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Tokyolo #4: Disk Union = record store heaven

  • White whales in vinyl land. What are yours? For this electronica/techno/indie die-hard there are many, the majority of which were released in the late 90s and early 00s when CDs dominated and fewer records were pressed. Not being one of those fellas who stuck through the black stuff’s fallow years I’m now playing catch up, plugging holes in the collection during downtime immediately before/after attending audio shows.

    Top of my wants list in 2015 was a nice copy of Future Sound of London’s Lifeforms (1994). Then Global Communication’s 76:14 (1994), Autechre’s first four albums – Incunabula (1993), Amber (1994), Tri Repetae (1995) and Chiastic Slide (1997). Then there’s The Sabres Of Paradise’s Haunted Dancehall, Plaid’s first two, B12’s first and only two.

    Side note: Warp Records could do very little wrong in the 90s but dropping big dollars on long deleted albums is a risky business. Re-presses are sometimes just around the corner: Boards of Canada and (most) Aphex Twin being two solid examples. For a vinyl-loving buddy, the 4LP box set of Aphex Twin’s magnum opus Drukqs remains his number one harpoon target. Good luck with that, Barry. Prices on Discogs start at US$200 and end who knows where…


    I’m also in need of Plastikman’s early work, a selection of System 7 (from Fire/Water onwards) and some mid 90s Orb ambient noodling. Tracking down some of Orbital’s late 90s EPs would be pretty sweet too. Ditto Underworld – each and everyone of those Dark & Long mixes are stone cold classics inside this bleeper’s brain. And so I keep digging…

    Tokyo’s Disk Union isn’t a single record store but a swarm of stores that are none too dissimilar to London’s Record and Tape Exchange in its eighties heyday. Unlike those often dirty/dusty British basements, the Disk Union empire is a much slicker operation. For sale at almost every store are branded tote bags, mugs, t-shirts, CD carriers and even fully-branded shipping boxes. The latter clues us in on just how much good stuff can be found at any one of their 40+ stores dotted around Tokyo (and one in Osaka). At a single store I snagged eight Bowie albums pressed in the eighties (analogue masters) with their OBI strips in place.

    There are nineteen (19) Disk Unions in Shinjuku alone. Some are dedicated to specific genres of music: there’s one for classical, one for latin, one for metal, one for soul/R&B, one for dance music, rock, punk, prog rock etc. Some sell only CDs, others only vinyl or a combination of the two. Visit enough of them (as I have) and they’ll mentally merge into one giant Disk Union megastore. Did I imagine seeing twenty or so copies of each and every Beatles album at one of the newer Disk Unions in Shinjuku or did I witness it for real?

    At a one of their smaller outlets, tucked away in the same building as Shinjuku’s Audio Union, I shot this video:

    However, it’s at the dance music store a few street away and its sister (dance music) store in Shibuya that I’ve harpooned numerous white whales: records that I’ve never seen anywhere else in the world.

    Pricing can be a little stiff at times but bargains are definitely there for those willing to spend time flipping through the racks. In a single morning in ONE store I picked up Orbital’s Peel Sessions EP (~US$10), Autechre’s Chiastic Slide (~US$40), Plastikman’s Musik w/ bonus 12” (~US$20!), The Orb’s Orblivion 2LP (~US$30), Plaid Not For Threes (~US$30), The Chemical Brothers (hard to find) Dig Your Own Hole (~US50), Global Communication’s 76:14 (~US$45), The Sabres Of Paradise’s Haunted Dancehall 2LP (~US$40) and B12’s (long deleted) Time Tourist (~US50).

    The real standout when buying used vinyl from Disk Union is quality. The Japanese know how to look after their records and Disk Union grade conservatively. Records rated ‘B’ or VG+/VG+ here in Tokyo are often cleaner and offer less sleeve damage than anything you’ll find on or at second hand stores in the USA or Australia.

    Barry almost wept when I told him there are not one but TWO copies of Aphex Twin’s Drukqs for sale at the Disk Union in Ikebukero for US$120 each. Alas, the packaging’s irregular shape meant it wouldn’t fit into my DJ style record box. What did fit nicely was the Ryko-issued Sound&Vision 6LP Bowie box set (~US$150). So too did Momus’ Voyager (~US$9!). Barry was consoled by a nice original pressing of Aphex Twin’s , 2LP.

    My pick of the Disk Union bunch would be their Shimokitazawa store where my purchases went beyond the capacity of the DJ case. This video sets the scene:

    An additional cardboard box was required to accommodate the overspill as carry-on luggage: Orbital’s Blue Album, System 7’s Golden Section, The Blue Aeroplanes’ Friendloverplane 2 and a near mint copy of The Future Sound of London’s Lifeforms (original UK 2LP, US$80). Far from cheap but I’ve yet to see another copy, anywhere in any condition.

    And with a 20% discount available (on the day) for three records or more, it would have been rude not to also grab Amorphous Androgynous’ Tales Of Ephidrina (US$70) and get this: an almost mint copy of In Order To Dance Vol. 5, the greatest techno compilation of the nineties in 5LP box set form (which features bonus cuts not found on the 3CD edition) for a near-unbelievable US$20! Landing a copy to Australia from would set one back over a hundred bills.

    Over the past year or so I’ve dug up Thin White Rope at Music Hall in Berlin; Planetary Assault Systems at Hard Wax (also in Berlin); mint copies of long thought vanished David Byrne solo albums at Optimal in Munich; Robyn Hitchcock rarities at Iris Records in Jersey City and Absolute in Boulder; Brian Eno at Academy Records in Greenpoint; Ultramarine at Twist and Shout in Denver; American Music Club at Amoeba in Hollywood…

    …but nowhere have I discovered more hard-to-find gems than during a run of visits to various Disk Union locations in Tokyo.

    Further information: Disk Union















    Written by John

    John currently lives in Berlin where he creates videos and podcasts for Darko.Audio. He has previously contributed to 6moons, TONEAudio, AudioStream and Stereophile.

    Darko.Audio is a member of EISA.

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