Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Visual Kei

For a couple of years now my favourite genre of music has been visual kei, a form of rock music from Japan. “Kei” translates variously as “type”, “style” or “system”. As you can probably imagine from the name, the look of the bands is pretty important. It’s probably best described as a cross between glam metal, goth and new romantic, with some of the bands wearing ridiculously elaborate stage costumes. 99.9% of the bands in the scene have exclusively male members but the aim seems to be to look as "androgynous" (read: feminine) as possible. This is probably because the target market for the music, in Japan at least, is predominantly teenage girls, who, presumably, fancy men who look like teenage girls.

Matenrou Opera
Image © 2009 Sherow Artist Society

However, as far as I’m concerned, music is an auditory medium, not a visual one, and it’s what the music sounds like that matters. Many suggest that VK is not actually a single genre of music at all, that it’s more like what I have called a “virtual genre” like emo, nu-metal or clicks ‘n’ cuts – that is, a catch-all term for a number of essentially unrelated genres that just happen to be thematically linked in some way. I beg to differ - you know immediately when you’re listening to a VK band. What I like best about it is that unlike in the West, there is no taboo about mashing different genres together, so you can have pop, punk, metal, industrial, electronica and Japanese traditional influences right next to each other, even in the course of the same song. Also, lines or even single words of English will be randomly dropped into the lyrics, presumably for aesthetic effect. In my opinion, the very best bands are those who balance the darkness and power of modern metal with the melodic immediacy of pop. When it’s done right, it doesn’t sound at all forced, but natural. At these moments it becomes obvious why this is swiftly becoming my favourite genre of all time. Watch this space for regular updates on the new VK albums I’ve bought, along with my views.

No comments:

Post a Comment