Visual kei

Visual kei

Japan has been hugely influential in the past decade in terms of style, entertainment and music. Visual Kei is a punk/goth hybrid style based on J Rock bands like Devil Kitty and Luna Sea. Find out more about visual kei culture… and how to incorporate it into your dress style!

Okay. You like harajuku style? Time to step on. Heard of Visual kei? No?

Well, as regular readers have figured out by now, Mookychick occasionally aims to be the Miss Jean Brodie (google it up if you don’t know) of your life and give you interesting but hugely misguided lessons in a virtual classroom as big as our hearts.

Here’s the dry bit from Wikipedia…

Visual Kei, known in japanese as vijuaru kei, refers to a movement among Japanese musicians characterized by eccentric flamboyant looks. This usually involves striking make-up, unusual hair styles and elaborate costumes – 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 (a term referring to Japanese rock in general, with its own particular sound, related to glam-rock, punk and metal, and with strong emphasis on its unique style of dress; and some sources state that Visual Kei’s unique clothing and make-up fashions, and participation in the related sub-culture, are equally as important as the sound of the music itself in the use of the term.

Mookychick editors have suspected that visual and media cultures are so intertwined that there’s a chicken and egg situation going on. Let’s take Goth. If you really gave a sh*t, you could research and find out which came first – the fashion culture and the music. We believe it’s different for different people. Some people will hear the music and resonate with the style. Some people will appropriate the style and consider the music as a result. Both real? Yes.

Moving on…

The music of Visual Kei

Visual Kei has enjoyed popularity among independent underground projects, as well as artists achieving mainstream success, with influences from Western phenomena, such as glam, goth and cyberpunk. The music performed encompasses a large variety of genres, i.e. pop, heavy metal and electronica. Magazines published regularly in Japan with Visual Kei coverage are Arena 37°C, Fool’s Mate and Shoxx. Noted bands who at least at some point sported a Visual Kei theme include Dir en grey, Luna Sea and Malice Mizer.

Popularity and awareness of such groups outside of Japan is sparse, but has seen an increase in recent years. While the successful X Japan launched an attempt to enter the international market as early as 1992,[17] it would still take another decade until live concerts and regular domestic releases by Visual Kei themed bands in Europe and North America came to pass.

The emergence of Visual Kei

Visual Kei emerged in the late 1980s, pioneered by the band X Japan, along with others such as D’erlanger and Color. X Japan’s drummer Yoshiki Hayashi used the term to describe the band’s slogan “Psychedelic Violence Crime of Visual Shock”.

Color vocalist “Dynamite Tommy” formed his record company Free-Will in 1986, which has been a major contributor in spreading modern Visual Kei outside Japan. Huzzah for Dynamite Tommy!

In the mid 1990s, the most notable bands to achieve success during this period included X Japan, Glay, Luna Sea, and L’Arc-en-Ciel.

During the same period, bands such as Kuroyume, Malice Mizer, and Penicillin, gained mainstream awareness, although they were not as commercially successful.

By 1999, mainstream popularity in Visual Kei was declining. X Japan had disbanded and the death of lead guitarist Hideto Matsumoto in 1998 had denied fans a possible reunion. It wasn’t long before Luna Sea decided to disband in the year 2000, and L’Arc-en-Ciel went on a hiatus the same year.

In 2007 the genre had been revitalized, as Luna Sea announced they would perform a one-off performance, and X Japan announced they would reunite. With these developments, Visual Kei bands enjoyed a boost in public awareness, described by the media as “Neo-Visual Kei”.

Harajuku, cosplay and gothic lolita subcultures

According to Chako Suzuki (author of “Pretty Babies: Japan’s Undying Gothic Lolita Phenomenon”) most GothLolis cite that they are merely imitating their favorite bands from the visual rock genre, known as ‘Visual Kei’. Although it seems an obvious reference to Vladimir Nabokov’s scandalous Lolita, many Gothlolis will tell you that books (other than manga, Japanese comics, which are also at the heart of the scene) and art are not a part of their inspiration. Music is a major force in its creation.

Visual Kei is exactly as it sounds: Rock music that incorporates visual effects and elaborate costumes to heighten the experience of the music and the show. Visual Kei started in the 80s and became so popular by the 90s that the nearly all-female fan base started dressing up as their favorite band members (known as ‘cosplay’) who were often males that wore make-up, crazy hair, and dressed androgynously or as females (usually, the more feminine the rocker, the more fans rush to emulate them).

Visual Kei is associated with Harajuku, especially those who gather on “Jingu Bashi (“Jingu Bridge”), a pedestrian bridge connecting the bustling Harajuku district with Meiji Shrine.” In attendance one will find Visual Kei cosplayers (dressed as their favorite bands) and Gothic Lolita chiquiteas whose clothes are based on Lolita fashion.

Fans of visual kei bands will also dress up for concerts, group meets, and other events where they’ll see other people who enjoy Visual Kei.

Visual Kei links:

List of Visual Kei artists: