Tuesday, December 13, 2005

The guitarist and the singer of Increal in their daily outfit (but with sunglasses to hide their make up)

Individual group behaviour

Like with most events I write about, this took place about a month ago now.
On a monday evening, there was a free Visual Kei concert in a small 'live house' called Cyber in Ikebukuro, close to where I live. First, let me explain a bit about Visual Kei. It's a music genre, but what is most apparent and at least as important as the music is the appearence of the artists and the audience (hence 'Visual' Kei). Depending on the sub-genre, they wear black dresses, ravelled clothes, colourful outfits or Victorian dresses. Colourfull hairdo's, nails, contact lenses, hats, bags etc. are all indispensible to make the image perfect. Not surprisingly, Visual Kei is especially populair among girls, but quite may guys also indulge in this vanitas. The music-genre comprises everything reaching from punk to metal to hard-rock, as long as there's guitars in it and lots of distortion. For me, this music evokes an image of big guys in shabby black clothes moshing their way through the audience whenever there is the occasion to build a pit (for everyone who can't follow me: in Holland the audience tends to act quite rough at such concerts). How different from the people who listen to the Japanese Visual Kei. The audience at Cyber consisted mostly of high-school girls wearing nice, cute clothes (even though black is the dominating colour) and all danced in perfect unison. While at 'western' hard-rock concerts everyone just jumps and slams around, here they have certain movements that everybody does at the same time, even including a gesture that symbolises a blooming cherryblossomflower. This movement is used instead of applauding to show respect at the end of a song. They also have headbanging, but also this is performed perfectly synchronicly. Apparently, the songs of famous artists have a certain order of movements related to it so that everybody knows what to do. In the case of unknown artists, the fans just have to improvise, leading to uncertain looks around but a more spontanious result. Also at the concert I went to only relatively unknown artists played, but they still succeeded in gathering quite a crowd (maybe about 100 people). I was taken there by a girl from Singapore who lives at the same dorm and who's totally crazy about Visual Kei. She goes to a concert maybe at least once a week, and since it was for free anyway, I decided to go with her to Cyber. She wanted to go there because Increal, one of her favourite bands played there (even though they're still unkown in Japan). After the concert, we talked to them and took some pictures. Check the link if you want to see what they look like during the concert (yes, I finally have links!).
Because I was interested in this Visual Kei, I also did a 'project' about it for Japanese class. We had to interview people about a certain topic, so I choose Visual Kei. First of all, I asked to people who are into Visual Kei why they liked that music and those clothes. Further on, I asked if it also influenced their life in any other way. Interestingly, of the five people I interviewed (I know it's not sufficient to draw conclusions, but I do anyway) the three high-school girls gave similar answers. They liked Visual Kei because the clothes are cute and because they want to be different from the others. For the rest, Visual Kei didn't have any influence on their lives, except that they got more friends. They also liked 'normal' clothes, as long as it's cute and looks good on the person wearing them. Two guys who where a few years older than the girls had a more elaborate opinion. They saw Visual Kei as something quite different from the 'normal' society. The influence of Visual Kei was also apparent in the fact that they can't get a job with long hair, that other people make fun of them when they walk through Tokyo in those clothes and one guy acknowledged how the dark athmosphere of Visual Kei also influenced his own thoughts and feelings. However, they didn't dislike 'normal' people or clothes - everyone should wear what he feels comfortable in.
I also interviewd people who weren't really into Visual Kei (average Waseda students). To my surprise, they were overall quite tolerant towards such different clothing styles. Some also said that it's better (more interesting) to be different from the rest, but others didn't like it if someone stands out and is too different. I think this last opinion is actually still dominant in Japan. It's better to be the same as the rest and not stand out too much (there's even a saying that translates like: the protruding nail gets hammered down). Ironically, even during the concerts this Japanese group-spirit is visible in the synchronised, identical movements.
So among Waseda students, there are also people who appreciate individuality and think that 'different' people are interesting. On the other hand, even within Visual Kei, group-spirit is still evident during concerts. But I must say, that makes those concerts into quite a special experience. I can't wait until January 7, when I go to a big one!