Cute Asian girls... Do you need any other reason?
By Dominic Jones
June 28, 2011. There are two-thousand fans screaming outside a venue in London. There's big hair, cosplay, but also beards, and metal-heads. It's a strange bunch. One might wonder what tiny little girls in costume might be doing mingling, laughing, and having a good time with large hairy men who enjoy beer and pornography and other things. One might also wonder what would bring them all to Shepherd's Bush Empire, the venue Beyoncé had been performing in the previous evening.
If you asked any of these people this on the day, you wouldn't really get a particularly helpful answer. You'd get a loud call-and-response type chant, where one person would ask the crowd “We are?” and they would shout the letter “X” at the top of their lungs at a volume that prompted several police cars to park nearby and people getting off the nearby subway to avert their gaze and walk more hurriedly.
In truth, you would have stumbled upon an X Japan gig. X (as they were called before the early 90s) are an old heavy metal band founded by Yoshiki Hayashi and Toshimitsu Deymitsu and chances are that you haven't heard of them. You wouldn't be alone; they are as their name suggests a Japanese band; the very best. They have sold out a record 18 performances at the 55,000 seat Tokyo Dome, and remain the most influential rock band in Japanese music history. They pioneered a genre known as Visual Kei which is a sort of French kabuki space pirate vampire cross-dressy thing but they shed that image long ago. They are bigger than the Beatles and, in Japan, bigger than Jesus.
The fact that they aren't really big over here shows how important language is in music, but the fact that they have a following at all shows that there are a lot of people who can look past the language barrier. Or at least, they learnt Japanese. Yoshiki and Toshi are both fluent English (a result of some heckling done by New York journalists 20 years ago). But is the “language barrier” really that much of a problem? Maybe I'm the only one but picking out individual words during a noisy gig (which is how gigs should be). Choruses like “X! kanjite miro! X! sakende miro! X! subete nugisutero!” are also surprisingly easy to remember.
Let's face it, when dealing with 3 minute guitar solos, bass riffs that make even the most strong-stomached men quiver and drum beats that can shatter your rib cage, who cares what language they're singing in? You can shout nonsense in the chorus and you're surrounded by fellow metal-heads you can have a beer with and adorable little Asian women who will flash you a quick smile if you offer to take a picture for them (that's what happened to me a lot).
X Japan are a mixture between heavy metal, progressive rock and back in the day, they dressed in glam. Recently, there was a cage-match between them and Black Veil Brides on Loudwire.com, (BVB being a band I particularly despise) and it was universally agreed by everyone that X, having been inspired by KISS, and other artists whose music was brought to Japan in the early '80s laid down a lot of foundation for a lot of modern bands, and even a few (unfortunately like BVB) who have started to crop up in the west.
They split up in 1997, 5 months later their guitarist hide died, and the country (Japan) was in shock. People took to the streets to cry and in remembrance. They stayed apart for a decade after that, before re-uniting fairly recently, and going on their first over-seas tour in North America, before coming to do their first tour in Europe, which started in London. This is the gig I am talking about; it was their European début.
They're starting to get around; their single “Jade” was the most-downloaded song the week of its release. It's lyrics are in English much like the material of their upcoming album. They are a band well-worth checking out, and you might see them crop up a little more than you first expected, especially in the coming years. (Yoshiki wrote the music for this year's Golden Globes, also wrote and produced a lot of the soundtrack for Repo the Genetic Opera; X JAPAN's song IV was also featured in Saw IV before the band saw how terrible the film was and requested it not be included on the OST.)