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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When Yoshiki Runs for President, He Has My Vote

Rumors have been loitering around ever since Visual Kei legends X JAPAN did their reunion filming in Hollywood. Tongues have been wagging– lolling, you could say– about whether or not X Japan, who have been steadily relocating west of the rising sun would be making an appearance outside of L.A. at Chicago Illinois’ Lollapalooza Music Fest this summer. Well, tongues can snap back into mouths at last, as everything has finally been confirmed. The X-team will indeed be making an appearance at Lolla, at Grant Park in Chicago, on August 6-8.

The past couple of years have been pretty monumental for the members of X Japan. Yoshiki underwent serious surgery in 2008, and although he has recovered well, it involved time-out, recovery, and high-strung nerves on the part of fans worldwide. Meanwhile, ToshI made the name-change (from Toshi to a capital ‘I’…now that’s what I call transformational!), after finally concluding his much-too-long drama involving the creeper cult and bad estranged wife. After nearly quitting music and becoming a salaryman, ToshI reunited with XJapan. The band recruited SUGIZO (Luna Sea) to fill the long-empty part once played by Hide (RIP). Yoshiki has also been relocating most of the band’s activities to the West, with events in Los Angeles and Hollywood. The band has announced that they want to strike out new work here in the United States. I’m sure the Japanese aren’t happy that we stole their rock legends, but I guess it’s not really our fault Yoshiki wants to conquer the world. To hell with Lollapalooza, I won’t be remotely surprised when Yoshiki runs for president in the next election.

YOSHIKI FOR 2012

This is an incredible opportunity for American fans to bop on over to Chicago (it’s just a hop-skip-and-a-jump away, plus a $215.00 pass) and see this incredible god-father band rock out in new territory. They will be performing along a lineup of creditable western names (so popular even I have heard of them) such as Lady Gaga, Green Day, Phoenix, MGMT, and a whole slew of others.

Lollapalooza official website

Profile of XJAPAN

ToshI finds Samurai Spirit At Last

As any of you who have been following the Japanese entertainment news have probably heard, life is not all fun and games for famous Jrockers. Take Toshi, vocalist of iconic Visual Kei founding-father group X Japan, who has had a pretty rough time of it the past decade or more. After X Japan fell into hiatus, Toshi went solo, and, mostly, disappeared into a “self-improvement” “cult” called Home of Heart. Things got rougher and rougher for Toshi, who should be riding a wave of success, until finally, late in January ’09 he announced his divorce from estranged idol wife Moritani Kaori, and his departure from Home of Heart (does anyone else get the major creeps every time you hear this name?…ugh…), and, sadly, his bankruptcy.

Due to all this strife, Toshi said that he had nearly completely lost his voice, and was seriously planning on ending his career as a musician/artist and becoming a company employee. After much thought, he had decided that after the reunion filming in Hollywood with X Japan, Toshi would retire from the music world completely. However, as we well know, Jrock has a tight hold, and it would seem that the star hasn’t seen his final days yet.

During the Hollywood shooting, Toshi claims to have spent a lot of time discussing the topic with other X Japan members, particularly band-leader Yoshiki. Toshi remarked, “There have been a lot of problems. But we decided to get back to our roots and carry on with the two of us at the core of the group. I decided I wanted to continue with music after all.”

On February 24th ’10, Toshi held his farewell “solo” concert, which took place at Akasaka Blitz Tokyo, and was produced by Yoshiki. All of the members of X Japan, including new recruitee ex-Luna Sea SUGIZO, performed with Toshi. It would seem that instead of falling into despair, Toshi has actually been able to turn things around and has seen the light, as it were,actually turning to the positives. About the concert on Wednesday, he said, “The theme is ‘Samurai’ – I’m in danger and the other members come to my rescue with guitars and piano. That’s the image. It’s a new start for me and then we’ll be ready to take on the world.”

The show promoted his final (recently released) solo album, Bushi Japan (Samurai-spirit Japan), and was also a symbolic conclusion to Toshi’s troubles of the past not-so-few years. The show was an intimate acoustic concert with an estimated attendance of about 1300 fans. They performed X Japan classics, as well as pieces off of Bushi Japan.

As for the future, Toshi has changed the writing of his name to ToshI (if the spelling of your name didn’t change, it didn’t happen), and will set his solo work aside in order to focus solely on X Japan‘s world-domination. Err, expansion into the US market.

At first glance, it seems like just another depressing news flash into the troubled lives of troubled rock-stars…But after I read about it initially, I really thought about it. It’s actually a really inspirational story, in a way. I mean, ToshI was really on the edge of just throwing it all away and giving up. His fame had lifted him up so high, and then he had that much farther to fall, and the guy really did hit the bottom. Can you imagine that news blurb on your RSS feed? “VISUAL KEI ICON TURNS TO DATA ENTRY…” I would probably spray coffee out my nose.

But even though he had risen so high, and fallen so hard, in the end he really didn’t give up. He let his former band-mates reach out to him and give him a good talking to. And in the end he was able to turn all of these horrible, life’s-work-ending experiences into actually a great turn-around point. I guess sometimes it does take hitting the bottom to realize where you are with your life. Think about it. You could think everything is going perfectly fine….until you wake up one morning and realize you’re part of Home of Heart.

ToshI

ToshI Official Website

++Source: JapanZone++

Youshikibi~ A Visual Aesthetic (Part 1)

Youshikibi

all the angry, beautiful marionettes and marie antoinettes.

Now that we’ve been introduced to X Japan, one of the major figures of the First Generation of Visual Kei, let’s move on to what happened after the glamorous big-hair phase of the unholy and altogether wonderfully evil ’80s splattered across the windshield of the rockin’ 1990’s. Let me put it in terms everyone can understand: This crazy shit got pretty.

xaeron.net_Luna_seaAbove: First Generation Visual Kei (Luna Sea, ’80s) Below: Second Generation Visual Kei (Malice Mizer, 1996-2001)

f_malice8m_0d54d7f Youshikibi is a term I discovered while reading about the Third Generation VK group Versailles, who will be mentioned at a later date. The concept was, as far as I know, conceived by the Princes of VK (who have already been discussed at length here on SG), Malice Mizer. MM (as we will hereby refer to them) arrived on the scene as VK was turning a new corner. The First Generation was, in a manner of speaking, passing on the tartan. The term youshikibi means, loosely, the beauty of form, and is the definition of the VK aesthetic.

Unlike other sub-cultures of the rock movement such as Goth, Emo, Punk, etc, Visual Kei isn’t just a rebellion, it’s an aesthetic. It’s a culture, a style, a revolution unto itself. Visual Kei is, in short, about beauty and the appreciation of beauty. Beauty is in everything, and that is understood in the Japanese concept of wabi sabi and tea-ceremony. The basic concept of wabi sabi lies in a pure, unbiased appreciation of the natural beauty of the form itself. So, for example, a wabi sabi style cup or dish would be imperfect, crafted from something strangely shaped, usually with an inclination toward a natural, unsculpted form. Take that concept, flip it to the opposite extreme, and perfect it in the guise of hardcore punk culture, and you have, basically, Visual Kei as an aesthetic view.

Although you really can’t get any farther from wabi sabi than visual kei, that’s about where we’re at right now. Although I believe I glossed over this briefly in the Intro post, it bears repeating again here: the aesthetic of Visual Kei is an unbiased appreciation of beauty in any form. Whether that is expressed through gothic elegance, Lolita, or bondage and black nail-polish, if you find beauty in that, regardless of anyone’s perception of it or judgments, that is your source of inspiration, focus, and drive. That is your visual kei aesthetic.

BUCK-TICK_15

First Generation...

In the ’80s, everything was wicked loud and wild. In the ’90s, as we moved into the Second Generation of VK, a flip took place. A new wave swept in, and brought with them the influences of the classical opera, 18th and 19th century Europe, Marie Antoinette letting there be cake, mixed it up and blended it on High with a dash of goth.

Around this time, visual kei became about beauty, which is why you will often see a heavy emphasis on androgyny and effeminacy (talking from a perspective that most Visualists are guys…more on that later). Drag is another leading branch in Vis Kei as a fashion movement, however there’s a certain defining quality to Visualist drag and drag-drag. Visualist drag is usually a guy in a dress– they’re not trying to be women. They’re trying to say “I like this, and it flatters me, and that is all that matters.”