CD+zine, Call And Response, 2013
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.
When talking about Mir’s first album This Tiny World, I noted that they’re a band I’ve never found the right way to sell. Part of that comes down to just how personal everything they do feels. When you instinctively feel that something is speaking to you personally, it’s hard to know how to present it to someone else. I mean, it just seems obvious why you would love Mir: how do you convince someone else they should? What is the profile of a Mir fan?
Given how unpredictable their live performances are and the limitations their work puts on their ability to play shows and tour, there had to be another way of getting their music out there. One idea I’d been toying with for a while was of putting together a Japanese language indie/punk zine and packaging it with a CD. That way, the zine could act as a vehicle to get the music out to people who wouldn’t otherwise necessarily know of the band.
I got the title of the zine, Quit Your Band! from a line from a song by this teenage garage-punk band from Saga called Nakigao Twintail who I saw in Fukuoka during the Dancing After 1AM release tour. I’ve written before about how they affected me, but basically it comes down to the sheer anarchic, everything-in-the-moment-of-now rock’n’roll smack in the face of their set and the snotty, self-destructive immediacy of the phrase. I wrote a long article on this blog about the sort of false equivalence between punk and idol music that has been growing in the underground scene and used Nakigao Twintail (who clearly enjoy idol music as much as anyone, but are also clearly not idols themselves) as an example of what teenage girls playing punk really sounds like. A slightly updated Japanese version of that blog appeared in the article (including an illustration I did of an idol waving a nationalist flag and holding a gun to her temple), along with a couple of long pieces occasional Clear And Refreshing contributor Ryotaro Aoki wrote on his own blog, a couple of interviews, and a few short reviews. We also recruited Konatsu from Nakigao Twintail to do some art, Iguz from Zibanchinka/Futtachi did a short column and some disturbing but brilliant body horror artwork, and Yukari from Kobayashi Dorori drow a short three page manga about love and punk rock.
It was a deliberate strategy to include people and music from throughout Japan, not just Tokyo, partly to get copies of the zine circulating far and wide, but also because there’s so little coverage generally of music from outside the big cultural centres. Why should Tokyo have a monopoly on what’s cool?
The Mir album Я не могу без тебя was their first new material since the 2010 experiments, and it’s easy to see why some people who had come to them from those songs on Soundcloud might have been disappointed. Where the 2010 tracks were slick and quite modern sounding in their beats, synth and vocal effects, the recordings on Я не могу без тебя focussed more on decidedly retro, shrill-sounding Casiotone keyboards. I have to admit this was a less striking shift for me, since the Casiotone side to Mir was a staple of their live set, and I suspect the main reason they took that approach to the recording was out of a need to make the album something that they could reproduce a reasonable approximation of live without messing about with samples and things.
Without a live drummer, the Krautrock side of the band also had to take a back seat to the Casiotone side, and the choice of songs reflects that. The one that works best is probably Machiawase Basho wo Kimete Okou, a simple, repetitive duet built over a simple chord pattern built over a cheap sounding preset beat, with the building intensity of the song emphasised by the repetition in the lyrics, and the two members wringing moments of horrendous noise out of their tiny keyboards. TV has been through numerous incarnations, as has Dance, although the pace of the latter lends itself better to the synth-based format. The really rather dark Minna Shinu (“Everyone Dies”) extracts a surprising amount of menace from the simple equipment, while Ai no Kobune wa Uchikidakarenai is built over the same basic preset beat that Mir seem so fond of but focusses primarily on Kyohei’s more emotionally wrought vocals rather than Yoko’s icy melancholy.Mir: Machiawase Basho wo Kimete Yokou
Of course Mir being Mir, having made this statement about their new sonic identity, started fucking with it immediately upon its release, bringing guitar in for some tracks during live performances, including on TV, which is a song I’m increasingly starting to suspect that they’ll never be satisfied with their version of. The more they sing “Sayonara, sayonara” at the end of it, the more they keep returning to give it another go.
If that means they keep making music forever, I for one will be very happy, and they have enough unrecorded songs that they could record another mini-album right now. It’s just that every time with them it’s always like starting fresh, and so what direction it would take is anyone’s guess.
Personally I couldn’t have been any happier with the whole package. The Mir artwork was wonderfully minimalist and they finally got their dream of having fluorescent paint on one of their jackets. The magazine came out really well too, and I maintain the contents are more insightful, intelligent and witty than anything else currently happening in Japanese music journalism (ahem). Distribution had its own challenges though. Setting a price was difficult, because while a six-song mini album could normally expect to sell for around ¥1500, an indie or punk zine would normally sell for about ¥500-¥600. If we wanted people to buy it entirely on its merits as a zine, we had to keep the price closer to the lower limit than the upper, even though we were actually offering something much more comprehensive than either a CD or a zine on its own. We settled on ¥800 because of the psychological feeling of paying less than a single banknote, and given the cost of producing it, that was pretty much the minimum price that allowed us to break even. It also meant that using Call And Response’s distribution company to get it in Amazon (spit!) and Tower Records was probably a waste of money because of the extra cut the distributor takes. We may row back on that for the second issue, but to be honest, I don’t think it makes much difference. In fact, in many ways it’s better to keep it in indie stores only because that funnels all the sales to those stores and puts more back into the community.
In any case, it did well enough that it was worth doing an issue two (although not well enough to pay for it), and we’re fortunate that the content, focussing on interviews and non-time-specific features, remains relevant a year after we wrote most of it. If I were a cynical man, I’d suggest that thanks should perhaps go there to the Japanese music scene for never really changing or developing in any real way.
Quit Your Band! and Я не могу без тебя are available now from Call And Response’s online shop.