This is part of a series of posts talking about music I’ve released through my own Call And Response label. I explain in a bit more detail here.
In the last post I said that Hyacca were very important in defining Call And Response Records’ identity, but they weren’t the only band who did that. Just a few weeks after Sashitai came out, I released This Tiny World by Mir, which was equally important in a rather different way.
I discovered Mir at around the same time as Hyacca, in the summer of 2006, or rather they discovered me. They contacted me through Myspace and I listened to some of the rough no-fi demos on their page and fell in a sort of confused love. It was the first time I’d really discovered a great band through social networking, and I made a point of going to their next show.
One feature of the Tokyo music scene that anyone who’s spent time in it will have encountered is noruma, the pay-to-play system where bands are set a quota of tickets they must sell and pay back any shortfall in cash to the venue afterwards. Of course everyone hates it, but ways around it are limited. One way though is to play shows in studios, which are generally cheaper to rent and provide a cosier atmosphere for bands with small audiences. It was at one of these such shows that I first saw Mir live in all their ramshackle glory.Mir: Jidai to Kojin
Musically, they played the most heartbreaking melodies with this all-encompassing atmosphere of loneliness. Named after the Soviet space station, I initially described their music as sounding like being “alone in space in the ’80s”, and there was something sparse about it, often based on casiotone synth drones that the group made by taping down notes on the keyboard, and rhythm alternating between cheap drum machine presets and new wave and Krautrock-influenced live drums. Like Hyacca, one of the things that appealed to me was the way many of their songs incorporated call-and-response elements between the male and female vocals, with Kyohei Hiroki’s emotionally taut delivery often descending into nihilistic yowls of existential pain providing contrasting sonic texture to Yoko “Yoko3” Yamazaki’s clean, sweet, yet icy vocals — a contrast reflected in the music’s tense balance between melody and violent, chaotic noise.
I wasn’t the only person to see similarities between them and Hyacca either. Mr. Taguchi, the owner of Koenji underground record shop Enban, also saw it and did his best to push the two bands together. Once I discovered that this was what he was trying to do, I added my weight to his attempts and once the two bands found each other it was like they’d discovered long-lost siblings. Hyacca had that effect on almost everyone such was the assurance of their musicianship (despite their self-destructive performances, they were obviously damn good musicians) and their easygoing off-stage personae, but Mir were more of an oddity. They were much less certain onstage, far less technically proficient, and the emotional rawness of what they did so often spilled out into what felt alarmingly like real life that most people simply didn’t know what to make of them and approached them warily. On some people, however, they had this intense, magnetic pull and one of the ways Mir have been important for me is as a sort of weathervane when dealing with other people in the music scene: If you get Mir, then you get the core of what Call And Response is about. If Hyacca are the label’s heart, then Mir are its tortured id.
Mir contributed a track to my limited edition 2007 Valentine’s CD/R and then started work on This Tiny World, which as I say, came out a few weeks after the remastered Sashitai. The title was simply a line cribbed from the lyrics of one of their songs, but rarely has one been more apt. Watching Kyohei and Yoko onstage, there always seemed to be a level of communication beneath what we could see, and even when they were down in the audience pushing everyone into a conga line during the song Dance, there was a sense that we were being used as materials by the band as part of some abstract point they were making rather than really being invited inside. It was a world of two, with even drummer Yama-chan somehow separate. Sometimes it was marvellous, and for those who bought into Mir’s tense, beautiful, precarious philosophy, those moments were touched you emotionally in places you didn’t know you needed to be touched. At other times, it was terrifying and disturbing, like seeing Yoko break down in tears onstage at the UFO Club and remain crouched down in a foetal ball for the rest of the show (afterwards, Kyohei comes out with a big grin over his face and announces, “Best gig ever!”) On another occasion their onstage antics ended with them being thrown out by the (admittedly mad) venue owner and punching a member of the audience in a restaurant. Those extremes were rare, and as with Hyacca’s more violent outbursts, largely a feature of the band’s early years.
The opening track, Jidai to Kyojin, remains one of their most powerful, and is a textbook example of the power they managed to get out of the contrast between the twin vocals, ricocheting back and forth between discord and harmony. Pistol and Damashiteirunosa are both what you might call ballads if the term hadn’t been so poisoned by syrupy major label pop over the years and both display Mir at their most emotionally raw, without a punk or Krautrock beat to cling to for momentum, they have to carry it with their voices alone for much of the time (Kyohei’s tense, edgy, will-he-pull-it-off-or-won’t-he guitar solo on Pistol serves a similar function). Hyakunengo and Yononaka Minna Hihyoka are where the group’s love of Krautrock (and they really are obsessive fans of all things Kraut) really comes to the fore, the former starting out with the chords from Pachelbel’s Canon in D over a rhythm preset before the drums kick in, and the latter taking cues from the way David Bowie’s Boys Keep Swinging had the members switch instruments, and cribbing the archetypal Klaus Dinger motorik drum pattern in the process.
There’s something of the perennial outsider to Mir, and I’ve never found the right way to sell their stuff so that it reaches the quite specific set of people who seem to get what they do, because with Mir despite the obvious love they have for 70s and 80s music, everything is personal. They’re never less than completely emotionally honest onstage, giving you their best or their worst in accordance to where they’re at in the precise moment, and their appeal is purely emotional as well, tapping into something distinct and hard to single out in the listener. Which is of course what makes them so precious in the first place.