The Truth About Visual Kei - 12 Years Later

Two things to keep in mind before diving into this article:

  1. It was published in 2010.
  2. 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.


  • 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


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.


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.


  • 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.


  • 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 :slight_smile:

  • 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?


Good breakdown and retrospective. Imo this should be required reading for any fan or anyone getting into the scene. The original interview and that hierarchy chart back in the day were a revelation.


bet @Ghostpepper can tell us more
if anyone, it’s him :smiley:

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oh lord yah, I think I’ve covered like everything about the current scene on here or on the vkgy discord. would be a doozy to put all together in an article.

def lots of those things are outdated,
like having 寮 like a host club etc. just there isnt enough money in vk for that kind of shit now
but I wouldnt be surprised if there is one or two situations like that for one band, but a whole label thingie naw.
the contracts being shit and such are def true.
is there exclusivity on what bands will end up being featured where? in events yah!
CD shops: kinda. but maybe youve seen how i pulled all our stuff from cd stores, cause they are outdated and lazy shitheads. haha.

if there are any direct questions about how things are just @ me and I will reply.
we are def beyond the age of speculation and such, as I am always down to talk about my experiences here and/or just give people guest passes to go backstage at gigs.


“no talking to the band (except at in-stores where you have to buy something)!”

I don’t know about this. Most smaller bands sell their own merch and hang out and chat with fans after the show.


Yah even in the past some bands were ok with 出待ち, miyavi would often take photos with fans outside the venue etc.


Well, I don’t think that overall fans are that nice. Some are… but there are still many who really protect their band and that you don’t dare to touch their fav bandman…

And “no talking to the band” How bigger a band gets how more difficult it gets. Smaller bands they often show up somewhere in or outside the venue to talk with their fans. But not all vkei bandman do this. some really run from it (Whenever they are allowed or not).

But the venue thing is still right yes? That bands with no good deals with venues or labels could have a hard time? At least I guess that “you have to call the bandname of who you go too” is still pretty accurate. (at least for 99% of the live streams it’s need to say =_=)


venue exclusivity is not really a thing anymore, they are just rental places, so it is more so about being included in that promoters event has some walls up sometimes, but rarer these days as everything is slim pickings. but just as a matter of taste some seniors of mine will be like “ah, you shouldn’t play ‘such and such’ 's event, your image will become bad.” so that is just off of personal standards etc.
are there still some fights left over from the old days? yep~~ freewill and PSC are still enemies because of the Eternal split, but bands within that dont really care, its just a management thing, so thatd be another “oh we wont put our bands in that promoters event together” I believe that happened when gazette got removed from i think the visual summit yah?

fans being nasty to eachother is def a big thing too, lots of bullying still goes on, but this is mostly older fans doing this to younger fans it seems. carryover from the old days.


But when venues are just rental place… then why still choosing one band you go to the event for.
What if you go for more bands ._.
I still hate to choose…

The only reason I see, that bands exact know how many fans they have coming to their show…
But still that feels outdated.


ah yes, the norma system! yep, you still have to bring that up, i hate the norma system~ especially since labels will specifically choose shit days to try and get you to play and shit times, just so they can get money to support their bands while screwing over others. tis a tricky thing! bands need to become smarter~

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It even happens on “band own events” bands who are without any label. You still have to say at the door “I come to watch XXXX”. Might they still use the same system? as the band who brought the most fans also gets the most profits of the day?

While when I go to non-visual gigs like punk/rock more undergroundish bands. there is usually no “norma system” at all.

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everyone uses the system ^v^ let me pull up an example:

even if there is no noruma\ノルマ無し it will often be like this:

lets say standard noruma would be like this:
ノルマ10枚 11枚目~50%バック
機材費等オプション費別途 持ち時間25分予定 リハーサル有り

so you could be looking at paying 30000en plus equipment fee of 3000 to 5000 en
just to play 25 minutes.
We decided last gig at blackhole to kind of stop doing those events, especially blackhole.

for non vk/regular rock events, there is still norma system most of the time, however you will find that they use DM/direct reservation for that, so lots of bands will put that in their tweets. however their norma is not often as steep or is just norma nashi with a certain back percentage after say 10 tickets.


What does the 11枚目~50%バック exact mean? You get money back?

It’s still weird that if you play on an Event someone hosting, that you also have to pay to play that day.
Over here the host/booker pays the venue, if luck the host also pays you or you can have at least all profits from your sales after the gig.


this seems more the exception rather than the rule though i think


exactly, that is normal right? i am used to being paid so i am so against this bullshit.

to sum up current state of vk:
You are trying to make money off of people being lazy/ill informed/etc.
・stacking events for norma
・CD shops taking 20~30% and then waiting to pay you about 2 months later and sometimes not even paying you on time, so they are using you like a loan system. or like CD JAPAN charging 40%
・prop yourself up as a label, but really you are making the bands pay/overpay for their production and your are just distributing and offering some design support maybe, you are just juicing the band and not actually a real label.
etc. etc.

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Depends on the event and bands etc.

Starwave bands = yah common
Bands like Metronome = everybody super nice

never black and white, lots of grey ^v^

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Which Starwave bands? Scarlet Valse (rip) and La’veil MizeriA fans were amazing. I guess I could see it from maybe XANVALA idk why haha


those kinda fights too usually only happen between bangya who are going to lives a bunch, and spending lots of money, they see the other girl always there too and are like “enemy!” weird stuff.

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know for sure scarlet valse had some toxic old lady fans haha. had one fan sad she couldnt come to our gig because she did not want to get bullied again.

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That’s upsetting. Truthfully the vkei experience from the female perspective will likely be much different than my 30+ gaijin male ass