School’s Back In Session

School’s back in session, but this semester we’ll be getting a lesson in serious rock– courtesy of Jrock’s best-kept secret, full-throttle super-group abingdon boys school.

Although they could be called a ‘kid-band’, as they only started in 2005, there is nothing kiddie about this hardcore Jrock group. abingdon boys school, fondly contracted to a.b.s by fans and the band alike, was founded by programmer and keyboardist Kishi Toshiyuki and vocalist Nishikawa Takanori– perhaps better known for his pop-prince solo act, T.M. Revolution. They recruited guitarists SUNAO and Shibasaki Hiroshi, both of whom have worked closely with Nishikawa on his “Revolutionary” activities throughout the past decade.

However, let me say this: for anyone who came to a.b.s expecting more of T.M. Revolution’s futuristic sub-Gundam electro-pop, two words: Not. Happening. Seeing as three of the members have indeed (and do still) work together in the Mobile-Suit pop world, I think (yeah, I read the blogs too) a lot of people were surprised that this amazingly (absolutely no offense intended) fruity, and possibly the shortest pop-star in Japan, could front a project so dramatically opposite his solo work, as abingdon boys school.

Well you can put it in red marker and add a star-shaped sticker too, for the versatility of Nishikawa’s unbelievable vocal style. Whether he’s draped in supple snow-white  leather suits, or nerding out in thick-rimmed glasses and a private-school uniform, Nishikawa’s high, heady, terrifically strong wail is unlike any other. Honestly, I have to say that Nishikawa’s vocals are some of the most impressive, innovative, and mind-blowingly awesome in the pop/rock world.

Aside from the singular vocal talents of Nishikawa, the rest of the a.b.s lineup may be names you haven’t heard– but we can quite quickly decapitate that disturbance and move on, because the sooner you hear them, the sooner you’ll be thanking yourself.

Part of the problem may be that these are not blooming heartthrobs. Nor are they young, with the most-junior member scraping a mature 39. I mean– Nishikawa has this kind of aura of studliness, but let’s face it, it’s an aura. If you look at the aesthetic of today, and it’s being represented by Visual Kei hot-topics such as the GazettE and Alice Nine… and all those guys, they’re like puking good-looks. (BUCK-TICK’s early lineup was concerned about their vocalist being tall enough…they apparently never considered hiring Nishikawa, who maxes out at 5′3″.) Well, I’ll tell you, a.b.s may not look like much, but these guys know where and how to pack a helluva punch. These guys are deadly.

a.b.s is comprised of the aforementioned 4 members: Nishikawa (vo.), Kishi (keyboards, programming), SUNAO (guitar), Shibasaki (guitar). The other two necessary organs that make a band breathe and pump blood properly, drums and bass, are supplied by session musicians. And by session-musicians, I mean that these two musicians have a pact with holy deities so advanced and beyond us, that they can’t really officially join bands. Although these two backing members are mysterious strangers to most of a.b.s‘ non-Japanese fan-base, let me try and shed a little light.

Bassist IKUO, who can slap and pop so hardcore you practically want to die, is an extremely in-demand figure in Jrock. In summer ’09 he tore a hole of throbbing thick-stringed bass madness on GACKT’s Koakuma Heaven. And that’s just one name– wherever fame has been mixed with Jrock, IKUO has probably been at some point or another. Any guess as to where GACKT picked this guy up? Possibly on a certain [b]ass-kicking (forgive the inexcusable joke) album that rocked the custom-shredded socks of the Jrock kingdom in 2007…

However, the drummer, who incites the greatest rage of curiosity within, is carefully hidden, his face turned at every sneaky shot during TV performances and lives. You see a sharp cheek and some wild long hair, and that’s about it. His name is Hasegawa Kozy, and he has surpassed being “the drummer” and become “the drums”. Hasegawa Kozy has worked with pretty much every influential Japanese pop and rock band ever– and guess who has him now?

The mastermind behind the project, as it were, is really Kishi Toshiyuki, programmer and keyboardist, who splits most of the compositional duties with guitarist Shibasaki. ‘Programmer’ ‘keyboards’ yes– turn tables.

NO, just don’t even say it. Turn-tables in a rock band? Gundam-suited pop princes in a rock band? Yeah, I know. No, no, no, I’m not trying to rope you into some kind of weird sub-trance group…This is rock– no, this has transcended rock. Turn-tables. And rock. These oh-so-questionable turn-tables spin a.b.s into a whole new arena than the other rockers out there– turn-tables allow for incredible mixing both on stage and in the studio. Kishi adds layers of intense effects and remixing to the already heavy hard-rock style double guitars. You can hear the mixing, but Kishi’s taste is impeccable, and by the end of the first song, it’s all you’ll be talking about.

Not only that, but this is pioneer work as far as Jrock is concerned. Few to no bands up until this point have been interested in mixing turn-tables and rap elements with rock. However, since a.b.s has seen a spike in popularity in the past two or three years, many notable Visual Kei and rock bands have been inspired by them. This includes D’espairsRay who, in 2009 released FINAL CALL, which was produced by Kishi; and girugamesh, whose latest album, NOW is all rap and turn-tabled-out.

On top of the unique music, their image is incredible. However, it’s sort of like, what’s with the getup? What’s in a name? The name abingdon boys school comes from the name of the school in Abingdon-On-Thames, England. The story goes that Nishikawa, after some research, chose the initials a.b.s, partly because he likes sports cars and the initials corresponded to automatic-breaking-system, and partly because when spoken with a Japanese accent, the pronunciation (ee bii essu) is very similar to that of the word “Ebisu”, which is the name of the town where the band was founded.

Abingdon School

However, after some further research, they discovered the school, which is renowned for being the birthplace of famous British rock band Radiohead.  Since the four members [of a.b.s] would all be in the same year at school, they agreed that it would be a fun image to all be school boys together once again. Therefore the image is in keeping with this ideal– the members dress in private-school uniforms (with an a.b.s badge, of course), and one would be hard-pressed to find any one of them devoid of some good old tartan.

As mentioned earlier, the band is only 5 years old. Started in 2005, a.b.s runs alongside T.M.Revolution’s solo projects, to which Nishikawa, Shibasaki, SUNAO, and occassionally even IKUO devote time both in composition and touring aspects. So in all that time, what were the boys up to? Good question, really. It wasn’t until 2009 really that a.b.s took on a full-time project quality from the members. From ’05-’08 they had only released one full-length album and 4 singles, however, ’09 saw the release of 4 more singles, their participation in the major V-Rock Festival in Tokyo, and an intl. debut with their hit European tour. January ’10 saw the release of their new album, Abingdon Road, in March a DVD of music clips and documentary footage from the Europe tour, and a nationwide Japan tour.

As well as having done the OP song for the ultra-popular anime series D Gray Man, many of a.b.s’ singles have been used in shows and anime. This has been credited to a personal love of anime and video games by Nishikawa. Nishikawa claims that he’ll never make a song for a series he doesn’t like, but if he likes it, then the game is on. But it doesn’t stop at anime. a.b.s has been invited to work on several memorial albums– Nishikawa belted out stay away for fictional punk rockers THE BLACK STONES on the Love for Nana ~Only 1 Tribute~ album; their cover of Luna Sea’s Sweetest Coma Again was a hit on Luna Sea~ Memorial Album, and their cover of Buck-Tick’s DRESS absolutely stole the BT cover album: Parade~ Respective Tracks of Buck-Tick.

Check out the original:

a.b.s‘ discography may be relatively small, but it is growing as the band is expanding and growing themselves. Each song is a powerful tornado of musical experience that is, quite frankly, unlike anything else in the music scene today. Their utterly unique sound and image set them apart from the mainstream influx of 20-something cutie-boys, and their devotion to amazing music elevate them among the ranks of long-standing classic favorites. Do yourself a favor and pick up their hot-off-the-press album Abingdon Road, released January 27th ’10.

Class dismissed.

Official Website

Official Fan-club (A.B.S.F.C) [Japan only]

Further reading

For a full list of related links, click


Final Fantasy… D

Recently we had a bit of a tete-a-tete about one of the god-father bands in Visual Kei, Malice Mizer— and then elaborated more on how they helped to shape and develop Visual Kei and the various aesthetic compounds that affect the genre as a whole. After Malice Mizer disbanded, Mana went on to form his solo project, Moi Dix Mois, which was also a highly influential 2nd Generation VK group. Unlike MM, however, which sculpted the youshikibi and historical aesthetics of the genre, MDM was all-out Gothica, and set about pioneering the Gothic avenues of VK and Jrock.

This time around let’s get real macabre and have a chat about one of the rising stars of that genre, who have filled out the genre and taken Goth to a new level– not in regards to extremism, but rather in regards to how they have worked to shape their own style and niche, breaking from the Gothic-norm. (Honestly I never thought I would pair those two words. This stuff is becoming way too every-day for me…)

D

D

So tonight let’s light some purple candles and paint our talons black for D. Short name. Big deal.

My ‘hajimemashite’ (how do you do) from D was their PV for the song Sleeper, off the album The Name of the Rose, D‘s first full-length album (’05).  One of the reasons I like them so much is because they are pure, unadulterated, stereotypical Visual Kei– there’s no wishy-washiness, no genre surfing, no complications in describing their aesthetic. It’s straightforward, and yet awesome at the same time. They can be the poster-child for this whole topic….the god-children of Malice Mizer! (Hey, it could happen).


Visual Kei bands these days…well, the band members get around a lot. If you look at their histories, each one has been in about 7 different bands by the time they get to the current band. And many bands form bands out of old band-members, so sometimes it’s like “Mir:ageX@” #2 I don’t have a problem with this, but it does, certainly, leave a slightly muddy genre. After you listen to a handful of bands, say, on the radio, and you go “huh…that sounded familiar.” And then you realize that it was familiar because the guitar player and vocalist are the same as the ones from the last band.

D vocalist ASAGI and guitarist Ruiza were both in the 2nd generation VK band Syndrome, together with guitarist SIN. When Syndrome crashed and burned (in a manner of speaking), the three members set out to form Syndrome 2–aka D. However, shortly after the release of their debut mini-album, NEW BLOOD, SIN decided to leave the band, and was replaced by Hide-Zou.

The year…was 2003.


Along with their steady export of music, D has also put out their own magazine publication since 2005, The Mad Tea Party Magazine.  Occasionally typeset as “T.M.T.P.Ma”, D‘s tea-party is a regular Visual Kei publication, which usually has them on the front cover, but features mega-names such as Kagrra, Moi Dix Mois, lynch., and jealkb. As of October 13th 2009, 11 issues have been released.

In 2007 they officially launched their fan-club, Ultimate Lover.

Mad Tea Party, 11th Issue (10.13.09)

D released singles and several full-length albums under an indie label until 2008, when they signed with Avex Trax and went major. They held a final indies tour called Follow Me, which struck their final minor chord and elevated them to D-major scales. They debuted with Avex Trax via the release of the single “BIRTH” in May, 2008. They later released the Yami no Kuni no ALICE/Hamon single, which was used as the theme song to the Japanese horror movie Twilight Syndrome: Dead Go Round, as well as the soundtrack to the video game of the same title. They started 2009 off with the release of cool ballad Snow White, and their first major album, Genetic World.

The band has a great sound, even if it is pretty set. They don’t play around a whole lot, which is one downside in my opinion. However, ASAGI has an amazing, and very unique voice. Perfectly suited to this type of drums and bass-heavy music, ASAGI has one of the deepest, smoothest, most liquid-evil voices I’ve ever heard. It works excellently both with the heavier Gothic shredding, as well as the elegant, aloof ballads such as Snow White.

The way the melodies are written, he sings them straight long enough that when he reaches the grace-notes or vibrato, it sends shivers down your spine. They can be hard to catch on the first listen-through, but I particularly like the little ornamentations he does in a piece from Syndrome [see below]….listen closely for it… Some kind of melodic warble. If you miss it the first time, he does it again around the high notes in the chorus. 

Their image is really quite stereotypical. The costumes, hair, and makeup are theatrical and tasteful– this is a hard-core Gothic band, so buckles, black, bondage are all in order, all the time. They enjoy wearing taffeta skirts, midriff-baring cropped jackets, and those shorts with buckles that attach to leg-warmers that don’t look warm. However, despite being pretty standard Gothic fare, they pull it off with sincerity of attitude that keeps them hardcore. These guys are the perfect juncture of where Gothic aesthetics meet Visual Kei beauty-ideals.


D‘s look really embodies the androgyny and aesthetic of VK, and in a way that can’t possibly be argued. Come on, admit it, admit it– you’ve never seen anything like them before. They are pure, unadulterated VK hot off Malice Mizer’s family tree. Unlike a lot of VK groups, D intertwines historical/Gothic with fantasy elements. Their look from Birth reminds me of something out of Final Fantasy X or something. It’s very cool.

By the way, I was once asked how you tell if they are men or women– my answer was, ‘easy, they’re all guys.’ You’ll believe it when you hear it, at least.

They do, however, look BEAUTIFUL in kimono

They do, however, look very elegant in kimono

Final Fantasy....D?

Final Fantasy....D?


Their songs are really long. This observation is drawn from the assumption that most songs average at about 3.30 minutes, with a long one at around 5-6 minutes. Most of D‘s songs average at about 5-5.45 minutes. This saves you the trouble of having to press the Replay button every 3.30 minutes (instead we just end up pressing it every 5.45 minutes). They have a steady streak of gloomy ballads, but balance it neatly with a some really mind-boggling pieces, and a good amount of heavy stuff.

Jrock bands tend to be musical chameleons. When you listen to Gackt, his style changes with almost any song– (I have about fifteen playlists on my iPod just of Gackt) Anyone who has tried to introduce me to new music will know well that I like to change bands as infrequently as possible, so when bands have like a million genre-bending things going on, I like it. But D…is very steady. They know their style, and they stick with it. Even their ‘happy’ songs stick close to their signature style. So, unlike with other artists where you have to test each album to make sure their latest style is something you’ll be into– with D, you know what you’re getting, and you know it’s going to be good.


Since the band went major in ’08, things have really been picking up for them. They released several singles in ’09, songs off of which were used for various anime and, strangely, a cell-phone dating-sims game. In early 2010 the band will do a 7th Anniversary tour (7th Rose) across Japan. They have scheduled for release a DVD of PVs, and a new full-length album, both set to hit shelves in March.


Official Website (Japanese)

Note: For anyone interested in the fan-club, Ultimate Lover, it is currently still only available in Japan.

++Associated Acts++

Syndrome(ASAGI, Ruiza, former D member SIN)

Night of the Children (ASAGI and Hide-Zou)

ASAGI (solo)


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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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.

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.