When I got into Japanese rock/metal when I was much younger in 2007 Visual Kei was quite the happening with bands like The GazettE, An Cafe and Alice Nine. I have since slipped into the abyss of KPOP but I still regularly think about the good old days of doing furi at concerts and not being able to move my neck for days after a show. I had the chance to see quite a bunch of artists in the 2007 to 2012 time though I haven’t seen many artists come to Europe since and I haven’t heard much about my favourites with most of the groups I liked disbanding or no longer my cup of tea. So I wondered lately; Is Visual Kei dead?
系 – Vijuaru Kei
the visual kei movement started in the mid 80’s when bands like X-JAPAN and D’Erlanger inspired by different alternative movements like glam metal, punk and gothic rock started incorporating these fashion styles and putting more emphasis on the more flamboyant side of their music with shocking visuals in clothing, hair and make up. because Visual stands for the look and Kei is fashion/style.
Around the 90’s there was a surge of the Visual Kei subculture with bands like Malice Mizer, L’Arc~en~Ciel, Luna Sea and Dir en Grey. Indie labels signed and promoted it to a more mainstream level at that point by sending the bands to multiple variety shows and with the still (though ended) populair magazine SHOXX coming to existence. Though around the beginning of the 2000’s the scene died back to a more underground status where their roots lay due to popular bands changing their style, disbanding and mostly due to punk and metal dominating the scene. It was during this time that different types of bands started sprouting all over Japan; ending up emerging harder than their predecessors this was then the true term Visual Kei started being used and in the 2010’s even Visual Kei started being divided into multiple genres. A lot of the styles embraced the more androgynous style of clothing with big make up, dresses and smearing the usual male and female beauty standards.
Kote Kei – コテ系 was used for original bands that had the so called old style. which was based mostly as the original style within what defined Visual Kei. Flamboyancy in hair and Punk and Goth looks. Bands who fell under this style were Zi:Kill, (early) L~arc~en~ciel, Luna Sea and BUCK-TICK among others.
A subgenre for Kote Kei is also Nagoya-kei – 名古屋系 where bands like Merry Go Round who hail from Nagoya have their roots. These bands are usually more streamlined in their sound, sounding more like western rock. Bands from this genre are Kuroyume, Merry Go Round, Lynch. and 9GOATS BLACK OUT.
Angura-kei – アングラ系 a style more used by bands who dejected the androgynous style, even doning more bizarre and darker aesthetics. Some bands wore skeleton or corpse make up with the inspiration coming from Japanese opera Kabuki style and Eroguro cinema/literature. Bands falling under this category are often disputed as not belong in the Visual Kei style. The bands often associated with this genre are cali≠gari, Mucc, Inugami Circus-dan and グルグル映畫館.
Tanbi-kei – 耽美系 is getting most of their inspirations from classic European fashion with its roots in the older Kote-kei style but instead with a more elegant style. A lot of crossdressing is done in this fashion scene and is also called baroque. The music style is also more in the corners of power metal and instrumental elements. Bands most wel known in this style are Malice Mizer, LAREINE, D and Versailles.
Oshare kei – お洒落系
This style is seen as the opposite side of Visual Kei with bright colors and sometimes more pop influences it was one of the biggest parts in Visual Kei in the 2010’s. Most of the artists would wear bright colors and a lot of jewelry and prints together. Bands we know who donned this look were An Cafe (Antikku Cafe), LM.C, SuG, v(NEU) and some more.
Among these there are obviously a bunch of other subgenre’s like Iyrou Kei, which is medical style. Band’s that done this style are Sex Android and +isolation. Obviously there are also so many artists that do not fit a specific genre or style or artists who have been in the scene for so long they ended up not being able to be specified as one or the other.
Since 2015 my personal interest has declined somewhat both due to being very into it and getting a bubble burst when I was living in Japan and seeing and hearing what was going on behind the scenes of most of the visual kei groups that were active around that time and also because there wasn’t much activity with tours or new albums that I heard coming out or bands stopping to exist fully. I’ve still heard of a lot of groups that get some attention but i’ve also seen most of the friends I made during the time I was heavy into Jrock/Visual kei having shifted over to KPOP.
I did get the chance to see a few artists since then along the way, I’ll link them below if you’re interested in reading about them.
Through a friend however, after asking them the same question “Is Visual Kei Dead?” they told me “absolutely not” however it’s changed a bunch from what we got used to in the 2000’s and there’s a whole lot of bands I should check out that sound awesome.
The thing is; as time progresses music, style everything changes and putting a specific label on things makes it prone to have artists fall out of the specific genre/label we’ve put on them. Look at the very big artist Miyavi. One of my favorite ever. He started out in Visual Kei but has since grown to be his own full genre on his own. So why not open our hearts for bands that used to fall/are said to fall under the visual kei header but sound a little different from what were used to?
Visual kei in 2023
Trying to research music in 2023 however I usually do through Spotify and I found a list with Visual kei releases in September of 2023. I’ll list a couple of the songs or artists that I liked most and why I like them below. I will also be posting some info on amount of listeners on spotify but this doesn’t say much as in Japan there isn’t much spotify listening I think. But hey it’s easy to find artists that way right?
Howl is a group that released their first album in 2019 called Artist and their latest single as late at October 3rd 2023. As always there isn’t much to find on the internet about bands like these; so what I’ve gathered so far is that the group consists of 4 members and they also started an alter ego band called Meta Knight in 2021. HOWL is really a mix of visual kei as I know it but also they give me a feeling they would be great in making music for anime and movies.
It truly is really hard to find anything on this group, As I’ve gathered this band is a mash up of other bands; finally making it to the form of four men in NAMELESS. One of the members has since left due to illness and has been replaced with a guitarist from another band.
I like their sound; it’s a little bit of slappy, math rockish sounding with the typical; I love the grunting and they really give me that old school VKEI feeling I had when I listened to the music full time. They are definitly worth a listen.
This band also hasn’t been together for that long, formed in Fukuoka They have a heavy sound with fast singing and a lot of screaming. A band you can easily mosh/furi on well. They seem to have a mix of Iyrou kei and Angure kei style clothing. Which really seems to match well with their music style to me. They really match a lot of the bands and artists I used to listen to when I was young, I added them to my favorites right away. Their latest single FUBAR is a little more happy go lucky but still really good; check out their older songs too! However they seem to have used some WOII Japan flag which seems a little bit troublesome…
Spotify listeners monthly: 373
Want to find more music like I am? Join me in listening to the playlist below made by VK.gy.
If you know any artists to recommend to me put them in the comments below or on Instagram, X or Facebook for me to find!