Ever-alert to the taxonomy of the risible”, those of us at Label Networks absolutely love it when we discover the climate change of a new trend. This is clearly the case in the wake of Miyavi, a self-described “visual kei rocker” that is changing up even this concept of original Japanese visual kei J-rock bands into as Miyavi describes it, “my own sense of visual kei, which is influenced from Japan, kabuki, but many cultures into its own show, sound, fashion.” During Miyavi’s recent “This is the Kabuki Rock Tour” that came through the west coast of the United States before making it’s way to Chile, Brazil, then Paris, we caught up with the man behind the very cool Kabuki make-up to get a better understanding of his music, style, and the movement he’s creating. In the back room of the hipster restaurant called Swingers in Hollywood, Miyavi’s people were there, speaking and texting in Japanese on a variety of personalized cell phones, as the man himself dressed in a leopard printed coat, white skull cap with Swarovski crystals and neon colored braids sticking out, sat sipping tea in a large, open booth.
We’d met Miyavi before, during last summer’s J-rock Revolution Tour, thanks to a tip from Vans Warped Tour founder, Kevin Lyman, and were then fascinated by his mix of hip-hop style including a pink fitted cap angled just ever-so extremely, Japanese denim, flip-flops, intricately painted nails, lip ring, and tatts. We’d seen him perform then, and again with the wildly popular group S.K.I.N. during Anime Expo, which included the godfather of visual kei, Yoshki, and Yoshki’s remaining band members from X -which in a reunited performance last month, sold out the Tokyo Dome (and included a hologram of their deceased guitar player playing along during several songs).
Miyavi stands out physically too: He’s tall, thin, and dances on stage like a martial arts performer mixed with a snake dancer. He plays slap bass but on a regular guitar, which makes his sound fascinating and captivating to watch.
As he described in our interview the day previously (where no cameras were allowed), his musical performances have “Circque du Soleil elements to them.” Miyavi performs with a tap-dancer whose platform is mic-ed so you can hear his feet dance to the rhythms; he has an amazing beat box partner who equally matches Miyavi’s guitar playing; an incredible drummer and bass player. In some shows, he’s known to bring along a street artist that paints as he plays “so that my fans can see what I’m playing in a different dimension,” explains Miyavi, and in other shows, even a BMX biker.
At his show at the Avalon May 16th, hundreds of young fans on site were dressed in various versions of Miyavi’s Kabuki, visual kei styles. Some having waited in line outside the theatre for days. Miyavi, in a very generalized sense of music subcultures, comes from the growing movement of the J-rock scene -bands from Japan with their own sounds that also incorporate fashion style as a key component to their shows, also known as “visual kei bands” or, visual key fashion. These bands that resemble in some sense, anthem-like big-hair rockers, also attract young fashionistas who are inspired by manga, otaku culture in general, Gothic & Lolita styles, and of course, metal rock. These fans not only know the words to most of the songs of J-rock bands, which by the way, are mostly in Japanese, but adoration to “understand, deeply” as one fan put it, has caused an entire subset demographic of young people in the U.S. to take up Japanese as a second language. The styles of J-rock visual kei bands, unbeknownst to many designers, are becoming the basis for a fast-growing youth culture movement in fashion (see related stories in our Fashion section under search “visual” “kei”). Probably the closest it gets in terms of couture, can be found from Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Gar?ons, but even she’s clearly copping some of her steez from this scene.
At the Avalon Miyavi’s performance blended a mix of funk, hip-hop, beat box, tap, and dance moves that had the crowd at their feet. His “visual kei” aesthetic however is far different than say, other known visual kei bands such as MUCC or D’espairs Ray in that it also blends an American funkadelic quality. Coming out initially in,a kimono type jacket with hoodie, and dancing like a Japanese fan dancer, including fan-dance movements with his hands (which the audience absolutely imitated), you knew this was going to be a different type of music show altogether.