Hello beautiful people and thank you for reading The ChipWIN Blog! Today let’s steer clear from technobabble, we’re here to burst Techno Bubbles together with the Marvellous Mizkai! Hailing from her northern homeland in Wales, Mizkai has been sort of a missing link between Japan and the Isles for a few years now, channelling Japanese and Internet hardcore-sugar-pop culture into her stage alter-ego, and distilling it into the strongest, sweetest cuppa teas ever brewed on this side of the globe.
Even though Mizkai has been around in the scene for quite some time already, dishing out some truly tasty jams on her SoundCloud, she never was much of a fan of “big” or “official” releases, nor did she seem to need it to ascertain her musical and visual identity as an artist. ‘Kiss/Corrupt/Kill’ is an updated, enhanced and somewhat more mature version of her EP ‘Nintendork’, previously published on Bandcamp and sadly, no longer available.
But long before these releases already, Mizkai had been a driving force in the UK Chiptune scene, and where she shone the brightest was live. Quite literally so, might I add. Having had the pleasure of sharing a stage with her and witnessing her awe-inspiring, relentless performance, I was very excited when I heard about this EP. As you know, good jams go well with toast, so I had to be the one to review it. Here’s a selection of my personal favourite tracks.
All aboard the Shinkansen Bullet Train to Harajuku, WalesWalesWales.com. Fasten your seatbelts. Here are your kaleidoscopic pink 3D goggles, you’ll find packs of strawberry Pocky in the pocky-pocket in front of you, bottles of water and cans of redbull underneath your seat. Stay hydrated and soak up that jersey. The Eastbound Mizkai hype train departs in 3, 2, 1…
First stop: ‘NoBusy’
A great choice for an opener, this track starts up very deceptively at mid-tempo, introducing new elements very organically, giving the listener enough time to take rhythm and melodies in, and get their head bobbing. The build-up on this 2-minute track spans close to half of its length, but it serves its purpose perfectly and the payoff of the Chorus is exhilaratingly satisfying.In the words of Flux Pavillion, ‘Bursting a bubble is easy, but growing it takes a lot of care’. Suffice it to say, Mizkai is good with Bubbles. In this track, attention to detail and structure is key, and Mizkai delivers a fine example of tension and sweet, sweet release. The lead melody channels memories of Toriena‘s best songs, redefining the meaning of the word “catchy”.
Second stop: ‘Serenity’
No time to waste! Pick yourselves up, take a 2-second breather and wait for your feet to dance and stomp on their own! The second track, ‘Serenity’, picks up right after a short 8-bar intro and doesn’t let go until the end. Once again, over the span of 2 minutes, Mizkai chooses to shed anything remotely redundant, and manages to introduce a fair bit of variation, ensuring the track never feels short. A seemingly-simple chord progression anchors the track down and gives it a solid foundation, while the various melodic and harmonic sections grow freely and pass by at light-speed. The composition manages to display a very nuanced palette of musical colors, while the cyclical rhythm section keeps it in a tight knot, but still allows these emotional fireworks to flurry out of the loop and touch you before they expire.
Fourth stop: ‘Sourblast’ [Paul’s highlight]
Are you done catching your breath? Make sure you do so before diving back under! ‘Sourblast’ takes you under the surface starting with lovely, bubbly layered arpeggios (these are kind of my weak point if you didn’t notice already). A very fitting and fleeting follow-up to the more subdued ‘You got this!’, this fourth track is as much a journey as it is an exercise in style.
This track also happens to be the second-longest in this EP, clocking in at three and a half minutes. If you haven’t noticed already, Mizkai has a knack for distorting time and space and manages to cram a LOT of musical emotion in under a hundred and twendy seconds, so nearly twice as long should yield quite an experience. Brace yourselves and swim along to discover what ‘Sourblast’ has in store for you.
Mizkai definitely steps out of her happy hardcore comfort zone here, and we see her nodding towards different styles. This track is impressive in many ways: using a two-chord progression and a 16th note arpeggio leitmotiv to establish a sense of familiarity from the beginning, she allows herself to unleash her creativity with structure, style, sound design and melody.
The intriduction is comforting, enticing, almost intriguing and it evolves gently in an almost contemplative fashion, giving way to a subtle drum’n’bass rhythm (because even when we take a step back, bpm is still over 170), followed in turn by an extremely catchy verse-chorus section that delightfully snatches you away from the intro leitmotiv. A bouncy bassline leaps about geefully. A sparkly echoing melody and flourishing arps glisten in a kaleidoscope of notes. The relevant choice for more discreet drum design allows the listener to focus on all these elements without ever feeling too overwhelmed. It is a finely-crafted tableau.
After going back to the intro motif for a brief melodic interlude, the track builds back up on its foundation with an interesting syncopated ‘tresillo’ beat, which feels exactly like the halfway point between high-tempo footwork and mid-tempo chill-trap. The relative absence of harsh bass lets you contemplate streams of glitchy bubbles, flashes of colour and lush harmonic textures, before dropping an unexpected dubstep beat, rife with hard kick thumps, crunchy growls and snappy whooshy snares.
The ending goes back to the intro motif very progressively, making this track fold back into itself, perfect for looped playback. Once again Miskai shows how she balances out spontaneous bursts of creativity and detailed crafts(wo)manship.
I don’t know about you but i’m playing that one on repeat for the next half hour.
Friends, I can’t believe we’re barely halfway through this EP. Drink some tea, let’s take a ten-minute break and then we’ll dive back in. What a show.
Sixth stop: ‘Sugarhigh’
Topping up the previous track very fittingly, the fan-favourite ‘Sugarhigh’ builds on the 8th note patterns of ‘Monomania’ with a dizzying onslaught of 16th note bass octaves. The focus of this track is shifted back on bass and drums. Mizkai utilizes the Gameboy’s Pulse channels, either to complement root notes with extra layers of texture, or to sprinkle some harmonic flavouring, often mixed to the sides, never reaching the forefront which is proudly occupied by the unrelenting drums and jagged bass.
Melodies try to come forward but are swiftly put back in their place. Pulses try to keep up and barely manage, having to forgo harmony and melody entirely for atonal, glitchy divebomb whistles, until finally, the bass rolls on alone, and short-circuits out of existence.
Seventh stop: ‘8bitchin World’ ft. FxDk
“Can this even go any faster?” we ask, panting and begging for mercy. “TRY ME BRO” retorts Mizkai with an evil burst of laughter. The following two tracks effectively inch upwards of 200bpm and don’t give a f*** if you’re tired or dead already. Yes, the first tracks were the slow ones. At about 170bpm. Buckle the f*ckle up.
Just like in to ‘Sourblast’ and ‘Serenity’, Mizkai utilizes a recurring leitmotiv with the bass, to anchor the track down and run wild with the other elements. This tried and true method of controlling chaos, at which Mizkai seems to excel, goes a step further this time with the bass shattering its chains, unable to be contained. The drums barely manage to stay put, breaking up their four-to-the floor frame into more syncopated and unpredictable kick patterns. This piece is an awesome display of unadulterated musical FUN, with a notion of playful fighting and rivalry that fits the spirit of a collab track very well.
Ninth and final stop: ‘Happy little rave box – Marumix’
Throughout its selection of 9 tracks, Mizkai’s EP couldn’t have hoped for a better closer. Taking a step back from 200+ hyperfast unce, the beginning of this track almost feels like credits are rolling in front of our eyes, blinking out stroboscope flashes, sweat and glitter. The major chord progression and the very conclusive cadences make ‘Happy little ravebox’ a very fitting final stop for our journey. It is also the longest one in the release, clocking at almost 5 minutes, but never feeling drawn out too much. Setting itself apart from the 2-minute onslaughts of emotional intensity we’ve heard earlier, this track takes it time to roll out and tuck you comfortably in bed (albeit with the hardest kicks ever in the EP). Instead of borrowing melodic elements from previous tracks, Mizkai manages to utilize the many variations in structure, intensity and arrangement in this one to sow together an evocative patchwork of the album’s experiences.
What we just witnessed was just an inspiring display of truly free and sincere songwriting. Bravo Mizkai. Bravo.
This EP is available on Bandcamp on a name-your-price basis, which means you can get all of its NINE tracks completely for free. However I really urge you to consider donating a few shillings for this truly impressive release, which I would have personally called a full-fledged album.
Outside of Chiptune, Mizkai produces her own artwork, and runs a hair and nail salon in her Welsh hometown. She’s also working on designing a retro-inspired clothing collection for Liverpool Fashion Week!