Last week Hoshiko-san told us the story how he came to coin the term “Visual kei”. He also shared his mid-life crisis which resulted in him creating the magazine SHOXX. This week we’ll dig deeper into this topic and explore the impact that SHOXX has produced, as well as how big of an impact hide (X Japan) had on Hoshiko-san’s life.
At the beginning, how did you envision SHOXX changing the visual rock scene?
I always dreamt of creating a new genre that never existed before in the Japanese music industry—in one way or another. I wanted to start a scene that only existed in Japan only.
The following year after SHOXX was launched, I remember writing on the New Year postal card “I will create a new rock scene in Japan!”. It was terrifying since this would basically mean I have committed myself to this goal with all the receivers as witnesses. Once you have it written down on a physical object and sent it, the note will remain, and you won’t be able to erase what you’ve written. It took me so much courage to put it in the mailbox. But this was also a way for me to prevent myself from running away from reality.
Before the time where you devoted yourself to visual kei, wasn’t there any original Japanese rock scene?
Well… See, there might have been one. As half of my career was devoted to American rock, and rock outside of Japan, I really had no idea of the domestic Japanese rock industry. And also, I just didn’t have any interest in that scene back then.
I was a little over the top when I worked for the overseas bands. I acted like everything overseas is cool, like Japan’s stuff is boring and uninteresting. That was a crazy and very immature mindset of mine, but I was really young back then—both physically and mentally. Because of that, back in those days, I went to shows in New York, L.A., London, etc., all just to interview overseas performers. However, all this turned 180 degrees once I met X Japan. I felt I had to bet all my life on this! I’m not saying this happened at the very moment I met X Japan, but gradually, I started to feel that I wanted to devote my career to the scene now-known-as “Visual kei”, and if it fails, my life would proceed with a very boring ending. On the bright side, though, if this would succeed, it would be the opposite. I would be able to continue a very enjoyable and confident life with something I could devote my life to!
I already decided my career would never end with being a salesman, I was going to create my own path. By the end of it, I wanted to put in all my effort and give my best to something that has never been done before. That is why, after working as an editor-in-chief at SHOXX for 10 years, I resigned and started a new company.
It took me quite some time before I decided to resign actually. Everybody around me—including my co-workers—were telling me to not quit, but in the end, I bowed to the company [to show my respect] and followed my own path. The rest of my life would be determined by this new company.
When did you feel it was the right time to turn over a new leaf and devote yourself to a new company?
Well, I had a few reasons. First, when hide passed away in 1998, only two years later I started Starchild Inc. His passing had a very shocking impact on me. I had a personal connection with hide and worked with him in the past as the man in charge of his first photo magazine, “Mugon geki”, back in 1992.
I got him to let me take his photos when I talked to him in a bar saying, “I want to make a photo magazine for you”, and he was genuinely surprised to hear that! I kept telling him, “I know you have a talent no one else can compete with, that’s why I need to do your photo magazine shoot!”. About a week later, he called me asking if that was a serious offer, which I answered “Yes”, with him responding that we should meet up. This put hide and me in a bar, drinking for three days straight to pop out new ideas while another staff member was documenting all the ideas we spurted out. Once we had gathered all the ideas, we created a draft, and that’s how we constructed his first solo photo magazine.
As for the name of the photo magazine, I suggested the title “Mugon geki” (無言劇, “Mugon” as in “silent”, “geki” referring to a theatrical play) but hide pointed out that it was too normal and unoriginal, thus we changed it to “Mugon geki” (無言激, similar phonetic sound but here “geki” refers to something of a violent or fierce nature).
I was an editor-in-chief of another large photo magazine called “Creation”, which coincidentally published its first magazine right after hide passed away. Before his passing, he did a shoot with this magazine, and it became his last photoshoot, the last photos of hide. Also, while we were shooting, hide had a really specific image in mind for the front cover. I followed his lead and made it so.
I have so many personal stories and memories of hide and our time spent together in my heart. Although he is gone, I never worry about running out of them.
It seems like hide was a big part of your life?
Yes. His passing really felt like an ending of an era. I was really depressed at first, causing endless days with me and my own thoughts… I felt like if I kept doing the same thing over and over, what would happen to me? Since I owed a lot to hide, I started thinking “I have to be the one to save this music scene”. hide’s passing really felt like the end of visual kei was about to come. From that point, I wanted to save the visual kei scene. A year later, after hide’s passing, 1999, there were even articles that said “Visual is over”.
Some of us from the team are children of the 90’s, and we remember how popular visual rock was in Japan during the 90’s. Though, once we got into elementary school, almost nothing of it remained on mainstream TV.
That was the problem. I felt like it was the end of visual kei, especially since I had put all my life and effort into it. I thought, “I can’t believe I spent eight to nine years in my career, and this is how it is going to end?”. I became angry at myself for not being able to make this genre a success. I was the person responsible for keeping this genre safe and sound. It was as if I was “Hoshiko, head in charge of the visual genre” in name only.
It caused me to start over again. SHOXX, which has been up and running for 10 years, I untied myself from it and started from zero in hopes I could rebuild the visual kei scene again. Hoping people would think that the visual genre is not just a fad, but a real generation. So I wanted to do my best in every way possible.
So a bit earlier we talked about you moving on, away from SHOXX, was your next target to do live performance coordination?
That was not really the case. Even during my time at SHOXX, the live event “SHOCK WAVE” had already taken off, although the company wasn’t impressed with the outcome, so I had to work on organizing bands for the show secretly. In my mind, a music scene wouldn’t be sustainable without great live performances. Thus, I tried my best to share those performances with the rest of the world with my words on paper, as well as digitally on the internet.
At the time, there was also a site called “iMODE”—which came out around the year ’99, and I felt that this would succeed. I wanted in, and thus, I gave it a try! The model was based on me providing the readers with information, in return, they would pay a monthly fee. It sounds reasonable in the modern era, right? But back then, this was a completely new thing for people to experience, for them being able to receive news instantly on their handheld devices. So in Autumn 2000, I created a mobile website called “POKE SHOCK” in my current company. I was still a bit ahead of my time, because of that, it took quite some time before people started understanding this model, but after a while, it took off quite nicely.
Around the same time, I was also a host of a TV program on Saitama TV which only covered bands from the visual scene. I just happened to get the offer one day, that’s how I ended up being a TV host for a while. Though I had a few requirements before I actually accepted the offer, I told them:
I should be able to make it all about bands from the visual scene, and I get to decide which band comes on to play live. If those requirements are fulfilled, I will do it. Also, if I am forced to make changes to the show with the reason being financially tied, I will not do it. You will need to provide the creative freedom I need for me to do it.
It was fun doing whatever I wanted for 10 years.
You have really done a lot for the visual kei scene and were responsible for the visual kei festival “stylish wave”, however, are you still the person in charge of which bands get to perform at the event?
Yes, normally it is me who decides on that. I invite bands that I wish and want to grow bigger in the future. There were and are times when the staff comes with their demo for me to have a listen. These days, however, we are able to simply find all the bands on the Internet. My instincts already tell me which bands have potential to become big as I’ve been in this industry such a long time, including the days when I covered rock outside Japan.
The combination of my database in my head and my judgment of the band’s stage performance, sound, background information, and the reactions of the audience, I am able to judge the band’s potential with almost 100% accuracy. I’ve achieved this by evaluating past experiences and I continue to observe the growth of bands simply by watching them live. If the band exceeded my expectations, or if the band didn’t, I will adjust the information in my head to reflect reality. I would ask myself “What was wrong with my calculations to begin with? Is it because of a new generation of bands?”, and so on. I change the data I have in my head with this process.
That’s impressive! You’re basically improving observation and judgment skills every day then?
Rather than “improving”, it’s more like patching up the flaws. But basically, yes. I have felt like it’s my duty to keep improving my senses, to be able to create a new scene in this industry. For me to improve myself is quite a difficult thing to do. It’s almost like a tough battle between me and myself.
I had a very fond experience at stylish wave in 2013. One of the first band I fell in love with got the opportunity to perform at stylish wave, I remember how surprised I was seeing how far they’ve come! Being a fan, it really felt like the band you’ve been cheering for finally broke into the music scene.
For actually planning the stylish wave, I personally always make sure my ideas are executed the way they’re intended. We discuss everything from how we should print the event flyers, to how things should be promoted on the website. Promotion plays a very important role when it comes to making this event a success. Usually, our discussions go way beyond and end up leaking into the plans for the next year.
I want to thank everyone who made stylish wave possible. It has been around since 2000! We’re also really careful when choosing which bands are given the opportunity to perform. We’re not doing this because of money and sales, but the bonds we create. Sometimes I find myself giving pieces of advice to bands who I see potential in, small changes, but enough to create a significant impact on their career. However, I don’t do this by simply observing a band, I ask the band members where they see themselves in one year, proceeding by suggesting a path. As an example, I would tell them “In order for your dream to come true, what if we do something like this?”.
That means, a band who you see potential in must have a dream or at least a goal they want to achieve in a year?
Indeed. Bands will not succeed if they can’t even set a goal for themselves, right? Bands with silly goals such as “I want to be swarmed by girls”, these bands are most likely to fail without me having to tell you that. By just talking to a band, you can get a sense if the band is serious about breaking into the industry, or if the band is shallow and simply want to become popular.
The bands that came out during the 90’s had their own maverick-kind of music style. LUNA SEA, L’arc~en~ciel, GLAY, Kuroyume… You know, it’s different. It’s one of a kind. Shortly after, bands like PENICILLIN, Plastic Tree, PIERROT, GACKT, SID, and for sure, MUCC, and the GazettE started to come out as well. Although there were a lot of bands that came out, you knew that they were all very different in a good way and had their own music.
The thing that worried me was how bands started to share the same style, many bands didn’t have their distinctive style. Their sound and visuals, no originality at all. This becomes a huge problem when fans are getting tired of listening and watching the same old performance, over and over. I find this to be one of the scariest things in regards to the visual scene. Although, we’ve seen bands who are not unique in any way, still able to break into the music industry strong and gain popularity. This itself is scary, as I can’t stop imagining if there will be a lot more bands in the future who won’t be unique in any way, but still popular.
I’ve told this to bands I found interesting:
Trends follow a similar pattern to a pendulum’s swing. Running after the pendulum’s bob (the current trend) will always keep you lagging behind, but being at the opposite side of it, that will allow you to be where the bob is—at the right moment.
Being a one-of-a-kind band gives you these opportunities, but being a band that runs after the pendulum’s bob without a breath of break, they will continue for as long as they live without succeeding. Trust me, I’ve seen so many bands that ran after the latest trend who now are gone from the industry.
We do however see the visual industry naturally follow a trend. There are even fans wondering what the next major turn of events will be for visual kei. As a final question, what are your thoughts on that?
There is no way of knowing which way the pendulum’s bob will swing. It might go straight, but just at the moment you think that’s the case, it goes the opposite way, right back to where it began. It might even curve, who knows? It’s hard to tell which way it will go, even I don’t know! But I know for a fact that we [the bands] should never mindlessly follow the pendulum’s bob as a guide, the only way to stand out and to be unique, is to go the opposite way.
Hoshiko-san ended the interview with some very wise words many of us will most likely find relatable in many aspects of our lives. We hope you enjoyed our talk with “Visual Kei Oyaji” and if you did, make sure to let us know by dropping a comment below!