X Japan. Quite possibly the most famous name in Jrock and Visual Kei. And with good reason. As far as the world of Visual Kei is concerned, X Japan is The Godfather. Founded in Chiba, Japan, in 1982, originally under the name X, by drummer Hayashi Yoshiki and vocalist “Toshi” (Deyama Toshimitsu), the band shredded the Japanese indie rock scene with their huge glam-rock hair, androgynous glamor, and balladic, whiny, speed-metal sound.
Although the band started in ’82, founders Yoshiki and Toshi were both attending high-school at the time, and the band didn’t really get going with lives until ’85, which were performed with support musicians. In 1986 Yoshiki founded the independent record label Extasy Records as a surefire way of releasing music and supporting their dream. By ’87 the band had completed its first formal lineup, settling in with Hide (Matsumoto Hideto) on guitar, and Sawada Taiji on bass, and “Pata” as a support guitarist.
The band released its debut album, Vanishing Vision, in ’88 through Extasy Records, and toured extensively throughout Japan. In ’89 the band made a big break with the ultra-popular album Blue Blood, which incited the release of several singles, including the all-time favorites Kurenai and Endless Rain. In 1991 the band performed for the first time in the prestigious Tokyo Dome.
By ’92 the band had become so successful not only in Japan, but worldwide, that they were required to adopt the name X Japan in order to distinguish themselves as a separate entity from the American punk band X. In the same year, bassist Taiji was replaced with bassist Heath.
In 1996 the album Dahlia was released– which would mark the end of X Japan as a band. Vocalist Toshi had already decided to leave the band, and without him, X Japan could hardly continue with dignity, so they decided to split up and pursue their solo activities. They performed for the last time on New Year’s Eve at the Tokyo Dome.
hide ~ December 13th, 1964- May 2nd 1998
Guitarist and sometimes-composer of the band, hide (not to be confused with Hyde of L’arc~En~Ciel/Vamps) was a figurehead for X Japan. As the band progressed and developed, the other members steadily let go of the original Visual Kei emphasis in favor of a more casual, straight rock style. The exception to this rule was hide, whose bright pink hair and ultra-flashy style became a trademark fans would, and will, never forget.
Along with his work for X Japan, hide worked on solo projects (and released several albums and singles), including hide with Spread Beaver and Zilch (based in the US).
Like all of the members of X Japan, hide had become, by their disbandment in ’97, a rock’n’roll icon. Japan was, then, utterly crushed when his sudden death was announced one year after the band broke up. hide was discovered in his Tokyo apartment, hung from the bathroom doorknob by a towel. His funeral was held in Tsukiji Hongan-ji (a Buddhist temple in the Tsukiji district of Tokyo), and was attended by 50,000 people, 60 of which were hospitalized during the event, and 200 of which were tended to in first-aid tents. Three fans died in copy-cat suicides.
There remains some speculation as to whether hide’s death was an accident or a suicide. Members of X Japan commented that they had often utilized a technique involving a towel and a doorknob/handle as a way of relieving back-pain caused by constant use of a guitar-strap. Former bassist Sawada Taiji suggests that hide may have been attempting to implement this technique and, drunk, passed out and gotten tangled up in the towel.
On May 1st 1999, almost exactly a year following hide’s death, a memorial album was released under the title Tribute Spirits. The album featured covers of hide songs by illustrious names such as fellow first-generation Visual Kei bands Luna Sea and BUCK-TICK. A Hide Memorial Summit concert was held at the Ajinomoto Stadium, where many bands, including X Japan, performed hide’s songs.
(Video: At the 2008 Hide Memorial Summit, X Japan performing together with Luna Sea)
But enough history!
These guys rock, and sorting them neatly into the pages of Jrock text-books would be doing their 15 years of rebellion a vast disservice.
Aside from deciding that Visual Kei was to be crazy and image-driven, X Japan had a massive impact on the music and composition styles. Although classified as a speed/power metal and progressive rock band, they made generous use of balladry, piano, and orchestration. Vocalist Toshi supplied unique vocals characterized by a high-pitched, whiny timbre. Several songs, including the all-time-famous ballad Tears (from the album Dahlia) were written with all-English lyrics, and sung boldly by the iconic vocalist.
Many of their songs passed the 10 minute length, climaxing with the album Art of Life, which contained only the title song, running a whopping 29 minutes. (1993. Art of Life was composed and written by Yoshiki, and performed with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. It was only performed live for three audiences.)
In the 15 years that X Japan was active, the band released 5 studio albums, 6 live albums, 10 compilation albums, 19 singles, and 15 video releases.
Links, Further Reading, and Info:
Official Website (Japanese)
Official Website (UK-English)
Yoshiki’s privately owned record label, EXTASY RECORDS (Japanese)
XJapan at MySpace (Japanese)
Yoshiki Official Website (Japanese, English, Chinese [simplified], Korean, Chinese [traditional]/ German, Spanish, French, Italian [news only])
“Yoshikitty” (Yoshiki + Hello Kitty collaboration) Info site (Japanese)
For a full list of member sites and official sites by country/region: go here
‘X Japan’, a fan-site made with dedication, packed with news, information, updates, and anything else you might want to check out related to X Japan.