Sunday, November 30, 2008

Visual Kei: Has it Gone Global?

Originally emerged during the second half of the 1980’s Japanese Rock Scene, Visual Kei can be a source of both fascination – and conflict – among the genre’s adherents. Is the world turning Japanese?

By: Vanessa Uy

Even though everyone in the West perceive the Visual Kei phenomena as nothing more than the Japanese Rock Scene imitating Glam Rock antics of late 1970’s androgyny of David Bowie or late 1980’s LA-based Hair Metal bands like Mötley Crüe. Which is the very “bone of contention” that I was referring to. The Japanese defenders of the scene really do hold the cherished belief that Visual Kei as truly their own. And that is the reason why Western Rock bands adopting a Visual Kei aesthetic like the German bands Tokio Hotel and Cinema Bizarre were seen as an abomination by hard core Visual Kei adherents when they first appeared. But first of all, here’s an orientative primer to the uninitiated on what is Visual Kei.

Visual Kei refers to the movement among Japanese musicians that is noted for the use of eccentric, sometimes flamboyant looks as de rigeur. This usually involves sporting a striking make-up, unusual hairstyles that often defy gravity, and elaborate costumes, which are often – but not always – coupled with androgynous aesthetics.

Some sources state that Visual Kei refers to a music genre, or to a sub-genre of J-Rock or Japanese Rock that has it’s own particular sound. Even though is reminiscent of Western glam-rock / 80’s Hair Metal, and Punk Rock, it does stand out like the proverbial sore thumb – but in a good way - to seasoned listeners. However most “insider” sources state that Visual Kei’s unique clothing and make-up fashions and “lifestyle” participation in the related sub-culture is equally as important as the “sound” of the music itself when referring to Visual Kei. Image wise, there are a number of Japanese bands and / or musicians that pass muster as Visual Kei, even though they professionally play mainstream pop, Western heavy metal / Metallica-esque power metal, European Classical Music, Rap / R&B based Hip-Hop, and electronica / DJ style music. Given that music genre is no longer of importance, does this make Albert Einstein one of the first practicioners of Visual Kei due to his gravity-defying hair?

Visual Kei probably - to me at least - gained prominence outside Japan during the late 1980’s when Japanese bands like X Japan, D’erlanger and Color started their international concert tours. An exposure / PR stunt which forever influenced the fashion and music to anyone who wants to be associated with, or just want to cash in on the Visual Kei phenomenon. When the German band Tokio Hotel became gained international prominence, they are derided by hardcore Visual Kei practitioners and fans as just someone adopting the Visual Kei aesthetic just to cash in on the wave. Even Avril Lavigne and her band were not spared.

But recently, Girugämesh – a very influential Japanese Visual Kei band – professed their admiration to the German Visual Kei practitioners Tokio Hotel and Cinema Bizarre. Girogämesh cited that Tokio Hotel and Cinema Bizarre are genuine Visual Kei practitioners and should be embraced with open arms by the global Visual Kei community. I just hope that this gesture of détente will diffuse the feud between Japanese and “Gai-Jin” practitioners / adherents of Visual Kei.