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)

Advertisements

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.

Visual Kei Series

Today’s post An Introduction to Visual Kei is the first in a series on defining Visual Kei that will be appearing on Secret Garden. The posts will be filed under the Visual Kei Series category so they can easily be viewed as a collection. Subscribe to my feed or stop by to keep up with Visual Kei and Jrock related news, reviews, and profiles.

Thanks for reading Secret Garden~ Gackt

Comments, complaints, and questions appreciated.

Gacktpause

An Introduction to Visual Kei

01_MG_1927_faust

A shot from "Faust"

From the world of classical opera we learned that music has the potential to not only be an aural pleasure, but a visual one as well. Through lyrical theme, musical composition, costume and props, a greater theme or story can be expressed trough music. But it doesn’t stop in the opera house. Since the early 1980s Japanese rockers have taken pairing music and visuals to a whole new level. What started as an insane-seeming sub-culture movement became, by the mid 90’s, an established genre, and today, 30 years later, one of the-most-listened-to facets of Jrock.

That genre is what we refer to as “Visual Kei”.

Visual Kei band "Malice Mizer", circa 1997

Visual Kei band "Malice Mizer", circa 1997

Let’s start with the name. ビジュアル系[bijuaru kei]. Visual Kei is a term created by bringing together the English word ‘Visual’ and the Japanese word ‘kei’, which means ‘type’ or ‘style’. Nowadays the term refers almost solely to a genre of Japanese rock music— now that Visual Kei as a genre has become popular and more mainstream, I get the impression that a lot of Western fans want to single out the god-father bands as non-“Visual Kei”. Like how back when “punk” first began there was no “punk”, and now it’s a mainstream style full of posers.  But even at the very onset of Visual Kei culture, because of the nature of the genre and the way it effects and is affected by the term Visual Kei, the label existed upon advent.

Dead End: 1984-1999

Dead End: 1984-1999

You see, we’re allowed a sort of grace period by the Japanese language. Look at it this way—alongside sometimes-creepy Visual Kei, there is another Jrock sub-culture which is eternally cheerful, and that is referred to as ‘Oshare Kei’, [en.  Fashionable type]. In Japan, when you want to tell someone that they are fashionable, you say, “wow, you got some new boots! So oshare kei!” It would be silly if I got angry and said, “But I’m not the oshare-kei genre of bands and music. Ugh!” The genres happened out of the terms, in a way. Similarly, were you to remark that X Japan was “wow! So visual kei!” Would a true old-school fan scoff and say, “Ugh, Visual Kei? No they’re not. There’s nothing visual there!”?

X Japan

X Japan

Much the same as the early punk movement, true Visual Kei had and still has no “definition” nor set limits. It is important to understand that Visual Kei is first and foremost a means of expression not only through music, but through image as well. It is at the Visualists’s discretion how he or she chooses to express themselves. Visual Kei is an ultimatum in creativity, and one of its defining points is its lack of boundaries.

However, it is only natural that certain qualifications come into the picture… In the way of trends and obsessive-genre-ization-disorder of today, Visual Kei has found certain parameters and sub-genres exclusive to its scope. Like anything, there is the fluff and filler impossible to evict, ban, destroy, or avoid– but individual creativity and expression is still running strong among Visualists. In a way, the pre-sets and development of stereotyping has encouraged boundaries between what is Visual Kei and what is standard Jrock. Not just every Jrock band with a crazy look is Visual Kei—that’s genre abuse.

In this write-up, although I can’t tell you all the “is” and “isn’t”s of this boundless and extreme genre, I will do my best to sketch out the general idea, as well as define the boundaries that separate Visual Kei from what we know otherwise as Jrock and Jpop.

Luna Sea

Luna Sea

Visual Kei is a bit like genealogy in that it has generations. And as the generations became younger and younger, the look changed and developed. That’s why I, as well as many people who write about the Vis Kei movement, choose to differentiate between the generations. I’ve simplified it into a 3-category hierarchy of 1st generation, onward. We could be real jerks and break it down into the quantum level of Visual Kei Generations and Sub Movements, but for clarity’s sake, we’ll use the 3-generation rule here. If you want to get quantum with me, notice how I include release and activity dates in the artist information run-downs….

Back “before” there “was” “Visual Kei”, the pioneer band X appeared– the year…was 1982. For the purpose of disambiguation (due to the existence of the American ’70s band by the same name), they did the obvious thing and clarified who they were by a quick name change– by which they are immortalized: X Japan.

X-Japan

X-Japan

This was “the movement”, “the influx”. X Japan brought to Jrock the heavy yet melodious sound that we are so familiar with today. They brought the extremist fashion and 50% dedication to image. Yeah, they had freaking big hair. They made the glam-metal look popular (for an indie rock band, anyway) and exciting in the Japanese music scene– but they did what the Japanese do with everything they import: they, as one Japanese friend put it, took what Westerners made like monkeys and improved it. They Japanified it.

In the image to the right, you can see the powerful beginnings of what we know now as Visual Kei. The androgyny (especially in Jrock idol Yoshiki [center], the historic appeal, the extreme everything. These were the founding fathers.

They inspired everybody.  X Japan brought great momentum to this sub-culture of Jrock, which steadily infected a stream of other great bands. This was Visual Kei’s foundation, when it picked up speed and accelerated into pop-culture. The bands everyone know of as “true” Visual Kei appeared at this time– between 1982 and ’87: Luna Sea, Buck -Tick, Dead End.

This was the well-spring of Jrock. It began in the ‘80s, and it was a mash-up of imagery and ideas. These bands set the foundation for the use of visual components in Japanese rock music, veering off the beaten path and forging new roads.

Although the look and sound has developed, become refined, and more focused, there was one element that has remained the core spinal column of the Visual Kei aesthetic. This element was essentially ‘beauty for beauty’s sake’. Visualists would like what they liked, would dress how they liked, would act how they liked. They appreciated things as genderless, ageless, anonymous modes of creative expression. There were no concepts such as “I can’t dress that way, I’m a man.” or “We can’t play this song, we’re too hardcore.”
This aesthetic would later become the palette upon which the 2nd Generation would paint the defining portrait of Visual Kei, and sculpt it as an actual genre.

Buck-Tick

Buck-Tick