Monday, November 14, 2011

Versailles Philharmonic Quintet

There is a "Visual Kei" (a Japanese term for a type of J-Rock band that is extremely visually interesting) "Symphonic Metal" Band from Japan that puts a whole new meaning to the term "Neo-Victorian"  Well actually more like Neo-Revolutionary Era to be more precise as their stage attire is based on the French court of Louis the 14th, but makes even that look pale by comparison, yet instead of seeming too rococo or overdone, it always seems exactly perfect for the purpose and the wearers that bring it to life! As if that weren't enough, they have a fictional back story as Revolutionary Era French Court Vampires complete with a very detailed and somewhat serious film mini series and an inter-dimensional television comedic series.

Most people that have seen and heard the Versailles Philharmonic Quintet perform know that they are masterful musicians, costume designers, songwriters, singers, and performers, but it goes much deeper that that!  When you see and experience them live, they reach all the way into the hearts and minds of their fans and pour love, affection, excitement, flirtation, passion, and many other things directly into them on a very personal level.  As a result, the fact that most of their lyrics are in Japanese does not appear to be much of an obstacle. 

I have trained in many different esoteric paths and am a teacher of Yogic science, but have never encountered anything like this in the performance arts before.  The band's sway over the hearts and minds of their fans is very powerful indeed, but they use it only to encourage them to be more kind, courteous, and cooperative toward one another, and to enjoy fine art and music wherever they find it. 

This is discussed more often than you would expect as their fans often get so excited and infatuated with the band and it's members that some fan clubs have been known to become rather territorial about who can get close to the band at concerts.    Rather than front row seats, these sought after positions of most venues are often standing locations at the front of the crowd where crowd control rails separate the audience from the stage.  This is because many of these fans are often unable to stay in their seats, so the venues simply remove most chairs in the front of the auditorium and use some sort of numbering system to determine who gets to enter the venue in what order to avoid a stampede.

Unlike most American Bands that achieve this level of stardom and fanatical fan base the members of Versailles don't appear to have fallen into narcissism, intoxication (they do not drink before the show), or taking advantage of their fanatical fans in any way.  They seem to truly love their fans, performance art, the very act of sharing it with others. 

Kamijo, the bands leader, and all of them, come across as intelligent and playful, sometimes even mischievous, but kind hearted, and sensitive souls.  Kamijo has fans that idolize him, fantasize about him, and would do anything for him, but all he seems to want them to do is enjoy the music, and be nice to the other members of the band and to each other.  He is actually often very concerned about fans giving other members of the band the same attention and respect they do him, and with encouraging fans to treat each other in a more respectful and courteous manner.

Even more surprising is the fact that his attention homes in immediately on any major emotional shift in one of the band members, and he seems very connected and concerned about them.  This is certainly not your typical rock band, but that's what some of their fans love about them.

I also, like most people, expected the reports of his charisma and intensity to be exaggerated, but he turned out to be one of the most likeable, yet utterly compelling human beings I have ever encountered.  When Kamijo wants your attention, for whatever reason, resistance is futile!  Then again, why would anyone want to resist paying attention to such genuinely friendly and charming, if somewhat mischievous, character.  When meeting him in person, it becomes obvious that, while he is amazingly charismatic and attractive in many ways, the "Ladie's Man" character in his performances is as much an act of excellent Kabuki Theater as is Hizaki's excellent portrayal of the ultimate feminine beauty. 

Hizaki, the member in all the red lace and roses above, is an unbelievably talented world class guitarist.  Hizaki doesn't just play electric guitar.  Hizaki falls in love with the guitar and the music and floats upon it like a bird on the winds, so much so, that reconstructing the beautiful notes laid down on album tracks is often necessary after a recording session, before even attempting to reproduce them again when they go on tour.

He is also an incredible method actor.  Yes that's right ...  I said he.  Hizaki is very male and very much one of the guys, when not performing, but Japanese performance traditions call for gender balance on stage, and he is the only one still with them that can perform the role of the ultimate feminine beauty flawlessly.  Picture in your mind, anyone being able to play like Jimmy Hendrix, while dancing, alternating with a more graceful version of headbanging, in a full French Court hoop skirt.  Ok, never mind.  Just watch the videos as trying to imagine it might make your brain melt.

In the past, Jasmine You (their first Bass Guitarist - usually dressed in purple as above), who was also male, portrayed the mysterious, sensual beauty, while Hizaki was the cute, sweet innocent young girl, but since Jasmine passed away, Hizaki has taken on both roles with incredible ability and now puts across a subtle, but powerful passion on stage that is hard to believe!  When Jasmine died unexpectedly in the middle of recording an album, it was so difficult to find a bass guitarist, of either gender, capable of his difficult, yet soulful licks, that Hizaki taught himself bass just to make certain it was recorded exactly the way Jasmine You would have played them.  Jasmine You has now been fulfilled in that her apprentice, Masashi, proved the best possible replacement for the band.  He now brings a power, a feline grace, and great majesty to the stage as a tall, dark, and handsome man, and is the most warrior type of the group.

Masashi is a great bass guitarist, but he still seems a bit shy about spreading his wings fully yet on stage, because the incredible love many fans had, and still do have for his mentor, Jasmine You, has them still in mourning related to Jasmine's very unexpected and untimely death, so Masashi is at all times, the one quickest to honor Jasmine You's memory on stage, often to the exclusion of any form of self promotion.  Hopefully the fans still in mourning, will get through this and soon embrace him as he truly deserves, but some things just take time, and he seems very aware of and respectful of this in all ways.  Masashi is not only a great guy, but he has the irresistible appeal of the brooding romantic in, oh say, James Dean, or even Rob Patterson, from American films.

Yuki, their drummer is poised, graceful, and impressive apart from his drums, and playful and humorous off stage, but when he gets behind the drums, he becomes a true force of nature!  The only drummer I could think of when I first heard him was the drummer from Anthrax back when no one had ever heard of playing drum rolls with double bass drums!  As one of the two "dark Warriors" of the group, Yuki is lightning and thunder and earthquakes all rolled into one and he loves every minute of it!

Teru, who portrays a young and high spirited prince, is both handsome and beautiful at the same time.  On stage, he is graceful, poised, and pure joy incarnate.  He is also, like Hizaki, one of the greatest guitarists I have heard!   Just the same, he practices constantly, like the true perfectionist he is, looking up to Hizaki as the true master and a great standard to live up to!  Of all the members of the band, Teru seems to be the most similar to his stage character off the stage in that he seems to find joy in all things and truly wants to share it with others.

The opportunity to attend one of their live performances came up recently, when we were scheduled to present gifts of love and devotion from fans throughout North America, directly to the band members after their appearance in Mexico City for the Holy Grail Tour in 2011 as representatives from the North American Revolution International Street Team.  We were in about the 4th row, (or only about 4 feet from the front rail because of how tightly people pressed together) and accomplished getting that close only by waiting up at 4am in the cold and dark in a dangerous neighborhood to retain the position we thought was purchased with the ticket price for front row seats.

The only real problems we had at the actual  concert in Mexico City, can be attributed to problems with some of the venue staff, and the fact that the Mexican fans are so overwhelmingly passionate that it felt like being caught in a rush of Lemmings trying to get closer to the stage.  In fact, in a recent interview with a Columbian Radio Station, Kamijo was asked about the differences between Latin Fans and Japanese fans. He said that Japanese fans are very shy, but compared Latin fans, (who have very powerful emotions that they show in a sometimes overwhelmingly enthusiastic manner), to the powerful Piranhas of the Amazon! He then threw in a little Vampyre humor and said "It's like they want to drink our blood!"  (The band's back story is that they lead a large clan of Vampyres from the times of the French court prior to the French Revolution, remember?)

  If you aren't comfortable with masses of people pressed full body length against you on all sides and constantly jostling to get closer to the performers, and often attempting to climb over, under, or around anyone between them and the band, (much less the pandemonium when a rose or other object was tossed to the crowd) then I suggest doing like most of the older fans, and sit in the elevated rows of chairs near the back of the auditorium.  Another option would be to simply allow all the crazed fans to flow past you early on.  Of course taking that course of least resistance means also dealing with the with poor visibility and somewhat reduced potency of the passion poured out from the band members when you are closer to the back.

It is much easier though to just enjoy the music and the band, if you are tall enough to still see them well enough back there, than dealing with the constant distraction of living through a semi-rugby like experience up near the front. It's not actually violent like a mosh pit, as no one is trying to harm anyone, but they simply press toward the stage so strongly that it can almost knock people over if they are not either very strongly resisting or quickly dodging and gliding back.  Of course this was in Mexico, and one of the staff mentioned that the fans in Mexico and Chile are the most overwhelmingly passionate of all the countries they tour, so this may be much less of a problem in some other areas.

Regardless, it is the experience of a lifetime, especially if you get to meet them in person and feel their genuine interest and passion for their fans.

To learn more about this fascinating group of performers go to their Myspace page at the following link
(as their official site is all in Japanese):  

Meeting the Band in Mexico City as Representatives of the North American Revolution International Street Team
(When not on stage the band, like most 'Vampyres" dresses in somewhat simpler "basic black".)

Kamijo's Homepage 

If you want to see just how crazy it got at the Mexico show, this you tube cell phone video gives you a bit of the idea, but it was far enough back to have poor sound and not so much shoving and jostling as near the stage where we were.
Mexican Fans Screaming 


  1. Very interesting band! Especially the pretty guitarist :p

  2. I saw a Steampunk Blog (something of which I used to associate as, still love it) writing an article on my favourite band and knowing the two very well I sighed thinking this would be full of errors as steampunks don't tend to 'get' Visual Kei but this is probably one the greatest descriptions of Versailles I have ever read, you got them down to a tea! Bravo!