The Conversation: Migma Shelter

A chat between friends all about the psychedelic trance idol group

Just as Migma Shelter began to get their second wind, the coronavirus got in the way. The idol group was slated to release in June their first full-length album, Alice, completed after a successful crowd-funding campaign. Alice potentially could’ve been a grand victory lap following a period of rapid growth seen in last year’s three impressive singles: Parade’s End, NAMES and Tokyo Square. With the release date pushed back to July, and the state of live shows up in the air, the group’s momentum is suddenly slowing down.

But road blocks aren’t anything new to the current members of Migma Shelter. The AqbiRec agency launched Migma Shelter in 2017, but the idol group practically had to start over from scratch with only one member left from the original line-up by the fall of 2018. The group has grown in numbers since, currently home to six members: Mimimiyu, Brazil, Rere, Tamane, Yubune and Naananara. They’ve also honed in their unique psychedelic trance concept, defining their niche dance-pop sound but also sharpening their live performances into legitimate “raves.”

The allure of Migma Shalter goes deeper than the novelty of their concept. The group’s hot streak wouldn’t have been so rewarding to observe if the six idols, all of whom are colorful characters on their own, didn’t collectively make up such a sweet, tight-knit family. There’s not a better example of this than when the idols were reunited after Tamane took a break from the group to focus on her school exams. Watching the girls fool around and then witnessing them change into performers at their raves is an entire experience.

I’m joined by Myrna to discuss Migma Shelter at length. We discussed the group’s recent history, broke down their music, and talked about what makes Migma Shelter one of the best idol groups to hit the scene in recent years. All of the group’s music is currently available on Spotify.

Ryo writes about music online. They have a newsletter called This Side of Japan about Japanese music, new and old. They’re on Twitter.

Myrna is an avid music fan that focuses mostly on underground idols and K-pop. She constantly blabbers about it on Twitter.

The different line-ups of Migma Shelter in 2018, 2019, and 2020

Ryo: Migma Shelter are one tight-knit family right now, but I’m taken back when I remember that a majority of the line-up wasn’t in the group yet about a year ago. Not only that, but the group once looked like they were finished when they announced a hiatus back in summer 2018 after four out of the five members graduated. I got into Migma Shelter when they barely started to build back their line-up last year, starting from “Parade’s End,” so I didn’t get to witness what I guess we can call their first act firsthand. When did you get into the group, and what are your connections with this earlier part of their history?

Myrna: I’ve always been interested in the endless list of musical endeavors of Yoneko (former idol in Bellring Shoujo Heart), and Migma Shelter was no exception. Although I admit I wasn’t as deep into their music then as I am now, I’ve always found their approach to music interesting enough to at least check on them once in a while. I didn’t really call myself a fan until around the same time when “Parade’s End” came out too, but I’d say what really made me pay a closer look to them was when I heard their unreleased (at that time) song “69” while watching one of their live performances. I think that’s the moment when I got really interested in them as a group. How about you? Did you have a definitive moment where you decided to follow the group more closely?

“69,” from the Names EP (2019)

Ryo: “69” was the one for me, too. The thrash-metal guitars just smack you in the face right when you press play. The music video also helped with the members playing these sukeban characters who fight each other while wielding chains and razor blades, all set to this heavy metal music. It makes such a strong first impression, and I’d confidently recommend it to anyone interested in getting into Migma Shelter, but the song also sounds the least like them. What would you say is a song that best represents the group? How would you describe their sound and concept to someone who doesn’t know Migma Shelter?

Myrna: I’m not sure if I could represent Migma Shelter with just one song because now that I’ve followed them for a while, there’s a big difference between how “old” Migma Shelter sounds compared to current Migma Shelter. If you asked me this before the group’s reformation, I’d probably pick “Joint” or “Deeper,” but now it feels like they’re trying to go in a slightly new direction with the songs they’ve been putting out in the last year — like, more structured? Despite still being heavily instrumental, the songs seem to follow a more common verse-chorus-bridge pattern than before. They also seem to be more willing to expand to other genres like taking elements from samba in “Tokyo Square” or the Celtic influences in “NAME.” I find these songs representing this new iteration of Migma Shelter the best. Have you also felt these changes between the music of each lineup? Which one would you say would be the best to try to get new people to know the group?

Ryo: “Tokyo Square” is another good one. There’s definitely a newfound confidence in the song, which is more a reason for them to incorporate pop structures like you mentioned to further draw a crowd. You also could see that better sense of self in the music video compared to, say, “Compression: Free,” which seems to be filmed in the AqbiRec offices. It’s a different style, though they’ve not entirely distanced themselves from their psychedelic trance concept either. I think that comes alive especially during their live sets. What are some of your favorite things about their live shows?

Migma Shelter performing “Spider Line” at Daikanyama Unit, Sept. 2019

Myrna: One of my favorite things is how they’re called “raves” rather than “lives.” The non-stop aspect of it makes it just really fun to watch also. I especially enjoy how they mix each of the songs with one another and come up with really interesting remixes; it keeps you excited to see what’s coming next, and no rave is similar to another. Another factor I really enjoy is that each one of the members have strong personalities that shine through during the lives, like how Tamane’s own way of dancing pulls you into the performance or Rere’s usual high energy and expressions are just really fun to watch.

It’s kinda funny now thinking about how Migma Shelter is pretty much a super-group with 4 out of their 6 members used to being part of other idol groups or musical projects. I know that is not uncommon for idol groups, especially for AqbiRec, but I guess what I find really interesting is that they mostly come from projects that I used to passionately follow and now have come together as a single group. Did you ever follow the girls’ previous groups or projects?

Ryo: It was all after I knew the girls from Migma Shelter that I started to discover their connections to other idol groups that I only vaguely knew, like Bellring Shoujo Heart (also from AqbiRec) and Kindan No Tasuketsu. In fact, while researching for this, I barely found out Yubune used to be in Chu Oh Dolly and Me formerly of Hamidasystem was one of the four who graduated in 2018. The group’s sound producer also apparently used to work with Yanakoto Sotto Mute? It’s all so interconnected! But as intertwined as Migma Shelter may be with other groups and idol companies, they’ve really carved out their own niche. Can you think of any idol groups in a similar lane as Migma Shelter? Who can be considered their peers?

Myrna: I find it funny because Seisei, who graduated the group in 2018, joined Kindan no Tasuketsu this year, which was Brazil’s previous group before Migma! You’re right it’s all so connected; I guess you can’t avoid that from happening when it seems like everyone knows each other in the vast world of underground idols.

Migma Shelter with label mates Gugu-Lulu and NILKLY at Aqbi’s special year-end show

As for idol groups I consider their peers, a few come to mind but I think most of them are disbanded now sadly. One of those groups is probably Bellring Shoujo Heart, which is not strange considering they’re the predecessors of all AqbiRec groups now. I’ve always considered them unique in the way they approached music and just performance overall. They took the bad singing and dancing aspect people often peg to idols and ran with it till the very end. They’re a group that got progressively worse in technical abilities but became iconic in their own way, which I think differentiates them from their revival counterparts, There There Theres and NILKLY, who seem to have polished that initial concept.

There are other groups I feel we can go in depth with how they similarly carved their own niche in the idol scene. A few that come to mind to me are Avandoned, Billie Idle, Gokigen Teikoku among others. Maybe a clearer example I can think of an idol group with an unique approach to concept would be Especia and Bed-In. I’m particularly interested in how they both explored different sides of like, the same concept? While both of them worked within the same niche of retro-inspired music, they went in completely opposite directions. While Especia tackled the more “aesthetic” side being more into the vaporwave movement that was popular back in the early 2010s, Bed-In went full force into the camp aesthetics and concept the ‘80s often showed. With how overcrowded the idol scene seems to be sometimes, there are still a lot of idol groups that manage to stand out with how unique their concepts can be.

With the release of their new album and with the release of their track “Y” seems like Migma Shelter are looking to expand their own concepts and sounds as well, and that makes me really excited! What were your thoughts on this new song? Do you have any expectations for the new album?

Ryo: “Y” is exactly how you’d imagine a lead single from a “Migma Shelter meets Alice in Wonderland” album to sound with big fat horns mixed in their trance psychedelia and drug-trip-inspired lyrics. (A sample from the chorus: “why is the sky blue?/ why does the music echo?/ why are the flowers talking?/ I don’t know.”) It’s fun and out of the box compared to what came before I also hope, though, that the group doesn’t just interpret their chosen theme literally because Alice in Wonderland do tend to inspire cliche indulgences especially with trance music. After such a strong momentum with last year’s string of singles, I do want this album to make an impact.

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Ryo Miyauchi

Ryo Miyauchi

music, etc.

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