Article in InRock magazine #74/2016




At  some time these rock-musicians from Japan just called themselves “X” – the unknown. You may understand it as an eternal enigma, game of masks but it’s also possible to consider it as an answer, a solution to equation the musicians were going to try.

It wasn’t an ordinary task. At that time hard rock born in the West was taking over the world, rock musicians from England were extremely popular in Japan. So many of them have the phrase «live in Japan» in their names! The disciples, who started playing rock, charmed by unusual sounds have only two ways – they could try to imitate the music style they liked or try to combine rock with the traditions of their country. The ones who have gained success are the characters of our article — X Japan.


Postponed comeback

X Japan are considered to be the founders of «visual kei» which is the only style in rock history that isn’t defined in terms of music. Peculiar exponents of the style have become one of the symbols (alongside with anime and sushi) of Japonomania which has struck the world.

The turbulent band’s story seems to have disappeared from tabloids. It has enough pain and disasters; it includes weeping and inspiration, death and success… Living such a life X Japan have managed to release albums interesting from the music point of view. Their new studio album could have been a success. They promised to release it in March, 2016. But with a real visual kei charm the band have postponed their show to march 2017, the album release has been put off indefinitely. The reason is Pata’s (X Japan’s guitarist) disease. Yoshiki wrote: “As it was announced before… because of the guitarist Pata’s health condition, we had to postpone the show. … I sincerely apologize for the disappointment. … No words can describe how much I appreciate all of your support. … ps, Pata is out of the ICU, and recovering slowly but surely.”

Before that everything had been so nice. The single «Born To Be Free» from their new album was released on November 6th, 2015; in December the band made a tour round Japan; on January 23rd, 2016 the film «We Are X», which is a documentary directed by famous Stephen Kijak was premiered at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival and  won the Special Jury Award for Best Editing. Finally, Yoshiki Hayashi celebrated his 50th anniversary on November 20th, 2015. Toshi (a vocalist) and Pata (a guitarist) also turned 50 the same autumn.

And now fans have frozen waiting for a happy end of just another part of the drama you can’t imagine the band without.


The Key and Image

Yoshiki Hayashi grew up in a traditional Japanese family. His parents always supported the boy, especially his father who also had some artistic temperament. Each birthday Yoshiki was presented with a new musical instrument and he mastered playing it. At the age of four the boy could play the piano, then he mastered playing the trumpet, the guitar and so on.
 His happy childhood ended abruptly at the age of ten – the boy’s father committed suicide. This period was a decisive point in his life. Yoshiki, who was really into classical works was genuinely shocked, he found relief in rock music. In March 1977 Yoshiki, his mother and younger brother went to the concert of KISS and that was a starting point. He was impressed by their style: with their make-up and costumes, the musicians took on the personae of comic book-style characters. Later it influenced the invention of visual kei style. The name given by Yoshiki himself, he also provided it with a slogan «psychedelic violence, crime of visual shock». The style combined western and traditional Japanese patterns.  Its followers would use solemn ritualization of the performance and flamboyant visual representation typical of Kabuki theatre alongside with glam-rock drive and punk aggressiveness.

In one of his interviews told that once he saw a single by KISS in a music shop. That was «Love Gun». He was greatly impressed by the cover, so the visual effect made him listen to the music. He mentioned that it was not correct to pay attention only to the visual image. But Yoshiki was quite confident of his music, so he was able to choose any image he wanted. He admitted that they had even stepped out of line. Alongside with KISS the musician names The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Sex Pistols and David Bowie in the list of the bands and singers he had been influenced by.

The history of the band dates back to 1982 when the 17-year-old classmates Yoshiki Hayashi and Toshimitsu Deyama, later reduced their names to Yoshihito and Toshi, formed a band called “X”. Toshi, having a distinctive strong and gruffish voice, became a vocalist and a whizzkid Yoshiki played the piano and the drums. In spring 1985 the band started to perform in Tokyo, and in June 1986 they released their first single «I’ll Kill You». That time the concerts were mostly private and there were about 5-6 of them a month. The band tried to do their best in order to be remembered. Yoshiki always promoted visual and music self-expression. That time the musician had a punk-styled haircut, he also used to wear aggressive black-and-white make-up. His audience was astonished by a vigorous edge he demonstrated on stage. The musician would say: “The main idea is passion. Let’s not be scared of injuries while performing”. That is why he got a nickname “Dynamite without a fuze”. Yoshiki used to provoke the audience with a combination of real rage and a tender image reminding of a sakura in bloom. That produced a stunning effect. He has always been in charge of “enigma and drama”. “I’ve never done it on purpose! I’m fully stretched physically while performing but I can’t stop” – explained Yoshiki replying some caustic remarks about his countless injuries and on-stage collapses caused by overwork. Years later that rage reminded of itself. Now Yoshiki can play the drums wearing a spinal collar he also has to protect his hands with some special fixtures. (Once Michael Jackson took them for accessories and asked to try them on).


With arms across

The musicians’ private life was as obscure as bright their performances were. 90% of it was work. Yoshiki used to explain skeptic journalists that hard work had always been the most important thing for him. He demanded the same from his musicians as in order to show their unique lightness at the concerts they had to rehearse for hours every day. At last the toughest musicians were picked out and in 1987 the constant band’s lineup was completed, it had existed for the next 10 years and was the first well known and the brightest one. It included a guitarist and a vocalist Hideto Matsumoto (hide), a bass guitarist Taiji Sawada (Taiji) and a guitarist Tomoaki Ishizuka (Pata). Being displeased with the terms of contracts with rock bands of that time, Yoshiki founded his own independent record label, Extasy Records, where the second single Orgasm was released. On April 14th, 1988 the band released its first album Vanishing Vision through its own label. Despite an “independent” (“indies”) status of the band, the album became the first one on Japanese music scene which was so popular and saleable.

By that time it was quite obvious that the music style of X is excitingly eclectic and is characterized by absence of any taboos. Though the album sounds more like a demo recorded by eye under harsh underground laws, this fact makes it only more attractive. You can find everything in it. There is a reckless guitar dush in Blind Guardian spirit and high-speed blast bits worthy of Flotsam & Jetsam and eerie guitar psychedelia («Phantom Of Guilt») and even progressive («Give Me The Pleasure»). And finally there is one of the most recognized smash-hits in a power metal style “Kurenai”. The feedback wasn’t clear-cut. On one hand, some reviewers failed to stand such a wild mix of different styles, so the band was named “shame of hard rock”. The others appeared to be much more flexible and wrote: “Yoshiki used a hardcore Asian hummer drill to smash a pharisaic wall. He let some fresh air in so that dishonored hard-rockers wouldn’t die of asphyxia.

In 1989 the band signed a recording contract with CBS/Sony. The second album of X called Blue Blood was released on April 21, 1989; it became the first album released trough the major label Sony. The album was universally arranged and oriented on various tastes of musical public. Yoshiki tried to do his best and provided it with a feeling of speed and despair. Having been re-recorded in 2000s the album retained its independent and warm sound. Such songs included in it as Blue Blood, Week End, Endless Rain, Celebration, X are still the band’s calling cards. The song X was usually sung at the end of live performances and during the refrain the spectators would hop along with the musicians with their arms crossed like the letter X.


Conquest of the USA

Further steps towards world-wide recognition were impossible with the existed level of production and song lyrics in Japanese. So the next album «Jealousy», recorded in Los-Angeles, was in English. It was released on July 1, 1991, sold over 1, 000, 000 copies and was in charts for more than 50 weeks. It was the album which demonstrated the influence of KISS and their vocal manner. There were also some regards to Metallica. Thus, Pata’s acoustic guitar solo in «White Wind From Mr. Martin (Pata’s Nap)» had something in common with the intro to «Fight Fire With Fire». The album also included a very successful ballad «Voiceless Screaming».

A world-wide success caused some unexpected problems as well. The band had to be renamed from X to X Japan in order to distinguish from the American punk group X. At the same time their bass player Taiji left the band. He was replaced by Hiroshi Morie (Heath). The band’s next disc «Art Of Life» was released in 1993 on Atlantic Records label. It was only half an hour long and included only one song. There were only a few live performances of this title track because of its baffling complexity. Art Of Life is a kind of a nest doll, starting as a typical Visual Key rock track it later changes into a virtuoso drum solo then into minimalistic pianism in the manner of Michael Nyman and finally returns to the initial theme.

Megadeth ex-guitarist Marty Friedman says: “X Japan is the strongest and the most versatile band of all Visual Kei bands. They have the fastest hard things and the saddest ballads”.

The popularity of the band’s style was constantly growing. In the 90s Yoshiki, with his usual generosity, opened an ingenious Pandora’s Box, and more or less successful X clones performing in Visual Key style started to spring out of it.  A new wave of the followers has occurred since 2000, it includes An Cafe, The Gazette, Alice Nine which are also well-known in Russia.

The years between 1993 and 1996 were rather quite as far as new music material is concerned. Several band members used the situation to create some side projects. But on November 4, 1996 a new album Dahlia was released, it became the 5th studio album under the name of X Japan recorded through the label “Atlantic”. The album included really beautiful ballads, they sounded in a much more mellow tone than previous ones: Dahlia, Crucify My Love, Tears, Forever Love. The voice parts were desperate and fine. It seems that Yoshiki’s shtick is mastering. As a result each song has its unique sound. It makes you to remember the music better. Some fans told about the album: “Sensei Hayashi is laying himself out in this album, he can be compared to a beautiful precious oriental carpet under the glittering sun”.

One can single out some key words and expressions in X Japan’s lyrics, such as pain, kill me, rain, darkness, grief, loneliness, tears, heart, blood, rose, freedom, scream, dream, memory… You can feel some tragic outlook, doomness and melancholy in Yoshiki’s poetry, which is quite characteristic of many talented authors representing Land of the Rising Sun. At the same time his lyrics demonstrate a desire to act here and now. This combination provides affinity of our states of mind; it allows us to understand Japanese music on the same emotional level it has been composed.



Captured by “Home of Heart”

X Japan broke up at the peak of their career. In April 1997 Toshi left the band, and on September 22nd it was officially announced that X Japan would disband. They performed their farewell show The Last Live, at the Tokyo Dome on December 31, 1997. It was full of authentic drama. During the performance the musicians didn’t keep their emotions at bay and the audience felt that, which created a unique atmosphere of sadness, affinity and union.

Tragical events that followed became widely known even outside Japan. Hide died in five months after the breakup on May 2, 1998 at the age of 33. The first official narrative about a suicide soon changed into a verdict about an accident. One of the reasons of that change was a wave of the fans’ suicides. All the band members came to the funeral, 50,000 fans came to wave off their idol. In 2000 hide’s memorial museum — The hide museum was opened in Tokyo. But it closed its doors in 2005 because of the financial crisis. «The hide Memorial Summit» was held at the stadium Ajinomoto where X Japan performed alongside with different popular Japanese rock bands. Since then «The hide Memorial Summit» has become a tradition and is held annually in a form of friends’ gathering.

Since that time each of the remained band members has been working on his own. Yoshiki’s career turned out to be the most successful one. Even before the breakup he had worked with Roger Taylor from Queen (they composed «Foreign Sand» together and released the remake «Final Destination»). Later Yoshiki recorded the album of X Japan songs Eternal Melody performed by London Philharmonic Orchestra, the album was produced and arranged by famous George Martin. The musician also took part in recording of the tribute album «Kiss My Ass» by KISS in 1994. Having become famous Yoshiki lives in two countries: in Tokyo, Japan and in Los Angeles, The USA. In 1992 he bought a Hollywood studio, where Metallica had been recorded; the musician called it Extasy Recording Studios in honor of his indi-lable.

Another ex-member of X Japan Deyama Toshimitsu didn’t have such a happy life story. Toshi had been brainwashed and all those years he was a prisoner of a dangerous cult. He had been made to leave the band and was turned into a spineless adept, whose aim was to make money. The story began with his starring in a musical adaptation of Hamlet as the title character. The role of Ophelia was filled by a pop-singer Kaori Moritani, whom he would marry four years later. She appeared to be a follower of a musician and a preacher Masaya who was the author of the idea of “healing music” and the leader of an organization called Home of Heart. It sounds fine, but as a result Toshi’s life was turned into hell with brainwashing and spending money on “good causes”. When the moneybags ran low, Kaori and Masaya made the musician to see Yoshiki and to discuss the band’s reunion. Their greed ruined the plans. Contacts with the friend and Toshi’s come-back to rock music helped him to get freedom and come to life.


The best present

The first public appearance of X Japan was made on October 22nd , 2007, when on the rooftop of one of the shopping centers in Tokyo a music video for the newly recorded song I.V. was filmed. Yasuhiro Sugihara (Sugizo) became the third guitarist. Why not the second one?  Hideto Matsumoto, deceased, is considered to be an existing member of the band, and the record of his guitar solo is shown on a large screen. The band has occasionally performed great shows in the USA, Japan and other countries.  On August 14 and 15, 2010, X Japan performed one of their greatest shows at Nissan Stadium, the largest stadium in Japan. Some media reported an estimated attendance of 140,000 for the show. It was then that ex-bassist Taiji joined them on stage as a guest for the significant song «X». Unfortunately he died in 2011 at the age of 45. From 2011 to 2014 X Japan made their tour around Europe, South America and Asia. In the same period Yoshiki performed his recitals with «Yoshiki Classical» program, one of them was given in Moscow. The band’s new album release could have become an event of the year, X Japan have been working on it in Los Angeles for 6 years. But by now the fans have managed to listen to the first shot only, which is a single «Born To Be Free». All the rest is still up in the air…

On November 20th, 2015 the evergreen musician celebrated his semicentenary. On his birthday he tweeted plainly: “I’m alive, and that is the best present”.


Ella Molochkovetskaya

Dmitry Andreyev

Introduction – Vladimir Impaler

Перевод — Юлия Шубина