Monday, January 21, 2008

Cisco Records - RIP

I've arrived back in Tokyo after my Christmas/New Year's vacation in Australia to receive a real punch in the guts - Cisco Records, undoubtedly one of Tokyo's best electronic music shops, have closed their doors.

Cisco has been an integral part of Tokyo's music scene for years; a report on the closure over at Beatportal says Cisco opened their first Shibuya shop in 1976 (as a progressive rock store), and were the only place stocking Kraftwerk records during the 70s. And Cisco has certainly been an integral part of my electronic music experiences; when I first fell in love with electronic music in 2001, Cisco swiftly became one of my most regular and trusted ports of call when hunting down vinyl and CDs. Mille Plateaux, Force Inc., Basic Channel, Kompakt ... all of the labels and artists I was learning about and getting excited about could be found at Cisco Records.

Before too long Cisco became part of my weekly ritual in Tokyo. I'd walk into the store, check out the new releases, listen to some of them, listen to what was being played in the store generally, and check out the wall of flyers for upcoming parties. Knowing that I won't be able to do that anymore, that a part of my life is now forever in the past, most definitely fills me with a feeling of grief.

Of course, you've probably Googled Cisco Records by now and discovered that they still have a website. Indeed they do. Cisco will be selling CDs and vinyl online. Cisco can still deliver to your door.

But, for me, that's no consolation at all. Because what I felt when I walked into Cisco Records was the sense of community. A real, embodied community, and that I was a part of it. It's kinda hard to feel connected to a community when all you're doing is clicking the order button in the comfort of your own home.

Cisco Records was, for me, an experience, and it's an experience that (for me) cannot be replicated by online shopping. All of the wonderful accidents that happened to me in Cisco, such as walking in and hearing something playing, and asking the clerk what it was, thereby learning something new. Checking out the wall of flyers and discovering an upcoming party that I hadn't heard about. Strangers striking up conversations with me because we were grabbing the same records or flyers, and eventually becoming friends.

(Can the online shopping experience replicate these things? Really?)

All of these things happened to me at Cisco, and this is because Cisco was a focal point for Tokyo's electronic music scene. Cisco was where the community came together. Cisco's passing is a real loss for Tokyo's electronic music community.

Pete's two cents:

A question: what are the broader implications of Cisco’s closure?

About a year ago, I wrote a piece for Resident Advisor about the survival of vinyl. A year on, I remain committed to what I wrote, but unable to support my opinion with any kind of conviction.

In Melbourne, Synaesthesia, Slap, Rhythm and Soul and Substrata, the four best outlets for electronic music of various kinds, have all closed their doors in the last few years. This is understandable in Australia, where an EP sets you back $20 AU (which is about 12 euro at current exchange rates). With the rise of the Australian dollar, it became viable (in fact, often cheaper) to place a mail order (with Phonica, Juno, Hardwax and the like) and have exactly what you like delivered to your door within two weeks, which was often a helluva lot better than the often slim pickings at the local record stores (forced to buy strategically for a small, diverse market). To cut a long story short, I was unsurprised that record stores washed up in Melbourne pretty early in the piece. A city of 3,500,000 in the wrong hemisphere was always going to be a marginal proposition for something as niche-y as electronic music.


Cisco is/was THE techno specialist record store in Tokyo, a megalopolis of 20,000,000 (and counting) and the home of cashed-up middle-class 20-something geeks who overwhelmingly (unlike their Western brethren) have aesthetic and romantic qualms with using digital. Tokyo is one of the homes of digging – maybe the last home? Not being enticed by the beige beauties on offer, digging for records (along with ramen) became one of the key things that kept me keeping on in Tokyo when the reality of living in a neon-lit wasteland got me down. Seeing Cisco closed when I went there was foot in the teeth. Something is really over, and I can’t deny it any longer.

More than that, Tokyo was/is also one of the global capitals of minimalist groove music of all stripes. Maybe the writing was on the wall the day the Shinjuku Liquid Room closed… and then there was the closure of (doggedly minimal techno) club Maniac Love a few years back… no more Metamorphose festival… now no Cisco? It’s no stretch to say that Tokyo more or less kept electronic music alive – or well fed, at the very least. Without their lucrative tours to Japan, many of the artists you know and love would never have been able to quit their day jobs. Berlin is cool, sure, but show me the money. But if you can live in Berlin and tour to Japan twice a year…. but what happens when that becomes impossible, because the only clubs left are the kind that book electro-shouty rubbish to play to e-d up kids who are in it for the image?

Now lets ask a serious speculative question: lets say Fabric and the Panoramabar close in a year of two… what bastion will remain? Which place will have the critical mass to remain the ‘capital of techno’? Ibiza?

In my humble opinion, if Tokyo can’t support Cisco…

… vinyl is definitively dead…

…and techno is on life support…

My deep, deep fear with this is that the music is being hollowed out from the inside. Between Beatport and private trackers, the whole movement is becoming just another computer game with a social networking bent, governed by image (front of shop) and built by and obsessed over by online geeks with no friends (back of shop). Basically, in five years there will be very little difference between Warcraft and Beatport – and in case you have to ask yourself, this is not a good thing.

Clubland will continue in rude health (as an outpost of hedonistic hyper consumption), ‘connected’ to the ‘music’ that feeds it, which will be a collage of patterns swapped and built like Lego blocks or Ikea furniture by geeks on laptops who are uncomfortable buying records off living people (or playing finished pieces of music), and who sell loops instead of tracks (to increase their armor class and grant them privileged access to special plugins and more powerful synth weapons, natch). Meanwhile, the DJ will be some early-adoptor schmo with a wild outfit and an edgy haircut (basically just another geek, but one confident enough to wear designer tights in front of an audience) holding a chrome-plated midi controller designed by Alessi but ‘personalised for each user’ for conducting the action, but with the laptop he carries selecting the best possible tracks to mix and doing the beat-matching for him… the DJ equivalent of Milli Vanilli meets Alex from a Clockwork Orange.

All of which repulses me... it's enough to make me backlash (in the manner of projectile vomiting) all the way back to my noise rock days. Hey, at least the math rock diehards still write songs...

Chris' delayed thoughts on the sorry death of Cisco, aka my first Japanese love.

You like digital, I like bananas, we all should like record shops. I don’t buy records. Never have. The digital revolution is great for me because now I can get all the tracks I used to never be able to get because I refused to submit to the record addiction (from what I’ve seen it is generally more addictive and expensive than nicotine). But. But the death of Cisco greatly upsets me. Despite the fact I would never buy records, I would still go there on a weekly basis. It was ritual. I would buy plenty of cds, find out about all the gigs coming up and get a sense for what is being released. Yes, you can do all this digitally. But it creates a completely different form and sense of community. The comments that have been made so far reflect a similar sense of loss that in the slow (inevitable?) death of record stores you are losing a ‘brick in the wall’ (as one of the comments put it). And I think this really does make a difference – yes we can all still buy and listen digitally, and no I don’t think it means doom and gloom for techno (there are plenty of advantages), but it points towards a fundamentally different, and ultimately not particularly satisfying form of interaction and community. It points towards concepts like ‘silent discos’ where everybody uses headphones on the dancefloor instead – a cute concept perhaps, but also one that completely atomises the crowd and destroys the shared experience of listening to the same speakers and interacting on the dancefloor. So we will all decide digitally and interact anonymously on blogs and boards and so on, but this is a different dynamic and a different form of interaction (these thoughts are also what made me feel strangely uncomfortable about this recent post about the lack of joy from visiting a record store: I remember walking into Cisco, hearing something I had never heard before, fumbling in my bad Japanese and asking ‘what is this?’ and walking out with a new cd and a new artist. I can recount plenty more stories from Cisco, most of all which involve my bad Japanese being transcended by a mutual appreciation of good music. And in such an isolating country as Japan, these brief moments of connection are rare and worthwhile. The death of Cisco is a huge loss for me personally, and as Pete rightly notes, not a particularly promising sign for things to come. Cisco is where I first discovered Ricardo Villalobos. Ditto Dan Bell. Ditto plenty others. Sure I will keep on discovering new artists as they appear on my radar, but I am not convinced that the experience will be as personal or satisfying as the kind that a place like Cisco provided. RIP Cisco.


  1. Woah, that's pretty hectic and those words of doom may not be too far from the truth either. I've felt what it's like when a shop closes - it's not just losing a place to buy records, it's losing a brick in the communities wall. Lose enough and it all falls down. Whether or not that will really happen I'm not sure but it's beginning to look that way. As great as the net is, I hate it just as much. The real question is what can be done about it? Personally I'd love to see the value of music restored. The sense of ownership that used to actually mean something before it was all 0's and 1's. It's a stupid question, but is there a way to produce vinyl cheaper? There's probably not, but if the production wasn't so damn expensive it may make a difference. They've figured out how to make dubplates cheaper (and longer lasting) so maybe they can do the same with records?

    Either way R.I.P another great record shop.

  2. Dude, way overboard. There are always reasons to foresee the end of techno, always have been. Vinyl IS dead for DJing. It's so limited compared to digital media, and so imprecise, which runs against the techno (and especially mnml) aethetic, IMO. I only came back to DJing when I realized that I no longer faced an infinite future of buying really expensive stuff; digital makes that possible.

    Also, since when are closed clubs and recordstores the harbingers of doom? clubs close constantly, and being around for a long time doesn't necessarily mean much. Recordstores that sell every other kind of music are dropping like flies as well - even a fairly gigantic chain like Tower is vulnerable. I assure you that indie rock and jazz fans are just as concerned. It's hard to say what the whole music world will look like once this readjustment has finished, but I think that's all it is, a readjustment. Frankly, techno is a lot better positioned than most to survive this, as it has so many times before.

  3. Rhythm and Soul in Melbourne is still open, I bought some tunes there last week and it was packed with 19 year old guys like me buying records. Among my DJ friends who are all 18 or 19 people still by records, though not nearly as much as people did years ago. So i think the vinyl market is still possible, just smaller and more boutiquey.

  4. Well spotted Will E - I should be more precise: the CBD outlet of Rhythm & Soul shut. Apologies for the inaccuracy... must be all that vinyl.

  5. Hey man, you're so right

    I've only been listening to electronic music for about 2 years now, i'm only 16 and well, no one else around me listened to it. I started DJ'ing as a scratch dj and quickly found out about house which brought me into techno & breaks which i really love. I buy almost all my stuff from beatport, but it's incredibly hard to find quality amidst the electro house hordes of today, Deadmau5 etc.

    There is a great vinyl shop in Denmark, Amoeba which i go to often, i only buy a couple of records each time cause i don't have much money, but i really love listening to vinyl, and the whole feel of "i'm the only guy walking home with this right now", which you just don't have when you just download the same track as everyone else in top 10.

    Denmark is a great techno country, but it will die if that shop closes, i have no doubts about that.

  6. this upsets me very much. i just read last months mixmag interview with hawtin and i couldn't disagree more with his advocacy of %100 digital. i too, believe that digital is killing our community, but i have to say that there is hope.
    i just got into djing only 1 year ago, and all of the djs/promoters that i have met in my city (memphis) agree that this city is in it's lowest slump ever. 7 years ago 3000 people filled the fairgrounds for digweed and sasha. then in 04, our only record store closed, and now, in september i was genuinly shocked when a whopping 250 people came out to my warehouse rave - far more than i had expected. long story short, i'm still here, i still by records, and i'm throwing another warehouse rave this weekend. for every club/store that closes, someone new discovers this music and will keep it alive.

  7. Renick here, trolling... physical media destroys the environment. As for the tyranny of melody, I can only hope it will be overthrown sooner rather than later. DJs should hurry on their way to the museums, to be replaced by true electronic improvisers with their superior tools. Death to vinyl! ;)

  8. some people like digital, others like vinyl, all of these people like music. there's no need to panic imo. people also like doomsaying...makes "now" feel important.

  9. ok. i've edited the original post to include my thoughts. i remain deeply saddened by the loss of cisco. i dont think it will really hit me till i return to japan and see that it is gone...

  10. The closure of Cisco is sad news indeed but as mind states

    "for every club/store that closes, someone new discovers this music and will keep it alive"


    Times are chaging, the scene is changing but that is the nature of humanity .... Scratch beneath the surface and no doubt something new will find you

  11. as a DJ in Tokyo, and i picked up my first decks there in 2000, Cisco was one of the places I learnt about searching for, listening and buying dance. No longer there but back in Aus, it will be a massive shock if i ever go to see where the many Cisco's used to be.

    Which brings up my contribution - Cisco was not just a techno store, they also had a souful/funky/deep house store, and a prog/trance store (Cisco house 1 and 2). It sounds like all of these are shutting down, but we can't say that it wasn't one or two of them that pulled the other and the whole business down. Techno and minimal are more popular than ever, and but like recent extinct distributor Amato who were having success with releases, there may be more to it than just the obvious downturn in vinyl sales. And about Maniac Love, I was there when it closed and the word was it was pretty much because of police/community pressure. Certainly wasn't cos of lack of patronage.

    so while yes the loss of Cisco is very sad, and I had friends who worked there and I hope they're ok, and yes there is a lot of cheap dance music out there as electronic music becomes more exposed, the good stuff is out there, we just need to keep searching for it and keep supporting it. So you have to buy digital? That's more money to go party to this music, and there's your community. Not the same, but still, it's there.

  12. Just would like to make one point about vinyl stores in Melbourne.

    IMO, DMC records has the strategy correct - its a vinyl / equipment store that has most of its sales coming through in products such as mixers, CD decks, software/hardware - its even an Apple re-seller.

    The days of pure vinyl stores are almost over south of the equator - to be viable you need something more on your shelves than just the latest releas from Perlon.

  13. I was in Tokyo from 1998-99 and was always floating around this area, mainly for flyers to find out which jungle DnB DJs were in town. Cisco was the place to go to get this info.
    There also used to be another place not far from Cisco but down the hill, in a weird kind of business building. I think it was called Q Records and they were more bouncey techno / Happy Hardcore with some Jungle. They threw a few parties in the late nineties but don't know if that shop is still around.
    Sad to hear Maniac Love closed, went to one or two techno nights a decade or so ago.
    But Liquid Room was the greatest loss for sure. That place was mad, either queueing up the stairs ot get in to leaving the club at 5am sweating like a beaut to see Tokyo rising up at you? Great stuff.

  14. this upsets me very much. i just read last months mixmag interview with hawtin and i couldn't disagree more with his advocacy of %100 digital. i too, believe that digital is killing our community, but i have to say that there is hope.

    public records


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