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5 Things I Love About VK

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For better or for worse, visual kei is something that's had an impact on my life.  I never thought groups of cross dressing Japanese men playing metal would be something that's stuck with me for so long, but throughout all the surprises, discoveries, disappointments, and developments I've stuck around in some capacity. I may not be as heavy into visual kei or Japanese music as I used to be, but there's a part of me that will always go back to the music I've enjoyed and another part of me that's always looking forward to new bands, activities, and trends. Here are five things I really enjoy about the scene which has kept me coming back again and again since 1999.

 

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As dumb as it sounds at first, mixing fashion with music is a very addicting combination. Metal is no stranger to face paint, strange fashion choices, wigs, and stage theatrics, but no scene brings together aesthetics and music better than visual kei. I was never sold on the look of glam metal. Blame the low-res washout polaroid band pics, bad reputation, or the fact that I don't enjoy looking at buff men in skimpy outfits. Black metal gives me a similar vibe, with the shock lyrics, photo shoots, and face paint fails to impress me. Even Western attempts at the visual kei style fall short, with their hard, angular faces unable to sell that skinny, androgynous look. What visual kei is a bit of every scene that musicians draw influence from. I'm always intrigued by the wide variety of interpretations that come to visual kei; there's bands inspired by cultures around the globe, androgynous pretty boys, leather fetishists with creepy face masks, suits, fashionistas, circus freaks, goths (VK goth > American goth sorry), demons, vampire aristocrats, doctors, patients, zombies, cripples, dynasty warriors, galaxy space wizards, and more. If you give it a chance, odds are you'll find a band with a look that resonates with you. It's one of the few mysteries of the scene that keep me coming back.

 

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Genres within visual kei know no bounds. Bands dress however they want to dress and play whatever they want to play. There's a flavor of the decade that many bands will lean on for easy success, but there are just as many bands that buck the trend and do something else. I've heard visual kei bands play rock, jazz, alternative, electronica, ska, blues, punk, metalcore, gothic metal, power metal, and various combinations of these in different proportions - sometimes within the same track! It's a great way to open up to a new genre in a familiar context.

There are times that bands switch genres through their career as well. This isn't as novel within the realm of visual kei, but I can't think of many American bands that will drastically switch their entire aesthetic and musical output while keeping the same band name. It's not always well-received, and there's no guarantee that a band will do as well if they try, but it keeps things fresh and sometimes, the change in direction is more than welcome.

Vocalists deserve a special shout out here too. There are some truly talented, amazing singers in the scene making great music. And on the other end of the spectrum, we have some vocalists who make up for what they lack in delivery and emotion. Then there are vocalists that are...unique, and I'll leave it at that. All of them incorporate different singing techniques, imperfections, and vocal ticks cultivated from whatever is currently popular mixed with years of previous bands laying the foundation for the style. This mix of old and new is why visual kei as a scene never remains stagnant for too long. What bands were doing ten years ago aren't what bands are doing today, and the willingness to think outside the box and experiment is another one of those qualities of the scene that keep me interested.
 

 

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    Like any good story, visual kei's earliest days are shrouded in mystery. There are a lot of good reasons for this. First, few thought to preserve demo tapes, polaroids, or live recordings from that time. Those who did used now-obsolete technology to preserve it, so as the days pass it becomes rarer to find and preserve new "old media". Most of what happened in the 80's may as well be lost history, and most of the 90's is spotty as well. There are efforts underway to do so - RarezHut is one such enterprise which often comes into contact with old, rarer releases - but what we have is what we have. There are a lot of bands and events that we will never know existed that influenced the scene in some way to this day. Coming into contact with relics of the past feels like unearthing a vault of faceless, axe-wielding ancients and there's a certain joy that comes with exploring the history of visual kei that I don't get with other scenes, because if I dig deep enough I may end up discovering something no other English-speaking fan might know.

    But there's also a certain joy in reading up on what we do remember about the scene and how much things have changed even within the last ten years. I have lots of fun reading up on theories, translations, and discussions about old events, rumors, and blog posts between members. I also enjoy keeping up on all the new trends, new releases, sipping tea at messy scandals, playing detective with other members when a band member gets sick or goes missing, and most of all I love it when members post innocuous observations that turn into interesting and unexpected discoveries.

     

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    I was ten or eleven when I asked my dad a question that would greatly shape the way I process and digest music. It was around the time Green Day released American Idiot, and I noted that they released the album first and cut singles from the album second. This seemed backwards to me; if I had neither and bought the album, I would have no need to buy the single. But if I had neither and bought the single, I would still be compelled to buy the album. I asked my dad why record companies would do this. He looked at me confused, then made his best guess at saying they probably are banking on people who wouldn't buy an entire album buying just the songs they like, especially because albums tended to load up with intros and skits to pad the run time and make the artist more money.

    Remember, this was just a best guess of his. But more than a decade later, I still think that the way some record companies did it in the past was stupid. I also remember looking to the Japanese music scene - which at that point my knowledge was limited to anime openings and pop - and noticing how anime tie-ins worked and how singles would come before albums. It all seemed so logical. Only a few bands have ever decided to flip this trend;  Sadie did the "single after album" release pattern once with 陽炎 (Kagerou), outfitting it with some pretty shit B-sides, and I remember members wondering what the point of that was. The newest band to try this out is JILUKA with Ajna -SgVer- back in October 2017, and they had to heavily modify the track to give fans a reason to buy it again.

     

    In my earliest days, I relished the ability to hear and own a single as a teaser months before album release, even if it was exploitative from a capitalist perspective. I liked having B-sides that (most of the time) wouldn't end up on the next album, granting incentive to purchase the single. Exclusive bonuses like pics of the band, posters, and comment DVDs, help releases fly off the shelves. Some labels eventually jumped the shark by milking multiple editions of the same single, and that dulled my hype a bit. The change to digital distribution blunted my hype much more, because I don't get the same rush from downloading as I do purchasing and opening. Sales figures slumping year after year may one day put an end to physical distribution, but let it be known that as long as CDs were a thing, Japan did it right.

     

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    Being a visual kei fan isn't easy. It's not something I can talk about openly not because I'm ashamed, but because there aren't a lot of people who appreciate Japanese music, and even fewer who appreciate metal, and even fewer who can appreciate both while pretty boys shred on guitar and gargle into the mic. It's an acquired taste like blue cheese, so it's a cathartic experience when you come across the visual kei community for the first time. Weirdos who like the same bands I do accepted me into the scene without a second thought all those years ago, and that's still true today. Bands and people may change, but the core attitudes have not.

     

    So those are all the things I like about visual kei. I'm sure I missed some. What do you like about visual kei?

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    The "singles before albums" thing... OMG, you just put my thoughts into words.

     

    Even though I never use youtube, rarely watch PVs (yeah, still haven't seen a Jiluka PV other than Ajna) or DVDs and generally don't even pay attention to what bands look like, I do enjoy the way edgy fashion and music are so closely related in this scene, and the way some bands create incredible music around a visual concept. Visuals are important, whenever I chose to make it so. And I like to have the option to please my eyes with whatever weird aesthetic if I feel like it.
    I don't know what is it about the cheesy melodies, bad vocals and whatnot that resonates so much with me. I try other metal bands (Western and Japanese) often and for some reason, music wise, I can NEVER get so hooked on a non-vk band as I do on VK bands. And I really can't put my finger on what it is, since really don't look much at bands unless their music really resonates with me. Maybe I like being able to enjoy songs without thinking 'OMG these lyrics are so cheesy' and feeling some secondhand embarrassment over the words. Maybe. Because I pretty much never look at lyric translations unless it's D's musical novel. Maybe VK uses some kind of special formula. Maybe it's the blend of styles and genres that bands outside of VK don't dare pull off. For some reason I even like shit-kei bands like VRZEL way more than I can bring myself to like bands like Coldrain, for a reason.

     

    As for the community I am in a constant love-hate state. I do like the idiosyncrasy and eccentricity that surrounds the scene, even questionable aspects such as cheki trading and multiple-type releases, or having to kiss some Shikiri's ass to get closer to the stage... I still enjoy all that, even though I often say I dislike most fans (FB communities are CRINGE).

    I also like that through VK I have made lots of friends, have been able to learn about other countries and have found people with similar ideas and values. I'd say 80% of my social circle is comprised of VK/Jrock fans and I do not regret it nor feel the need to "open up to regular people". VK has also, in a way, given me motivation to achieve many things in life and many of my personal goals are still related to the scene. Is it weird that I build my life around a twisted music scene as this one? Maybe, but whatever, right?

     

    VK is a weird, twisted and questionable scene... but one that received us with open arms and constantly invites us to stay. I totally get why people jump ship all the time, but I always find a new appealing reason to stay whenever I start to feel like "ok, I should quit now..." And Shantay, I'll stay, dammit.

     

     

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    I don't like that singles before album thing, because singles are simply EXPENSIVE joke. I also dislike mini albums a lot.

    Just give a cheap digital single before an Album release and I would be also very happy.

     

    But I do not like the VK fanbase at all. Of course there are nice people to talk too, but there is also too much jealousy and hate between fans and people.

    The community is soo hard. 

     

    Also when you are younger it  is also more easy to enjoy visual kei than when you grow older and reall get a REALLIFE. I even switched for 90% from VKei to Japanese underground Punk/rock because just less drama. ^^" 

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    My favorite thing about vk is

     

    raw&f=1

     

    jk but really jrawk is more of an extension of my trashy emo boy obsession. I've always been into the emo/goth scene (not as an actual participant tho, since I live in a small town LOL) but it's still nice to see some androgyny in music, and the guys are actually attractive (at least in makeup anyway)! Japanese rock music is so unique, although I'm not really interested in Japanese screamocore, because there's a lot more variety. Besides the typical dark gawf band, I can also enjoy some happy-go-lucky bishonen rawk every now and then, or some post-rock acts too.

     

    13 hours ago, Zeus said:

    Like any good story, visual kei's earliest days are shrouded in mystery. There are a lot of good reasons for this. First, few thought to preserve demo tapes, polaroids, or live recordings from that time. Those who did used now-obsolete technology to preserve it, so as the days pass it becomes rarer to find and preserve new "old media". Most of what happened in the 80's may as well be lost history, and most of the 90's is spotty as well. There are efforts underway to do so - RarezHut is one such enterprise which often comes into contact with old, rarer releases - but what we have is what we have. There are a lot of bands and events that we will never know existed that influenced the scene in some way to this day. Coming into contact with relics of the past feels like unearthing a vault of faceless, axe-wielding ancients and there's a certain joy that comes with exploring the history of visual kei that I don't get with other scenes, because if I dig deep enough I may end up discovering something no other English-speaking fan might know.

    But there's also a certain joy in reading up on what we do remember about the scene and how much things have changed even within the last ten years. I have lots of fun reading up on theories, translations, and discussions about old events, rumors, and blog posts between members. I also enjoy keeping up on all the new trends, new releases, sipping tea at messy scandals, playing detective with other members when a band member gets sick or goes missing, and most of all I love it when members post innocuous observations that turn into interesting and unexpected discoveries.

     

    I also love digging into band histories as well to find some hidden gems that I wasn't around to see before and can enjoy now, or see some unexpected surprises such as Kisaki selling fake demo tapes stolen from other bands, or Sui (David, ex-Megaromania) being a roadie for Mercuro. You can also find out plenty of histories/undiscovered events like these at vk.gy, formerly known as weloveucp. It's since expanded to a whole visual kei library (think vkdb.jp + discogs), where smaller bands are further analyzed, and of course popular bands are included too.

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    On 5/20/2018 at 2:25 AM, Zalemu said:

    1. synchronized spinning at the chorus of a song

    2. charmismatic bandmen

    3. edgy depressive lyrics and mid-song monologues

    4. vocalists that are so bad they're good

    5. "wtf were they smoking" genre mashups

    Omg this! Definetely synchronized spinning and hand movements, tapping the hands, looking either left/right insanely with tongue out, haha :P 

    Everything is so very thought-out, and "flawless" in my eyes in some sense. Also epic guitar solos and and the hand opening/closing furis to the person who's playing. Crucifixion was such a effortless and beyond example of all these things as a band, my soul was aching just to watch their art.

    Edited by merchenticneurosis

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    Also i want to point out the etiquette/culture of vk lives, i always do weird fucking stuff and imitate the vocalist when listening to songs when i'm alone or with friends, but at japanese lives you're supposed to be quiet, respectful, just listen, don't you dare make a scene out of yourself :D I really do understand that, and i'd rather concentrate on the band than some lunatic raving his own stuff like in the western concerts, lol. It works wonderfully like that and the contrast between japanese and western gigs is very big.

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    On 5/22/2018 at 2:05 AM, merchenticneurosis said:

    Also i want to point out the etiquette/culture of vk lives, i always do weird fucking stuff and imitate the vocalist when listening to songs when i'm alone or with friends, but at japanese lives you're supposed to be quiet, respectful, just listen, don't you dare make a scene out of yourself :D I really do understand that, and i'd rather concentrate on the band than some lunatic raving his own stuff like in the western concerts, lol. It works wonderfully like that and the contrast between japanese and western gigs is very big.

    And how every song has a distinctive dance or hand gesture or "fanchant" that fans do all in almost perfect sync. 

    I kinda love that organized fangirling but at the same time my western soul would love to sing along and do my own stuff 😂. It's a fun thing to do nevertheless 

     

    Probably the most thing I love about vkei is the MC part 😂 I've never been to a lot of vkei lives but I gotta say their MCs are just special. You have someone come in with a giant fan and start spanking another bandman and do other weird stuff and seconds later the vocalist starts a sappy and emotional speech that makes you cry. 

    I'm a kpop fan and they have fun MCs too and I was familiar with this style. But dude vkei's MCs are like a circus meets stand up meets fanservice. Or at least that's what I thought of XD. 

     

    Also drama yes! 😂😂 It's like watching the goth version of Keeping Up With The Kardashians, sometimes it just melts your brain, I love it😂

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    5 Things I Like about VK (or J-music in general), in no particular order

     

    1. The community

    At least half of the friends I've made in the VK community are my friends for life. Kinda weird that some of your bestest friends would come from laughing about no1curr Japanese band and fan drama as you bond over a good release, but hey life is funny that way.

     

    2. The concerts

    Concerts in Japan are better, tbh. None of that crappy audience singing drowning out most of the artist's set you paid to hear, and nobody is standing there like a dumbass watching the whole thing through their phone, blocking your view with their phone in the process. I find Japanese concerts are generally more interactive, too, unless you're seeing some really bland or unknown act.

     

    3. Release packaging/content

    Sure VK releases may cost more than many Western releases, but the packaging is often way nicer. Most VK shoots and photo/lyric booklets put Western artists to shame.

     

    4. The goods

    With little exception, VK or Japanese artists in general have better goods than Western artists. I feel like overseas you get clothes, stickers, and notebooks, and that's about it, but in Japan the only limit is the band's imagination. Over the years I've seen flavored condoms, sex toy kits, house dishes, food/snack/drink collaborations, mobile battery chargers and other small electronics, car goods, etc.

     

    5. The music

    Last but not least, eh?  When I first got into VK I was really thrilled by the way artists gave little to no flips about sticking to just one genre or style of music. There are some artists that try a little too hard to mesh sounds that don't agree, but for the most part I've always respected the experimental nature of the genre. I feel like indie music in the West is starting to catch up in that regard, but even now Western fans are still quick to call any artist that steps outside a certain established style or sound a sell out.

    Edited by jaymee

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    On 5/24/2018 at 9:01 PM, jaymee said:

    None of that crappy audience singing drowning out most of the artist's set you paid to hear, and nobody is standing there like a dumbass watching the whole thing through their phone, blocking your view with their phone in the process

    Yes! 

     

    A while back a friend sent me a couple of videos from a Radiohead concert back home and all I could hear was the audience. The whole thing sounded like a karaoke night at the local pub. Which means fun, but wouldn't pay for it as much as I would pay to see a band I actually care about. 

     

    Just a couple of days ago I took a friend of mine to see a band she's been a fan of for nearly a decade, and I thought she'd be excited. She was just confused by the audience participation, the furi seemed 'fake' to her, the stage props and theatricality seemed to really put her off and all she could say by the end of the live was 'well that was... interesting'. Instead of getting defensive it made me think about how this live culture is unique and beautiful and yes, outsiders might just not get it and it's fine. It emphasized for me the dissonance people might feel when they don't just listen to the music, but for the first time experience the visual and 'performative'(?) aspects of the scene, and this is one of the things I love so much about vkei.  

     

     

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    1 hour ago, qotka said:

    Just a couple of days ago I took a friend of mine to see a band she's been a fan of for nearly a decade, and I thought she'd be excited. She was just confused by the audience participation, the furi seemed 'fake' to her, the stage props and theatricality seemed to really put her off and all she could say by the end of the live was 'well that was... interesting'. Instead of getting defensive it made me think about how this live culture is unique and beautiful and yes, outsiders might just not get it and it's fine. It emphasized for me the dissonance people might feel when they don't just listen to the music, but for the first time experience the visual and 'performative'(?) aspects of the scene, and this is one of the things I love so much about vkei. 

     

    This, so much this. Most Chileans complain about going to lives in Japan and how everyone is so "boring" and they can't "just run to the front", and they never understand why I don't like going to gigs in my country anymore.

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