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Wonrei

The history behind visual kei

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This subject deserved its own thread. We've been trying to discuss this on too many different places.

 

Here I thought we could try to understand the whole history behind visual kei(and along with it, japan's 80s and 90s rock and pop come along, I guess). For years we've had really bad wiki texts trying to write about visual kei and failing along with it. To abridge the entire scope of the visual kei scene to only "a bunch of guys influenced by glam metal" like every copy-pasted lastfm biography says means next to nothing. Here we had for the late 80s and 90s bands playing speed metal, gothic rock and new wave and they were all part of the same scene. Some bands mixed these genres, others played only one of these, and there were even bands that introduced other stuff in the mix - but all of them using the strong visual element as the way to hit their message. As much as I tried to find, it's hard to see a scene as convoluted and intriguing anywhere else in the world.

 

My idea is to mostly focus on late 70's, 80's and 90's japanese music and the western influences, trying to guess how it became what it was and what it is today. Maybe to try to answer a question that never really goes away on japanese music boards: A scene or a genre?

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I don't ever believe it is the same genre. Whatever people say. The end. Why can't bands from this scene play different musical genres? Why do they have to be the same genre?

 

Of course they can, but if the kind of music that's being produced by the majority of bands/artists in the scene is fairly consistent, I think it's justifiable to call it a genre as well. Hip-hop in the broadest sense is as much a genre in itself as a scene the artists inhabit.

 

I must confess I have very limited knowledge of earlier visual kei (compared to most of you guys on MH anyway), so I wish I could say more and provide more evidence. This is obviously the period Wonrei is interested in, and I look forward to what others say as well. But for me, earlier visual kei seems to be more easily divided into certain periods/epochs (the definition of what a "period" comprises and how long each lasts is debatable), and in every such period there's some very rough way of describing the kind of music that's being produced.

 

As we move into the 2000s, this has simply become impossible. If someone had asked me what visual kei "sounded" like in the period 2007-2009, I wouldn't know what to say to them. The incredible diversification suggests (at least to me) that visual kei has lost its "genre"-ness in the last decade or so, and is now probably better described as a scene (described by its aesthetics, concepts, and more tangible marketing/business critera like the associated labels and distributors, concert venues, etc.)

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Of course they can, but if the kind of music that's being produced by the majority of bands/artists in the scene is fairly consistent, I think it's justifiable to call it a genre as well. Hip-hop in the broadest sense is as much a genre in itself as a scene the artists inhabit.

 

I must confess I have very limited knowledge of earlier visual kei (compared to most of you guys on MH anyway), so I wish I could say more and provide more evidence. This is obviously the period Wonrei is interested in, and I look forward to what others say as well. But for me, earlier visual kei seems to be more easily divided into certain periods/epochs (the definition of what a "period" comprises and how long each lasts is debatable), and in every such period there's some very rough way of describing the kind of music that's being produced.

 

As we move into the 2000s, this has simply become impossible. If someone had asked me what visual kei "sounded" like in the period 2007-2009, I wouldn't know what to say to them. The incredible diversification suggests (at least to me) that visual kei has lost its "genre"-ness in the last decade or so, and is now probably better described as a scene (described by its aesthetics, concepts, and more tangible marketing/business critera like the associated labels and distributors, concert venues, etc.)

Like nü-metal perhaps.

Since the mid 2000's the fascinating hypnotic guitar lines of old school Visual Kei were replaced with boring monotone guitar lines. Not that I don't like any of those bands, it is just that their music is less interesting for me than that of the Visual Kei (old school VK) I bumped into the first time.

 

Very personal opinion this of mine I must say.

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Well bands like DEAD END were obviously inspired by western glam metal bands. What I've read from interviews, bands like BUCK-TICK were mostly inspired by bands like Bauhaus, the Cure and mostly David Bowie. Tbqh I think Bowie himself also had quite an influence when it comes to late 80s/early 90s VK.

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Well bands like DEAD END were obviously inspired by western glam metal bands. What I've read from interviews, bands like BUCK-TICK were mostly inspired by bands like Bauhaus, the Cure and mostly David Bowie. Tbqh I think Bowie himself also had quite an influence when it comes to late 80s/early 90s VK.

Yeah, Bowie sure had his influence, I mean Boowy was a really important band in the vk scheme. And look at their name!

 

Dead end was only inspired by glam on the looks, tho. Early sound was more like 70's heavy metal and later sound is The Mission/The Cult gothic pop rock everywhere

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Yeah, Bowie sure had his influence, I mean Boowy was a really important band in the vk scheme. And look at their name!

 

Dead end was only inspired by glam on the looks, tho. Early sound was more like 70's heavy metal and later sound is The Mission/The Cult gothic pop rock everywhere

I think such songs as "SERAFINE" for instance had that U2 flavor you would still hear in vk music - a la L'arc,Alice Nine etc...

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A scene or a genre?

I answered this question a while ago. It's neither, although it leans closer to being a scene. It may have started out as a genre at one point but it's long since surpassed those boundaries. It cannot be a genre because not every visual kei band plays the same type of music. For any genre you name, someone else can find a band that considers themselves visual kei that don't play that genre. Visual kei is simply music with a focus on visuals (hence visual style). Visual kei can't be pigeonholed into a scene or a genre without losing some of the picture.

And in case you missed my answer from before:

 

Visual kei is not a genre or an aesthetic movement. It's a paradoxical manifestation of an anomaly against the negatives of Japanese culture.

This is closely related to the problem of "what is visual kei?".

Stolen shamelessly from Wikipedia, a genre is defined as

 

[...] the term for any category of literature or other forms of art or entertainment, e.g. music, whether written or spoken, audial or visual, based on some set of stylistic criteria. Genres are formed by conventions that change over time as new genres are invented and the use of old ones are discontinued. Often, works fit into multiple genres by way of borrowing and recombining these conventions.

We can stop right here. Before you start processing the definition, ask yourself "what is visual kei"? We can have a ten page discussion about that in this topic right now and still not come to a consensus. Visual kei is an open-ended, ill-defined term exploited by both us and the bands in the scene to refer to whatever we please. We agree to disagree on what the term is supposed to mean and take it at face value when someone tells us that a band is or isn't visual kei anymore.

By definition, visual kei can't be a genre because we can only define it by what it is not, and very conservatively at that. The difference between newbies and veterans in the scene mostly comes down to context sensitivity determining band classification. What do I mean by this? Well, we can all look at a band or an idol group and very clearly say "this is not visual kei". But if we look at a visual kei band next to a band that uses theatrical make-up and aesthetic elements, we get into murky territory. Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn't. Newbies lack the knowledge to make this distinction, and utilize only the looks to say whether or not a band is visual. Then, they get lashed upon by fans of that band who "don't want to associate this band with those bands" for getting it wrong, and they learn. Eventually they learn only to label a band as visual kei if they describe themselves as such or if someone else before them says it first. [1]

The thing is, the newbies have the right approach at first. They get into the scene, they hear that it's a genre, and seek to classify it. But before long they realize that over the span of twenty years, visual kei has birthed bands that sound very, very different. Going off of sound alone, all bands that were ever considered visual kei can't be connected short of a definition so vague it's useless. So then we turn to the costumes and theatrics and claim that as a large component of what makes a band visual. But even there, we can piece together different bands that don't look anything alike - some bands which don't look remotely visual at all - and claim they are all visual kei. Hell, lynch. has looked like a normal band for quite some time and there's still a heated debate to whether or not they're visual kei. On the first page of this very topic, one of the unpopular opinions was that "Dir en grey is still visual". Once again, you now have bands that have very little in common aesthetic wise and short of a very vague, useless definition we have nothing to go off of.

So I've basically run through this problem, haven't given a solution and haven't explained my point (or have I?). What gives?

Well as a fandom we tend to separate visual kei bands based on decades, so let's do that:

- The mysterious late 80's, which most of us like to pretend doesn't exist, full of bands that play some form of rock or metal.

- The music of the 90's, which is usually thought of as bands inspired by Victorian and goth costumes playing...well, whatever they want.

- The 00's, which was populated by lots of flashy costumes, usually subdivided into subkeis to better be able to classify and understand bands but still full of bands playing whatever they want.

- The 10's, which seems to have a preponderance of electronic elements in the music but for the most part still full of plenty of different bands playing whatever they please.

And even here we tend to simplify this as to "80s HAIR METAL, 90'S GOFF MUZIK, 00'S KEI ON KEI ACTION/RAWRCORE, 10'S WUB-WUBCORE", which illustrates the points I made above. As a fan, you get to a point where you realize that the term can't be defined and thus you stop. The working definition is "If a band wants to be visual kei, they'll be visual kei. When they don't, they're no longer visual kei". [2] So doesn't this describe a movement, which brings together people just as different for a common cause? Let's go through all of the things that should make a movement and see if it lines up.

Well let's see:

- Coordinated group action. Well, visual kei isn't very rebellious or subversive, outside of the low barrier to entry being offensive to some people's ears and the costumes being offensive to some people's eyes. Unless there is this entire "point" they all share that we've missed for forever and a day, I believe that most bands focus on staying functional over staying Stallman-esque in their beliefs. [3] And frankly, I can't blame them. Pragmatism rules. [4]

- A common cause. But what is that cause and do all bands share it? As I said above, we really don't think of visual kei as something as much as we do as an entity against something. But even that "entity" changes over time, reflected by the different forms of visual kei. So do the bands of the late 80's and the bands of today share the same goal? Yes and no. [5]

- People from different walks of life. We can't say too much because we don't know the details of most musicians. Note however that on a macro scale most visual kei bands are Japanese and many tend to gravitate around a few cities on the mainland. We also can surmise that a lot of these musicians are poor or struggling. We also haven't seen the scene take root in any other countries with similar situations. In this sense, it represents a truly Japanese problem - disillusioned youth versus "The System". If it's a movement here, it's on a small scale.

Visual kei is too anti-classification to be a genre and too inconclusive to be a movement. So what is it?

My admittedly semantic description of visual kei is that of a paradoxical anomaly. It exists, full of people perpetuating it unaware of it's purpose, fighting against an issue that plagues the Japanese society whilst embodying almost every characteristic of that society. What is that issue? Well, I believe the issue lies in the extreme conformity and deference to authority found in the society, coupled with high expectations placed upon every member of that society, along with a thirty year recession that has stagnated the Japanese economy and makes it hard to achieve the life every Japanese person feels it is their duty to obtain.

A strictly Japanese problem. [6]

Visual kei exists as an antagonist to everything in that society, even definition, because it refuses to conform. It's piloted by people who know full they may never see success but toil anyway as a gigantic "FUCK YOU" to their society. It's also mostly populated by young people with the drive and ambition to change their surroundings but no means to achieve that change (and older people who exploit these young people for the cash they'll never see, bringing the entire scene into territory so meta it hurts). When those kids grow up and lose their drive, as after years of fighting against this nebulous problem they watch it shift into something new but no less harmful, they give up, slip into the routine, and become working salary men that can't be identified. It's an anomaly that just is, and that anomaly happens to make noise that we like to listen to.

To pigeonhole visual kei into anything else misses the political and cultural significance that caused it's birth.

tl;dr - Visual kei is the Japanese "hippie culture" of the 60's, with no Vietnam War in sight to bring it to an end. [7]

Notes:

Here I extrapolate on points that I wanted to make above and didn't because I didn't want to go on a tangent and not come back.

[1] This is my personal belief behind why revival bands like Grieva and Ru:natic will never see a resurgence. The forms that visual kei took in the 90's was in resistance to the culture and expectations of the 90's. The world is an irreversibly different place and thus visual kei must change along with it. This is also why I believe that visual kei is not an aesthetic - the fashion world moves in cycles much shorter than 30 years. Visual kei hasn't repeated a phase to date. That's why I believe it supersedes such a definition.

[2] Not only does this loose definition work but it reflects a lot of what I get into later in my argument. Most importantly, that it gives an element of control back to the band. I've read in multiple places that the Japanese populace don't feel like they have much choice - they must succeed in school, get into better schools, succeed there, get a good job, start a family, etc. - and then must face a wall of depression when they realize that most can't get to the head of the pack and they didn't. By sticking to this definition, bands can have a say in a core element which defines them.

[3] Richard Stallman, founder of the GNU Project. Read up on him to see what ideals unbounded by pragmatism really is. Hint: it sounds like crazy.

[4] When bands have no motivation or have run out of reasons to continue they sometimes disband for no reason. On the other side of that coin, some bands are so tight knit that they feel as if they can't function if a member leaves. But at the heart of it all, many bands don't put ideals and beliefs over success. Those that have them use them alongside the visuals and their music - and even then if it becomes too hard they quit or if they become successful they tone it down or cut it out completely. See, NoGoD.

[5] Even more interestingly, visual kei itself tends to conform in ways, which subverts the point of the whole thing. It's like a military group led by a dictator attacking a dictatorial government for its evils. This is why I refrain from calling it a movement, because it itself embodies the very principles it seeks to combat.

[6] Which is why "overseas visual kei" will never take off. The societal conditions are not right for it to spawn. YOHIO and Seremedy are second-order simulacra.

[7] After WWII, Japan isn't allowed to have a real standing army so it isn't in it's best interest to get into conflicts. I meant it literally. In another sense, you could say that the counterculture of the 60's was against "The System" but manifested itself through the War. Once the War ended, the culture had little reason to exist. Since visual kei doesn't have such a clear cut enemy, it will continue on for much longer. This is also why visual kei can't "die".

Now the history behind visual kei is something else altogether. I don't think there is one person on this forum with a vast knowledge of the history of visual kei because even by the 90s much of that was lost. If we come together as a forum we may be able to piece enough together.

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I am taking the freedom to revive this thread, though with a more specific question (or more of a personal thought I want to share). I have been thinking the last days a lot about the connection and possible influence of japanese popculture, especially manga and anime, and Visual kei.

Now we surely have all come in contact with a lot of foreign "journalists" who branded Visual kei as some kind of real life version of Manga characters. I am sure we all can disagree with them at first though it's understandable that they come to that conclusion as many VK hairstyles seem to be borrowed right from a shonen manga. But maybe that assumption isn't even that far off. So comes my question: did Mangas and Animes have had an influence on Visual kei? And how big is it? Are VK bands the real life versions of a shojo manga reading girl's wet dreams?

It's certain that Visual kei music and bands had influence over Manga artists so it seems more logical that the type of leather wearing bishonen with long or crazy styled hair are the result of manga artists stanning for their favourite musicians and vocalists. See Kaori Yuki who is probably most well known for having integrated typical VK fashion into her Mangas (especially Angel Sanctuary, which is filled with VK guys). I remember people pointing out that some of her characters are even based on real VK bandmember, such as Hyde (L'arc~en~Ciel)

What I found very interesting (and a nice look into early 90s VK history) was the connection between VK and Shojo mangas. In 1989 Manga-ka Kusumoto Maki started to work on the shojo manga Kissxxx. The story is about the love between the singer Kanon and the sister of his bands' bassist. Kanon is the vocal of a punk band called "Die Küsse" (which may ring a bell). Maki was apparently inspired by local punk, post-punk and wave bands and bases the look of Kanon on those. At the same time Visual kei was taking influences from these genres as well. I am not sure if Visual rock already existed as a word at that time, but Kanon can still be seen as your prototypical VK guy.

According to comments surrounding the manga Kissxxx had a huge influence on VK (and not the other way round it seems). It may be oldest record of the phrase "Eins, Zwei, Drei, Vier" to appear in connection with VK. I don't think it has started to be become a ctachphrase in VK until 1990 at least. (but someone can proof me wrong anytime)

0e813d7e-b7a5-4f3c-a413-7697a2b827c6_zps

In the early 90s Penicllin have made a song and video about the manga, featuring Hakuei as Kanon (and replaying some of the key scenes of the manga. Also all outfits are based on the original character's clothes)

Then there was a 90s VK band called DIE KUSSE. Mejibray named a song after the fictional band too, but according to Tsuzuku the song isn't directly connected to the manga (but the line "eins, zwei, drei, vier" is referenced and according to the same interview about the single Meto aimed for the punk look because Kanon was in a punk band). I am sure there are many more groups referencing the story or taking inspiration from it. Kusumoto Maki also did a illustration for the cover of Vk band's Gilles de Rais album 殺意. And I think Deshabillz borrowed a picture from an eye (in one of the chapter pages) from the manga for a cover of their tape.

So yeah… maybe that does add a bit to the whole 90s Vk history and where it got it's influences. It would be cool if someone was able to translate really old magazine articles as this would help "recovering" some of it's history. I find it strange how no one has ever mentioned the influence of manga in such a discussion though.

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On 10/11/2014 at 2:57 PM, Ikna said:

I am taking the freedom to revive this thread, though with a more specific question (or more of a personal thought I want to share). I have been thinking the last days a lot about the connection and possible influence of japanese popculture, especially manga and anime, and Visual kei.

Now we surely have all come in contact with a lot of foreign "journalists" who branded Visual kei as some kind of real life version of Manga characters. I am sure we all can disagree with them at first though it's understandable that they come to that conclusion as many VK hairstyles seem to be borrowed right from a shonen manga. But maybe that assumption isn't even that far off. So comes my question: did Mangas and Animes have had an influence on Visual kei? And how big is it? Are VK bands the real life versions of a shojo manga reading girl's wet dreams?

It's certain that Visual kei music and bands had influence over Manga artists so it seems more logical that the type of leather wearing bishonen with long or crazy styled hair are the result of manga artists stanning for their favourite musicians and vocalists. See Kaori Yuki who is probably most well known for having integrated typical VK fashion into her Mangas (especially Angel Sanctuary, which is filled with VK guys). I remember people pointing out that some of her characters are even based on real VK bandmember, such as Hyde (L'arc~en~Ciel)

What I found very interesting (and a nice look into early 90s VK history) was the connection between VK and Shojo mangas. In 1989 Manga-ka Kusumoto Maki started to work on the shojo manga Kissxxx. The story is about the love between the singer Kanon and the sister of his bands' bassist. Kanon is the vocal of a punk band called "Die Küsse" (which may ring a bell). Maki was apparently inspired by local punk, post-punk and wave bands and bases the look of Kanon on those. At the same time Visual kei was taking influences from these genres as well. I am not sure if Visual rock already existed as a word at that time, but Kanon can still be seen as your prototypical VK guy.

According to comments surrounding the manga Kissxxx had a huge influence on VK (and not the other way round it seems). It may be oldest record of the phrase "Eins, Zwei, Drei, Vier" to appear in connection with VK. I don't think it has started to be become a ctachphrase in VK until 1990 at least. (but someone can proof me wrong anytime)

0e813d7e-b7a5-4f3c-a413-7697a2b827c6_zps

In the early 90s Penicllin have made a song and video about the manga, featuring Hakuei as Kanon (and replaying some of the key scenes of the manga. Also all outfits are based on the original character's clothes)

 

 

s I am sure there are many more groups referencing the story or taking inspiration from it. Kusumoto Maki also did a illustration for the cover of Vk band's Gilles de Rais album 殺意. And I think Deshabillz borrowed a picture from an eye (in one of the chapter pages) from the manga for a cover of their tape.

So yeah… maybe that does add a bit to the whole 90s Vk history and where it got it's influences. It would be cool if someone was able to translate really old magazine articles as this would help "recovering" some of it's history. I find it strange how no one has ever mentioned the influence of manga in such a discussion though.

I will necro this thread to add that so far the earliest example of the Eins Zwei Drei Vier that I have found comes from ZI:KILL's NIGHT CALL from the album DESERT TOWN released in the March of 1991. The second I have I Luis-Mary's song from an album released in the June of1991. Then there's Penicillin and Luna sea later on. After 94 I'm sure the trope started to live its own life in vk, but I reckon this theory is correct and based on my google "research", ZI:KILL was the first to do it.  

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Don't forget that Minami Ozaki work "Zetsuai" characters are also kind of based on "Vkei" artists.

So is Koji Nanjo inspired on Atsushi from Buck-Tick and that manga started in 1989.

 

Quote

Kōji Nanjō is one of the most successful rock stars in Japan, with his hauntingly beautiful voice and very attractive features. But beneath all the fame and glamour, he is a damaged and hurt young man who has absolutely no happiness or interest in life.

4d37557ff2397a37b1e97181a4c8df78.jpg

 

https://www.google.com/search?q=Zetsuai+koji+nanjo&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjWsuefmp7tAhUisKQKHfsgDx4Q_AUoAXoECAUQAw&biw=1745&bih=881#imgrc=J4wP2Nq5y0k4pM

 

 

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