This week’s pickup for The Guardian’s music from around the world guest blogging series is a local gem from the western-Japan musical hotspot of Fukuoka.Miu Mau: Monochrome
Partly due to the domination of the music press by (mostly Tokyo-based) record labels and partly due to the high costs and low returns of touring domestically, even in this supposed digital age, information about music from other cities in Japan can still be hard to come by for fans. As a result, regional scenes based around certain clubs and live venues still hold a strong influence over local indie culture, and there often remain noticeable cultural differences from place to place.
Traditionally Fukuoka has had a reputation as a town for fierce, energetic bands, from the “mentai-rock” generation of the 70s (a pretty close Japanese parallel to the contemporaneous pub rock movement in the UK) to the punk and alternative boom of the late 90s and early 2000s. While drummer Miwako Matsuda and guitarist Hiromi Kajiwara have impeccable punk/alternative credentials (as members of garage-punk duo Masadayomasa and postpunk noiseniks Hyacca respectively), Miu Mau fly in the face of their local musical heritage, group leader Masami Takashima taking a deliberately minimal, and melodic approach to songwriting, and employing a poised, carefully constructed art-pop aesthetic, which makes them a rare and special creature in their hometown.
Typically, Miu Mau songs are built around the tension between Takashima’s chunky synths and Kajiwara’s spindly, wandering, reverb-heavy guitar lines, something still present on “Monochrome” but with the tension dialled down a notch, the keyboard pushed into the background and taking on a more organic, 60s-influenced hue, while the guitar takes the lead. As with many bands in Japan, the lyrics slip back and forth between English and Japanese, spinning their desultory tale of urban ennui, while the melody is haunting, an atmosphere accentuated by the repetitive, looping guitar and synth lines. If you can get your hands on the forthcoming single, there’s an equally splendid double A-side called “Spring” that’s well worth seeking out.