Feat of Glay
The leading lights of Japan's 'visual kei' music culture are performing for their Hong Kong fans for the first time, writes Lee Wing-sze
JAPANESE POP-ROCKERS Glay will be fulfilling a promise they made to their Hong Kong fans 12 years ago when they perform their first show in the city at AsiaWorld-Arena on May 25.
One of Asia’s most influential bands, Glay are undertaking their first tour of the region, which includes a stop in Taipei.
Their local fans last saw them in 2001 when they made their first public appearance in the city for a press conference, but they’ve never appeared on stage in Hong Kong.
“At that time, we went to Hong Kong to hold the press conference to greet people and invite Hong Kong actor Nicholas Tse to Japan,” vocalist Teru says in an interview before the Hong Kong show.
“At the conference we promised we would come back to play our music and then we left Hong Kong. Since then, although we had long planned to come back for a concert, it was hard to find an opportunity and 12 long years have passed. But, finally, we have a chance to fulfil our promise.”
The debut Asia tour comes soon after the release of their first double album, Guilty and Justice, in January this year.
While Guilty, produced by their long-time music partner Masahide Sakuma, is a collection of their signature pop-rock tracks in the same vein as debut album Speed Pop, Justice is a product of the band’s desire to make a progressive-rock album. “Just like the name of our band, it’s neither ‘white’ [pop] nor ‘black’ [rock].
These two albums are the perfect way to reveal the spirit of the band,” guitarist Takuro says during the same interview.
Takuro was referring to how the band were named after a deliberate mis-spelling of the colour grey. The band was formed by vocalist Teruhiko Kobashi and guitarist Takuro Kubo in 1988 while they were in high school. They were later joined by guitarist Hisashi Tonomura and started to gain popularity by playing underground gigs in their hometown.
In 1989, they decided to further develop their career in Tokyo, but didn’t find success instantly. As new kids in the underground Tokyo music scene, their concerts were initially poorly attended. To get themselves known and draw more people to their gigs, they promoted themselves by handing out flyers on the streets and giving out demo tapes. During this period, the band brought on board bassist Yoshihito Wayama – aka Jiro – to finalise the line-up.
In 1993, X Japan leader Yoshiki Hayashi caught one of their shows and signed them to his label Extasy Records. A year later, they released debut single Rain and gradually expanded their fan base in Tokyo. Third album Beat Out! from 1996 was their big breakthrough, earning them their first No 1hit in Japan. They further established themselves with Beloved, which sold over a million copies in Japan.
The band grew stronger with hits such as Yuuwaku (Temptation) and Winter, and the million-selling albums Pure Soul and Heavy Gauge in the late 1990s.
In addition to their regular national tours, the band would also occasionally host the Glay Expo, a flamboyant event staged in venues that can accommodate more than 100,000 people. The debut event, Glay Expo ‘99 Survival, held in Chiba prefecture, was attended by a total of 200,000 people. The next such event, Glay Expo 2001 Global Communication, attracted more than 280,000 fans from Japan and abroad.
To mark their 25th anniversary, the band will hold an expo next year in Tohoku, the northeastern area devastated by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. “We are thinking that the Tohoku area’s reconstruction is the first priority for Japan’s future. We also have many fans living in the area. So we have planned the Glay Expo to help Tohoku people, if only a little, by gathering people from all over the country to encourage them, and by performing to them,” says Takuro, adding that his countrymen appreciated the support from Hong Kong and mainland China after the earthquake disaster.
Alongside X Japan and Luna Sea, Glay are one of the most prominent bands from the “visual kei” genre, an original Japanese music culture which first emerged in the ‘80s and is characterised by heavy make-up, dramatic costumes and outrageous hairstyles. It hit its peak in the ‘90s and has now evolved into a range of styles, influencing not just metal but also popular music.
“In recent years, the so-called neo visual kei has become popular with its popbased music and concerts. Some visual kei bands play metal-derived hard and heavy rock, but the oldstyle bands are relatively unpopular these days. The original visual kei bands influenced a range of younger artists who have now become popular by offering their own interpretation of the music,” Takuro says. “I’m proud that we were able to open up new possibilities in the Japanese entertainment industry and make a difference to our music culture. And I think this came about because music fans expect things to evolve all the time.”
In 2010, the band launched their own record label, Loversoul Music & Associates.
Takuro says this enables them to control every element of production, from budgets to planning and promotion. “It has also made communicating with our fans easier and clearer than before. We can properly get to know what kind of sound our fans want, and we can let them know what kind of sounds we want to make,” Takuro says.
They also produced the new album Justice on their own. It was their first time without long-term producer Sakuma. “Still, I think we felt unconstrained and were able to record without feeling much pressure,” says Takuro. “The biggest difference was that we acted like a guitar band and didn’t really think about keyboards or piano sounds. Although it was not the first time we did this kind of production, it was the first time in years. We also had the opportunity to meet new engineers and work with them during the recording process and gain a fresh perspective.”
During the Hong Kong concert, besides their hits and ballads, the band will also perform a list of special requests posted on Teru’s personal Weibo (China’s answer to Twitter) by Hong Kong fans.
“We are truly grateful to our fans from Hong Kong who have always wanted to meet us. It is your passion that is bringing us to Hong Kong and we would like to express our greatest gratitude and love from the stage,” says Teru.