Your Daily News from the GazettE

On the topic of “Visual Kings”, the obvious poster-band for the section would have to be rising-star Visual rockers the GazettE. No. It’s not a daily news column in the Mainichi News.

Arising out of the elitist Visual Kei club PSC company, the GazettE have been pioneers in creating a very approachable, mainstream niche– despite being youngsters.

Their prettiness, badassness, unfairly excellent fashion sense and wardrobe, and musical talent enough to give anyone, male or female, a frightful nosebleed, these may be new kids on the block, but they’re tearing up the international (and Japanese) Visual rock scene like an 8.0 magnitude earthquake.

Perhaps their greatest gift to the world of VK? They revolutionized the Japanese annual favorite, The Suit, as the coolest rocker uniform of the decade.

(…That was a joke. Sort of.)

the GazettE, 2009

the GazettE is (from left-right): (gu)葵/Aoi, (ba) れいた/Reita, (v) ルキ/Ruki, (dr) 戒/Kai, (gu) 麗/Uruha,

Referring to themselves as a heresy from their generation, the band certainly does stand out from their PSC peers, in that they have a harder sound and more hardcore look, delving into a more solid grunge-metal and thrasher sound compared to fellows Alice Nine, Kaggra, and Kra.  However, don’t let this give an impression of one-dimensionality. The band is experimental and varied in their repertoire, with a handsome collection of ballads, hip-hop ornamented screamo, and now and then a dirty mouth they can probably only get away with because they’re singing entirely in Japanese and swearing entirely in English. I should have thought of that ages ago.

The band has become, throughout their road to fame and fandom, a bit of a “personality” group. I.E., a band whose individual members are almost as famous on their own as they are as a collective force.

Reita

This is apparent especially in the fact that this is one of the few bands (aside from perhaps L’arc~En~Ciel) where the bassist is actually more admired than the vocalist…

This is made possible, of course, because the members have developed their sense of self to the point that they are personalities, worthy of curiosity and attraction. Not to mention, they have built up airs of mystery, with Reita who is never seen without a band across his nose, or a bandanna covering his lower face. Remember to recommend this technique to any single and hopeless guys you know– it worked for Reita!

Sigh. You really know you’re starting to feel the strain of being an elitist when you start feeling irritated with bands for being too exceptionally prolific. “Sorry, I don’t have time. I have to read through the GazettE’s biography…” Is becoming one of my most practical excuses. The more illustrious they become, the longer it takes to credit a discography!

That gripe session should set the precedent for what their career has looked like since they started up in 2002, originally with a drummer named Yune. They signed with indie label Matina (now obsolete) under the name ガゼット[Gazette], and released Wakaremichi, their first single. 2003 brought exodus of Yune, advent of Kai, ensignment to PSC, and their first tour, along with indie band Hanamuke. Although a slew of DVDs, concerts, and a mini-album were all released, it wasn’t until 2004 that fans were able to satiate their hunger for more daily GazettE with the official opening of their fanclub and the whopping release of first full-length album, Disorder.

In December of the same year, they performed at Visual Kei publication Fool’s Mate‘s Visual Kei festival, Beauti-Fool’s Fest.

2005 was a year of intensive nationwide touring, and thus resulted (although happily!) in a limited number of releases, including their first photobook. They finished off the year with a finale performance at the PEACE & SMILE CARNIVAL TOUR 2005, and the release of long-standing hit single Cassis. Cassis would mark the end of Gazette, and the beginning of a whole new thing entirely.

In 2006 they switched from the Japanese characters, to the roman letters: the GazettE. They debuted their new name with killer album NIL & Nameless Liberty Six Guns, an intensive nationwide tour with over 30 shows, finishing off with a sold-out performance at the Nippon Budokan (one of the largest arenas in Japan), and an international appearance at the Beethovenhalle in Bonn, Germany.

They continued to stun international fans with an official European tour in 2007– hitting every nation and venue except where you live, I bet. They certainly didn’t come to mine. 2008 brought OriCon chart topping, and an aggressive rise in popularity. This was exposed in their promotional tactics for the single LEECH. Black buses parked in trendy locations in Japanese cities, blaring LEECH and playing the PV on screens which were installed in the bus windows. To promote the release, they also planned a “secret gig” outside of the Shinjuku train station in downtown Tokyo. They originally estimated an attendance of about 250 people, but 7000. 7000. Seven-thousand. Thousand. Seven. Showed up, and as a result, traffic flow was so congested that police were forced to shut them down after only 2 songs.



More recent news include the release of album DIM
in 2009, and the GazettE‘s participation as the KO finisher of a finale concert at the V-Rock Festival ’09, held at the Makuhari Messe in Chiba city, Kanto, Japan. On December 24th they held their A HYMN OF THE CRUCIFIXION performance at Tokyo Big Sight. They performed 22 old and new songs over a 3 hour span.

I tell you what, this is getting about as hard to bear as any cross… If someone doesn’t get me over there, and fast, I’m going to need a hymn of the deprivation!

The GazettE @ PSC (Japanese, Chinese, Korean)

The GazettE Official MySpace (English)

PS COMPANY Official Website (Japanese)

A Comprehensive and Complete year-by-year/month-by-month breakdown of activity @ MusicJapan+ (English)

+VK+#3 Visual Kings

The most extreme levels of visual expression in Visual Kei probably have to, per mercy rule, be ceded to the drag-gang and “Manpires” of Youshikibi, the beauty of form aesthetic sub-culture.  But, although it is extremely popular, youshikibi is indeed a sub-culture, and is not for everyone.

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ナイトメア[Nightmare

Therefore, next up in the VK series: The sort of over-all, all-encompassing, original scope of Visual Kei; the most abused by Youtubers posting Jrock videos, and Wikki-woks BSing their way through a new Wikiwrong.com page, and probably the most well-known style of Visual Kei– normal Visual Kei.

Yes, I just used those three words in the same sentence.

Visual Kei gets difficult, and you can understand why we’re still all arguing about what is Visu’all right’ or Visu’all’ wrong, because it does have a very wide genre range, from pop to Gothica. The reason I refer to this particular style as normal Visual Kei is because it does not fit distinctly into the Youshikibi, Oshare, or Gothic sub-cultures of Visual Kei. It’s where everyone else goes. This aspect of VK culture was more or less founded by the PS.C company (which pretty much owns all the popular VK bands anyway). PS.C currently “owns” Alice Nine, the GazettE, Kra, Kaggra, among others. It was previously known to have found a home on shelves for eccentric idol Miyavi as well, but in late 2009 Miyavi founded his own label and flew the nest to join EMI Japan.

Although historical elements and androgyny are indeed present in normal Visual Kei (hereby referred to simply as “Visual Kei”), it is more likely added as accents and themes, as opposed to entire ensembles of dandy glory. Cross-dressing and drag is practically non-existent, although in a few cases it can get a little border-line.

The idealism theme is much less apparent as well, although androgyny still reigns supreme. In VK this is expressed in a general “prettiness” of the rockers. However, don’t let their porcelain profiles deceive you. These guys may be glamorous, but they can tear up venue turf with some serious tunes.

Reita of the GazettE

It’s not punk, it’s not Goth, but it’s not the kind of stuff GACKT and T.M. Revolution wear. It’s classy- flashy. It’s Visual Kei. These outfits are visual, without being costumes. The point is to be flashy, to stand out, to be Visual rockers. But these bad boys aren’t putting on dresses and prancing mutely around like our gothic youshikibi friends. This is it’s own genre of fashion entirely, and it’s difficult to describe exactly where it came from.

Duel Jewel

Because this is a bit of a melting-pot of styles, fashions, and genres, the musical sound qualities are allowed to vary liberally from band to band (unlike Youshikibi, which has much more of a set genre). The most common styles are probably hard-rock and metal, but the pendulum swings in a wide arc from hardcore (D’espairsRay, the GazettE), to pop (Ayabie, Duel Jewel, The Kiddie)….With pretty much everything in between. The interesting part is following images or videos which depict hardcore or gothicy looking bands, which end up playing upbeat, pop-ish music.

In the end, Visual Kei is about creativity. The best way to learn more about the different genres, where they come together and where they separate again, is to listen to the music, look at the bands, and immerse yourself in the culture as much as possible.

NoGod

Visual Kei is flashy, badass, sometimes a bit intimidating, and elegant all in one. Argue about it all you want, but those, at least, are total, irrevocable, facts.

Girls EXIST!


Yes, there are real, live female Visualists, and they are terrifying to behold. Although my initial impression was, unfairly, that it was going to be some sort of bubble-gum Oshare Kei that makes you want to bleed soda-pop, after hearing several songs, I was officially slapped-down. This is not bubble-gum. This is not Oshare Kei. This is all-girls, all-the-time, and quite frankly, they make Dir En Grey sound like The Muses playing lyres on a sunny day.

(Well, okay, that was fictionalized for dramatic effect. But these dames are damned, that’s for sure!)

Although there are several notable, although not well-known, all-girl Visual Kei bands, today we’re going to focus on one group in particular, which has more or less swept Visualists off their Double Decker’ed feet. Totally frightening, totally female, showing us that VK girls exist:

exist†trace

These chicks can shred, they can scream, and they probably use a bag of throat-lozenges a day. I know I feel like I need one by the time I’ve finished listening to above-featured video and their pleasant how-do-you-do Judea. They have an incredibly powerful sound, they’re all talented and serious musicians, and actually managed to find a vocalist who doesn’t sound like everyone (or anyone) else. They’re intimidating to behold, but they’re not completely over-the-top in order to be noticed. They’re being themselves (well, we are talking about Visual Kei here, so you get my drift) and manage to pull off being completely cool and actually kind of bad-ass without seeming like they’re trying to be cooler than they are to impress someone.

Wow. I’m swooning.

New girls on the block, EXIST TRACE

exist†trace is, from left to right: (Gu)乙魅/ Omi, (Gu/band leader) miko, (Vo) ジョウ/Jyou, (Dr) Mally, (Ba) 猶人/Naoto.

An indie group blooming like a patch of black roses in Tokyo, exist†trace is typically labelled Alternative/Melodic death metal. A pretty apt summary of their work– but not particularly descriptive nor interesting. The truth is, these girls are hardcore Visual rockers, and trying to squeeze them into two neat, tidy genre compartments is an injustice to their creativity.

Their characteristic sound qualities are a full-bodied blend of many different styles of the gothic/metal world. They rock decidedly in favor of thick drum and bass, which contributes to a slightly more Gothic sound. The guitars keep everything rooted in pure metal, working with heavy melodies and tough-nut shredding.

Although Jyou’s vocals can be quite aggressive, with plenty of growling, howling, and general angry screaming, her confident alto soars with expressive, often quite beautiful melodies.

Originally founded by Jyou and Naoto, the then two-(wo)man lineup of exist†trace spent the first three years finding members. Naoto recruited childhood friend Mally, on drums, and after a while, they invited Miko to join. Last to complete the lineup was first-guitarist and, probably, band body-guard the intimidating shredder Omi.

With all members in place, the band officially kicked off in June of 2003, and a debut live in December of the same year. In 2004 they started spreading the word with the release of two demo tapes, Hai no Yuki and Kokumu. They released their first single, Ambivalence, on August 25th 2005.

2006 saw the release of several more singles and a mini-album Annunciation-the heretic elegy-, and the release of their first PV. 2007 was “lively”, kicking off with a coupling tour with band Gemmik in January. In July they released the single Liquid, and thrashed throughout Japan with a tour in the fall.

2008 was, truly, just a trace of existence for a while, when the band announced they would be taking a brief hiatus. This break lasted for a merciful 3 months, and was concluded with Reprologue, a revival live. This comeback seemed to return the girls to the music scene more fired-up and ready to go than ever, and in October they joined Black:List for a European tour. The tour included lives in Belgium, Germany, Paris, and Finland. November delivered compilation album Recreation Eve, and a lineup of promotional lives.

They are currently infecting men and women alike with the violent need to shred air-guitar (or hopefully get a real guitar!) with their latest album, VANGUARD-of the muses-.

The band name, and the significance of the cross-symbol (†), refer to a trace of existence and [the cross] the burden of life. In reference to their latest album, VANGUARD-Of the Muses-, band-leader Miko said the central themes were “struggle, conflict, and battle”, and that the band’s message was one of inspiration– not depression. They wanted fans to feel a sense of power and courage when listening [to the album].

exist† trace Official Website (Japanese [some English] VERY LOUD SOUND…My eardrums are officially dead from visiting their website…)

exist† trace Official MySpace (English/blog- Japanese)

+VK+ #1 Damned Dames

If all of the beautiful, talented, elegant “women” in Visual Kei are actually men, then where does that leave girls and Visual Kei?

From a commercial perspective, a very large percentage of the Visual Kei fanbase is teenage and young women. It makes sense, therefore, that the majority of Visual Kei bands and front-men would be male– you can even take that a step further by applying our previous analysis of the archetypes of male androgyny, idealism and fantasy. However, in the past decade, a few badass babes have been getting fed-up with these pretty boys thinking they can shred, and are (although not often) showing up on the Visual Kei scene to tear things up– girl style.

Since the early 2000′s Visual Kei has seen the rise (and, for better or for worse, the fall) of a good handful of all-female Visual Kei bands. Unfortunately those that actually receive recognition and become popular are few and far between.

Jyou, of exist trace

Continuing on the topic of commercialism, many people argue that the reason female Visual Kei bands are practically unheard-of is because Visual Kei is targeted at women– as a crustaceasly-brained forum poster put it (but with worse spelling), “it’s the same reason why there aren’t female members in Arashi“. This I first of all must contest do to this person’s apparent total lack of understanding concerning Visual Kei; secondly because (generalizing here, but for the sake of making a point, so bear with me) Visual Kei is typically a hardcore/hard-rock/metal music scene, which, as far as I know, is not a typical genre for Japanese female musicians and vocalists.

On that note– how many all-female heavy-metal bands can you name in the west? Probably not as many as all-male bands, I’d put money on it. In the end, I think that if you’re going to analyze it (which of course we are), you have to realize that a) Yes, the reason they can’t become as popular as quickly is from an aesthetic perspective. They aren’t men, therefore  they don’t appeal to the teen-girl masses in the same way. b) However, musically they are still on par with many of the all-male VK bands, and many of the all-female bands have more interesting music and melodies. And c) On sort of a “big sister” level, it seems that the individual members would receive recognition from women on a level of aesthetic in that these are strong, confident, beautiful women being who they are and embracing the musical culture they love, regardless of stereotypes or expectations.

Danger Gang

What I really find interesting is that Visual Kei bands are strict in their lineups. They do not bother with that tedium that is co-ed creativity (with the exception of a few bands, such as Decola Hopping– a decora-style band whose vocalist is female). Visual Kei bands are either all-male, or all-female. In an interview that guitarist and band-leader of exist trace, Miko, did for JaME, Miko addressed the topic by saying that before she joined exist trace, she was playing music with a lot of friends and so on, many of whom were boys. She said that although they were not necessarily consciously excluding men from joining the band, their distinctive sound and feel comes from them being all women, and that would be very different if there was a male adding his maleness to the quality of the music.

Miko of exist trace

More on the topic of defining sound and music qualities…. For anyone interested in experiencing Japanese rock music with a female vocalist who doesn’t sound like how bubblegum tastes, I highly recommend checking out female VK bands. Although the music is still usually rock as hard as we like it, there tends to be less metal (exist trace excluded. Approach with caution.), giving more of a general appeal (exist trace excluded. Approach with caution.). Deeper altos seem more favorable– almost to an extreme, in the case of Araune, whose vocalist has one of the deepest voices I have ever laid ears on.

As you can see in the example of Danger Gang (above), the aesthetic style tends to be quite different among all-female VK bands. Although some bands such as exist trace have established a look not too far a-cry from that of the male bands, decora (extremely heavy accessorizing and mind-destroying color schemes) seems to be popular, as are the garish, costumey styles (Danger Gang, GallowS). Although these styles are also known among all-male bands, the classy sub-gothic/sub-militaristic look seems to be more definitive of the male VK bands.

Elements of the fashion may appear among female members of VK bands, however Gothic Lolita is not usually incorporated into their styles. Possibly due to its popularity among the male youshikibi-ites, or the social gap between Lolitas and Visualists.

If you are interested in checking out some all-female Visual Kei bands, here is a list of a few:

Aldious

Araune

Danger Gang

exist trace

GallowS (disbanded 2010)

GoDeath

Necro Circus (disbanded 2007)

Decola Hopping (male musicians, female vocalist)

Gagaaling (male musicians, female vocalist)

GallowS

Youshikibi~ Playing the Part (Final)

More than just a bunch of complicated ideals and aesthetics, however, Visual Kei is a social stage upon which we are all acting out a role we have created for ourselves. It’s not just looks; it’s about playing the part.

Traditional Kabuki makeup

Having discovered Jrock and Visual Kei after already having a basic understanding of traditional Japanese culture, my first thought when I started watching videos of Visual Kei bands was This is Kabuki, if it was put on by a French opera company played out by metal-bands. I was surprised to find that Tiffany Godoy, the author of the photo book Japanese Goth took the same approach. There is no doubt about it: Visual Kei is a descendant of the Noh and Kabuki theaters of traditional Japan. Only instead of acting out a play with a script, the bands are acting out scenes and characters with their costumes, personalities, and music.

Versailles~ Philharmonic Quintet (3rd Gen.)

Each member is using costume, makeup, and personality (whether natural or affected) to play out a particular role, within the band as well as within the music itself. This is perfected in the affected personas of idols such as GACKT (ex-Malice Mizer), who says that he is a Vampire born in the 16th century, and Mana (Moi dix Mois, ex-Malice Mizer) who dresses entirely in Gothic Lolita and refuses to speak, claiming that the only modes of expression he needs are that of his music.

Gackt, Mizerable era (1999)

This “role playing” carries over into the topic covered in the “Manpires” post, where many of the vocalists and frontmen for Visual Kei bands assume a role of a protagonist or hero figure. This “hero” is often depicted as being the ideal man, repeat: like a character out of a historical romance novel. This role-playing and literal acting of the part selected, is part of what creates the allure and attraction around these rockers. They are like a palette onto which you can project whatever ideals you have, and your dreams will never be crushed, nor fulfilled.