Two things to keep in mind before diving into this article:
- It was published in 2010.
- The tone of this article ranges from formal to cringe. The humor did not age well.
I read most of it so you don’t have to, so I’ll break it down and give my thoughts. Parts of this interview have revealed themselves to be true over time, parts remain unconfirmed, and maybe one or two things were a bit exaggerated. But as someone who has been into visual kei for a while, and had a phase where I was obsessed with the scene, reading something like this was a bit shocking and sobering.
Ultimately though, I have to say SATOH-SAN isn’t far of the mark from what I’ve seen.
THINGS I THINK AGED WELL
- Anything concerning the early history of visual kei in this article is invaluable to understanding the earliest days. Stuff has a habit of disappearing on the internet (this is not the original article) so I’m going to quote this relevant parts below
BRIEF HISTORY OF VISUAL
Around 1983 (says Satoh), Japanese hard-rock bands from big cities began to incorporate the then-new forms of new-wave, gothic, L.A. hair metal, and punk. They combined these foreign influences with SHOJO MANGA which was big in Japan at that time.
(this article is long enough without getting into a detailed explanation of shojo manga – for now, let’s just say that “shojo” means “comics for tween girls” and features a bunch of androgynous, long-haired pretty-boys in frock coats, who stare deeply into each others’ eyes while roses bloom in the background)
The manga influence was mainly in the stage fashion and homoerotic stage antics(kissing, groping), and was done, of course, to appeal to girls and their pocketbooks. It was a classic case of “combining different old things in a new way”.
It was a small scene in the beginning: only in certain cities in Japan. The artists were all highly motivated and had a DIY attitude – some even started their own labels (X Japan’s Yoshiki started DADA records, which later became Extasy). Eventually, the scene grew big enough to catch the attention of record labels, who made it a nationwide phenomenon – but the trade-off was that the bands had to play by the rules of the labels.
The eras of “popularity” and “good music” barely overlapped.
The best bands were in ’93-’99. The boom (meaning, bands on daytime chat shows and mainstream magazines) was in ‘97-’99. Visual didn’t catch on overseas until 2000’s, after it was already pretty much over in Japan.
Themes of the lyrics: sweet romance / dark suicidal (everything teenagers might like…).
“Fan-service” is common (band members kissing each other or touching each other) = this comes from shojo manga. The feeling of not being physically threatened by these ’sexual-but-not-for-me’ characters (men dressing in a feminine way) attracts young teenage girls.
- I also think the entire section describing the structure of the industry is accurate.
STRUCTURE OF THE INDUSTRY
TDR: Can you explain the business structure of the Visual industry?
SATOH-SAN: So we said Yoshiki is the executive producer, he is in X Japan, and now lives in Los Angeles. He is the top visual music producer in Japan, but he mainly makes decisions on how things will go. Dynamite Tommy handles the actual nuts-and-bolts of the visual business.
TDR: Even though Tommy is on a different “parent label?”
SATOH-SAN: Yes, of course! Fully. They always work together, since day one. ’85, ‘86. Yoshiki’s companies include major labels, not just visual labels, and he also has the Japanese license for bands like, say, Queen or other international rock acts. But since Yoshiki started as the drummer for X Japan, the inventors of ‘visual rock’, he’s always going to keep that as part of his empire. Since X Japan started that genre, they had all the best contacts, they knew how to do everything. And they taught the other people, other musicians that they hired, and some of the other bands started their own smaller labels (under the table with Extasy Records). And now we’re on the , what? Fourth or fifth generation of visual bands, in this system.
Yoshiki is from Chiba, (Tokyo area), and Dynamite Tommy is from Osaka. So Yoshiki handles Tommy’s business on the East coast, and Tommy handled Yoshiki’s business on the West coast. (of course, Tommy is in Tokyo now as well, but that sort of system is still going on)
In the beginning there was some – how do you say? – rivalry? between them, but they soon became friends, when they realized they could make more by working together. And of course that’s the exact system used by the Yakuza: controlling different parts of the country, but working together for maximum profit: “I’ll handle your businesses in my territory if you look after my businesses in yours!” And at first they were in bands, as I said,(X Japan and Color) but soon they started thinking that that wasn’t enough, so they started forming record companies. Extasy and Free Will, respectively. And together (mid-‘80s) they started this enterprise- visual kei - which was effectively one big company. And soon, they met another guy – Yasuhiro. He wasn’t in a band, he was – a lot of things! He had live houses, record labels, and a management company, etc (He now has record shops and a live house chain company called Club Holiday). So pretty soon, Yoshiki and Tommy also had their own management and video companies (Visual Trap, in the case of Free Will records), plus their own fashion studios and magazines as well!
TDR: Did Yoshiki and Tommy do this to try to force Yasuhiro out of the market? Or was he under their umbrella somehow?
SATOH-SAN: No, they are friends and work together. I don’t understand your question.
TDR: Well, Coke hates Pepsi. Macdonalds hates Burger King. So. . .
SATOH-SAN: Oh. . (pause) Yes, I suppose a foreigner would ask a question like this. But to us, the idea of the ‘big guys’ or, I should say, the ‘inside people’ competing is strange! In the late ‘80s, Visual was not yet nationwide. So all the major players had plenty of room to expand – there was no need to fight. Anyone who brought something to the table – production companies, live houses, labels, management – anyone who had enough clout to help the ‘inside people’ in his part of Japan, could HIMSELF become an ‘inside person.’ And that turned out to be, mostly, those three guys.
TDR: And visual bands at that time, who didn’t have connections? Those were . . .
SATOH-SAN: The ‘outside guys’ – those were the guys who became employees.
The description of how to avoid taxes, launder money, etc are probably accurate. KISAKI and Tommy are two prominent cases of visual kei businessmen getting in trouble because they got funny with money. Then there’s also the guitarist from FAZ which extorted millions of yen from an elderly person, as well as that other person who pretended to be Kyo from Dir en grey. Seedy stuff all around if you know where to look.
I think the description of the kinds of people who end up in visual kei (ex-bosozoku, ex-boxer, ex-chinpira) could be true. A lot of these band members do just pop up outta nowhere and disappear into the ether just as fast.
The thing about selling the fantasy is 100% true. Only among very few fans does anyone care “…about the guitars or playing A-flat in a Lydian mode.”
Everything he says about reselling the same songs in multiple versions has only gotten more true with time.
Band members prostituting themselves has also been proven true. Bassist from VRZEL did some porn. It’s a thing.
Bands wanting fame and shedding visuals once they get a taste of it has also been proven true again and again. DIMLIM is just a recent example but you can find quite a lot of bands lessening the visuals and streamlining the sound over time to get that fame.
THINGS THAT CAN’T BE VERIFIED
I know headhunting is a thing because I know of a few unknown visual kei bands that put out one song and then disintegrated because the vocalist got poached into a new band. How it happens today though is up in the air.
I’ve heard from people that have gone to visual kei concerts in Japan within the last few years that overall fans are really nice and welcoming, so I’m not sure how often fans fight.
Not sure how to feel about the description of parties. I’m sure they’ve happened and do happen, but I’m not sure if they’re all as described.
I gotta put this in two categories. I’m 100% sure that he’s right about the blacklisting. If you want more proof, there are rumors that Genki and Koichi got blacklisted from visual kei after MEJIBRAY disbanded. The middle finger incident is what we always point to, but that was probably the climax of tensions brewing in the background for quite some time. The label invested a lot of time into promoting MEJIBRAY - at one point they were everywhere - so they didn’t take it well when the members walked away. That’s why 8P-SB only played shows at CreatO - the owner of the venue probably took pity on them and prevented them from playing anywhere else (but would that matter if all the other venues blacklisted them anyway). Not to mention that the interviewer was alluding to an event SATOH-SAN didn’t want to touch, so take that however you want.
The juggling of band members might be a thing. I always thought it was because there weren’t many people in the scene to connect with to start, but if you have people with connections putting guitarists and bassists in the same room together then it’s a bit of both.
THINGS I DON’T THINK AGED WELL
I believe the exaggeration of “one person does everything” may have been true back in the 90’s. SATOH-san makes it sound unsustainable even then. At some point, I’m pretty sure the system switched up so that there’s one person who puts their stamp of approval and their input on everything, but doesn’t literally do everything. There’s too much to do, and tech has redefined how things get done. I think this part is outdated.
I also believe the description of visual kei is outdated. Now we’re boy bands that play hard rock and metal and all sorts of other repulsive core sounds
The description of how things were locked down (Band A only on channel 1, Band B only on channel 2) probably no longer applies since everything is done over the internet.
I also throw elements of the section called THE CONTRACT here as well. I think it’s a bit exaggerated to say that 10-12 people are living in one apartment together these days. Maybe it was like that at some point in the past, but it’s more likely each of the members have several roommates and they take care of their own living expenses.
I know some band members get some coochie on the side. Setsuna (ex-THE EGOIST) got in a whole row over interactions with a fan gone really, really bad, so I know that what SATOH-SAN is saying about no girlfriends and crazy fans is probably based in some reality, but I also know that band members get some on the side and keep it quiet.
What do y’all think?