Japan, in contrast to the rest of the world, still has a fairly healthy CD sales market (last year 85% of music sales in Japan were CDs). It is definitely shrinking (17% 2014), but still accounts for a significant portion of world wide CD sales (Japan is still the second largest music market world wide).
The reasons are probably multiple, a mixture of the demographic (older people buy more CDs), the collectable fandom culture and finally the lack of streaming options. The last point in particular is interesting since no streaming service, domestic or foreign, have ever really caught on in Japan. In fact, most of the global services have never even been introduced here.
Within this landscape there are several media rental chains that thrive on renting out CDs, DVDs and console games. GEO and Tsutaya are probably the biggest, with stores across Japan.
They are the perfect waterhole to batch sample new music regardless of genre, as they usually carry a very wide selection. Whenever I go to Japan I like to stop buy and rent a bunch of discs from artists or genres that interest me, and then pick out the stuff that’s good enough for keeping.
If you visit Japan, don’t miss out on this opportunity to listen in on what’s currently popular.
I learned recently that Karl Bartos is about to release a new album (sometime around March of 2013). This got me interested in what he’s been up to since he left Kraftwerk in the early 90’s. As I dug into his background I quickly came across the Elektric Music project that he started with Lothar Manteuffel sometime around 1992. The first release out of this outfit is called Esperanto, and coming so close on the heels of him leaving Kraftwerk, this immediately piqued my interest.
Unfortunately with music like this getting access to it can be a challenge, but not impossible. I found a used CD shop in the Ukraine that had a copy in store. For the low low price of 80 cents + 4 dollar shipping and handling I held it in my hand in less than 1 week.
Esperanto is definitely a product of its time as much as a clear extension of Karl Bartos’ work with Kraftwerk. Interestingly some of the tracks were co-written with Andy McCluskey of Orchestral Movements in the Dark (OMD) who also provides lead vocals on some songs. The influences from OMD are clear on those tracks.
The album does have a bit of an identity crisis going back and forth between songs that are clearly in the Kraftwerk fold and more techno (as it was executed at the time) heavy tracks.
All in all though the songs still hold up great. If you are interested in synth pop and have ears with an affinity for the likes of Human League, early Depeche Mode and electronic Krautrock I highly recommend it!