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Deep-rooted Japanese band comes to Oakland

X Japan performs one of three reunion concerts at the Tokyo Dome. These performances marked the band's revival after a ten-year disbandment due to artistic differences. (Courtesy of Creative Commons)

If KISS were to raise a child with David Bowie, teach it to use an electric guitar, then send it to Japan to do whatever it wanted, the result would be “Visual Kei.” A sub-genre of Japanese rock, Visual Kei can be roughly described as a cross between glam rock and electro-pop with strong roots in speed metal and punk. While popular in Japan in the 1980s and early 1990s, Visual Kei didn’t see its big break until the early 2000s, when it quickly gained a large, dedicated following both in Japan and overseas.

The boom has prompted several neo-Visual Kei musicians – such as Miyavi, Dir en Grey and D’espairsRay – to tour within the U.S., with sets that have met the artists with warm, enthusiastic crowds. Among the many newcomers is the “Founding Fathers of Visual Kei,” a band otherwise known as X Japan, who will be performing at the Fox Theatre in Oakland on Sep. 28.

“The fact that X Japan chose a venue in Oakland to perform makes me respect them even more,” said Mills College student Malena Du Bois when she heard about the upcoming concert. “Most groups of their success skip over Oakland for San Francisco without even a second glance.”

X Japan was founded in Chiba, Japan by childhood friends Yoshiki Hayashi and Toshimitsu “Toshi” Deyama in 1982. It began as a high school garage band named NOISE. They chose the name “X” as a placeholder until they could think of a better name, and then they decided on “X Japan” in 1992. That same year, X Japan reached its final line-up: Toshi on vocals, hide on lead guitar, Pata on rhythm guitar, Heath on bass and Yoshiki on drums and piano.

Due to the radical nature of their image, lyrics and musical style, no label would take them past their first single “I’ll Kill You” (1985).

So in the tradition of Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, X founded its own label: EXTASY Records. Through EXTASY, it produced its second single “Orgasm” (1986) and its first album Vanishing Vision (1988).

From that point forward, X’s rare combination of piano ballads and speed metal played almost constantly on the radio. Its 1994 album Art of Life just a single track stretching 30 minutes, a veritable rock symphony.

Despite its popularity, X Japan disbanded in 1997, citing artistic differences. During the interim, the members mostly focused on solo work, but  Yoshiki once mentioned discussing a revival with hide sometime in the year 2000. However, these plans were tragically circumvented by hide’s death on May 2, 1998.

Nine years later, in 2007, X Japan shocked thousands by announcing its reunion to create the end theme for Saw IV. The song “I.V.” was an instant hit on iTunes, topping the charts worldwide. The bands comeback sparked the interest of not only devoted fans, but of curious listeners overseas – especially online. Katrin X Japan began as an American and a German’s fan site in 2000 and has since had over 958,000 hits. Similarly, fan site Xplosion-Online attracts fans from so many backgrounds that it’s available in seven different languages. Social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Myspace feature over 117,000 fans, 35,800 followers and 4,800,000 profile views respectively.

The bands first U.S. performance was on the main stage at Lollapalooza 2010. X Japan’s concert in Oakland will be the second stop of the North American leg of its World Tour, a surprising choice for a band with so much success and only one U.S. concert preceding it.

“They’ve sold out huge auditoriums around the world, and having them come to Downtown Oakland is like having a younger, finer Parliament Funkadelic with bigger hair and even more neon color schemes setting up their equipment in my backyard!” Du Bois said.

But for U.S. fans like Du Bois, the band is simply fulfilling a promise Toshi once gave. “As you are always here for us, X will always be there for you, so never give up on your dreams.” X is here for its U.S. fans, even the ones in the often-overlooked city of Oakland.

Thousands of devoted fans gather for one of X Japan’s concerts in Hong Kong. Lights flash in the shape of an “X,” the rock band’s symbol. (Courtesy of Creative Commons)

Read about the concert at Fox Theater in Oakland here.