Amek nl_11: Comfort Club #2

New issue of our annual zine, a playlist, video premiere, and an interview with Taka from Tobira Records

We started the new year busier than any other before. Apart from working on a few projects and releases we’ll share with you in due time, we also published the new issue of our annual zine dedicated to interviews with people involved in various aspects of DIY culture. 

Comfort Club #2

Content-wise, this issue is quite different from the previous one for we almost didn’t have anyone visiting Sofia in the pandemic year of 2020. So we reached out to labels tsss tapes from Italy and Falt from France and Richard Stevenson from the zine Noise Receptor. Jim Haynes from The Helen Scarsdale Agency was kind enough to contribute a column.

This issue also includes three exclusive in-depth conversations with radio activists Tsvetan Tsvetanov (BNR, Sofia) & Gjorgji Janevski (Kanal 103, Skopje), Ivan Shentov (Kontingent Records), and our favorite place in Sofia, Fabrika Avtonomia.

The 76-page pro-printed zine is limited to 104 copies. Purchase it here.

Video

At the end of January, the Amek-affiliated project винаги dropped a video for the track дух on our YouTube channel. We suggest you subscribe to it because we plan on releasing even more one-off tracks there from now on. See the video for дух below.

Шумна неделя #4

If you haven't had the chance to listen to January's Шумна неделя on Kanal 103, you do it here. Next show is airing on February 7.

Playlist

We've made a new Spotify playlist titled Amek Collective Essentials. It features some highlights from all of our releases. Find it below. The exclusive artwork is a collage piece by visual artist Nikola Kostov.

Magazine feature and mix

The journal-zine FOCUS On Sound, for which we made an exclusive mixtape, was featured in CLOT Magazine. The article includes a mix by the zine creator Nicholas Burman which includes three tracks from the mixtape. Read the article here and hear the mix here.

Interview

Tobira Records is a record store run by the ambient artist Takahiro Yorifuji located in the small city of Kasai in Hyogo Prefecture, Japan. We spoke with Taka about his the store, its neighbors, and his decision to move back home and try to create a local scene almost from scratch.

Can you introduce Tobira Records to us? When did the idea for the store come up and what made you want to open a store for experimental music?

Tobira Records is a record shop based in Hyogo Prefecture, Japan, that carries rare, underground, and limited-edition material spanning a very diverse range of genres. That includes tapes, LPs, CDs, books, clothing, accessories, and more. Everything I carry happens to be stuff that I personally love and enjoy listening to, and comes from all over the world. Often the material that we stock isn't available anywhere else in Japan, and even in Asia. I like the idea of being able to introduce amazing music to people who might not have had the chance to discover it otherwise. For me, carrying music that I like and believe in is more important than whether it’s widely marketable. 

As for how the idea came up, around summertime time last year my wife and I decided to move from Tokyo to my hometown in Hyogo, and were thinking about what we were going to do. I've been involved in music for a long time, so the idea of opening a shop came up suddenly and very naturally. The more we looked into it, the more everything seemed to slide into place. My friend Daigo, who runs a gallery upstairs called Void, already had a great space available, and Gaapiiiii, an excellent Japanese ambient musician, just happened to be the head of the local library. We all realised that this could become something exciting, and they all really helped get the shop going.

Speaking about the building, can you tell us a bit more about it and its other tenants? 

The building is a loft space owned by my friend Daigo. Tobira Records is on the second floor, Daigo’s gallery space Void is on the third floor, and he has an office / chill space for his construction business Woodsist on the fourth floor. Daigo actually also organizes a lot of art shows and music events in the building. For example, recently he put on a really successful event called “Deep Relax” which was a day party across the three levels. He also had a three-month exhibition for local Nara-based artist Masataka Kurose, and soon he’ll be running an exhibition of paintings by the Japanese producer Foodman. 

As well as the events at Tobira Records, he has plans for more music and art events. He’s actually even looking into potentially opening a small café on one of the floors, so stay tuned!

Tobira Records looks like a beautifully curated record store that works with some of the best and most exciting labels at the moment. Many of which we are either our friends or have worked with in the past. Moreover, together with the typical genre menus, there is also one for labels. What role do the labels have in your opinion for the spread of music and for your decision as a record store owner to decide to engage with a piece of music and possibly present it to the people who visit the store?

I definitely believe in celebrating and following labels. I think it comes down to that idea of curation that you mentioned. Curation is important for a record shop, but it's also what a label is - a collection of music and artists that come together to make a unique aesthetic. I see it as kind of similar to following movie directors. We follow our favourite directors because we like the style, the aesthetic, the stories they tell. It's a similar feeling with labels. For people who love music, looking through your favourite labels’ catalogues is an amazing way to find new music and support artists that you like. 

Tobira is a physical store, something we sadly see less and less of, both in recent years because of streaming platforms and digital storefronts and in the past year due to the coronavirus. What makes a physical space special as opposed to a strictly digital distro?

The biggest difference is that the physical store becomes a kind of hub or meeting place, and I think it’s a different feeling to meeting people online. In the last 3 months since the shop opened, I’ve met so many music lovers, artists, and musicians from the surrounding areas. It’s been a great opportunity to discuss and share ideas, and through meeting them I’ve learned more about the local scene. Some of them are actually going to perform at the Tobira monthly instore showcase - so in that way I’m excited to keep the local music scene going. We still have an online shop, which is an important part of Tobira, but the physical store is a very different experience. 

We cannot but ask about the COVID-19 in Japan in relation to the music and art world in general. How has the year affected you both as an artist and a record store owner?

We were lucky that we’d already planned to move out of the city right at the point that COVID-19 was starting. Living in a rural area and being preoccupied with opening the shop, I naturally stopped playing live shows. I’m very lucky that COVID-19 hasn’t affected me personally or as an artist. As for the record shop, it’s been a great few months. I am excited to see how things go when vaccines become available and international travel goes back to normal. It will be great to welcome more visitors from Japan and overseas.

Opening a store for experimental music is something unthinkable, even in Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria. Yet, Tobira is located in your hometown Kasai, a rather small city. What made you return to your hometown and why did you decide to open the shop there and how is it accepted by the residents of the city?

I’d been living in Tokyo for ten years. It’s a huge city and the music scene there is one of the biggest in the world. Eventually I decided that I wanted a change of pace and lifestyle, which is why I decided to return to my hometown. I was excited to try and build a local scene from the ground up in Kasai, which is what we’re doing now with the instore showcases. I also think that the location, slower lifestyle, and rural surroundings add something special to the shop. 

It’s funny that many people from out of town have learned about Tobira and come to visit, but local residents are still slowly discovering that we’re here. When locals hear about the shop, they’re usually very surprised. 

It is very interesting that you mention your idea of building a local scene from the ground up, as this is something that we’ve been thinking about a lot recently, especially in the context of Bulgaria, where there is a dearth of such scenes. Can you elucidate a bit more about your decision to build a scene in your hometown? How has it been so far? Any future plans in that direction?

Well, in Tokyo the music scene is huge, diverse, and has a lot of history. By comparison, the countryside seems like a crazy place to try and start something from the ground up. But I think the countryside has a lot of things to offer that can’t be found in the city. An example of that is an event we held recently called “gokkan“, or “The Extremely ColdFestival”. We did it in a local historical park surrounded by beautiful nature and open skies, and the concept was to get rugged up and enjoy some ambient music with a lovely wintry backdrop. It would be difficult, maybe impossible, to organize an event like that in Tokyo. I think nature and music make such a magical combination, and I like the idea of people associating Tobira Records with enjoyable experiences in nature, or a nice road-trip to a small town. Even though we’re still in the early growing stages, I think that if you’re enthusiastic and believe in what you’re doing, people will generally respond to that. I guess we’ll see. 

In that line of thought, can you tell us more about the record store situation in Japan and the practices of the experimental music aficionados? While many famous record stores around the world, such as Amoeba, are closing their physical stores, and the idea of a physical store for experimental music seems like an impossible dream, the record shops in Japan seem to be as strong as ever…

Japanese people buy a lot of music in physical formats, including CDs. I’m not too sure why that is, but maybe it’s because there’s more of an emphasis on collecting, or ‘geek culture’, here in Japan. There are so many shops running, and especially a lot of second hand record shops in Tokyo, which keeps the culture alive. People in Japan also tend to like things that are limited edition and unique, which might be why the experimental music scene is so big. I think when international people visit Japan they also start to absorb these values.

In that sense, do you think this record store culture has a history in the super specialized microstores in Nishi-Shinjuku or Shibuya as detailed in David Novak’s ethnography of japanoise? Moreover, is Tobira influenced by any of these stores and if yes, in what way?

Actually, I'm not influenced by those stores all that much. The only record store I used to go to in Tokyo was Los Apson, which was really close to where I lived. I used to hang out there very often. When I was in my early 20s, I worked at Meditations in Kyoto, which taught me a lot about how to run a shop, and gave me an idea and image of what an amazing record shop can be. 


Looking at the pictures of Tobira Records, the store has this very calm and inviting atmosphere that reminds us of your music as Hakobune. It looks both as a place to shop for music, but also just visit, browse and get yourself lost into. Who designed and decorated the space and what is the guiding principle behind it?

Everything was made by friends and family, and the layout happened very organically. What you can see is the result of spending a lot of time in the space, tweaking and moving things to create the most comfortable environment. Basically, there are no guiding design principles, just feeling what works and feels good and what doesn’t. It’s important to me that the space doesn’t feel intimidating. 

Recently, we saw the first live performances at Tobira. Is that something you plan on continuing and in what direction do you plan on taking it?

Yes, I organize a monthly showcase. So far, we’ve managed to have a pretty diverse mix of underground/local musicians and more widely-known musicians. A lot of foreign artists have shown interest in performing here, so I'm excited to have them play once the pandemic situation eases up. 

Apart from the work in Tobira, you are quite well-known through the work of your influential and productive project Hakobune. Has the work on the store affected your music? Also, how do you manage being on both sides of the fence - an artist on one hand and a record store owner on the other?

Lately I have been occupied with running the store, so I haven’t had much chance to work on music, though I hope to have more time to make music soon. That said, making music and running a record store are very satisfying in a similar way. Even though I haven’t been able to make music recently, I still feel fulfilled and inspired musically. 

In what ways does your music work influence the ways your approach your work as a record store owner? In your selection of the music or dealings with labels?

Although I make ambient music, I like all kinds of music. I think my approach to listening affects the way I run the shop and the material I carry. I hope to encourage my customers to feel / listen the same way. For example, I like the idea of customers discovering new genres and being surprised and excited by what they find - maybe a customer who usually listens to ambient finding a hip-hop album they love, or someone who loves harsh noise getting into music concrete. The name of the shop ‘Tobira’ means ‘doorway’, so I want to embody that: “a doorway to new sonic experiences”. 

Tobira started as a tape label and seems to have been somewhat dormant until recently, when it turned into a music store. What sparked the idea for the switch? Do you plan on continuing it as a label or this aspect of Tobira is in the past?

Yes, I revived Tobira because the record shop seemed like a natural continuation of the tape label. I do plan on releasing more material as a label in the future. The first release will be by Valance Drakes and will come out next spring. 

What are your future plans with Tobira Records?

I'd like to continue the monthly showcase, keep the label running, and just continue building on what we already have, as much as I can.