Japanese folk reimagined for the 21st Century with classic prog influences.

“Our new EP is heavily influenced by //Close To The Edge// by Yes”.

This comment leaves //Prog// momentarily speechless. Australian Youka Snell is discussing the forthcoming release by her Berlin-based group Mitsune. Given the band’s love of Japanese folk, which includes dressing in traditional costume on stage, such an overt reference to classic prog comes somewhat unexpected. Youka explains:

“I played that album over and over again. It’s an absolute masterpiece, and it’s really influenced the direction of our new recording as it is one continuous 24-minute piece, with the theme at the start repeating at the end”.

Mitsune categorise themselves as a Japanese neo-folk fusion band, with members hailing from Japan, Australia, Germany and Greece. They came together in 2018 as a trio based around the three-stringed lute, the Tsugaru shamisen, originally favoured by blind or itinerant musicians in ancient Japan. They perform as that trio (although third member Tina Kopp is currently taking a break from the band) but also play with standup bass and percussion, as they did on their highly successful UK tour in July. The current album //Hazama//showcases the shamisen across a mixture of original material and reimagined folk tunes, but on their recent tour, the instrumentation was restricted to two shamisen rather than three. Does this restrict their live sound?

“It did affect the intricacy of the three instruments interacting, and it was also a little restricting in terms of the frequency range that the shamisen can produce. Sonically, it produces sound in the upper mids, so If you look at an EQ band, there’s this huge clump in that area and then no low end. As a result, it can lack the sweeping range that an acoustic guitar offers. Sometimes, the shamisen can be piercing, but it also gives a real beauty because each time you strike a string, the sound goes right into your heart, so the payoff to the sonic setbacks is emotional. But you can also play rhythmically because it’s a drum as well as a stringed instrument. Coming from playing the violin, which is not a percussive instrument, this is super exciting for me”.

What about the wide-ranging influences beyond Japanese folk which inform the band’s music?

“I have a background in classical and jazz violin, and I love R&B, soul and hip hop, as well as progressive rock. But our percussionist Petros studied Afro-Cuban hand percussion and he is also heavily influenced by the music of Morocco”.

The new EP, which is due out in November, should really pique the interest of fans of progressive music.

“It’s a concept piece and it is made to be listened to as one continuous track,” Snell says. “We recorded it live and then added overdubs. It has a mishmash of styles, and it’s a bit more experimental and jazzy than our current album. It’s also influenced by Arabic music, folk music from the Gulf region, as well as traditional North Japanese music. We can’t wait for people to hear it”.  SL

Prog File

LINE-UP: Shiomi Kawaguchi (shamisen, vocals), Youka Snell (shamisen, vocals), Tina Kopp (shamisen, vocals), Petros Tzekos (percussion), Daigo Nakai (bass)

SOUNDS LIKE: King Crimson channelled through traditional Japanese folk with a touch of blues and jazz

CURRENT RELEASE: //Hazama// is out now via


— Stephen Lambe

From "Limelight - Mitsune" Prog Reprinted with permission.

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