Visual Kei across the globe
The existence of publications such as ROKKYUU are a testament to the international presence and popularity of visual kei overseas. Though this waxes and wanes, it is ever-present, as further evidenced by a growing wave of new visual kei bands springing up outside of Japan. Furthermore, visual kei bands from the “home country,” Japan, are increasingly branching out to other East Asian countries, Europe, and the United States; with big names such as Gackt, Miyavi, and X JAPAN having graced foreign shores on several occasions along with many names more integral to the subculture scene. Conversely, following on the heels of DNR, Seremedy, and solo artist YOHIO, Swedish rockers BatAAr were recently interviewed by ROKKYUU during their tour in Tokyo. The band have recently garnered a decent following and caused a storm by appearing at a Dir en Grey show—but will there ever be a real demand for foreign visual kei artists to make their mark in Japan? Only time will tell. In the meantime, here are some non-Japanese visual kei artists we think you need to know about.
The visual kei genre has existed for a number of decades but for those of you who never felt confident in checking out foreign bands that jumped on the bandwagon, you probably missed the debut of Brazilian rockers, PSYGAI. Ten years have passed since their formation—a mean feat considering the number of bands in the genre who split up, go through member changes like revolving doors, or simply disappear into the great unknown.
Perhaps the strongest appeal of this metal quintet is the choice to—for the most part—utilize their mother tongue as well as Japanese. A number of non-Japanese bands working under the VK banner choose to sing solely in English, even if it is not their mother tongue, and as a result, lyrical content can suffer. PSYGAI have a relatively good online presence, with pages on Facebook and Twitter, both of which have seen some activity this year. There’s also been some material released in the past few years so hopefully PSYGAI are just gearing up for a comeback. You can download some of their music for free at their Bandcamp or listen to tracks on their Myspace page.
It would be criminal to write about lesser-known VK bands outside of Japan and not mention the long-suffering Silver Ash who hail from China. There’s a lot of history with this band. Silver Ash have been together for fourteen years and have undergone many hardships, including extreme censorship, and, more recently, financial issues and members’ commitments outside the band. Their existence is important because they were one of the first ever Chinese visual kei bands to emerge. Their wardrobe and make-up show a strong aesthetic influence from the genre, yet the decision to host their website in English, alongside Japanese, shows their readiness to go international.
Silver Ash’s releases are a real patchwork; made up of tracks reminiscent of very early visual kei and even some Britpop-esque numbers. Many of their songs are sung in Mandarin Chinese, but there is also English and Japanese thrown in for good measure. You can find and purchase the band’s music on their official homepage.
Sticking with East Asia, let’s turn to Mongolian rockers, Visual MooN. Active since 2010, Visual MooN combine synthesizers and elements of nu-metal, such as rapping—which is achieved by having two members on vocals—to create catchy tunes. According to a comment from last year, Visual MooN has not disbanded but a number of its members are working on a new project, Songomol, which is definitely worth checking out too. Visual MooN have expressed their desire to continue as a band, citing support at home and overseas as inspiration, so keep an eye out for them in the near future.
Not to be confused with a band of the same name hailing from Poland, Lilith is a Chinese visual kei band playing straight up visual rock. They have only been around since 2012, so their discography is still rather small but they sound promising and pull off the look very well. You can find their music on iTunes and on their official homepage.
Time to head to Europe! German visual kei band Kogure go as far as to sing almost exclusively in Japanese. They are currently unsigned, according to their official YouTube account. The guitars are heavy-hitting beside generally lighter vocals, though vocalist Saku is not afraid to scream now and again. The members have all taken on Japanese-sounding names and apparently chose to sing in Japanese because of the language’s agreeable sound as well as to “build a cultural bridge.” Access to their homepage proves temperamental but you can find their music on their official Youtube account.
One for the goth-inclined, German band Nana:[shi] combine heavy riffs and vocals with fashion that seems to be inspired in-part by Lolita. Nana:[shi] are interesting in that they are female-fronted; something that is still rare in the visual kei genre, with exist†trace being the distinct successful exception. You can find the band on Facebook.
This Indonesian group seemed to have potential with the fantastic track “Silent Alice” but have since not been very active. They reportedly had difficulties within the band and recently advertised openings for both a guitarist and a drummer on their Facebook page. Despite these issues, they did perform earlier this year, so perhaps they are still alive and kicking. Let’s hope so.
A Swedish band fronted by Seike, who definitely deserves a mention here for his dedication to the visual kei scene. He helped found the site Visual Unite, which keeps Japanese-speaking fans updated on foreign visual kei bands’ activities. Seremedy was Seike’s previous band but both Seremedy and Kerbera have strong visual kei-inspired aesthetics and English vocals. Heavy riffs are aplenty yet the vocals are poppier than expected and more alt-rock than heavy metal.
If you like your visual kei with a little ooh-la-la, check out the French band Hybrids. They are still very active live and will release an album this month, so it’s safe to fall for this band without fear that they may disappear at any given moment. The new album was actually funded by fans through a Kickstarter-like French site, called Ulule.
With such a strong presence of Japanese culture in France, it was only a matter of time before a quality French visual kei band emerged. Mashing up French, English, and Japanese, Hybrids have a rather distinct and catchy style but show that they have initiative in working the visual kei market through actions such as selling limited edition photo books with pre-orders. They are working on their homepage but have a YouTube account where you can watch their latest MV and hear snippets of tracks. With over 2,000 likes on their Facebook page, Hybrids seem to be making their way slowly but surely up the ladder.
What’s the visual kei scene like in your home country? Do you think foreign visual kei bands can ever be successful, either in their own countries or in Japan? Who would you recommend to VK fans looking to expand their interest to the worldwide scene? Don’t be afraid to share in the comments below!