It seems to me there is a mania in Japanese culture or even music culture in general for people to obsessively codify things and label them. And in the process, often creating absurd subgenres like Gothabilly or Grindcore. Personally, I like to keep my genres pretty broad: rock and roll, jazz etc. Visual Kei of course, is no exception and like other types of music, there are a variety of subgenres-some that barely make any sense. But, in all honesty some of the subgenres are actually relevant especially when a band associates them with their identity. Take for example Merry who considers being Eroguro a part of who they are as a band. With that in mind, I think it is useful to know what some of these subgenres refer to. At the same time, I think it is important to note bands don’t necessarily have to stay in one sub-genre. Personally, I think young Alice Nine can at times sport a very Angura Kei look but recently, not at all.
I have compiled definitions of the most outstanding subgenres of Visual Kei for the general English speaking public’s education as well as my own. In researching these, I have learned quite a lot and in some cases, they actually won me over to the importance of sub-genres even though, I firmly stand on a more unifying view of Visual Kei.
If by chance, what I have is incorrect or there is something you want to add let me know.
Visual Kei Subgenres
Kurofuku Kei – literally black clothing, usually black suits. Commonly linked with the early Visual acts such as Buck-Tick and Zi:Kill
Angura Kei – the name stems from the English word “underground”. The style is derived from a cultural movement particularly that of independent theater in Japan from the 1960’s and the fervent political unrest from which the decade is known globally. Angura theatre is notably experimental and concerned with the Japanese mythos; that is Japanese beliefs, attitudes and cultural values. The sub-genre is also linked to eroguro and many bands bridge both lines but it is consider darker and more formal. It features the use of Japanese uniform, kimino or other types of traditional garb. Examples of Angura Kei bands are Kagrra and Inugami Circus-Dan.
Kote Kei – this type of Visual Kei is considered the oldest and most established form. In my opinion, it’s the type of VK that most people think about when they think about the genre as a whole. I like to call it the “classic” look. Usually the hair style is dramatic as well as the clothing. It is also important to note that this sub-genre is found in two types “Black” and “White” in which a band can portray a darker side as with the first type or a lighter more melodic side as with the latter. Types of Kote Kei are La’Mule, early Dir en Grey, Lariene, and Madeth Gray’ll.
Oshare Kei – this subgenre is probably the most distinctive of all the subgenres as well as the most well known. The genre is for the most part a hit or miss with some Visual Kei fans and its mere existence has marked the genre with even more stereotypes given by uneducated outsiders. The word “oshare” means stylish or fashionable. Musically speaking, the sound is more pop or punk and the lyrics and themes are more positive and bright. The Oshare look is more colorful and cute. The clothes too tend to be more like street fashion than other types. Baroque is considered the pioneer of Oshare Kei with their formation in 2001. Other Oshare bands are An Café, SuG, THE KIDDIE and Kra.
Lolita Kei– To be honest I’m not sure if this should even constitute as even a subgenre since the Lolita fashion styles have been influenced and have influenced Visual Kei since the really old days with Mana in Malice Mizer. But this style is considered more over the top, more elegant, and has a stronger goth rock influence. Also, the gender bending seems to be more distinct. If I am correct, examples of this type of Kei would be Versailles and Kaya.
Eroguro Kei – The name is the combination of the English words “Erotic” and “Grotesque” often utilizing such extreme themes in an unnatural and twisted manner. As stated in the description of Angura Kei, the two genres are often related and have overlapping bands. The culture influencing the Eroguro style though has an older history, stemming from the 1920s – 1930’s and anyone who has seen tentacle porn will note that this disturbing and sexual theme is very much entrenched in the Japanese culture. With that in mind, Eroguro is something very old in comparison to Visual Kei. Eroguro Kei though is the representation of this old theme in the genre. Cali=Gari whose name comes from the notorious silent horror film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is considered the pioneer of the genre. Others bands considered Eroguro would be Merry or MUCC. DIR EN GREY, especially during their Vulgar period is arguably Eroguro Kei.
Nagoya Kei – This subgenre is the only region based one that I know of and it’s also one of the more commonly known types of Kei. It is based out of Nagoya, Japan-obviously. It tends to be darker and gloomier and have stronger Western-usually British punk rock influences. There is also less emphasis on the looks. And fans of the genre who tend to be bias toward it like to say that because they pay less attention to their looks, they pay more to their music. Personally as someone who likes most forms of Visual Kei, I think that’s bullshit. Nagoya Kei tends to be made of a tight knit community. One can see members of various bands forming bands together etc. Silver~Rose is considered the forefather of the genre. Other bands include Laputa, Kuroyume, Gullet, Lynch, Deathgaze and lynch. There also tends to be controversy as to which bands are considered Nagoya Kei and which are not since being from that area doesn’t denote you as being such. Some bands like 9 Goats Black Out don’t consider themselves Nagoya Kei however they have the member connections, the look and even the sound to suggest they are.
Iyrou Kei – This style is hardly one and rarely used – at least outside of Japan. Iryou means “medical” and it features this use of grotesque medical themes such as bloody lab coats and eye patches. This is obviously related to the uniquely Japanese fetish with wounds, hospitals and injuries. Personally, I feel that bands sometimes go through phases in which this theme is used. Bands that are associated with Iyrou Kei are Sex Android and +isolation.
Koteosa Kei – This subgenre is a spin on Oshare Kei, being its “black version.” Bands that fit into this subgenre would be LM.C and Lolita23Q.
Nurse Dani helped contribute to this article, much thanks to her.