COVID-19 has seen its number of high street losses but one of them really hits us hard. Tokyo vinyl emporium Technique, once referred to as the best record shop in the world, is going solely online after over two decades serving the DJ community from their Shibuya-based store.
Visiting Technique as a tourist or a visitor really felt like something special, up the flights of stairs, the store is hidden behind a noisy Shibuya facade. Inside the record store you can find records that are not stocked anywhere else; the first outlet to receive new release and the first store to discount them too…with an unrivalled ¥324 (£2) bargain bin. I remember going there when I first arrived in Tokyo, to cop the latest Powder record before any of my mates were able to get their hands on it in the UK.
Technique was the source of bragging and consequent envy upon heading back to Europe “check out what I got for only ¥500 (£3.25)… look at this exclusive release.” Indeed a trip to Tokyo as a dance music digger simply had to include Technique. It simply wasn’t an option not to. Back home in the UK, the first thing my digger/dance DJ mates would ask would be “have you been to Technique?”
For many Tokyoites, Technique seemed too much as part of the furniture to merit trips every week, whereas for tourists and DJs from abroad it was a mecca. As Japan closed its borders at the start of the pandemic, Technique’s reliable customer base was isolated outside of the country. They tried hard to attract new Japan-based fans, pouring efforts into collaborations with hip DJs such as Licaxxx and Yoshinori Hayashi, hosting pop-up stores in PARCO (pictured) and even collaborating with Klasse Wrecks to create very credible t-shirts.
Unfortunately, at the end of March 2022, Technique is closing its store infinitely in order to focus on its online offering. Read on for our interview with Yoshiharu Sato, as he discusses all things Technique.
Interview by Kim Kahan
"Our team is small but we have a lot of knowledge about music. Most of us are DJs, so I think that we have the best people to introduce new music whilst meeting the needs of the scene"
Please can you introduce yourself and tell us what it is that you do?
My name is Yoshiharu Sato and I’m the manager of Technique.
What record shops did you got to whilst growing up?
I grew up in the countryside so there were no record shops around. I moved to Tokyo to study at University and I started visiting record stores frequently. There were loads of record shops located around Udagawacho in Shibuya, so I went digging in many different places.
You took over ownership of Technique in 2016. Why did this happen and how has the record market changed since then?
I started working here part time in 2000 and took over ownership after that. Since I started, digital and other formats have emerged and I feel that analog has become a lot more niche.
Tell us about the team behind the store?
Our team is small but we have a lot of knowledge about music. Most of us are DJs, so I think that we have the best people to introduce new music whilst meeting the needs of the scene.
In 2021, you temporarily moved around the corner to Shibuya PARCO. What was the reason for the move and what were the (any) challenges in relocating?
During the pandemic, people couldn’t come into the store, which was a problem. Now we’re mainly focussing on our online [store]. It hasn’t been easy.
What have you learnt from relocating to PARCO? How has the current store changed in comparison to its original incarnation?
I guess it should’ve been obvious from the start, but in PARCO – whilst there are a lot of people who visit and enjoy shopping – there aren’t many record buyers. We’re currently operating the store as a ‘Technique Offline’ concept, with records that reflect this. We’re also trialling to see how our online customers and offline customers differ.
Moving on – in comparison to the store itself, what percentage of your sales come from online and what are your predictions for this ratio in the future?
I think sales will mainly move online. If customers can come from abroad again, then this might change. It depends on how long the effects of COVID last.
How do offline shoppers differ from online in terms of spending habits? Do offline shoppers tend to buy more secondhand or more techno etc than online or via versa etc?
The selection is much better online at the moment. Technique mainly deals with dance music such as house and techno, so we tend to have the same kind of customers regardless of whether they are online or offline. I think that people who come to the shop are people who love to visit record stores.
When you reopened the store, you introduced an appointment reservation service. What can people expect from this?
We introduced appointments to serve individuals better; listen to what our customers like and introduce records based on their preferences. This is also very much an experiment for us too. We want to see if there would be a need for a more personalised boutique service, face-to-face, as it is becoming more and more convenient for people [to shop] online.
"It's all about connections…everything is about relationships and human connections, right?"
Let’s talk about selection. In a previous interview, you commented that the main genres in Technique are techno, house and disco – predominantly DJ-focussed genres and you DJ yourself, too. How has the scene changed in the past couple of years, in response to the many State of Emergencies (State of Emergency is Japan’s equivalent to lockdown)?
I don’t know about the bigger picture, but styles for home listening such as ambient etc have seen more releases.
What products and labels do well in Technique?
We sell a lot of music for DJs and producers. The dance music scene changes and evolves quickly, so we try to identify products that meet the needs of the moment and keep up with new trends and new music in order to serve best our customers. We sell other merchandise, such as original t-shirts and bags – all made by us.
Yes, your streetwear section is pretty prominent in the store and I spotted a merch collaborations with Klasse Wrecks and untrace too. How did you start working with these imprints?
It’s all about connections…everything is about relationships and human connections, right?
You run a music distribution arm, Energy Flash Distribution, distributing Japanese releases to the world. Can you tell us a bit more about EFD?
Currently, we handle a lot more than just Japanese labels. When we started out, our main focus was to introduce Japanese imprints to the world, but now we deal with lots of labels from all over the world. We don’t just sell records and I hope that we can help introduce new record labels to the world.
Why do you think it is hard for Japanese artists to get noticed? In a previous interview you mentioned the language barrier. Do you think this is changing as the new generation Gen Z – with more English experience – start to produce and party more?
There are language barriers and also cultural differences, however I think the main reason is that in Japan it is difficult to make a living as a DJ or making music. I think the scene in Japan as a whole needs more money to be honest. I think/hope that a lot of things will change in the future, and I want to be able to do our part to change the situation.
Can you recommend any forthcoming distributions via EFD that you’re particularly excited about?
I’m excited for all of our releases. We upload everything to our Soundcloud.
You hosted a live in-store event at your new location to celebrate its (PARCO) anniversary in 2021. Do you have any more events coming up?
We host in-store events because I want to announce and promote artists and DJ’s. I’d love to do it again, although it won’t be possible for a while due to the social situation. I don’t have an ideal in-store [in terms of artists etc], but as long as everyone – DJs, artists, and customers – have fun that would be perfect.
As travel opens back up again, I wanted to ask about the local area, specifically Shibuya, one of the most popular areas in Tokyo. What other places do you suggest people check out when they’re in the district?
There are lots of different nightclubs and DJ bars in Tokyo, so I hope visitors will be able to visit lots of them to enjoy the nightlife in each, individually. As I’m from the countryside, I will never forget the shock I felt when I first visited Shibuya.
I can’t pick any particular artists or clubs because I respect them all of them. Rather than picking a night or DJ, I suggest heading to a party that’s on when you’re here and fully embracing the DJs who are playing.
Finally we wanted to ask: are there any particularly good mixes or radio shows that we should listen to?
You can check out mixes on our Soundcloud – we also run a semi-regular mix series called ‘Technique Choice’ featuring both local and international DJs. Also, i suggest checking out the Cocalero Archive and Flor de Caño live stream series featuring Gonno, Licaxxx and Dommune
Thanks for taking the time to speak to us Yoshiharu. We hope that you can open up the offline store again in the future. In the meantime, please give Technique some love by checking out their bountiful online store and bargain corner.
Photography by Craig Stennet