “Playing” their fancy new “instrument” required going out and buying records with only one song for ¥1000 a pop. The quick peek of the numbers shows that the whole record boom was nothing but a short-lived fad.

Dance music is dead as a market, and the only people still going to clubs here are either very young kids or the remaining true believers. Also, the CDJ systems available — like Technics’ unbelievably cool SL-DZ1200 and the Vestax system that uses infrared technology to let the user scratch on an unrelated record to control a CDJ unit — single-handedly destroyed vinyl’s advantage in ease of manipulation. I rarely see anyone outside of hardcore dance music “headz” still using vinyl to DJ here in Tokyo.

And if it’s dead here, it’s more dead everywhere else, no? When I left NYC in 2003, the hipsters looked down on any DJ who harbored intention to do anything other than just spin old Smiths records.

The whole DJ Shadow school of “I only scratch and sample the original vinyl release” is over. See you on Ebay, JoshDavisSF(72). If you have any old E.L.O., drop me an email.

W. David MARX (Marxy)
October 18, 2004

Marxy wrote a lot of essays back on his old site Néomarxisme. This is one of them.

2 Responses

  1. Patrick Says:

    I’ve been reading your articles and find them very interesting!

    I remember hearing somewhere (can’t recall where exactly) that Japan has only one press for vinyl. Do you happen to know if that’s correct?

  2. marxy Says:

    thaanks.

    yes, there was (still is?) only one vinyl pressing factory in Japan, Toyo Kasei. during the big boom, they were so back logged that people would press in America and reimport.