Wednesday, December 9, 2015


I want to preface this with a few things. First of all, this is my first time writing anything in depth since I was still in school, about 15 years ago, and its terrifying. Secondly, there are people out there that could write an encyclopedia on X-Japan, and I am not one of them. There is so much information out there about them, and so much documentation of every little thing that they did, from every song at every gig ever played, to the exact guitar Hide or Pata used at each gig and so much more. Anything that I could write will not be as thorough as others could write, but I hope to touch on a few things that many of these X-fanatics tend to overlook. Not because of their lack of knowledge about the band, but because most of them don't come from a hardcore punk background. There are a few other punks in America that have been into this stuff way longer than me, have much more impressive collections, knowledge of bands, and general knowledge of the whole scene. I'm not claiming to be a pro on any of this. Just a fan wanting to share some of the reasons all this stuff became so interesting to me. I think its actually amazing music and would hope to turn a few people on to listening to X and some similar bands. People like Thomas, Caiazzo, Tommy and many more were jamming this stuff way before I ever took the time to look into it, and I just wanted to give respect where its due.

A quick biography of the band...Drummer and founder Yoshiki started playing music at a very young age. He was a classically trained piano player and began music theory lessons at the age of four. After discovering Kiss and other American hard rock bands, he decided to switch to drums. His father committed suicide, something that he witnessed, and he stated that event in his life lead him to want to play fast and aggressive music, which fueled many records to come. He started his first band, Dynamite, in 1977 alongside future X singer Toshi. Dynamite would eventually change its name to Noise, and finally break up in 1982. That same year, Yoshiki and Toshi started X. They released two singles, 1985's "I'll Kill You", and 1986's "Orgasm".The latter is considered by many as one of the best Japanese metal records ever. After many inconsistent lineups, with the only stable members being Toshi and Yoshiki, they finally solidified the full band in 1987 with Toshi on vocals, Yohsiki on drums, Pata on guitar, Hide on guitar, and Taiji on bass. This lineup would begin to play out regularly, selling out many of Japan's larger live houses. This "indies era" is considered the best X era by many fans. The gigs were raw, energetic and they quickly became one of the biggest bands in Japan's underground scene. In August of '87, at a gig at the Kyoto Sports Valley (my favorite X show ever, the whole thing is on YouTube, go watch it now), they released their first VHS, a format that the band would continue to use throughout their career, and something that helped their sales immensely between album releases. 

A year later, in 1988, they would self-release their first full length album, Vanishing Vision, on drummer Yoshiki's own label, Extasy Records. The first press of 10,000 sold out within a week, and over time they would sell close to a million copies. A year later they signed to CBS/Sony and released their second album, Blue Blood. With the release of this record, they became one of the biggest bands in Japan, selling out massive venues and becoming huge celebrities in their country. They would release three more studio albums, a handful of VHS, and many CD singles before their initial break-up in 1997. The band sold out the 55,000 capacity Tokyo Dome eighteen times, making them one of the few acts to ever sell it out, alongside the Rolling Stones and Michael Jackson. After their 1997 split, they would take a ten year hiatus and reform in 2008, with Pata, Toshi and Yoshiki being the only members from the early days. A world tour and several international gigs would follow. The band is now planning to release its first studio album since 1996's Dahlia on March 12 of 2016, along with a massive gig at London's Wembley Stadium.

Not being Japanese, I can never fully understand the love (or hate) that millions of people have for this band. They were the biggest rock band in Asia for over a decade, and continue to play giant international shows, including recently selling out Madison Square Garden, a show that I was fortunate enough to attend. It's insane to me that a band can become so big, and so famous somewhere in the world, and be virtually unknown elsewhere. Everyone in the world knows Green Day, but ask anyone in the USA who X-Japan is and 9.9 times out 10 they will have no idea who you're talking about. Their fame in Japan is like something you would see in a movie. I recently saw a video of Yoshiki talking about how much he likes living in LA part time, because when he's in Japan he can't go into public without being mobbed by people. In the same interview he said he was talking with his friend, David Bowie, about how he deals with this and how hard it is. When they were recording their fourth album, The Art of Life, Yoshiki really wanted to record in a studio called One on One in Hollywood. He was told that the studio had the best drum sound in the world. This other band called Metallica had the studio booked for almost a year straight to record The Black Album and Yoshiki was pretty much laughed at for wanting to record there, being an unknown foreign artist in America. So he turned around and bought the studio and they recorded The Art of Life there. They were that kind of famous.

I first heard them when I was in high school. A friend of mine had a DVD of theirs and all we could talk about while we watched it was how big their hair was. I don't even remember what the songs were, or if I even liked what I heard. It's kind of a blur. I remember there being a piano, lots of blood, roses, and I was just shocked by how they looked (fitting considering their slogan, "Crime of Visual Shock"). For a few years, I had the name burned into my head, but never really gave them a listening chance. It wasn't until I went to Japan for the first time that I really started paying attention. My first trip there I was surprised that so many people I met listened to this band. And it seemed like everyone's house I went to had stacks of VHS, books, CD's, etc. I began looking into them and realized that the music really clicked with me. It was completely different than anything I was into at the time, but as soon as Blue Blood kicked in on my first listen, I was hooked. Right around the time I got back from that first trip, Thomas had just released a new issue of Evil Minded Zine with the whole issue dedicated to visual kei and Japanese metal. This became my bible for a bit. The whole world was new to me, and having accessible information via his zine really opened up the door for me to find some of the music that has become my favorite ever. I owe him a big thanks for that.

Something that really caught my attention in his zine was the mention of a band called L.O.X., which stands for Lip Cream, Orange, X. This was a crazy collision of worlds for me, and suddenly everything started to make sense. L.O.X. (originally called Masami and LOX) was a project band featuring Naoki from Lip Cream/The Comes on guitar, Yoshiki from X-Japan on drums, Act from Orange/S.K.V.(Sakevi of GISM's side project) on bass, and originally Masami from Ghoul on vocals. After Masami ended up in a coma in '89, they released an album entitled Shake Hand with different vocalists on each track. Among these singers were Toshi from X-Japan, Ishiya from Death Side/Forward, Butaman from Tetsu Arrei, and even Naoki from Lip Cream sings a song. There's also a live video with Tokurow from Bastard on vocals! There were a few other vocalists, but we'll keep it at these for the sake of this article. The album was released on CD and LP format and put out on the infamous S.E.X./Sunshine Sherbert label that also gave us the first Tetsu Arrei LP. When I first read this, I knew that I had to start digging deeper. Here was this band, X, that I was becoming obsessed with, and their members shared a project with some of the most legendary Japanese hardcore personnel ever. L.O.X. is kind of surrounded in mystery though. On the album, Yoshiki goes under an alias instead of his real name. Many believe because this was shortly after X had signed with a major label, and he was under contract to not release any material with another label. His face is even blurred out on the band photo. This always confused me though because Toshi is listed on the CD, and his picture is on there as well. Maybe Yoshiki was just being mysterious, or maybe he had some deal with ownership to the X rights that we don't know about it. Either way, the album is a ripper, its pretty easy to find and there's a few YouTube videos out there. There is some video of them performing with Masami very early on, but its hard to find.

Shortly after discovering L.O.X., on a hunt for more information relating X to the punk scene, I noticed that X drummer and founder Yoshiki ran the famous Extasy Records. While most of their releases were of up and coming bands tied to the visual kei scene, looking at the catalog I saw that the second release on the label was Poison's 1986 Mystery Temptation EP. For those that don't know, Poison (later called Poison Arts) was Chelsea's first band before Death Side. If you haven't heard it you need to, and I'd suggest starting with the flexi, this EP on Extasy, or the Kick Rock 12". Also on Extasy Records, in 1990 was an awesome band called Virus. While their music was more thrash metal, their bass player Noboru was in another band called Ogreish Organism, who had a ripping CD in 1993 on the legendary Selfish Records. Chelsea also played guitar on about half the songs on this CD (while the other half of the guitar tracks were done by Zigyaku from Bastard/Gudon). Also in this band was Minoru, bassist of The Comes/Lip Cream and more recently Color Rice Men and Eiefits. As you can see, both the metal and hardcore scenes were very intertwined at times. It makes sense, as some of these original Burning Spirits bands had such amazing guitar work, and definitely had a metallic feel from time to time. Speaking of Chelsea, in January of 1989, he, alongside Ishiya, Butaman, Baki from Gastunk, and a handful of others entered CBS Sony Roppongi Studio in Tokyo to sing back up vocals on X's first major label release, Blue Blood. The album would sell more than 700,000 copies initially, be certified gold, and spend more than 100 weeks in the Japan Oricon Top 100 charts. A year later is when L.O.X. would record their only album. The connection and friendship seemed to last through all the years when X was growing in popularity. Even on their Dahlia LP, which was their final studio album before their initial break up and a complete removal from their thrash/speed metal roots, as well as being certified gold selling more than half a million copies and topping the Japan charts for 15 weeks, they still thank Tetsu Arrei and Death Side on the album.

When I initially started looking for X's connections to punk, it seemed to be mostly through Yoshiki and Extasy Records. Talking with members of some of the original Burning Spirits bands, I learned that he was an old friend of a lot of those guys, and was involved in the punk scene in one way or another. Which makes sense after learning about all the stuff I've mentioned so far. I heard a couple stories about him from some of these older guys. One of which that Yoshiki's infamous hair, half spiked up/half long flowing locks, was just a mere mistake. He was on his way to a punk gig in Tokyo, and he was doing his hair (either on the way or before he left) and didn't have time finish it. He only got halfway through, and that look just stuck with him and became iconic. Its even become the silhouette of his Hello Kitty character, Yoshikitty. But I wondered if he was the only member of X that had connection to the punk scene and if he just invited his friends to sing backups on Blue Blood or where else a connection was made. Then I learned of the origins of Hide.

Although not an original member, Hide quickly became X's biggest celebrity. He joined on second guitar before the recording of their first full length, Vanishing Vision, and ended up being a major force of the band until they initially split in 1997. He also enjoyed more success as a solo artist, both at the same time and after X's split, than any other member. His fame was cut short in 1998 after his death, a questionable suicide or autoerotic asphyxiation gone bad. His death was dubbed the end of Japanese teenage rebellion by the press, and his funeral procession, which can be seen on YouTube, is comparable to something you would've seen for a king or someone of that importance. There were approximately 50,000 people in attendance at his funeral, and nearly 60 were hospitalized and close to 200 were treated on scene for self-inflicted injuries. The scene at the funeral was crazy with young fans literally throwing themselves over the barriers and onto the street, bashing their faces into the pavement as his hearse passed by them. There were also a string of copycat suicides. It was a national phenomenon when he died. It shocked the country and changed the face of pop culture in Japan forever. I'm telling you all this to illustrate just how big his celebrity was. I don't know who to compare him to in American popular music, because I can't think of a single mega-celebrity in America who had that much influence on culture, but also played on records with legends on the same level as Ghoul, Lip Cream and City Indian. 

This band is called Saver Tiger (originally called Saber Tiger and later known as Yokosuka Saver Tiger). This was Hide's first band, formed in 1981. They played a fair amount of live gigs and released an 8" flexi in 1985 (#1 want list item). The next year they contributed two tracks to the Devil Must Be Driven Out By Devil compilation from Hold Up records. The guitar playing on the record, especially the song "Dead Angle", has some serious Burning Spirits feel to it. In my opinion, these are some of the best Hide riffs ever. In 1987, Saver Tiger would break up and Hide would think to stop playing music all together. Shortly after this, Yoshiki asked him to join X and the rest is history. Although he didn't contribute too much songwriting to X's catalog (Yoshiki wrote about 98% of their material, guitar parts, lyrics, composure of songs, etc), a Saver Tiger song he wrote called "Sadistic Emotion" was taken for X, changed to "Sadistic Desire", and became a staple song in their set for almost their entire existence. Not to mention, a fan favorite, and my favorite X song hands down. His solo stuff was more rock than anything. It was experimental and it was the 90's, so almost anything went. He collaborated with numerous famous American musicians, was friends with Marilyn Manson, and lived in LA for a while. There is a retrospect CD of the Saver Tiger stuff, called The Origin of Hide that you should be able to find online rather easily. Side note- (Two other members of Saver Tiger went on to join the band D'erlanger, who are worth a mention. Their demo tape, Birth of the Splendid Beast, is one of my top 3 Japanese metal demos, and their first EP, Girl, is an absolute ripping thrash metal release. They would later change their style to a more goth sound with the release of their first LP, La Vie En Rose and continue to make music through the 2000's.)

I haven't been able to find much on the other X members relating to the punk scene. It may be out there, or it may have just been Hide and Yoshiki. Pata, while an amazing guitarist, really lacked on the solo stuff. And his early bands were nothing of a great mention, at least on the relation to hardcore topic. Taiji was strictly metal, and after leaving X, joined the famous Japanese hair metal band Loudness, who had a bit of commercial success in America at the time. But regardless, X were more than a band. They created a cultural movement that shook the normality of Japanese society that can still be felt to this day. On my last trip to Japan I was able to visit Hide's grave in Yokosuka. It was an intense experience to say the least. Going there to pay homage to a guitar player that has influenced me greatly was powerful enough, and to go there with members of Disclose and Deceiving Society and see how much it meant to them was even more surreal. Something about X really clicked with a certain age group in Japan and those people, no matter what musical path they went down, still love them to this day. If you haven't heard them, take a minute to check out some of their stuff. The early demos and first two EP's are raw and awesome. Classic Japanese metal. The first 2 LP's are flawless in my eyes. The rest is open to conversation, I like it all, but many that I know do not. The first LP, Vanishing Vision, was self-released, and has sold roughly 800,000 copies since its release in 1988. Think about that next time your band is trying to push those 500 EP's you spent your summer working to pay for. We've all been there.

Included are the band's four full-length albums and a compilation of their singles.

- Jakke Sullivan

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