Simply put, X Japan
are the most influential Asian band of all time. Their impact is difficult to describe. They completely changed the face of Eastern popular music
- almost in the way that The Beatles
and The Rolling Stones
changed Western music.
Before X showed up in the mid 1980s, Japanese music was dominated by Enka stars and insipid pop idols. Any forays into rock were usually considered too risque for mass exposure. Well-established American acts dominated the stadiums. Japanese music was very safe. Tame.
Enter five teenage guys with huge hair:
, the brains of X and its principal songwriter
, as well as the drummer and pianist;
, the lead guitarist, secondary songwriter, and outrageous personality;
, slightly demure guitarist and chief drunk
, bassist and occasional songwriter;
, a rather ordinary guy with a set of pipes that could break windows. In a good way
Yoshiki and Toshi were childhood friends, and moved to Tokyo to begin X Japan (then called simply 'X') in the early 1980s. hide joined in 1986, along with Taiji and Pata, completing the lineup. Thus began a career of terrorizing news crews and playing raucous ramen noodle houses. No one would sign X; there was supposedly no market for them or their 'visual kei' look (broomstick hair, dresses, fishnets, feather boas, and the like). Finally, a determined Yoshiki created an independent record label, Extasy Records, and Vanishing Vision was leashed upon the unsuspecting public.
X's sound has been described in many different ways, among them speed metal, glam, classic rock, classical rock, experimental rock, and, sadly, hair metal. What made the band's sound unique were the classical influences of Yoshiki, present in almost every song - a Beethoven melody here, a Bach riff there. Combined with the double-soloing of hide and Pata, X Japan achieved a kind of symphonic guitar sound that managed to be both heavy and beautiful.
Its appeal become apparent when Vanishing Vision crept up the Oricon charts - the first indepedent Japanese album to do so. Sony soon snapped them up and put out Blue Blood.
A short discography, not including best-of compilations or live albums:
, 1988, on Extasy Records
, 1989, on CBS/Sony Records
, 1991, on Sony Records
Art of Life
, 1993, on East/West Japan
, 1996, on East/West Japan
Taiji played bass until 1992, when he and Yoshiki began to have disputes over songwriting style. After a full-blown fistfight
, Yoshiki kicked Taiji out of the band. He was replaced by Heath
, a quietly pretty but very talented bassist with a knack for industrial sounds.
X defied all Asian music standards. They were the first Japanese band to play the Tokyo Dome, the first band to ever sell a million copies of an album in a day, the first band to stretch the limits of what was accepted, both onstage and offstage (hide's omnisexual antics being the subject of much amusement). Extasy Records began to sign other bands that later become the most popular in the country - the label is responsible for everyone from Luna Sea to Glay. And X's style, visual kei, became its own category of musical entertainment.
The tragedy seemed to be prewritten, however, almost like the screenplay for a film. The band split in 1997, when Toshi decided to quit for complex reasons. Yoshiki refused to replace him, and X Japan held their Last Live at the Tokyo Dome on December 31, 1997. The fallout of Toshi's decision left his and Yoshiki's lifelong relationship in shambles.
Yoshiki fell back on his guitarist - he and hide planned to recreate X, to keep the song going. But on May 2, 1998, hide was found in his room, having killed himself by hanging.
Yoshiki retired to his home in Los Angeles, blaming himself for everything that had happened. After not doing any interviews for a full year, he finally returned to play a classical piece of music for the Emperor of Japan in November 1999. Yoshiki still writes, performs, and produces many artists.
On February 24, 2004, Tofu Records released X Japan to the American public for the first time in a CD/DVD set containing their most popular songs and music videos from the pre-Dahlia era.
In the summer of 2007, ten years after their breakup, Yoshiki announced X Japan's reunion. He and Toshi had reconciled over a song ('Without You') about the death of hide, and after debating the subject with himself at length, Yoshiki wrote a new song for X that would debut as the closing theme for Twisted Pictures' Saw IV.
The newly formed X shot a promotional video for the song, I.V., in Aqua City on October 22, 2007. The stage setup included a shrine to the late hide, with one of his signature guitars, a mic stand, and a candle sitting in his traditional place onstage.
"I sing for the song still carries on." -X Japan, Longing