Kan Mikami's PSF debut returns on LP "A massive, gaping black hole exuding a dazzling, black light"
On February 29, 2021, Black Editions will release the first ever vinyl edition of Kan Mikami’s “I’m the Only One Around” Remastered and cut to vinyl at Elysian Masters Los Angeles, pressed by RTI, packaged in heavy Stoughton tip-on jackets with insert featuring textured paper, gold foil stamping and metallic inks. Featuring notes by Hiroyuki Itsuki, lyrics translated by Drew Stroud and new translations by Alan Cummings.
For 50 years, Kan Mikami has stood as a master of the Japanese blues and outsider folk. His unmistakable, powerfully evocative voice and surrealistic poetry reveal a gritty, transgressive life on the margins shot through with evocations of sex and violence, religion and romance. Released on CD in 1991, I’m the Only One Around was Mikami's first album with Tokyo's legendary P.S.F. Records and heralded an artistic renaissance. It marked the beginning of an incredibly productive and wildly creative era for Mikami that extends to the present day. This opening salvo presents the essential core of Mikami’s music; With nothing but his voice and a stripped down electric guitar the album is a powerful, effortlessly emotional statement filled with moments of both brutal passion and gentle revelation. It is unrestrained, direct, brutally honest. It embodies Mikami’s philosophy: “If you’re going to make music, stake your life on it—it’s worth it. Making music is an intensely human act.”
In the newly translated notes to the album, Hiroyuki Itsuki, one of Japan’s most renowned writers perhaps put it best: “What erupts here is all the fury and grief of Jōmon Man (the prehistoric people of the Japanese archipelago), lobbed into the middle of a 1990s city. Kan Mikami is unchanging, yet definitely in motion. He advances not forwards, but backwards. Not a retreat, rather he consciously progresses backwards. At the final destination for his full-steam astern poésie lies a massive, gaping black hole, exuding a dazzling, black light. This is the image evoked by the world of Kan Mikami that you can hear on this album.” Mikami would go on to release 15 solo albums with P.S.F. as well as numerous collaborative efforts with other giants of the Japanese underground including Motoharu Yoshizawa, Masayoshi Urabe and Keiji Haino, with whom, along with Toshiaki Ishizuka, he formed the group Vajra.
By 1990, Kan Mikami had already blazed one of the most iconoclastic and quixotic artistic arcs in modern Japanese history. Born in 1950 into a family of fisherman in a remote rural village of the rugged Aomori Prefecture, Mikami’s world was irreversibly changed in the mid-late 1960’s during his high school years; Fateful encounters with Beat poetry and exposure to the first waves of rock, folk and jazz then arriving in Japan all served as he would later recall, a sort of baptism– awakening an artistic spirit for which nothing was off-limits. Deciding to strike out on his own he moved to Tokyo in the fall of ‘68 when the city was boiling over with student riots and artistic upheavals. Between odd jobs, Mikami began performing - entering the era’s blossoming folk scene and immediately setting himself apart from its gentler more mannered styles. His performances were marked by an extraordinary force and intensity. His voice was dynamic, rising in outbursts and screams capable of producing overtones and two notes at once. He met avant garde dramatists and filmmaker such as Shūji Terayama, performed in front student anarchists and crossed paths with musical radical such as Kaoru Abe at venues such as the legendary Station70. Soon his singular style propelled him to a star-making appearance at Japan’s equivalent of Woodstock, the 1971 Nakatsugawa Folk Jamboree and the release of his debut album by Columbia Records that same year. However even with this success Mikami’s refusal to compromise would distinguish him as a true iconoclast, seemingly sabotaging his chances at major label stardom. He was, as he would later describe, “a heretic child of the folk world”. His music was one of raw honesty, exploring the darkness and existential nihilism of modern society, never shying away from the grittiness of everyday life. His debut album created controversy and was soon pulled from shelves for including songs such as “Pistol Ma No Shonen” (“Boy with a Gun”), “a two-minute surrealistic chronicle in which he identified with Japan’s ultimate outsider of the time, Aomori country boy-turned teen serial killer-turned death-row poet, Norio Nagayama”1. Over the ensuing decade Mikami’s career would take him from one major label to another, releasing highly regarded, eclectic albums that however missed the mark with wider audiences. He delved into the worlds of avant garde joining Terayama’s theater troup and crossed his sensibilities with free-jazz mavericks such as Yosuke Yamashita and Ryōjirō Furusawa. He began to publish his own poetry as well as unvarnished memoirs. He made appearances as a television presenter and began acting in films, most often as street toughs and gangsters. In 1983 he famously appeared in Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence roughing up a dazed David Bowie. Even with such a body of work, by the early 80’s his audiences had evaporated, he found himself on the road in the dead of winter playing for audiences of one and returning home nearly broke. After a pair misguided attempts at stardom with Toshiba EMI, he stopped recording altogether. It would be ten years before Mikami found the clarity and focus that would eventually characterize his life and career to the present day. Mikami later recalled, “It was in the 90’s I thought, ‘OK, it’s got to be music.’ I realized that music was the best way to express myself. Before then I couldn’t find my way… for musicians, music comes to them. It doesn’t need anyone else’s approval. There’s no right or wrong.” P.S.F. Record’s release in 1990 of “Live in the First Year of Heisei”, a monumental collaboration between Mikami, Keiji Haino and Motoharu Yoshizawa, would mark not just watershed moment for the fledgling label but for Mikami himself as he now joined with a new generation of underground artists that would reach beyond Japanese shores. The release of “I’m the Only One Around” one year later was a clear signal as to Mikami’s artistic rebirth: “That was the first record I had released in ten years, and if I think about it, it's the first time that I’ve ever had the feeling of actually making a record. Before it was always because someone wanted me to put out a record, or because I had to… But since then I have felt that I have got to make records with the realization of myself as a performer, an "expressionist".”
Side A: I'm the Only One Around, Black Point Hirano, Shinanomachi Sisters, Emperor of Half the Globe, Up the Chimney
Side B: Cow and Long Hair, A Kerosene Stove for Two, Dance, Flower Hat!, In Front of Hachiko, Movie Number 69
Kan Mikami : Vocals, Guitar
All songs by Kan Mikami
except a1 by Osamu Nozawa
Producer: Hideo Ikeezumi
Engineer: Takeshi Yoshida
Studio: Studio J
Recorded on Nov 12, 1990
Art Direction by Kasei Niitsuma
Additional design by Rob Carmichael, SEEN
Black Editions Master by Elysian Masters
Lyric translation by Drew Stroud, 1991
Additional Notes by Hiroyuki Itsuki, 1991
Additional translations by Alan Cummings
Originally released on CD by P.S.F. Records, Japan in
1991 (PSFD-13, MM-1)