J-Rock or “Visual Kei” is the Freshest Japanese Fashion Revolution Now Infiltrating America’s Youth Culture Landscape

By Kathleen Gasperini

 

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New trends from Japan’s music-inspired movement called Japanese Rock, or J-rock, or “Visual Kei” has officially entered the American youth culture landscape as seen in full force May 29-30 at the Jrock Revolution Festival in Los Angeles. The event featured 9 of the top J-rock bands currently in massively heavy rotation in Japan, and apparently, underground America (see also Music section and story) as thousands of passionate 14-20-year-olds mostly, packed the Wiltern Theater for the festival. The shows sold out in hours with no real traditional advertising or marketing at all, but rather through word-of-mouth, social online networks, and band fansites as people from all parts of the United States, and as far away as Chile, the UK, and Canada flocked to see their favorite J-rock musicians live in concert.

This music subculture, while not necessarily appreciated yet among the mainstream media (Spin, Rolling Stone, Blender, MTV, and even Alternative Press were shamefully no where in sight although fuse.tv will be airing a show and we have several mini-sodes going live too, thank God), has such a strong undercurrent of followers among younger, anime and music-inspired fans, that it’s clearly making a mark on streetwear fashion among this new generation of consumers. What most American music editors cannot believe is how can people absolutely love music that’s sung in Japanese? Even fashion leaders on the edge are hung-up on pinpointing just where EGA (Elegant Gothic Aristocrats) and other anime-inspired fashion are coming from. Neither see the anime and J-rock connection which clearly illustrates the generation gap within pop culture itself. From a typical ethnocentric American perspective (of a 30+-year-old), J-rock style is perceived as a rip-off of Marilyn Manson or Harajuku-loving Gwen Stefani, when the reality is that the real sources, the J-rock bands and fans combined with anime, are the inspiration from which such artists created their styles. Interestingly, the real sources came in a package last weekend put on by Jrock Revolution organizers Social Capital, Treadstone Records, Artists Addiction Soundtracks, Justin Time productions, and producers Kevin Lyman from 4-Fini in the form of a line-up including Kagraa, alice nine., Miyavi, DuelJewel, Vidoll, Mucc, girugamesh, Merry, and DespairsRay.

J-rock is also known as visual kei, which means visual style, which by its very definition is where music and fashion completely collide, and of course it’s the Japanese who take us there. Visual kei is high-maintenance, visually stimulating music and fashion delivered with an androgynous flair. It’s completely post-gender. Performers’ styles including unique coordinates, accessories, nail polish, hair, and colored contact lens are all intended as extensions of the freedom of expression of one’s music. But the sounds are not the Western-imitation machines many Americans still think of when it comes to music from Japan. These musicians each have their own style of rock that cross boundaries into something new from rock, metal, goth, punk, emo, and J-pop, traditional Japanese music, and hip-hop—even going so far as to mix many such sounds within the same song. All of the bands’ lead musicians can actually sing, and they all play their instruments extremely well, which is not something that can be said for all of the famous rock artists from America today.

The fashion that’s inspired by this Japanese music movement also represents a mash-up of extremes, with hints of déjà vu, then taken to the next level and making it completely original in a futuristic way…which is then copied by those of us in America and Europe. There’s Kabuki stage characterizations including colorful eye make-up and the use of fans or hand signals as a fan-dance, kimonos, obi sashes, and the like worn over denim jeans. There’s jeans over jeans and vests over vests. Suits in red and black stripes, white and metallic, feathers, two-toned hair, goth piercings, garters, forearm sleeves, accessories worn at unique angles, and/or hip-hop flavors in bright ‘80’s rave colors combined with track pants and an obi sash, Japanese graphics, goth, punk, metal, character embellishments paired with BAPE shoes or Japanese geisha sandals.

Some mark the movement from the early ‘80’s glam rock style of the band X Japan, whose drummer and pianist, Yoshiki, was the honored guest as the famous founder of the visual kei movement and Jrock Revolution festival. However the 21st century format includes glam rock taken to an all-together new level ranging from alice nine.’s punk/goth red and black ensembles that make Hot Topic designers look like amateurs, to Miyavi’s Japanese hip-hop/Kabuki version of funk-a-delic that would make Prince and even Morris Day and the Time stand up and take a bow in a moment of fashion reverence. J-rock, or visual kei, is seriously that original and is a fashion movement on the verge across America’s youth culture landscape.

Here’s a peak into the latest trends of the J-rock fashion movement as interpreted by American youth culture (see also J-rock accessories story and J-rock music story for more on the bands and style).

 
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