Whilst I have been following people like Gackt for years and years, and am not always much for the new visual kei acts, a few of them are indeed interesting. One of these is exist†trace.

The whole visual kei thing, as a coherent style, started out in the early 1980s in what were essentially heavy metal bands trying specifically to be outrageous. If you look at pictures of early X Japan, one of the first acts in the genre, their style can probably be best described as 'kabuki punk'.

(Those are all guys, by the way. Androgyny has become a very big intentional part of the look in more recent times, but the Japanese standard of male beauty has always involved some amount of effeminate prettiness -- in Genji Monogatari, a serial romance novel from about a thousand years ago, one of the running jokes is basically that in a room full of stunning court women, Prince Genji is still the prettiest of them all.)

One of the most consistent things is that all of the early bands were composed of men. All of them. The whole point of Mana of Malice Mizer becoming a professional transvestite, to the point of essentially re-making himself into a modern onnagata, was that he wanted their performances to be part music, part pantomime. He needed a set of archetypes, including The Girl, and rather than hire an actual girl he just decided it was dresses from then on out.

This has started to change. Extremely slowly.

exist†trace is one of the very few all-girl vis-kei bands in existence. And by very few, I mean I know of two. Technically, they're not really "all-girl" -- they're all women in their mid- to late-twenties, which is just about as bizarre on the Japanese music scene as girls in vis-kei in the first place. I know we think we have an obsession with youth here in the US, but we're just fixated on looking young, and when we think 'young' we pretty much think 'collegiate'. In Japan, there are these things called "gravure idols", which quite often means "fourteen-year-old girl posing coyly in a bikini, intended to protray a state of erotic innocence". Westerners tend to find it quite disturbing, but it's a standard that prevails throughout a lot of Japanese pop culture in the same way the ideal of a 22-year-old starlet prevails in ours.

For all the total gender swap, their style is actually dead-on classic visual kei -- each member of the band has picked a 'look' and stuck to it like glue. Jyou (vocals) is always dressed like an emo-goth aristocrat (not quite in drag; all of her suits are tightly tailored to her figure), Miko (rhythm guitar) is full-on kurololi complete with stockings and girly hair, Mally (drums) looks like some sort of juvenile delinquent as styled by Square-Enix. Their sound is pretty classic for the genre as well, being what I think is classed as "melodic Goth metal", but I don't hang around many metalheads on a daily basis, so don't quote me on that. They're extremely loud, and Jyou can sing, is what I'm getting at here.



They also mack on each other about as much as the boys do. Miko has a tendency to lick people. Usually Jyou, but occasionally Omi. It's remarkably un-self-conscious, particularly as compared to other instances of fanservice lesbianism in Japanese media, which are usually very conspicuously for the consumption of others.

It's probably worth noting that all of them are city girls originally -- they're from, and still live in, Tokyo. You can guess that, being a big city, capital-W Weird is a lot more tolerated there than it would have been out in the sticks. And also that none of them sound particularly girly when they speak. Japanese is a very highly-gendered language, with different pronouns, forms of address, and inflections for male and female speech, and while none of them are using male-ish enough language to come across as rude, none of them use enough female-ish language to come off as sweet or girlish. Even the terribly terribly twee one in the fluffy dresses doesn't squeak. Even if you don't speak Japanese, you can tell that they don't sound cutesy.

This is seriously Suzi Quatro-level shit for the Japanese music scene, trust me.

More recently, the band has actually gotten onto a major label and released material both in Japan and in the US, where there's a semi-smallish but apparently VERY LOUD fanbase.


The fixation Japanese vis-kei people have on doing things with jitterbug beats is a totally separate thing. I can't explain it, but I also can't say I'm not pleased.


exist†trace happens to be playing A-Kon in Dallas this year, so if you're going to the con and you like glam rock, I encourage you to check into tickets. It's bound to be a pretty good show -- as far as I know, Omi is still dressing herself like Jareth the Goblin King, and Jyou still has the bright red Ziggy haircut. They were a little boggled by the sheer wall of loudness that are American fans the first time they toured here, but they appear to have adapted quite nicely.