In May 1989, a band of five young men would come to be known as one of the legendary bands pioneering the Visual Kei movement in Japan. Consisting of RYUICHI on vocals, SUGIZO and INORAN on guitars, J on bass and Shinya on drums, they would form LUNA SEA.
Unlike the metal sound of their predecessors, X JAPAN, and the pop-rock approach of their contemporaries, GLAY, LUNA SEA‘s music is rock, yet incorporates so many different elements, styles and moods that it cannot be easily described or labeled in a mere few words. Drawing upon many genres – progressive, pop, gothic, metal – to name a few, they forged a unique sound and style. Despite experimentations and changes, there remained a unique ‘x-factor’ in LUNA SEA’s music which makes it easily identifiable amongst the sea of other rock bands.
Their unique spirit and evocative style garnered them legions of fans and a ‘super-rock-band’ status in Japan, and their significance can still be seen and felt today, ranging from the conspicuous to the more subtle. These are so prevalent that people often overlook and forget about the original. Eighteen years since LUNA SEA’s inception, let us look back at some of the indelible marks left on the music scene and its subculture.
In their earlier days, LUNA SEA’s music was rock, yet melodic, moody and often having a mystical atmosphere to it. Mirroring their music was clothing, pointy boots and large, teased hairdos that would do any Goth proud. They played up the flamboyance and androgyny of their visual image, wearing dark makeup and lipstick. All these, coupled with their energetic live performances, marked an era in the development of Visual Kei.
Examine some notable artists in Visual Kei today and we can see — and continue to see — the lasting influences of LUNA SEA.
LUNA SEA’s BLACK BOX photo-books, published in 1993, are worth looking at for its beautiful photography and styling. More importantly, we can see in these photographs elements that would later be emulated by future bands, hallmarks in the imagery and visual language of Visual Kei.
Frozen amongst porcelain dolls and broken mirrors, INORAN is cold, icy, like a human doll. Against the ‘tough Rock Star’ convention, Shinya appears in his photo-set dressed like a princess, in a lacey dress with ruffles and bows. He lies in a forest-like setting, surrounded by stuffed animals. It was almost taboo, especially in rock, to take on such a cute, girly image, for it overturns conventions about masculinity in rock music. INORAN and Shinya were precedents in such ‘character types’ that would recur in many bands to come. Some examples of these artistes were Mana from Malice Mizer, and Emiru from Lareine. In turn, the popularity of Mana and Emiru’s doll-like personas would then inspire more fans and musicians to develop the now well-known ‘Lolita’ style.
SUGIZO is portrayed in the photos like a dark, androgynous oiran, with his teased red hair and heavy makeup. It is probably one of the first instances where such a style is used in Visual Kei, and laid the foundations for future bands to emulate. Years later, a band named Kagrra would come to expand and develop on this style; indeed, Akiya cites LUNA SEA as one of his chief influences.
Dir en grey’s early music and visuals emulated their forefathers, one of them being LUNA SEA. Kaoru’s visual style was so similar to SUGIZO’s that it was not entirely surprising to see fans mistaking one’s photographs for the other. In addition, his early guitarwork and much of his performances carried the unmistakable mark of SUGIZO‘s influence upon it.
All five members of The GazettE claim LUNA SEA as one of the major influences of their music; Uruha’s sexy and flamboyant style brings to mind some of SUGIZO’s antics. Nightmare, too, are LUNA SEA fans, drawing inspiration from their music. Sakito and Yomi were recently featured in a FOOL’S MATE interview with RYUICHI, where they spoke about how LUNA SEA’s influenced them. These, and scores more of other bands, continue to emulate, develop, and take cues from LUNA SEA’s legacy.
Today, talk about ‘Jrock’ and most people outside of Japan who have some familiarity with the term would reply with mentions of X JAPAN or Dir en grey. LUNA SEA is often a band that one ‘heard of, but never really listened to’.
For most listeners outside of Japan, many of them first heard LUNA SEA on the airwaves in 1998, when “I For You” was used as a theme song for the Japanese drama God, Please Give Me More Time. The Japanese pop and drama serial craze was at its peak in Asia then, and the popularity of Japanese music was soaring, transcending language and cultural boundaries.
The J-Pop explosion outside of Japan did not escape criticism. However, while J-Pop was dismissed by some for being bubblegum and superficial, LUNA SEA’s unusual sound and music arrangement struck a chord with listeners who wanted more than the usual idol groups and pop stars. The music was completely different from the other rock bands on the radio, be it Western or Asian. They found fans in people who, till then, had not even liked rock music, and unlikely admirers amongst some of the detractors of J-Pop.
With such popularity and buzz spreading across Asia, many bands took this opportunity to tour these countries. LUNA SEA played shows in Taiwan, Shanghai, and Hong Kong, to great reception, winning over fans. To many LUNA SEA fans, this period was nothing short of life-changing.
It was also at this time when the internet was becoming rapidly accessible. The overseas fans, who had little access to Japanese media, turned to the internet for information and to socialize. Dedicated web-shrines and community mailing lists mushroomed, and many precious friendships were forged across this common love for the band. Across Asia, youths jumped to form cover bands to play their favorite LUNA SEA tunes.
Ivan, 25, from Singapore, was one of those who were inspired to form a band of their own, Marionette. He admired RYUICHI, and took up singing due to his love for LUNA SEA’s music. “If I had never listened to LUNA SEA, I would probably be just another ordinary guy and would never get to experience the music or meet the friends I know now,” he notes. “Compared to other bands, their music was unique and had a signature style. LUNA SEA was the band that got me into this genre, and opened doors to a whole world of interesting things.”
Written by Huiwei