The GazettE, Nightmare, alice nine., D’espairsRay, and Vidoll are but several groups that make up a larger collective number of bands hugely popular in Japan and increasingly recognized worldwide, all of which belong to the "Visual Kei" subgenre of Jrock. But how did it all begin?
Visual Kei, an aesthetic genre within entertainment that combines various styles of rock music with elaborate costumes and make up (the look as much part of the product as the music), came into existence in the 1980s, inspired by western glam rock that transformed into a uniquely Japanese and now exported-back-to-the-west art form.
Visual Kei very likely would not still be around today if not for the efforts of one company, EXTASY RECORDS, and one man, YOSHIKI Hayashi, the company’s founder and president.
Better known to Jrock fans by his stage name, YOSHIKI, the leader and co-founder of the legendary Jrock band X JAPAN (formerly known as X) founded EXTASY RECORDS using capital his mother provided from the sale of their family business in 1985 to release X‘s second single, "Orgasm," in 1986. Two years later, in 1988, X‘s first album "Vanishing Vision," set a new record for indies sales with 20,000 copies sold. The release included "Kurenai," the title that launched their major debut the following year.
YOSHIKI was not satisfied with merely achieving singular, monopolistic fame for his own group. Instead, he sought to create a movement, utilizing EXTASY RECORDS as a foundation to catalyze a Visual Kei revolution by signing and/or producing other groups of the same genre, providing many of these artists with their very first record deal and chance at fame. Some particular artists, such as LUNA SEA, ZI:KILL, and GLAY, all went on to make major contributions of their own to the Japanese music scene.
By the late 1980s, TV stations were still reluctant to have controversial (both in their looks and lyrics) groups like X JAPAN on their programs. To address this, YOSHIKI and EXTASY RECORDS came up with a unique marketing strategy in the form of music festivals in which most ex-EXTASY RECORDS groups participated.
Starting originally as live house events with "The 1st EXTASY SUMMIT FESTIVAL" at Osaka Bourbon House in September 1988, followed by "The 1.5st EXTASY SUMMIT FESTIVAL" at Okazaki CAM, and "The 1st TOKYO EXTASY SUMMIT FESTIVAL" at Shibuya Koukaido in October and November of the same year, the festivals grew larger over time. They reached their peak, and their end, in 1992 with "The 2nd OSAKA EXTASY SUMMIT FESTIVAL" on October 29th at Osaka Castle Hall and the "The 7th TOKYO EXTASY SUMMIT FESTIVAL" on October 31st at the Nippon Budokan (a venue that holds 15,000) in a concert that included members of almost a dozen groups, including ZI:KILL, LUNA SEA, and naturally, X JAPAN.
By then, Visual Kei had become a firmly established genre with scores of aspiring new bands popping up throughout the scene that encouraged the birth of new magazine publications such as SHOXX and FOOL’S MATE. Now, it is thriving more than ever in Japan. Visual Kei bands dominate both the indies and majors Oricon charts and their promotional videos are in heavy rotation on Japanese television music stations, previously unheard of before the advent of EXTASY RECORDS.
Not yet very well known in the Western music world in general, Jrock artists have finally started to reach out to their fans overseas, most recently and most prominently through the Jrock Revolution Festival at The Wiltern in Los Angeles.
Watch out for more. The second revolution has begun.
The first started in 1985 with that one company: EXTASY RECORDS.
Written by Rika
Edited by Kuri