Bebe Taian: Founders of Visual Kei: X

September 2, 2012

Founders of Visual Kei: X

X Japan, late '80s
It's the cry of X fans everywhere: "We Are X!" No, not the California punk band. The X I'm talking about is a wildly popular rock band, also started in the 80s, from Japan, which is why they're usually referred to as "X Japan" (to distinguish them from the American band).

X started as a couple of guys in middle school, Yoshiki and Toshi. In 1977, few respectable people wanted any part of rock music. Yoshiki was trained in classical music, and Toshi played piano. They were 11 years old! Originally, they were called 'Dynamite', but then they became 'Noise' in high school. After high school, in 1982, they became X. There weren't really any permanent members at first, as they weren't very popular, but Yoshiki and Toshi remained constant. Guitarist and composer hide joined in 1987; other members Taiji, Heath, and Pata were off-and-on-again.

Yoshiki + hide
Getting exposure was tough, and getting a record label was even tougher. Yoshiki the Indomitable naturally started his own record label to ensure his bands' success: Extasy Records. It wasn't until their second album, "Blue Blood" (1989), that they started really gaining an audience. They are practically the founders of Visual Kei- they appeared on stage and in promos with big hair, outlandish clothes, and heavy makeup. A cross between 80s hair metal and kabuki theatre, they were a totally new and different act than anyone had seen before!

In 1991, they broke records with their third album. Their JEALOUSY concert at the Tokyo Dome was released on VHS in a massive box set (then very uncommon for a band). I was happy to have owned one, once! In 1993, the epic song "Art of Life" was released, over 30 minutes long, including a 10min. or so piano solo in the middle. By 1996, the popular album DAHLIA came out. X dropped their outlandish costumes for a much more relaxed look, so perhaps after that they didn't quite fit the Visual Kei category anymore, although hide never changed his preference for neons.

They had toured extensively in Japan, had played sold-out shows in the Tokyo Zepp, had even played for the Prime Minister of the time (and were a favourite of his)... but by 1997, the group has disbanded. It was somewhat sudden, but to be expected. hide had a solo project ongoing with another band (and later died in 1998 after an accident), Toshi had his own projects spanning back to 1992 (and was later absorbed into a cult), and overall, things weren't going as well as hoped. Still, compilations, live footage, and new projects continued to be released- orchestral instrumental versions of songs were recorded, music box versions, etc. etc. Yoshiki had a host of solo projects which continue today, including charities, producing for other bands (including Dir en grey!), composing for major films, and reuniting X!

Today, X is touring around the world, with Yoshiki, Toshi, Sugizo, Pata, and Heath. They are under a new label, EMI Records, and have released new singles since 2010. You've heard their music on Saw IV, seen them at San Diego ComicCon 2010, and might have even seen a comic called 'Blood Red Dragon' by Todd McFarlane and Stan Lee, featuring a fictional take on Yoshiki. They still play footage of hide and introduce him as a member at every concert.

It took one band and unbreakable determination to be the best at what they did, and to last as long as they have. Few bands can claim such a thing. X was and still is an awesome band. Favourite songs: 'Kurenai', 'DAHLIA', 'Scars', 'White Poem I', 'Art of Life'. If you're the type that likes softer music, try 'Forever Love' or 'Tears'.

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