Oshare Kei

file - 04.18.2010 20:01

An introduction to an original, up-and-coming and above all exciting genre.

History

Oshare kei is thought to have stemmed from the darker, more gothic genre visual kei, from the beginning of the millennium onwards. Naturally, both genres share key aspects, one of the most important being the use of visuals to a band’s identity. Visual kei became established as a genre focusing on the use of both art and music; male band members would wear elaborate outfits (most of the time featuring gothic lolita-style clothes as the key theme) and give spectacular live performances. Many visual kei musicians strive to be androgynous, many not only wear dresses but also striking make-up and over-the-top hairstyles. Some ten years after this style was born, another even more expressive style burst onto the Japanese music scene. Where visual kei was dark and gothic, oshare kei was bright and positive. It was a completely different version of an already successful genre. Arguably one of the first bands to display oshare kei was Baroque in 2001, but as with any genre, it takes many bands to contribute to give the variety that is present today. Pioneers of this genre include, Kra, Charlotte and An Cafe, who displayed classic, cute styles without going overboard and managed to bring this new area of music to the public’s attention.


What is Oshare Kei?

Generally, oshare kei has come to describe any band that places a high amount of importance on the use of visuals in their work, but to the opposite effect of visual kei. Oshare kei artists mostly aim to emulate the cute, bright and colourful aspects of life, although many bands that show some of these characteristics may also choose other aspects. Some may liken oshare kei artists’ styles to decora kei, a fashion displayed regularly on the streets of Harajuku as an overwhelming outburst of colour and childlike enthusiasm.

Although the music side has recently welcomed more pop-based musicians, a large amount of oshare kei is composed of a mixture of hard rock and punk music, often quite similar to visual kei. The genre is therefore characterised by upbeat, positive rock music but it is not unusual to find dance, techno and even jazz influences in this ever-expanding area.


Popularity

Oshare kei did not reach mainstream popular culture until relatively recently, and there is still a very large number of indies and session bands of this genre, some of which are bringing daring and original ideas to the industry that we otherwise might not have seen. Oshare kei bands regularly reach high rankings on the Oricon Indies Charts; An Cafe and Aicle. in particular rank frequently among the top ten. Labels such as PS COMPANY and Red Cafe are proof that oshare kei has the potential to become a world wide phenomenon. After only being around for a short while, bands such as SuG and An Cafe have played concerts at the Nippon Budokan to audiences of up to 14,000.

Recently, bands such as An Cafe and Kra have received huge interest from overseas. Oshare kei influenced bands now not only play regularly in Europe and America, but also release special edition CDs and DVDs which proceed to top music charts in several Northern European countries.


Artists

Even though a large amount of bands try to create their own style and do not solely describe themselves as ‘oshare kei’, many of the bands listed can be thought of as oshare kei inspired or have used the genre as a foundation to their current music style.

The bands listed below are a good start to anyone wanting to increase their knowledge of this up-and-coming new area of music.


An Cafe



Although only together since Summer 2003, An Cafe has rocketed to stardom over the past couple of years to become one of the most popular Japanese bands overseas, even reaching the top of the Swedish music charts. Even though they acknowledge their oshare kei influences, the members have dubbed the band specifically ‘Harajuku Dance Rock Kei’ and display many different kinds of music, from hard-core rock to dance/pop. The members of An Cafe certainly use the genre’s focus on aesthetics to their advantage and each has his own style, from the subtle, sophisticated take on oshare kei to the unashamedly cute. Their creative daring and carefully thought-out ensembles ensure they are on top of the latest fashions.

For the first year after forming, An Cafe displayed a darker look than today, keeping to a range of mostly black and white outfits with a heavier rock sound. From 2005 onwards, An Cafe as a band increased in popularity and so increased their range of styles, they began their promotions of the punk clothing brand Sex Pot ReVeNGe and started wearing more colourful styles. Soon, An Cafe began to experiment with songs tending toward pop-rock with great success, while still retaining their heavy rock base. Unfortunately in 2007, it was announced that the band’s guitarist Bou would leave due to personal reasons. However, the band soon introduced two new members, who each brought their own styles to the band. An Cafe’s later music has truly embraced Harajuku Dance Rock without losing any of its former appeal. An Cafe has instead built on this original foundation and evolved into a band that can put its own spin on any genre it tries.

With the use of sparkling melodies and equally sparkling visuals, An Cafe’s positive lyrics and original take on rock music have all ensured a fan favourite status among oshare kei lovers.

Recommended song: Ryuusei Rocket

Official Site Myspace


SuG



Starting in 2006 with its own contribution to the Japanese music scene as a ‘Heavy Positive Rock’ band, SuG’s popularity has jumped in the last few months. They have been signed to major record label Pony Canyon and will be releasing their latest album TOKYO MUZiCAL HOTEL in Europe as well as in Japan, mirroring their extensive fan base abroad.

However, don’t be fooled into thinking SuG remains within the boundaries of ‘Heavy Positive Rock.’ In fact, one of the things that sets them apart from similar bands is that traces of pop, dance and hip-hop can all be found in this versatile band’s music. SuG always showcases trendy, well-coordinated styles thanks to vocalist Takeru’s love of fashion and regular appearances in Japanese fashion magazine KERA.

Recommended song: P!nk Masquerade

Official Site Myspace


Megamasso



Megamasso perfectly displays the ‘cute’ side of oshare kei. Through the band’s guitarist Ryohei, Megamasso has become famous for their ability to be unfailingly sweet, both in their music and their style. Formed by Ryohei after he left Ayabie in 2006, Megamasso has released a string of CDs non-stop over the past three years and most recently has become the first oshare kei band to be signed to the major label Avex. Megamasso’s style is a careful contrast between Ryohei’s sweet lolita-like style, Inzargi’s understated modernity and Gou’s dark yet powerful persona. Musically, though Megamasso began with more rock roots, they have brought upbeat pop and piano work into their songs and made use of Inzargi’s ballad-like singing techniques.

Megamasso’s skilful mixture of rock and pop music and melodic vocals, coupled with Ryohei’s love of lolita-style dresses, will definitely give one a good introduction to the oshare kei genre.

Recommended song: Beautiful Girl

Official Site Myspace


Charlotte



Back in 2001, Charlotte began activities as one of the first oshare kei bands around. Charlotte’s concept is based simply around school life; the members' outfits are almost always replicas of school uniforms, giving them a cute, innocent appearance. Their style ranges from conveying the fun, playful aspects of school life in songs such as Diamond Busaiku to the sadder, romantic side with Yokohama Love Story. Their onstage persona often involves the band members dressing in checked skirts and loose socks as part of their school theme. Charlotte’s music is usually positive soft rock with a lighthearted tone, and it certainly reflects their general attitude of childhood playfulness.

Recommended song: Diamond Busaiku

Official Site



Irokui.



It’s all in a name as far as Irokui. is concerned, or at least it gives one an insight into the band’s style: "irokui" literally meaning "absorbing colours". Irokui. keeps fans hooked with sweet outfits and fresh pop-rock music. In the past, Irokui.’s visuals have consisted of outrageous colours and sweet princess styles, but recently, the band has gone in a more calming direction. This uncluttered approach to their fashion gives them a cute, understated charm. Their music ranges from mellow, calm pop to heavier rock with plenty of guitar work, fast drumming and melodic vocals.

Recommended song: Sakura Seven

Official Site

Aicle.
This new edition to the music scene intertwines bubblegum pop and grotesqueness, bringing a new way to view the colour and brightness that is so often found in oshare kei. Since 2006, Aicle. has brought this concept to the fans. Guitarist Rubi explains that there is a darkness to Aicle. in both their music and lyrics, but there is also a joyful, positive side. This is something that is heard in almost every song. Between catchy verses, chilling asides and plenty of growling, Aicle.’s music is an exciting change from bands working only with positive aspects. Their costumes are extreme and breathtaking, taking inspiration from seemingly ordinary scenes; one of their latest themes, for example, is the idea of shoals of tropical fish. Multicoloured hair, sparkling gems, striking rainbows of fabrics - nothing is too daring for this overwhelmingly colourful, but also subtly strange band. With their recent appearance in Finland for the Tsukicon event, Aicle. seems to have set their sights on Europe. Hopefully we will be seeing more of this intriguing band in the future.

Recommended song: Hammerhead

Official Site Myspace

Zoro
Zoro’s colourful and sometimes slightly bizarre style will certainly have one intrigued. Zoro’s music has an obvious rock base but uses fast-based catchy tunes that will have the listener hooked, and recently Zoro has also introduced more electronic and dance sound into their work. Zoro displays many of the characteristics of a typical oshare kei band: a cheery, cute member - in this case Tatsuhi - frequently wears stylish dresses, while Taizo and Yuuya are more down-to-earth characters. Although vocalist Ryuuji began with a brighter decora kei look, for Zoro’s later styles he has tended to take a more toned-down approach, although he still keeps hints of his former eccentricity with occasional coloured contacts and neon outfits.

Recommended song: Dynamite Flavour

Official Site


Canzel
Since forming in mid-2007, Canzel has quickly gained a reputation for being fun, optimistic and otherworldly. Their first PV showcased sci-fi-esque visuals, consisting of deep blue tones on top of plain white backgrounds; this crisp, simplistic style is reflected in their music as well. However, although their style is not as overwhelming as some, Canzel’s music is given complexity and depth with the addition of electronic sound to the classic pop-rock staple of many oshare kei bands today. After a busy schedule of releases, Canzel announced their first full-length album for release on March 24th. This band’s blend of melodic vocals, subtle electronic influences and strong rock will give a fresh, but at the same time familiar, feel to the listener.

Recommended song: Twilight

Official Site


Other bands of interest include:

Serial⇔NUMBER, Lolita23, Kra, SMILE, Himeyuri, Daizystripper, Juliette, Ichigo69, LoveCan, v (NEU) and Zip.er
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