A Matter of Life & Death

This post was inspired and instigated entirely by a comment left by J.D. a while ago (my sincere apologies for taking a long time to respond). When I sat down to compose my reply, I realized it was turning into a post unto itself. Since this is a conversation I feel it is important to have, this seemed like a golden opportunity to get it on the table.

J.D. asks:

I just want to know that if its very hard for VK bands (acts) to stand out in Japan’s music industry. The only reason why I am asking this is because many of the VK bands (acts) are starting to tone down their style (or at least those I know of).

Examples:
Girugamesh (toned down toooo much, where’s their old self?)
SID (they look like an idol group now, yet they are still classified as VK?)
the GazettE (SHIVER veered them slightly off-course from their original style)
Angelo (almost same situation as Giru, and the fact that they were a chip of PIERROT makes me more worried)
D’espairsRay (not really much now, considering the fact that Kishi saved them recently)
MUCC (they are going pop, OMG)

Has the “Parental Advisory” label taken its toll on them in any way? Just curious.

gacktpause responds:

It’s certainly true that many of the Visual Kei bands, most noticeably because they are primarily those that have been labeled hardcore or ultimately dark, that we respect and follow have been taking a major turn…not necessarily for the better. It seemed to be starting out as “experimentation” and “new horizons”, and has now plummeted into something of a disaster of identity crisis expressed in sound, and some musical massacre by…by whom, we can’t say. Is it the record label? The composers? The band itself?

I think the short answer to J.D.’s question is yes, it is difficult for Visual Kei bands to stand out. I imagine, especially as the industry has become extremely inundated with bands all struggling to get noticed and gain recognition with few of them actually expressing any particular innovation or individuality, that it’s becoming more and more difficult to get recognized. Veteran bands have to stay afloat, while new bands have to somehow work their way out from under the heavy shadows of Luna Sea, XJapan, D’espairsRay,  and the PSC crew that hit at the right moment and, basically, got lucky by being the right people in the right place at the right time.

Many of the bands have, yes, softened and toned down their sound. My own personal theory, based simply on observances and hypothesis, is that the main way that bands are able to reach a wider audience now is through outlets such as anime and video games (a huge advertising scheme in Japan). However, I think that as they begin working into this mainstream field, they’re taking the tack of conforming and doing what everyone expects in the hopes they can reach out to the people who drop loads of money on ARASHI and other such idol-groups and boy-bands. I believe that, with groups such as SID, Kra, and girugamesh, they’re more or less morphing into staple boy-bands, leaving behind the hardcore (giru, at least) and genuine music they started out with. My guess is it is primarily commercially driven, as many of these artists have proven through trial and error (or lack thereof) that they are sincere, passionate musicians who are channeling their creativity and innovative visions through their work.

I’m not sure if you’ve heard this talk about “Visual Kei is dead”, but I, at least, have been hearing it a lot – too much- this year. First of all, it has a bad feeling to me. Of course you could say it has a bad feeling because Visual Kei is the axis upon which the bulk of my life turns. However, the reason it has such a bad feeling is primarily guided (although I won’t deny the other fact either) by a sense of fans and faith, and something missing in the equation.

The past two years haven’t been the best for Visual Kei, this is true. Exceptional releases have been spotty, “changes in sound” have been, at times, cringeworthy; bands have struggled, split up, flourished and failed. It has been, for lack of better words, a bit of a mess. And then some time back, that interview containing “insider’s insights” on the Visual Kei industry hit the web (of which we will not go into detail here. I have yet to feel the need to even humor that article, and its response, with a comment.) and suddenly this phrase surfaced: “Visual Kei is dead”.

Now, I will say this. I am not asserting my opinion as if it is fact. Truly, your guess is as good as mine. These are my own suppositions, opinions, and beliefs. I do not have any magical insider’s insights into the industry. I only have insights into the industry of fandom– and given that as long as there is fandom, no thing can ever die or disappear, that would seem to be the most relevant in this situation anyway.

Visual Kei will only die when it dies for you. Like believing in the Easter Bunny, or being a huge fan of The Rolling Stones or disco, the genre will only “be dead” when your own lack of faith kills it. Many people laugh at Western followers of certain branches of Japanese fashion, such as Lolita, saying “Nobody wears Lolita in Japan anymore, you stupid whities.” You may not see hoards of Lolita at every Shinujuku street corner anymore, sure, but that does not mean “Lolita is dead”. There are many incredible and passionate followers of Lolita in Japan and elsewhere, and many successful designers that, somehow, flourish making nothing but Lolita clothing.

In the same way, I would say in many respects Visual Kei is no longer “the next big thing”. Visual Kei has found its niche and become, on some level, its own facet of the mainstream rock scene. It is no longer particularly shocking or unbelievable. It, like punk music or legwarmers, is no longer what will make the earth shake and fire rain from the heavens. This does not mean Visual Kei is dead.

Visual Kei is still expanding and developing. It has begun busting down borders and taking acts overseas, including and expanding its international audience. Many acts are struggling or producing mediocre music– is this something exclusive to Visual Kei? Many acts are also flourishing and rapidly uplifting their work to higher standards of excellence. Incredible albums and singles have hit shelves, and we are still on the edge of our chairs, waiting for the next releases from artists we continue to respect and recognize for their dedication, talent, and innovation.

girugamesh released some duds, and The GazettE hit us hard with b-average SHIVER. Of course that immediately necessitates the revelation that Visual Kei is dead. Of course it does. I perceive tension in the world of Visual Kei as the bands and artists work hard to figure out how they can fulfill both commercial and creative callings. As Visualists do we throw in our towels, roll up our posters, and sell our CD collections in some fit of indifference? Or do we crank that one exquisite Visual Kei single that came out this past year and head down memory lane, remembering what it felt like to be showered by Zero’s spit, to be embraced by the aura of 雅ーMIYAVI’s sincere words in the painfully hot club? Remembering the choking thrill of hearing about GACKT’s European debut, still clinging to those fragments of inspiration you drew from seeing those lives this summer…holding onto those living, breathing experiences, can you really tell me that Visual Kei is dead?

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Awakening The Rocker Within

NEWS FLASH: This just in today! Japanese superstar GACKT (37) invents and instates, via general consensus, a new form of verbal punctuation. Now, replacing the Japanese and English words ‘desu’ and ‘are’, we shall hereby be required by Japanese law to say EVER at the end of every statement and sentence. May also be used as a general exclamation, or as a warning called out after anyone wearing capris.

This PV screams GACKT. It screams GACKT louder than a hysteric fan-girl in the front row. The excessive, unnatural, hard-to-believe-it’s-serious machoness, and insanely awkward acting and lines, which we began encountering early on, and the utterly random moments that are so shockingly powerful, it makes them even more random, all just seethe GACKT.

Long story short, he got it all right with the brand new PV for EVER.

The random (yet undeniably brilliant and meaningful) fragments of storyline in this PV are simplistic, and yet I somehow have a feeling we’re not meant to accept them at face-value. I was really into the shameless self-directed idol-worship, and how his performance awakens the rocker spirit in the boy wearing the YFCz uniform.

The most unbelievable moment of the whole PV is the first scene actually showing the idol himself. When he does that spirit-fingers thing? I mean come on! Everything about his outfit (even the sparkly makeup looked quite cool in the PV), his dance moves, and how he used the hat was really stylish. All I can say about the scope thing that periodically targets him, though, is…Gundam or it didn’t happen.

My only real complaint about the video was…what happened to Chachamaru? Is he camera shy now or something? I’m seeing Tsukasa, SHUN, and some guy with a Perm on bass (Ni~ya from Nightmare again?). I know Chirolyn is scary, but really.

The random ending where the spirit-guide bouncer guy (AKA “GACKT’s Secretary” -insert expletives-) laughs and says “heh…EVER.” was… was…very…let’s just say I bet GACKT thought up that one personally.

Visualist Dementia: Symptoms

If you’re a serious fan or follower of any type of media, from music to film to theater, then I’m sure you understand the level of masochism, devotion, and psychological confusion that aforementioned fans and followers deal with as a result of their fandom. As anyone who follows my blog knows by now, I prefer to refer to other followers of Visual Kei and Jrock, and be referred to, as “Visualists” rather than “fans”. For some reason the word “fan” has some negative connotations in my experience, and while I don’t refuse the word strictly, I work with it hesitantly.

In any case, whether you’re a fan, follower, devotee, acolyte, or Visualist, we all experience the same pain, and regardless of where you are, who you are, and how you express your appreciation for the (fill in the blank), we all share a common ground: appreciation. And pain, of course. With great devotion comes great capacity to suffer. At least, I hope you have a great capacity– otherwise I don’t envy you.

Now, it’s not that we just like something and can’t get enough of it because it makes us happy. But if you say it’s obsession then I’ll be offended- I don’t have some unhealthy mental affliction that needs to be rectified by luminous Vitamin B supplements. (Although I hear that a vitamin B [niacin] deficiency is characterized by ‘aggression, insomnia, weakness, mental confusion, and in serious cases may lead to dementia.’ Which means I should probably be taking it). It’s just…visualist dementia. I use the term ‘visualist dementia’ as an excuse for all of the erratic behavior caused by an acute devotion to Visual Kei. (Before you ask– yes, I have a highly advanced case.) The only Visualist that they’ve been able to ‘cure’ underwent severe correctional treatment involving brutal methods such as putting them into a padded room and playing Arashi at high volume for countless hours….something you and I can only fathom in our darkest nightmares… Particular symptoms of visualist dementia may or may not include: lack of sleep due to waiting for overseas tour announcements (however factual or fictional), lack of an ability to measure distance based on miles rather than love of a band, and strange lapses of musical hypocrisy.

Now, the misconception that many Visualists may or may not be under, is that Japanese record labels don’t know about visualist dementia. But in fact, they know. They know very well. And based on scientific research on the topic, they invented a form of psychological torture that is widely utilized to improve sales and overseas awareness of artists. This intense form of sadistic punishment….is called marketing. (Note: As of 2010 synonymous with Twitter).

It’s amazing how concentrated our dementia becomes the instant hopes for overseas activity becomes possible. I mean, how cruel is it for band PR to throw around the words “important announcement”? “Important announcement” in our language is synonymous with “overseas tour in our region”. I mean, come on, don’t they know that? (oh trust me, they do) And then they go and announce that it’s not a tour at all, just the release of  some single that we can already get direct from Japan, complete with pre-order bonuses. When that happens, we have no choice but to do our best not to drown kittens in a kiddie pool because no kidding we already got the single, with all of the pre-order bonuses, and don’t need the local version, because we’re saving for CONCERT TICKETS.

And then when they finally announce a tour in Location B, certain people cancel all of their plans with normal people using the excuse that “Sorry, I can’t make it to your event, because Band A will be releasing their tour announcement for my area, and I want to be there when they do so I can get tickets.” Your friends get angry and think you’re going insane, you stay up all night getting jazzed off NesCafe because you don’t want them to release the information at your 4AM which is their 5PM (next day) and have the tickets all sell out before you can get some.

I’ve been thinking about this because there’s been quite a lot of ticketing activity lately. Between MIYAVI, D’espairsRay, VAMPS, and then GACKT’s Europe tour (I know some of you hardcores from this side of the great blue are going), more than a few nerves have been frayed and fried over the past few months. I don’t know about you guys, but I sure got a psychological milking from D’espairs when they took like three months between the “US tour announcement to be released tomorrow!” and the actual promised announcement making an appearance. (For some reason I actually fell for that one.) In a way this is a perfect example of our rabid existence. We spend so much time whining about why won’t the bands ever come to us, and then they come to us and it’s like man, can our nerves even handle this? Can you handle this?


Visual AppliKEI

One of those things that we Visualists like to have as a way of expressing our elitism, is official goods. Posters and tour T-shirts seem to range in the higher levels of demand. These items are like our medals of honor. They show where we’ve been; they confirm, in a way, our devotion. In the case of Visual Kei and Jrock, of course, they also show a level of craftiness and capability, as it can be extremely difficult to get ones hands on items like this. Much of this stuff has to be purchased at goods-stands at live shows, or from the official-goods sites, where they can be extortionately expensive without adding buying-service charges (lookin’ at you, abingdon boys school). Plus, conversion rates and language barriers can create tiers of challenge unbelievable to, say, American-music fans. Yes, we are total bad-asses.

But sometimes getting your hands on the goods (literally) can be nigh impossible. And that aside, often the better way to show one’s devotion and love of a band or artist is to actually put your own creativity into it. Although it may not be as “legit” as getting an official poster or T-shirt (and of course we want to support the artist by purchasing them if possible), it can be just as rewarding to make something on your own.

In fact, in general I detest the whole idea of having to accept things because we believe we have no control over them. We lower our standards and buy the clothes we can find in the chain-stores because we think we have no other choice. Unless you have awesome skills in the sewing department, chances are that belief is probably pretty strongly ingrained. Being someone with a strict and heightened aesthetic, I have serious issues with just sucking it up and “living with it”. Nobody should do that– it’s demeaning. If you want something a certain way, you should believe that you can have it that way. And if you can’t buy it– make it. If you can’t make it– customize the living hell out of it.

Much as I wish (don’t we all) I could break out some badass sewing mastery on the spot and end up with a perfect replica of the red velvet suit Ruki is wearing on the cover of last spring’s FOOL MATE, though, that’s a bit out of my reach at this point. However, I’m not too cool as to be beyond basic home-ec, and this week I put my awesome abilities to use, and I thought I would share the finished project on here and see what you guys think of my incredible display of unforeseen capability.

I started with a basic black Visual-kei emblem bag that I usually use to carry stuff like folders and sheet-music in.

I know most people under, like, 35 would rather jump into a lake in the middle of March than admit to using appliques, but it’s actually a really simple way to customize your stuff. It requires minimal ability to wield a needle, and there are endless variations to how they can be made and used. In this case, I used swatches of denim with the dark wash facing in so the lettering would stand out brighter on the light side.

And here’s the finished product. I wrote everything by hand with a very fine-tip permanent marker…challenging the extents of my artistic ability. I’m pleased with how everything turned out, as I didn’t have to redo any of the swatches, and without using any stenciling or anything, I think the fonts came out alright. I tried to match official fonts as closely as possible, but in some cases I just sort of winged it.

The artists I used: BUCK-TICK, girugamesh, GACKT, Malice Mizer, Alice Nine, the GazettE, and D.

There are other bands I would like to add…I just didn’t want to take on too many at once because after 3 hours of stitching these things on I want to stab myself in the eye with the stupid needle and get it over with (thus the safety pins on the last one). Maybe in a couple of months I’ll feel ready to tackle adding D’espairsRay and MIYAVI.

Zen Visual Kei

I apologize for not being very active lately. Truth be told, I haven’t really been feeling inspired by anything enough that I would want to write about it/review it. Most of what I’ve been listening to this past month has been pretty much the same old stuff. To put it in internet layman’s terms: meh.

So, recently, instead of listening to tons of music, I climbed into the mountains to hear the sound of the birds, and live off the land, miles and miles from the nearest tub of Gatsby Moving Rubber, without a perm in sight…And while I was in retreat…I wish I could say something like “I became enlightened”, but unfortunately my realization was somewhat lesser. I realized that I’ve been kind of snobbish, mostly because I’ve become paranoid in recent days about the creativity involved in the recent Visual Kei (and Jrock at large) releases. Some of them have felt more than a little mainstream, and of late, I’ve been waking up from gloomy nightmares, the word Commercialism…commercialism…commercialism… echoing around the room.

However, thankfully before my threats of KAT-TUN rebellion actually resulted in the buying of best-of albums and switching my banner out for one of Kamenashi Kazuya with his hair knotted up in a pink hair-tie, I started thinking more about where things stand, not in regards to the music industry and commercialistic totalitarianism,  but in regards to being a Visualist, and the listening to music aspect of our fandom. (I made the new banner just in case though!)

Just being annoying...

I like the Japanese word “Hajime” 「始め」 which means “beginning”. What I like about it is the kanji because it’s an extremely common and simple character, 始, but it has multiple parts, which, in my eyes, kind of represents the causes and conditions that need to be in place for anything to “begin”. In Japanese, the phrase meaning “Nice to meet you/How do you do” is “Hajimemashite” 「始めまして」 which means, literally, “it has begun”. I like this sentiment because, unlike “Nice to meet you”, it has a feeling of continuity and progressiveness.

In the same way that a personal relationship has a “it has begun” moment, which then develops and progresses into a “now we’re bros” plateau of mutual acknowledgement, media and music has the same patterning (in fact, most things do). In this case, you’re hearing a song for the first time– that’s the “hajimemashite”. Then, if you liked that song enough to look into it further, you will continue to explore that artist’s works (music, movies, media), to the point that maybe you will even travel to foreign countries to see them perform live (is the personal-relationship equivalent engagement? just kidding).

A while ago I read a book called Zen Guitar, which, you guessed it, applied the concepts of zen to playing guitar. The format of the “method” in this book was that the “student” was supposed to think of playing the guitar in the same way you would practice a martial art. The first thing the author tackled was the “black belt” issue. People wanted to know what it took to become a “black belt”. Sparing you the sentiments about how “one will forever be a student” and all that (he doesn’t spare you, but I will), I did like his comment on the topic. He said (paraphrased, as I can’t remember it verbatim) that “in the way of Zen Guitar there is only one belt: the white belt. The student must always return to white belt, every time. The only way that you can attain a “black belt” is by practicing to such an extent that your white belt becomes soiled, and steadily, blackens from use.”

Now, taking all of this philosophy into consideration and then looking at the actual experience of this developing relationship with the experience of listening to certain music, there is no definite point of fulfillment, is there? And yet we rush (it’s a side-effect of visualist dementia– don’t worry, we all have it) forward as if there’s some sort of finish line, or black belt. Essentially, there isn’t one.  At least I don’t think there is– not for me, anyway. And yet it’s interesting to see how, even with something as circular in nature as the appreciation of music, impatience develops. We obsess over when new material will be released– forgetting that there are still songs on old albums that we haven’t even listened to properly.

Essentially, it’s hard to avoid becoming jaded to something. At first and for a while it’s exciting, but if you do something enough, live it and breathe it enough, it becomes a habit – something done without thinking. Even if new material comes out, are we really as excited about it as we were right when we first started listening to The GazettE? I’m not trying to speak for anyone else, or state that this is just how it is. But for me, at least, Visual Kei and Jrock isn’t just a “phase” or something that I will lose interest in after a while. I would never “break up with it” as it were, just because I’ve hit a flat area. These are the points in ones relationship– with anyone and anything– where it actually starts to take awareness and conscious action to keep something alive, strong, and healthy. When you stop appreciating something properly, the jadedness creeps in, lethargy soon follows, and then who knows what’s next– gangrene, maybe. Or even worse, you find yourself actually checking out DBSK albums on eBay (don’t take this the wrong way. I’m not saying I’ve done that. Not yet, anyway.).

What I’m going to do about it, to both help refresh my appreciation of Visual Kei, and bring some new material to SG, is go back through all of my albums/singles/DVDs/whatever, many of which are dated from several years ago and haven’t been reviewed (I won’t do repeats) yet. I will do my best to listen to them with a “white belt” ear, and review them. It will definitely help me get back in touch with the older stuff, hopefully it will help newcomers to VK check out some classics, and maybe it will send some of you vets back to your dusty collections. Who knows, right?

Pumpkin Fever?

jack-o-lantern

It must be something in the water these days. Perhaps there’s some form of roadkill in the mountain creeks, rotting its little heart out, and everyone is drinking the diluted stuff, pepped up with fluoride and antibiotics put in there to neutralize the eau du fetid stag. It makes them overexcited. I received a rather telling email yesterday explaining to me that this rather rinky-dink anime convention held annually in my neck of the woods has been forced to put a cap on attendance this year. (The cap is gawking teen anime freaks X 700– yes, I give you permission to laugh). That means nearly 200 extra g.t.a.f.’s will be in attendance, up from last year. Now, the reason this solicits musings on our poor dessicated wildlife there, is because I was wondering why 200 more people got the idea to get out their space-suits and ice-picks and schlep the ol’ pig-skin up to the barren, northern wastes. People are raised by wolves up here. When crossing the border, instead of confiscating aforementioned ice-picks and any other sundry articles or armaments, Homeland Security gives them toboggans and an extra slab of lard and sends them grimly on their way with a prayer.

On an entirely (although not irrelevant) different train of thought, we are now officially well into the first week of October. I noticed, because I saw those great monstrosities of inflatable pumpkins, deflated in the dewy murk of the drive-to-9-to-5. There are a few holidays which I truly enjoy– among them are Christmas, my birthday, July 4th, New Year’s, and Tanabata [July 7th]– and Halloween is not one of them. We’ve ceased the spooks and hit the calories. To be fair– I said ‘we’. This year, however, the ripe venison in the aforementioned paragraph has truly stepped in on my behalf. This year, the (again) aforementioned convention will settle its calorized flanks over Halloween weekend. The cosplay at this convention is usually surprisingly good, and this year I expect pumpkin fever will possess the g.t.a.f.s into great feats of costuming ballistics. (Goodness, don’t look at me).

I would like to make a formal request as I close off this topic now– that request is that the West Coast anime con-goers not be smug. Jrock is so very alien in this icebergian tundra that it was voted out, either through lack of popularity or collection, at the con’s resident dance party. It was with a great issuance of ennui that I beheld the switch from head-banging to dir en grey till ones ears bleed to bopping along to those repetitive techno loops of echoing female and male voices mysteriously chanting in ominous tones, in the darrrrrrk forest…..

I know it seems a pathetic and meandering topic without premise, but its purpose is to assure–myself, more than anyone– that Gacktpause carries on. That rather hysterical and often invasive thing, ones real life, has been asserting itself forcefully of late, and it seems I am powerless to resist its harrowing call. With the turning of the weather, the coming of great costuming events that are conventions and Halloween– whether you cosplay or merely flaunt your usual frockage–, something tells me it’s time to turn mascara-ed eyes to Visual Kei. Coming up next, on Secret Garden.

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