A gaijin in wonderland: my first visual kei gig

HexaGlaM, Velvet Eden, Die Milch, Lapis Light and Rose Noire: a review of a four hour visual kei marathon

4.45pm Saturday 21 November, just starting to get dark, and long-suffering boyfriend and I are wondering around the ‘dodgy’ (aka. many love hotels) section of Ikebukuro. We’re 15 minutes late to the gig, but Google maps manages to direct us to the venue, Ruido K3. We walk down the stairs and pay, then are directed to what I can only describe as a black walled ‘air lock’ kind of entrance. I’m claustrophobic at the best of times so this alone would be enough to get my heart rate up, but we are also greeted by an extremely loud blast of music. We look nervously at each other, hurriedly put in our ear-plugs, and draw back the black curtain.


hexaglam 1

The sight of HexaGlaM’s set in full swing is enough to make me wonder if I’ve entered wonderland. With wigs and hair every colour of the rainbow, the tremendous amount of energy in the performance of their brand of melodic hard rock really does make them seem larger than life. Singer Sella puts a spell on us with his ‘prince’ character, telling us with a hint of humour that it was ‘fate’ that lead us to meet in downtown Ikebukuro tonight. His powerful voice is equally effective on the band’s catchy melodies and the occasional screaming sections. All five band-members were big personalities but I especially enjoyed watching guitarist Koro. She was jumping around the stage with the air of a kick-ass pixie and I loved her yukata inspired outfit and the way her purple hair extensions clashed with her green sparkly guitar.

コロ kicking arse at her guitar solo with an amazing outfit to boot


Velvet Eden

Velvet Eden 1
After the high energy visual-spectacle that was HexaGlaM, two-piece Velvet Eden seemed like a big contrast, with their more somber electronic music. Because I’m a visual kei novice I didn’t realise this, but Velvet Eden are a veteran unit that have been going since 1998, with one line up or another. On Saturday, the charismatic cross-dressing, vocalist DADA, (the only remaining original member) was joined by current guitarist Chro. Decked out in black lace, they created a gothic feel, assisted by blue lighting and generous use of the smoke machine. Dada’s deep sonorous vocals over drum machine focused electronics brings to mind 80s British Goth.

so smoke machine, much goffik. wow.

Die Milch

coco and mocha
I’ve missed Mocha’s creepy doll face

No denying it, Die Milch were the band I wanted to see. Their July concert in North London was the first music review I wrote for this blog and the last gig I saw before leaving the UK. I fell in love with them there, so seeing them from my new home in Tokyo was really special for me. The three-piece unit did not disappoint, with their fusion of electro neo-classical music and Lolita fashion making for the ultimate audio-visual treat. As usual, they seemed impeccably rehearsed, playing their instruments and their living doll personas to perfection. Only Coco (vocals and keys) and Mocha (violin) performed at the London gig so it was great to see additional violinist Yui perform at Saturday’s show. She adds a lot to unit both sonically; playing off Mocha’s violin parts in delicious call and response duets, and visually; two brunette violinists flanking blonde Coco works very well for the band’s cutesy clockwork choreography.

bow thing
Die Milch’s signature creepy pointing choreography on ‘Rosaria’

It was interesting to see how their performance style varied slightly from London to Tokyo. In London they favoured catchy, vocal-centric songs such as ‘Operette’ and ‘Go! Lolita’ whereas Saturday’s gig featured more instrumental, neo-classical repertoire. Either works for me and it was great to hear tracks from their newest album ‘Imperial’ alongside older hits such as ‘Rosaria.’ In their performance of ‘We R D.M’ (We are Die Milch) in London, as well as encouraging their audience to participate in the dance moves, they passed the microphone round almost the entire room so everyone could introduce themselves. They skipped this part this time, perhaps due to the sometimes shyer nature of Tokyoites than Londoners.

All in all their set exceeded my already high expectations and I didn’t want it to end. I’m hoping I can catch their January gig, which is on Coco’s birthday I hear, but it’s in Shizouka… Well I have been needing an excuse to visit that area of Japan!


Lapis Light

lapis light

The lights are low and and the silhouette of a beautiful girl walks elegantly to her violin. Lapis Light certainly like their theatrics. It gets brighter and we can see that singer/violinst Rei (零) has certainly won the prize for best hair and make-up of the night. What seems to be her natural hair is complimented by flowing extensions and a gorgeous autumnal leaves head dress. She has impressive false eyelashes and red glitter under her eyes that compliments her red themed outfit.

After a brief tranquil violin solo, the tempo goes up. And stays up. The best way to describe Lapis Light’s sound is heavy metal meets baroque pop meets video game music. On steroids. Seriously, the energy of this band was relentless – almost too much for my taste at times – and so gentler passages with prominent violin and occasional vocal narration were welcome. I really enjoyed how Lapis Light incorporate traditional Japanese imagery and sounds into their visuals and music – from the autumn leaves in their banner and Rei’s kimono inspired outfit to flurries of pentatontic, ‘koto like’ electronic music decorating their music.

Rose Noire

rose noir
First off, these guys get points for playing an electro-industrial version of ‘O Fortuna’ from Carmina Burana to open. That’s something I’ve always wanted to hear and I can think of nothing better to get an audience pumped up.

The red curtains rose to reveal Rose Noire, of which violin duo Jill and Louie, who may or may not be siblings, are the core members. On Saturday they were joined by bassist tAk and a drummer whose name may be Ebisumaru. Or not. Come back to me in a few years when I’m fluent in Japanese.

Louie does electric violin and lead vocals while Jill plays acoustic violin. I’ve never seen this kind of combination before but it works, chiefly due to Jill’s impressively strong tone on the violin. She was one of the best instrumentalists of the night; her playing really sung and she spun and moved across the stage in a way that had lots of personality but was not overdone.

A few songs into their violin-centric brand of melodic gothic rock, there was a bit of a surprise when Louie started singing counter-tenor. Yes, you heard me right, counter-tenor. At a visual kei concert. A pretty decent one too, and it worked with the more classical theme in these songs, complete with harpsichord electronics. Seriously, these guys make Emilie Autumn look like an amateur.

12295196_10153271102967916_1116017996_oBassist tAk had a wonderfully quirky stage presence. You can’t really see it in this photo because his face is covered by the mic stand but his make-up genuinely scared me and he was doing this creepy eye thing to a fangirl at the front who was loving it. At one point he stacked it over the monitors. Even though this cracked the gothic veneer somewhat, he recovered really well which made me warm to him even more. As he smiled apologetically, revealing his teeth for the first time, I heard my boyfriend murmur, “So he’s not scary really…” He gave the cutest little awkward wave when he went off stage, next to Jill and Louie’s flamboyant bows.

Rose Noire seems to have very dedicated fans who rightly demanded an encore. The night finished with their hit FEED, a wonderfully crafted track which favours both Jill’s violin and Louie’s vocals and really shows this genre at its finest. I really recommend listening as an introduction to the band, the yearning violin line will charm its way into your dreams.

A friend who is a fan of old school visual kei said he wanted to go to a visual kei gig when he visits me in Tokyo next year, but expressed concerns that the scene was either dead or the fans were entirely fourteen year-old girls. I’m no visual kei expert, but this afternoon of excellent music and spectacular outfits showed me that the scene is very much alive, even if it has changed markedly from its original form. I was impressed by the age range at the concert actually; there seemed to be a mix of people from about 18 to fans in their fifties, some in gothic, Lolita or visual-kei style outfits but also a fair few in ‘civilian’ dress.

For a visual kei virgin like myself, the event was a sensory overload in the best possible way. I’ve never known a non-classical gig to start at 4.30, but I guess if it’s going to be four hours long I can see the wisdom in it. I definitely needed a lie down afterwards, thanks to such intense music and brightly coloured outfits as well as being on my feet for so long (granny alert). Looking forward to having my mind blown again, bring on the next one!