“Vanity Records in Osaka was one of the unforgettable hallmarks of the early Japanese underground music scene of the late-70’s. This label was founded by Yuzuru Agi, the music critic/editor of ROCK MAGAZINE. Agi was a sort of alternative visionary with a superb talent to assess new musical modes at a time when blues and West Coast-style rock still dominated the local music scene. He was also responsible for cloning the Japlish term “techno-pop” – which he used to describe Eno-produced bands like Talking Heads and DEVO – that later became internationally known via Yellow Magic Orchestra. Inspired by punk and the flood of indie labels that swept New York and London, Agi started Vanity Records in 1978, releasing 11 LPs, 3 singles, 12 flexis, and 6 cassettes between ’78 and ’82 (each release limited to 300-500 copies).”
– Satoru Higashiseto from Music No. 2, 1998.
If you’ve ever extensively scoured the outer limits of a musical genre, then you understand the fear that one day you’ll run out of new discoveries from your chosen obsession. Long ago I thought I’d reached that point with late 70s / early 80s electronic music and post-punk, but thanks to a handful of brilliant blogs, I was recently proven wrong.
Every single track I’ve heard on Vanity Records is fantastic, which is more than I can say about even Factory or Rough Trade. Minimal, electronic and anxious, the closest contemporary of theirs that I can think of would be Germany’s Ata Tak, although Vanity’s releases feel colder and more alien than that. Had Raster-Noton existed in 1980, this might be what they would have sounded like. It’s a tragedy that no current label has begun a proper reissue campaign covering all of their releases, but thankfully some dedicated individuals have made vinyl and cassette rips available.
Since I had to spend several hours tracking each of these albums down across several sites, I thought it would be helpful to assemble a master list here for anyone looking to explore this remarkable label’s discography. I’ve refrained from posting the direct Rapidshare/Mediafire/etc links and instead direct you to the original posts, because each of these blogs deserves your time and, after this, I’m sure you’ll count yourself among their regular readers.
I haven’t found any of the flexis, but you’ll find links to the 11 LPs, 3 singles and 6 cassettes below, which will keep you busy for quite some time. If I find the flexis, I’ll update this post with links, but if you find them first, please tell me in the comments. I’ve also included links to a few records that weren’t on Vanity, but are related enough to deserve your attention.
Please note that I didn’t write the descriptions below, rather they were taken from Satoru Higashiseto’s feature in Music No. 2. I found them in the comments of Mutant Sounds‘ post on the Aunt Sally LP, and I’m not even familiar with the original magazine they were found in. If you have a copy or can point me to some further information about it, I’d love to check it out.
DADA: JYO (Vanity 0001/LP/1978) Drawing inspiration from German electronic music, Fripp & Eno and Heldon, Dada (Kenji Konishi and Mutsuhiko Izumi) infused synth and guitar driven sounds with gagaku-inspired drones to achieve a sort of Oriental lyricism. The band subsequently released the album DADA (King ’81) before splitting. Meanwhile, Konishi formed 4D, shifting his direction towards techno dance music, while Izumi joined the jazz-rock group Kennedy, and later After Dinner.
SAB: CRYSTALIZATION (Vanity 0002/LP/1978) A 19-year-old Sab produced this spacey-electronic music almost entirely by himself using multiple recoring and such instruments as guitar, synth, and various electronics. Here, Sab creates crystal-clear electronic music comparable to Magical Power Mako, Kitaro, and the Sky label. Pre-new age music. Since this talented musician went to India, nobody has known his whereabouts.
AUNT SALLY: AUNT SALLY (Vanity 0003/LP/1979) Aunt Sally’s debut album incorporates waltz and tango into rock, evocative of pre-war European nostalgia with excellent literary lyrics. This high school band consisting of three girls and two boys had an idiosyncratic presence in the local Osaka punk/new wave scene. After the band’s brief existence, the vocalist Phew went solo and released several albums including: PHEW (Pass ’81), OUR LIKENESS (Mute ’92), BLIND LIGHT/ABSENCE OF TIME (Alida ’94).
TOLERANCE: ANONYM (Vanity 0004/LP/1979) The sound of this artist duo (Junko Tange and Masami Yoshikawa) from Tokyo was abstract and monolithic, using electronics, guitar, piano, and vocal. Nurse With Wound supposedly took the phrase, “To The Quiet Men From A Tiny Girl,” from this album sleeve for the title of their second album.
MORIO AGATA: NORIMONO ZUKAN (Vanity 0005/LP/1980) Morio Agata is a folk-rock singer, known for his “Red Elegy” which became a huge hit in 1972. Joined by various musicians – including Phew, Yukio Fujimoto, Jun Kitada (Inu), Taiqui (Ultrabide/pre-Hijokaidan), and Chic [Chie] Mukai – Agata produced electro-pop music fused with his unique song world. Low-tech, yet experimental, this musical project was sort of similar to Neil Young’s TRANS. Agata is now active as a film director and actor, as well as a musician. Takehisa Kosugi played violin for his album EL JAGUAR DEL BANDONEON.
RNA ORGANISM: R.N.A.O Meet P.O.P.O (Vanity 0006/LP/1980) Receiving a cassette tape from RNA Organism by air-mail, Agi mistakenly thought that they were from overseas and highly acclaimed the band in ROCK MAGAZINE; however, it was a clever ploy from by Kaoru Sato from Kyoto. This album is amazing dub music with funky bass, noise guitar, trumpet and rhythm machine – sort of like a heavier version of Andy Partridge’s TAKE AWAY. Subsequently the group changed its name to EP-4, which became known for its guerilla live performances as well as simultaneously releasing its debut album from both major and indie labels. Meanwhile, Sato disappeared from the music scene in the mid-1980s.
SYMPATHY NERVOUS: SYMPATHY NERVOUS (Vanity 0007/LP/1980) Using a self-designed computer system called “Universal Character Generator,” Sympathy Nervous produced an interesting fusion of industrial noise and dance music. The music sounded low-tech, but it was full of interesting ideas and imagination. Analogous to Daniel Miller’s Normal and Thomas Leer & Robert Rental, Sympathy Nervous was prototypical of “bedroom techno.” Along with the techno upsurge of the 1990s, they reentered the music scene, releasing their music from the Belgian KK label.
B.G.M: BACK GROUND MUSIC (Vanity 0008/LP/1980) Similar to ESG and Liquid Liquid this high school band played new wave garage funk. As with Sympathy Nervous, the leader of the band Takayuki Shiraishi reappeared to the techno scene of the 90s under the name of Planetroid, releasing Detroit techno influenced works.
NORMAL BRAIN: LADY MADE (Vanity 0009/LP/1980) Normal Brain was a project of Yukio Fujimoto, using electronic gadgets like analog-synth, rhythm machine, and Speak & Spell. His music was intelligent and witty, traversing the fine line between modern art and pop. Fujimoto’s minimalist approach also had a child-like playfulness and elegance, conceptually paralleling the music of early-Kraftwerk or Eno. Currently, Fujimoto is active as sound artist, producing sound objects and installations.
VARIOUS ARTISTS: MUSIC (Vanity 0010-11/2LP/1981) This box set includes a two LP compilation of various home-recorded materials, in addition to a postcard and numbered armband. It features 13 groups – Pessimist, Unable Mirror, MR, Anode/Cathode, Kiiro Radical, Tokyo, Daily Expression, Plasma Music, Nose, New York, Arbeit, Isolation, Nectar Low – that were totally anonymous and obscure. Most of the selections are low-fi electronic music with lots of interesting ideas, which are quite entertaining as well.
TOLERANCE: DIVINE (Vanity 0012/LP/1981) Tolerance, the only band that released a second album from Vanity, continued the musical explorations of their debut album on DIVINE. Driven by their uniquely female sensibilities, they produced an interestingly mysterious sound. Soon thereafter, Tolerance/Junko Tange disappeared from the scene. Incidentally, Agi picked this album as his favorite from the label.
Flexis (Supplement to ROCK MAGAZINE)
Max V. Mathews: “The Magnetic Fields of The Earth” (Vanity 2001/’79)
Brian Eno: “The Voice of Brian Eno” (Vanity 2002/’79)
Morio Agata: “Koi No Radio City” (Vanity 2003/’80)
Normal Brain: “Frottage” (Vanity 2004/’80)
Tolerance: “Today’s Thrill” (Vanity 2005/’80)
Hovlakin: “Pelakin Girl” (Vanity 2006/’80)
Kurt Schwitters: “Phone Tisch Poesie” (Vanity 8101/’81)
System: “Love Song” (Vanity 8102/’81)
B. C. Gilbert & G. Lewis: “Cross, Grow, Prayer” (Vanity 8103/’81)
Die Krupps: “June 6, ’81, Krefeld” (Vanity 8104/’81)
Furious Pig: “June 3, ’81, The Venue, London” (Vanity 8105/’81)
Related releases not on Vanity Records
Sympathy Nervous: Apple Head – (cassette tape, 1995, Japan, 150 copies)
Symapthy Nervous/Anemic Session: OUTPUT Vol. 1 7″ (Out Put D-0001, 1981)
MLD: Perpetual Motion 7″ (Kitchen Records DRUM 2, 1983)
Various Artists: Foam (YLEM YDL 0000, 1981)