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Floor Sugar: Specialist Store for Asian Sound Art

img  Tobias

How did the idea of establishing a mailorder with a clear regional focus come up?
It was basically a result of the overwhelmingly positive responses to Mesoscaphe, our release on Spekk with Mathieu Ruhlmann. After its release, we made many new friends with Japanese artists, and so many of which we were not familiar with beforehand. As we became more immersed in the music, Dani and I were acquiring these huge piles of music, much of which we found to be incredible, beautifully packaged, and virtually unknown to us before. It felt like with our experience buying from more international stores like Boomkat and Forced Exposure, still we were only scratching the surface of the depth of the experimental scene of Japan, and Asia as a whole. While labels like Spekk and Plop have a fairly large international presence, the majority of other Japanese labels seemed to us as only primarily dealing with distribution within the country, for various reasons. After our interest in this, a suggestion from our friend Nao Sugimoto of Spekk, led us to begin our own specialty store, focusing solely on this region. Nao's support was incredibly influential, and helpful in us starting the store. The idea of focusing solely on Japan, and later Asia as a whole, seemed like a good way for us to keep a running theme in the store, and for it to act as a resource for people interested in a special type of music, while letting us offer a service to help out both artists, labels, and listeners.


What is it that you like so much about the Asian scene?

To me it always seemed like there was a unique originality, from more folk-based electronica leading to experimental methods, unique improvisation, with a creativity that sounded very genuine, and exploratory. Reading about music a lot, and trying to keep up with artists and labels, what fascinated me with the new music I was finding in Asia, was just that I had no knowledge of it before. I was familiar with many artists such as Fourcolor from the 12k imprint, but there are always new discoveries. In this case it seemed like a door was opened to something entirely new, and yet unexplored, at least by myself, Dani, and many peers. I would listen to something and instantly think, 'wow, this is really great, but why haven't I ever read about it before?’ The reasons stem from many reasons, such as many labels focusing on distribution only within their own country, or simple things such as language barriers. Even though many of their CDs may be available to purchase on their website, it may be difficult to find, or they may be entirely in a language other than English, which makes many worldwide customers wary of buying. Sometimes import prices are high also, but it is understandable because of exchange rates and shipping…


… and perhaps also because of the attractive packaging you already mentioned …
As a listener appreciative of the physical aesthetic of the packaging, this is something that always attracted me to the region's music, with their unique cases, high quality printing, and beautiful artwork. The genuine spirit of the artists and labels is really something special, in how they cherish their work, and present it. That dedication to perfection, and attention to detail is really seen throughout the course of Asia's record labels. Particular labels like Spekk, Kitchen, matter, Ricco, and Trumn offer some of the most unique, and high quality releases available, in my opinion.


How did and do you find out about these labels?

Even though there are many different kinds of labels in the entire Asian community, in many ways it feels like a very closely knit family, of sorts. For instance Spekk, Nature Bliss, Happy Prince, Plop, and Lantern are all part of the same organization. Takahiro Kido, who runs the Ricco label, has released on Plop as well. Many other labels, such as Commune Disc, I found out about from the Small Melodies compilation on Spekk, which featured a track by Aen, who runs the label. Commune Disc is also an incredible experimental electronic label, with over 60 releases, though I am still trying to get this in our store. Many of the connections just come from friends, or artists that found us through our release on Spekk. For instance, Minoru Sato and Asuna both have a release on Spekk, but also have many published works individually on their own, both self released and on different labels, including Asuna's own label, ao to ao. We discovered Magic Book Records through Chihei Hatakeyama's release, which was much sought after, but difficult to find outside of Japan. Then, once we had it in the store, it opened up an incredible array of other artists that we were unfamiliar with, but all highly impressive and diverse.  I am still working to include other labels, as well as expanding the genres available, to carry not only experimental, electronic, and folk, but also more pop-oriented releases, noise, improvisation, and techno.


Would you say that there are typical Asian qualities in Sound Art?

The production and sound is always such high quality, with an intensive amount of attention to detail, and perfection. Sounds seem so cared for, and vibrant. I wouldn't say that there are typical qualities, but maybe more of unique qualities, especially in their production, and execution. It always impressed me. Concepts are a part of life, taking on deep amounts of work and attention, but reflect those very moments of creativity, and everyday life. This varies very much from country to country, such as the differences between Japan, China, Korea, Singapore, and Malaysia. While they are all very different, it is still very regional, just as other parts of the world. There is much room for exploration within it.


Which Asian countries are currently represented in your portfolio?

Currently, from Japan we have releases by ao to ao, Flau, Flyrec, Happy Prince, Magic Book, mAtter, Murmur, Nature Bliss, Plop, Preco, Ricco, Schole, Spekk, Symbolic Interaction, Trumn, WrK, and Hibari.  From Korea we have Balloon & Needle, from Singapore there is Kitchen, from Malaysia there is Herbal International and mu-nest, and from China there is Subjam and Kwanyin. Continually expanding, there will be more.


The Chinese market seems like a world of its own, doesn’t it?
Yes much Chinese music is very different from other Asian countries, and even though I am still learning it myself, it has a very incredible sense of raw creativity to it, much as you would expect from China. Though we have some other labels planned to add to Floor Sugar from China, currently we have Subjam and its sister label Kwanyin. The range is very broad as far as the sounds, of highly digital, crisp glitch soundscapes from artists such as FM3, and 718 with their heavy brainwave white noise electronica, almost reminiscent of Oval on a larger scale, to straight field recordings of Beijing from Peter Cusack, city sounds from Yan Jun, and Pei's nature-landscapes, noise from Aitar, or highly experimental sounds from Wu Quan using microwaves.   With the incredible variation, it is a fantastic example of raw, moving culture. It is exciting, and always a surprise to listen to.


Are you addressing customers from all over the world or rather targeting the American market?

We decided to start it with no real direct purpose in mind, but I guess just for listeners like ourselves who would be interested in worldwide music, and having a store in English helps many buyers. I'm still learning in many ways what people are interested in, since the store is 1 year old, as of November, but we always tried to make as many things available as possible, of the music we love, that hopefully helps the labels and artists, while offering something new to different parts of the world. Being able to sell music you love is one most important focus.  


It is easy to see how something like this could turn into a label itself, just like 12k established happy as a subsidiary for Japanese records. Could you see that happening?
Yes it is always possible, though just dealing with the high quality of so many of these labels (and other labels around the world) is a bit intimidating, as far as producing works that can stand up to the quality. However it is possible! For now though, there's so much more music to be discovered and enjoyed.


Homepage: Floor Sugar Store
Homepage: Floor Sugar Blog

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