Despite being from the Land of the Rising Sun, the five artists who presented their glitz, glam, and talent on Friday night are all keenly aware of their future in the American music industry. They all have their own definition of "music", and they’re all damn proud of their heritage.
On May 26-27, 2007, some of Japan’s most innovative and outrageous rock artists made history with Jrock Revolution. Nine groups congregated in Los Angeles for the first multi-artist festival in North America to exclusively feature Japanese rock artists straight from Japan.
They were bands that had already achieved a certain level of success back home, and their accomplishments, whether personal or professional, were diverse. Of Friday night’s five artists, major label and former visual kei group Kagrra,, needed to feel a sense of conviction before appearing in the U.S.
"We had been offered to be in events in the U.S. before, but first, we wanted to feel completely confident in Japan," it said. "Now, we feel it’s time to enter U.S. soil and show…what we are capable of."
For solo artist Miyavi, already acquainted with Jrock legend and festival organizer Yoshiki, it was about being unique.
"I am and represent Japanese culture. I am different from other artists, so I will be distinguished," he said. "My band includes a tap dancer, beat boxer, DJ, Wadaiko (traditional Japanese drum) player, bassist, painter, and me on guitar. So I know I will be distinguishable in a different way."
For visual kei group Vidoll, achievement came in the form of having an overseas fan base. "We had never performed overseas…but we had heard that there were some fans out there," it said. "We had seen some foreign fans at our lives in Japan and also received letters from overseas fans, so we thought it would be a great opportunity to perform."
And for DuelJewel, who had already appeared in the U.S., it meant having certain resources at a well-organized event.
"There was no preparation done when we came to the U.S. the first time…When we came to the U.S. before for a concert, we had to do everything ourselves," they said. "But we were able to bring our lighting and PA crew from Japan to help us [at Jrock Revolution]. It’s great!"
While performing in the U.S. may have represented the next step in these artists’ careers, it also posed the challenge of communicating a different culture. Still, prior to performing, Friday night’s artists were intent on preserving the native integrity of their music, if not their original routines from Japan.
"It will be different because these are two different countries," Miyavi said. "The audiences’ nationalities are already different–absolutely not the same. That’s why we have to remind ourselves again where we are from. We are Japanese and we should be proud of ourselves."
Said Kagrra,: "Other bands prepared a special [festival] set list to appeal to the U.S. audience in a short amount of time. Instead, we decided to perform the same as we would in Japan."
"We won’t change our style just because we are in the U.S.," agreed visual kei group alice nine. "We will do something that we like…We will try to perform our
typical show to the U.S. audience, similar to what we would do in Japan. "
For Vidoll, Jrock Revolution presented the opportunity to transcend any differences and connect to fans with its culture. "We speak different languages, so we hope
we can express ourselves more than usual," the band said. "It just makes everything more interesting because it’s a new challenge for us. We believe that
emotions and feelings can bond people, and so we are excited to see how much we can reach out to the audience."
"People, who live far away from where we perform, have a festival specifically for and enjoy our type of music. That alone made us extremely thrilled," said alice nine. "We are ready to be part of it and want to share the same moment with everybody."
That culture and type of music is visual kei, meaning "visual style" in Japanese–an artistically rich method that evolved from Japanese rock music and is still used by its artists. Jrock Revolution’s Friday night artists had varied thoughts on the genre.
Kagrra,, which had recently adopted a more mainstream look, described its music as embodying nationalism, Japanese beauty, and excitement, regardless of the
band’s outward appearance.
"Visual kei fashion just expresses part of the music," Kagrra, said. "We hope that people would understand and identify Kagrra, with our sound.
"Many bands have come from Japan, saying, ‘We are from Japan and this is Japanese music,’ but Kagrra, is the real Japanese music," it continued. "We hope we can be [the audience’s] first ‘real’ Japanese music experience, and we want [them] to enjoy our music."
For Miyavi, visual kei is about more than looks. "To me, visual kei is not just putting on makeup. I am singing about my lifestyle. Visual kei is not a category of music but a lifestyle to me," he explained, citing Kabuki (traditional Japanese theatre), samurai, and individuality as being essential to his work. "My personality and lifestyle are from mixtures of visual styles like Kabuki…[which] includes the humor and extreme makeup aspects."
Besides individualism and the shocking, elaborate makeup and dress associated with Kabuki, visual kei also contains Japanese philosophies, concepts, and other facets of Japanese culture. Despite its dazzling visuals, it’s hardly a superficial genre.
"Visual kei is not just listening to the CD and enjoying the music," said alice nine. "It conveys our culture, and we hope that people would enjoy that."
And people–all over the world–have been enjoying it. By remaining true to their roots and ideas, Jrock artists are spreading Japanese culture through visual kei and its music, excited and far-reaching about conveying their art in the U.S.
"We speak different languages, but music is the universal language," said Vidoll. "We hope many people will listen to our music. It would be amazing if our music becomes supported by many different people."
"We were so excited to hear that people in such a far place were waiting for us to come," said alice nine. "We are thrilled!"
"We had done events in the U.S. before but nothing as big as this," said DuelJewel.
"It was impossible to imagine having such a big an event like Jrock Revolution–so many great bands and such a big venue. This is very historic."