The Jrock Legend: X JAPAN

Until 1989, the content Japanese radio and TV stations presented in their music programs was mostly Enka, pop and overseas acts. In 1989, one unusual group, well established already in the livehouse scene all over Japan, but unknown to the general public, won the public CBS SONY 1987 new groups audition tournament and as a result, was signed by the label. That small event changed the face of the Japanese music business forever, with the arrival of X.

INTRODUCING THE MEMBERS

ON VOCALS: Toshi
ON BASS: Heath
ON GUITAR: Pata
ON GUITAR: hide
ON DRUMS AND PIANO: YOSHIKI

INTRODUCING

X

JAPAN

… Japan … Japan … Japan … Japan … Japan …

 

December 31st, 1997, Tokyo Dome: X JAPAN, "The Last Live: Saigo no Yoru" (The Last Night).

The words above filled the large arena shortly after 5:20 PM, the official start of the concert, to the background of "Amethyst," YOSHIKI‘s classical piano piece, the last "Japan" reverberating in a classic opening echo.

For over 50,000 mostly crying fans inside the venue and millions more throughout the country — for all of Japan’s entertainment industry, in fact — that night, that concert, marked the end of an era.

"X JAPAN KAISAN," their disbandment — I remember staring in disbelief at the full-page newspaper announcement in September of that year. I remember YOSHIKI‘s disbandment announcement at the press conference without Toshi. I remembered so much even while it was happening before my own eyes, desperately wanting it not to happen — the days filled with phone calls and talks with friends, all of us in the same kind of "no, this can’t be true" stupor.

XYOSHIKI, Toshi, Taiji, Pata, and hide; then later, after Taiji‘s departure and Heath became the new bassist, X JAPAN — was not a band. Not just a band: X was a phenomenon, a way of life, somehow, a living entity.

X JAPAN was one of the bands that lead the revolution of the Japanese music industry and created more than just a new subgenre within rock — they helped to create a completely new subculture and influenced the lives of fans in a way few other bands have ever done.

X — there was YOSHIKI, one moment hitting his drums, half naked, at a tremendous speed, like a madman — at times to exhaustion, more than once collapsing on stage after a drum solo. Then later, during the same concert, the transformation into a breathtakingly beautiful, ethereal creature out of a fairy tale in exquisite, elaborate stage costumes worn while playing piano with the same amount of passion as he played the drums. Both sides of this — the madman and the beauty — merged into one stunning whole when running around the stage, laughing, bursting with energy, throwing his favourite deep red roses to a hungry audience.

X — there was Toshi, with his unique, powerful voice moving fans to screams and tears, telling them things like "… as you are always there for us, X will always be there for you, so never give up on your dreams," at the end of the "Aoi Yoru" (Blue Night) concert on December 30, 1994 at Tokyo Dome; shouting things like, "kakattekoi!" (take us on, challenge us) and "namahan de ikun janei!" (give it your all; literally: don’t go off half cooked) and his trademark "Kiai irete ikkou!" (let’s go for it with full power) to fans who would frantically answer back with their adulations.

There was Taiji on bass, with YOSHIKI‘s drums laying the founding of their music, spinning around on stage; aside from his music, he was perhaps best remembered for his violet rose tattoo.

Later on, there was Heath, different from Taiji, bringing his own specific magic to the mix — somehow calmer than his predecessor, but just as skilled.

There was ever-laid back "Me? Me, I ain’t going to talk" Pata, whose "Long Interview" in one of the music magazines was a stunning page and a half — when all the others boasted five or seven in length.

There was hide, the clown on stage, full of crazy antics, delighting his fans with his screams and shouts, his elaborate facial expressions, the often stuck-out tongue, the "mountain gorilla" chest banging that was quite a hysterical sight to see with his slender frame. Easily the "Joker" of them all in public, but also the most serious, detail-obsessed man who, with Toshi, would be the one who could "put together again what I’d [Yoshiki] like to tear apart," and make the result all the better for it.

And on the other side of the fence, there were fans at concerts screaming "WE ARE X!" until raw throats gave out. It was fans — over 50,000 people all at once — during the Tokyo Dome concerts joining in on an "X jump" so passionate that Tokyo Bunkyo City authorities complained to YOSHIKI that the jump caused an earthquake-like effect which scared residents unaware that an X JAPAN concert was taking place. (Though, one must wonder how they couldn’t have been aware — with all the noise and strangely, beautifully dressed and made up fans all over the place…)

X was so much more than just a band. For the music scene in Japan, they were one of the bands that started the biggest change in its history. For their fans, it was and still is something special that lives on, even though it officially ended a decade ago.

The story began in Tateyama, a small town in Chiba prefecture, on the far side of Tokyo Bay, where YOSHIKI and Toshi grew up. With both boys trained in classical piano from an early age, and YOSHIKI playing drums from the age of 10, they created their first band, DYNAMITE, together in 1978, followed by NOISE in 1980 and finally, in 1982, while still in high school, X.

What might have ended as a school boys’ hobby turned into a more serious venture when YOSHIKI decided to ditch the prospect of attending a music conservatory after high school in favour of becoming a rock star. After he convinced Toshi, originally headed for medical school, to join him in his insane quest (by any normal standards) to make their band famous, they moved to Tokyo and started their live house appearances.

To say they were an instant success unfortunately wouldn’t be accurate. Not only did they face the usual birthing pains of rock groups, including frequent member changes before they arrived at their first long term stable line-up of YOSHIKI, Toshi, Taiji, Pata and hide in 1987, rock, then, was very much considered unsellable and therefore untouchable by all major labels.

In X‘s particular case, their even-for-rockers outrageous appearance — including YOSHIKI‘s infamous "spikes" hairdo (that forced him to sit with his head turned sideways in cars when it didn’t prevent taxi drivers from stopping for him in the first place), as well as their equally outrageous song titles such as, "I’ll kill you" (June 1985, Dada records) and "Orgasm" (April 1986, Extasy Records), and lyrics probably made them even more unpalatable for major labels.

Determined that X would be a success, YOSHIKI pushed on, providing their publishing base by founding EXTASY RECORDS, which produced X‘s second single, "Orgasm," and their debut album, "Vanishing Vision." With 20,000 copies sold, the latter set a new record for Indies sales. The album also included "Kurenai," the song which won X the public CBS SONY 1987 new groups audition tournament, leading to their contract with CBS SONY.

The first album released on CBS SONY was Blue Blood (04.21.1989 CBS SONY), which included the final version of "Kurenai," and what would become the band’s signature song, "X." Like all X album releases, it was followed by a nationwide Japanese tour. Previously, there’d already been the "Wink," "Vanishing Vision," and "Burn Out" tours, as well as numerous lives without particular themes throughout Japan.

"Kurenai," a song that begins with a classical piano piece before it transitions into heavy metal, was released on September 1, 1989 as single. It rose up to No. 8 on the Oricon charts (the Japanese equivalent for the Western Billboard charts) — an incredible position for what was still an Indies band (as far as public awareness of them went). Performed with the stage bathed in red lights, it was also a song that sent fans into frenzied screams when YOSHIKI did his short run between piano and drums at Toshi‘s "Kurenai desu!" shout, managing to lose his jacket in so short a time, it always made first time viewers blink in astonishment. By then, X was sporting their arguably most famous look, with YOSHIKI featuring long curls, Toshi sporting a "I think 3 or 4 cans" of hair spray-requiring vertical hairdo, Pata rocking out with a pink Mohawk, and Taiji boasting curls even fluffier than YOSHIKI‘s. Then, there was hide, with hair as gravity defying as Toshi’s, a delicately painted on scar decorating his face.

The "Rose and Blood" tour followed the release of "Kurenai," but had to be temporarily suspended when YOSHIKI collapsed after a concert on November 22nd, 1989, from exhaustion-induced neurocirculatory dystonia. This would be only the first of several such events. Headlines describing YOSHIKI being carried to a hospital in an ambulance became only too familiar throughout the years to his worried fans.

During that time, on December 1, 1989, "Endless Rain" (CBS SONY) was released, and by late March 1990, X was back on stage. April of that year saw the release of "Week End" (CBS SONY), on the first anniversary of the Blue Blood album release (April 21st). For the rest of the year, until well into 1991, X disappeared from the public eye, though Film Gigs were held from December 8, 1990 through April 6, 1991. The second half of the year was taken up with the production of several photo books before they left Japan on November 24, 1990 for the recording of the Jealousy (07.01.1991, Sony Records) album in Los Angeles.

The release date of the album was set for July 1, 1991 at a surprise press conference on May 7, 1991, in Los Angeles. Return dates to Japan for X‘s membeers were also announced at the same conference: June 5th for hide, Pata, and Taiji; June 7th for YOSHIKI and Toshi. For the arrival of the latter two, 500 policemen of the Japanese Special Forces were dispatched for crowd control at the airport.

Also announced at the press conference was X‘s first live at Tokyo Dome, on August 24th. That concert, the first of numerous at Tokyo Dome, was part of the "Violence in Jealousy" tour that lasted throughout the rest of 1991. During that tour, YOSHIKI once again collapsed from exhaustion on October 24, 1991, after the first Yokohama Arena concert. Fortunately, the only concert that had to be rescheduled was the one planned for the following day.

Other highlights of that phenomenal year was the three day "Nissin Power Station" event: October 17th, "X and Friends," 18th, "Quiet X" and 19th, "Strange X." There was also X‘s participation in one of the biggest "Extasy Summits" on October 29th at the Nippon Budokan followed by the unforgettable "X with Orchestra" on December 8th. The year ended with their first of their five appearances on "Kouhaku Uta Gassen," NHK’s annual strictly-by-invitation-only end of the year "song battle." Following that event, X made a surprise appearance at Meguro Rokumeikan during the countdown of the "All Night Metal Party."

1992 started with an event that was a first for any Japanese group: to completely sell out three consecutive days at Tokyo Dome, with the "Tokyo Dome Three Days – Hametsu ni mukatte" (On the Verge of Destruction) concerts. Unfortunately those three days turned out to be an event that later would hold sad memories for X fans, when Taiji‘s departure was announced on January 31st. His departure also stopped all X activities while they conducted a search for a new bassist.

It was only on August 24, 1992, that Heath was introduced as the new bassist during a press conference at the Rockefeller Center in New York. At the same time, YOSHIKI also announced the change of the band name from "X" to "X JAPAN" (though they continued to refer to themselves as "X") to avoid confusion with an American band of the same name during their planned overseas activities.

Heath made his debut as an X JAPAN band member at the second-to-last Extasy Summit in 1992, at Osaka Castle Hall on October 29th, and performed again at the final Summit at Nippon Budokan in Tokyo on October 31st.

The rest of 1992 and all of 1993 was taken up with with the members’ individual solo projects. Film gigs that lasted from July 1st through October 19th were held instead of lives.

X JAPAN made their flamboyant return to live performances with the "X JAPAN RETURNS" concerts at Tokyo Dome on December 30th and 31st — the first Japanese group to claim the prestigious spot that previously had always been reserved for foreign acts.

1994 was yet again a year largely devoted to solo projects, with the exception of one joint appearance made by YOSHIKI and Toshi in the "Act Against Aids" charity event at Ebisu Garden Place on December 1st. X JAPAN, as a group, only appeared live four times that year. The first and second times were on May 21st and 22nd, as participants in GME’94 AONIYOSHI event, a rock concert staged in front of the famous Todaiji temple, performing "Standing Sex" and "Endless Rain." The only other two live appearances of the whole group included "Aoi Yoru" (Blue Night) on December 30th and "Shiroi Yoru" (White Night) on the 31st.

One thing that made the latter two concerts outstanding amongst other X and X JAPAN lives was that YOSHIKI played them injured, against medical advice, having fallen through an unexpected hole in the stage during rehearsal the previous day. It had been strongly recommended that he cancel the concerts to prevent further damage to his injured arm. YOSHIKI, however, naturally refused to allow a "minor" thing such as specialists’ recommendations stand in the way of performing, so the concerts took place as planned.

1995 and 1996 finally saw X JAPAN return to the stage with a change of appearance that was recieved with rather mixed feelings during the Dahlia tour, which started on November 19, 1995, and was scheduled to last until March 30, 1996, with the Tokyo concerts set for December 10th and 31st of 1996. In reality, the tour ended on March 13th, when YOSHIKI collapsed backstage after their first concert in Nagoya, and was diagnosed with a reoccurrence of cervical vertebrae herniation. (He had previously collapsed due to the same problem December 3, 1990 while recording in Los Angeles.)

Despite this, X JAPAN reappeared on stage again for two more end of the year concerts, "Dahlia Tour Final’96 – Fukatsu No Yoru" (Resurrection Night) on December 30th and "Dahlia Tour Final’96 – Mubou No Yoru" (Reckless Night) on December 31st.

1997 is the year many wish never happened — not the way it did. The things that occurred seared into memory like burning scars.

The unforgettable press conference on September 22, 1PM, to announce the group’s disbandment with YOSHIKI, flanked by hide, Pata, and Heath, Toshi missing from the group. The December 29th "Kouhaku" rehearsal. The December 31st concert: "The Last Live – The Last Night." The Last Live. The Last Night. The "Last Song."

Finally, the bittersweet memory of watching their last appearance on "Kouhaku," followed by short individual interviews of the members, Toshi‘s first, YOSHIKI‘s last, with MC Masahiro Nakai’s introduction of their performance: "This will be the LAST SONG. The LAST STAGE."

And as the lights dimmed and hearts surged, the last notes sounded out of "FOREVER LOVE."

* * * * * * *

A New Beginning?

On March 21, 2007, on both MySpace and his personal website, Toshi posted a message, titled "New Project," that informed fans he visited an "old friend" in Los Angeles, and during that visit, sang a song his friend had written after the death of another mutual friend.

Since then, YOSHIKI has been quoted in a Sports Nippon interview on June 4, 2007, that X JAPAN will reunite before the end of the year. No concrete news has been made public since then, but naturally, the hopes of fans are running high. If and when a reunion will happen is a matter of speculation, but what remains a fact is that X JAPAN — the band and phenomenon to all those who experienced them, will live on and will be loved forever.

 

"WE ARE X!"

 

Written by Rika
Edited by Kuri

One Response to “The Jrock Legend: X JAPAN”

  1. Lex says:

    I loved this post, the only thing that I find odd is the lack of mention about Taiji’s and hide’s death :(

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