Last month, Youtuber Chris Broad from the channel “Abroad in Japan” gave the world an extensive look into a Japanese rock star’s life, and that rock star was no other than the legendary HYDE—famously known for fronting the bands L’Arc-en-Ciel and VAMPS. The 25-minute long video covered a week with HYDE from an intense concert environment to sitting down in a more casual setting, discuss trivial stuff such as vodka and Nintendo.
It’s not often we are able to enjoy such high-quality content of a Japanese rock star of this caliber, especially a video that is specifically catered to an English speaking audience. As such, we thought it would be interesting to learn more about it, what went on behind the scenes and how this idea got realized.
Abroad in Japan is a YouTube channel run by Chris Broad, originally from the UK but has since a few years ago moved to Japan. His channel offers a variety of videos but mainly focuses on showcasing Japanese culture in various aspects, along with some bizarre things that only Japan has to offer.
If you haven’t yet, we suggest first watching the video “I Spent a Week with Japan’s Biggest Rock Star“.
Can you tell us about how this whole project with HYDE began?
As luck would have it one of HYDE’s managers was a viewer of the Abroad in Japan channel and thought it’d be fun to connect us both. It was a win-win with the idea being that I’d get to meet and interview a real-life Japanese megastar and living legend and viewers from outside Japan would get to discover HYDE, as typically it’s mostly Japanese media that get to spend time with him.
Originally, we started off talking about doing a simple interview, but as we talked it over, we realized we had a chance to do something special—something more than just a standard 20-minute interview in a room.
I was keen to push myself and make an actual mini-documentary, and to dig a bit deeper into HYDE’s story and to my surprise HYDE and his team agreed to go along with it. It was quite the risk given I’d never produced anything like it before, but one that I knew I’d always regret if I didn’t go for it.
Before this project, how much did you know about HYDE?
Funnily enough HYDE was one of the first Japanese artists whose voice I heard when I moved to Japan to teach in 2012. At the time I was studying Japanese ferociously and to try and spice things up I immersed myself in anime after work. And the one show I found myself binging more than any other was ’90s classic GTO “Great Teacher Onizuka”, which kicked off every episode to the iconic soundtrack Driver’s High by L’Arc-en-Ciel. If somebody had told me back then in 2012 that one day I’d get to spend a week with HYDE I think I would have laughed them out of my apartment.
When it comes to Japanese music I tend not to cling to a particular genre, but I’d say my two favorite artists are Blankey Jet City, and the Yoshida Brothers.
Have you been to any Japanese rock shows in the past?
I’d never been to a Japanese rock show before; though I’d seen some artists back in the UK such as Pendulum, The Fratellis, and Jack White (White Stripes). At gigs in the UK there’s often a real sense of chaos in the crowd as everyone’s just going fucking wild, whereas watching HYDE perform and interact with the crowd, he seemed to have a much stronger grip on the audience. There was a sense of control and unison, where everyone was moving in time with one another. It felt like choreographed chaos; though I noticed there seemed to be far more people crowd surfing their way to the front to try and touch HYDE than I’d ever seen at the dozen or so gigs I’d been to back home. HYDE seemed more akin to a cult leader than a rockstar during the performance.
In the video, you and your friend Natsuki played out a little scripted scenario. Although, from our understanding, Natsuki was an actual fan and his reaction meeting HYDE was genuine. How did Natsuki react when he first found out about the project?
When I mentioned to Natsuki that I’d be working with HYDE a few months before we started filming, he hit the bloody roof. He couldn’t believe it and he certainly never dreamed he’d get to meet the man himself.
I have to say, Natsuki’s inclusion really made the whole thing work, by giving it an overarching narrative—his constant hilarious phone calls weren’t technically scripted. He was genuinely pestering me throughout the week for updates on how it was going.
I’d always planned to get him to the concert and to get him a meeting with HYDE. However, he wasn’t aware of that plan; he assumed he was just getting a free ticket to come to the concert. So the moment when Natsuki is in the corridor after the gig and HYDE turns the corner and gives him a high five, as you can probably tell by Natsuki’s explosive expression, that was very much a genuine moment.
Natsuki’s over-excited expression said more than a voiceover from me ever could! Not only that, but his reaction also helped me appreciate and realize just how damn lucky we were to get to spend time with a man who means so much to so many people.
How about you? How did you react when you realized you would be working with HYDE?
Spending a week with HYDE was all rather surreal; I didn’t quite believe it was a thing that was happening until I first walked into the room backstage to meet him for the first time. Before meeting him I’d watched interviews and music videos, and he came off as an intense and intimidating crazy character—like any good rock star should.
But honestly, when I was sitting down face to face with him having a chat, it felt like talking to a calm, down to earth guy who’d lived an extraordinary life.
For me on a personal level though, meeting HYDE and producing a documentary with him was one of the most insanely brilliant experiences in my time as a Youtuber. You see lots of Youtubers get the chance to sit down and interview celebrities for 25 minutes, so to have full access to a legendary figure such as HYDE for an entire week was bloody exciting. I’m incredibly grateful he went along with it and took the risk of giving me so much of his time.
There was also a portion of the video talking about HYDE’s extensive line-up of merchandise. Physical products in Japan seem to be much more prevalent compared to the western market where digital products have been on the rise? From your perspective, why do you think this is the case?
I can’t say I’m an expert on the subject but from what I’ve gathered the two main reasons are firstly, a reluctance amongst the Japanese record labels to move to digital formats, as it means less revenue in the short to mid-term.
Secondly, you find Japanese people have a greater appreciation for physical objects, which I suspect is rooted in Buddhist and Shinto traditions. Go to any second-hand goods store in most countries, and you’ll find the majority of the items are degraded, tatty and torn. Yet in Japan, items from 30 years ago still look almost brand new. That respect for the physical and the sense of ownership that goes along with it, seems to be deeply rooted in Japanese culture.
You asked HYDE if there was a defining moment that made him realize he wanted to become a musician. We wanted to throw the same question over to you. Also, was the viral video about the book “Tadashii Fuck no Tsukaikata” (The Correct Way to Use Fuck) one of the influencing factors?
November 2013 when my second video I ever made called “Living in Japan: Culture Shock” suddenly went viral and got 100,000 views in a day. Until that point I had 1,000 subscribers and about 6 videos with a combined view count of 20,000 (across the whole channel). But after that culture shock video went viral everything changed and the world started to discover the channel. It made me realize this was something I might be able to do for a living one day.
The viral video about the book seven months after that initial viral video certainly took things to the next level!
Do you think we will see HYDE use “Fuck” more from now on during concerts and in his lyrics?
I certainly hope so—although one of the reasons I bought him a copy of the Teaching Swear Words book was so he could diverse his vocabulary a bit more outside of the standard curse words! The possibilities are limitless.
There were two questions that were still unanswered after we finished the video. First off, did Natsuki manage to give his gifts to HYDE? Secondly, did you receive your “L-sized” coffee and potato chips as Natsuki promised?
It’s now 2020 and I’m afraid I’m still waiting on my L-sized coffee and potato chips.
However, I can reveal Natsuki’s gifts were put in HYDE’s gift box. At the front door to the venue fans can put presents and letters to HYDE inside a box. He stuffed them all in there! God only knows if they found their way to HYDE.
Even though the video is an extensive 25-minute coverage, what are some funny and interesting moments that you left out from the video?
It’s a shame really that we had to cut out so much; there was a staggering amount of interviews and footage to chop down—you tend to find on Youtube once you pass 25 minutes you run the risk of viewers bailing or not watching altogether so it’s a fine balancing act.
In one of the interviews I asked HYDE for his favorite English phrases, which he revealed were “kicking ass” and “pain in the ass”. He also regaled the story of how he climbed Mount Fuji and his walking stick gradually shrunk from being 4 foot to 2 foot, as a result of his relentless climbing!
Recently you went back to the UK to celebrate Christmas. There’s actually quite a lot of Japanese concerts and events showing up there these days. But since you’ve been living in Japan for years now, have you felt the effect of Japanese culture becoming more prevalent in the UK at all when visiting?
I think Japan had an inescapable influence on the UK back in the ’90s; I grew up collecting Pokemon cards, playing a Nintendo 64, filming on a Sharp camcorder, editing on a Toshiba laptop and watching my Tamagochi die every week because I forgot to nurture the damn thing.
Since then, Chinese and South Korean products have become more pervasive and stolen some of that thunder. Fortunately, Japan has done a fantastic job promoting itself as a tourist destination in the run-up to the Olympics and this year in particular I’ve found more British friends than any other years have booked flights to come and visit for the first time. With the Rugby world cup last year and the Olympics on the horizon for 2020, it’s an exciting time to be living in Japan and I suspect it’ll remind the world why it’s somewhere everyone needs to visit at least once in their lifetime.
As your YouTube channel has been doing quite well, how often are you able to feel like a rock star?
There are certain places I get spotted more than others; I tend to find it happens the most in Kyoto and Tokyo where about 10-20 people will say hello and strike up a conversation on any given day. I used to find it a bit intimidating and awkward in the first few years, but now I thoroughly enjoy it.
Everyone has a story to tell and you feel like whenever you meet a viewer and have a chat, you unlock a new perspective. It’s difficult to put into words how rewarding it is when a viewer drops me a message saying they visited Japan or moved here to live and work as a result of watching videos on the Abroad in Japan channel. That’s when you know all the time and effort that goes into scripting, filming and editing the videos has been worthwhile.
Since a lot of our readers are actually viewers of yours, would you be interested in covering more music-related topics like these if opportunities show up in the future?
Two words: “Baby Metal“.
Viewers of Abroad in Japan comment daily that I should seek them out for a video, so they’re probably top of my hit list! They’ve cultivated a cult following in the UK and I’d love to dive into why and how they pulled it off, where so many other Japanese artists have struggled to succeed. I think that’s a story that’d be a lot of fun to uncover.
If you guys at JROCK NEWS know them please help make it happen [laughs].
Any parting words you would like to share with our readers?
When I was a teenager I always wanted to be a filmmaker. But I gave up my dream as I realized it was too damn hard and decided to try and do business. I worked waiting tables, sat in a boring office on excel spreadsheets and tried to be an English teacher. Youtube gave me another shot at resurrecting that dream and ultimately led me to HYDE. I was never happy with my life until I went back to the dream I’d thrown away and gave it a second chance.
If there’s something you’ve always wanted to do—a dream you’ve always had—don’t let go of it. Do everything you can to rediscover it and turn it into reality before it’s too late.
And of course, if you haven’t already listened to HYDE’s awesome album anti, definitely check it out!
It was a great pleasure to be able to have Chris Broad here on JROCK NEWS and we hope you found his story just as interesting as we did!