There are always a handful of band names on a festival lineup that you recognize, but don’t quite know enough about. Sometimes it’s a genre that’s unfamiliar. Other times it’s an act that’s from far away. Sometimes you flat out haven’t heard of ’em. But, whether you’re deciding to buy that ticket off of Craigslist or you’re just planning out your schedule, time is running out to do that research on those head-scratchers. (If you forgot, Lollapalooza starts Friday!) Thankfully, and as always, we’re here to help.
Discover: X Japan
X Japan, originally just known as X, are from the Chiba prefecture of Japan. Their involvement in Lollapalooza confirms that it’s not just American bands that are hopping on this reunion bandwagon. They’re not the Japanese version of Pavement or anything, but they did break up in 1997 after a15 year career, reuniting in 2007. But, hey, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Way back in 1982, vocalist Toshimitsu “Toshi” Deyama and drummer Yoshiki Hayashi met in high school and decided they wanted to start a band. They enlisted two guitarists and a drummer, and worked on their interpretation of speed metal, producing big, powerful, hair-ish 80’s rock with its requisite splashes of emotional balladry. Their debut single, “I’ll Kill You”, was released on Dada Records in 1985, garnering some attention in their homeland.
But, the element of their style that gained the most attention might have been their hair. One of, if not the first practitioners of the “visual kei” movement, X Japan’s band members wore giant, sculptural hair, dramatic, costume-y clothing, and androgynous looks. In a sense, it was a sort of Japanese method of combining hair metal and glam rock into one aesthetic.
After appearing on a couple of compilation records, Hayashi started an independent label, Extasy Records, to release the band’s debut album, Vanishing Vision, in 1988. Around that point, guitarists Tomoaki “Pata” Ishizuka, Hideto “Hide” Matsumoto, and bassist Taiji Sawada joined the band to complete its first solid lineup.
1989’s Blue Blood, released on CBS, raised the band’s visibility due to a handful of successful singles, most notably “Endless Rain”, a big, 80’s power ballad. Their next album, Jealousy, was recorded in Los Angeles, and got the band their first gig in the Tokyo Dome, at the time Japan’s largest indoor venue.
This growing success, though, led to a necessary name change. There was already an X in the United States, the seminal LA punk band. So, if the Japanese X wanted to gain attention in North America, they needed to distinguish themselves by adding their national title to their name. The change in the name also included a change in the music. The metal became more and more progressive, including 1993’s single-track, 29-minute-long album, Art of Life.
Four years later, the group dissolved after Deyama decided to leave the band. Rumors swirled that he’d joined a cult that wouldn’t allow his musical outlet to continue, but he’s argued against that interpretation. After a New Year’s Eve show at Tokyo Dome, the group’s fifth such performance in a row, they began their separate careers. Hide released solo alt-rock, Deyama made some acoustic material, Ishizuka and Matsumoto formed Dope Headz, and Hayashi worked with Queen drummer Roger Taylor. Not long later, Hide committed suicide.
In 2007, Deyama announced an X Japan reunion on his Web site, with all living members contributing. They announced a tour, released a single, appeared on the Saw IV soundtrack. Live performances featured a rotating cast of guitarists filling in for the late Hide, including Wes Borland (Limp Bizkit, Black Light Burns), Richard Fortus (Guns ‘N Roses), and Sugizo (Luna Sea). As time passed, they began touring outside of Japan, into other parts of Asia, largely.
A recent announcement declared that the band had moved to L.A., with a housewarming show of sorts at Club Nokia in early July, their first U.S. show in over 10 years. However, they’re expecting quite a public assembly this week at Lollapalooza, which will likely be their proper U.S. debut. To add more excitement, there’s also a sixth studio album set for release this fall.
X Japan perform 4 p.m. Sunday, August 8th at the Parkways Stage.
Perry Farrell Interviews Yoshiki Hayashi