Ken
Guitar
Hyde
Vocal
Tetsu
Bass
Yukihiro
Drums


L'Arc~en~Ciel was the first Japanese band I ever got into. I might go as far to say that they were the ones responsible for getting me interested in Japanese rock. I first noticed them when back in 1994 I heard their song "Blurry Eyes" used as the opening song for the anime series D.N.A.˛. I instantly became captivated by their style of sexy vocals, pop-like guitar style and eclectic musical accompanyment that was all fused together in a way that engulfed its listener in the mood of the song. Not something I was used to hearing from rock bands at a time when heavy metal was dead and grunge was starting to lose my interest. I immediately set out to find more of their music and never looked back. Even now after knowing them for the past five years they remain one of the most creative and moving bands I've ever had the priviledge to know. They've changed their image a lot these past few years after becoming more and more popular, but still their music is always pure inspiration.

Tout les francophones a qui je montre mes CDs sont pas mal surpris qu'un groupe japonais ont adopté un nom français. Indeed the term l'arc-en-ciel is French for "the rainbow" (literally "the arc in the sky") and like their namesake L'Arc~en~Ciel has a sound and style that covers a wide spectrum of moods from their uplifiting and upbeat pop-rock songs to their dark and gothic songs. Their music is rich in imagery and emotion. Likewise it has a profound effect on its listeners. Much of their sound, especially in their early career is a somewhat European dark pop sound with a latin/gothic flair while others are fun pop guitars songs.

They always used a variety of ethnic and classical musical instruments outside those of a usual rock group to give their music a more international flavor. Their music did, and still continues to amaze with the depth of its creativity. From their grungy rockin' songs to their mellow songs of melancholy, there is both mystic beauty and excitement in every song they produce. If I had to compare them to an English band, I'd say they're not unlike U2 or early Depeche Mode yet with an ancient mediterranian influence. But even that generalization doesn't come close to L'Arc~en~Ciel's sound and sense of style which is really quite unique. I've never heard anything quite like it. Their sound has evolved into more mainstream rock these past few years, but underneath it all they've remained as eclectic and eccentric as ever.


L'Arc~en~Ciel in 1994 (from left: Ken, Hyde, Tetsu, Sakura)

When I first became a fan L'Arc~en~Ciel had made their major debut earlier that year. Prior to that they were an indie band with a very loyal following. Their music style was dark and gothic yet quite beautiful and spiritual. As for their look, it definately matched their music. The whole group's look, like the music style, seemed to be inspired in part by Spanish gypsies. All in light, flowing clothes adorned with beads, bare feet, and makeup. And they all played the part accordingly. It sure made things interesting to watch althought I must admit it took me by surprise when I saw them for the first time. With all this, L'Arc had become one of the top visual bands in Japan, but still had not attained mainstream recognition. Even in that small demographic that made up their fans, even though they had a lot of male fans, the number of female fans were far greater. And it was perhaps because of this inbalance that they did not yet have the recognition they deserved.

But with hard work and consistently great performances, they began to become more and more popular each year. The music gradually started acquiring a more mainstream pop and rock sound and they started letting go of the whole visual kei motif and wearing more hip and contemporary fashions. Possibly because of their efforts to be seen as a rock band and not a visual kei group, in the last couple of years L'Arc~en~Ciel has become the hottest name in Japanese music. A while back, after a certain crisis in the band nearly underminded all they had worked for, they've come back and have been promoting themselves like mad. Following their previous album in '97, they've released 8 singles which have absolutely dominated the charts, sometimes with two or three songs listed in the top 10 at the same time. By now, that they've completely abandoned their earlier visual style they appeal to an even wider audience, but still I'm nostalgic for the old good old days.


The first thing that made me take notice of L'Arc was lead singer Hyde (pronounced "haido"). Not only is he a great artistic performer with a poetic soul, but he has the most increadible voice I've ever heard out of any male rock vocalist (and he knows it too). Hyde has an unusually powerful and sensuous voice with a wide range. He switches vocal octaves effortlessly. It can be both gracefully mellow or gritty and masculine. He excels at slow ballads, but can rage and scream better than anyone. I just never tire of hearing his voice and wish I could sing like him. I even practice singing like Hyde in the shower for karaoke. It's almost hard to believe that this powerful voice comes from Hyde since he's so short and boyish looking. He's somewhere in his early 30's by now, but still has the looks of a 17 year old. In the earlier days of the band when he'd dress in a gypsiesque fashion with long wavy hair, this made him look very much like a young woman. (My sister likes to call him the "Drama Queen" because of his over the top theatrics, dress and vocal stylings at the time). Hyde's pretty much the one who convinced me that androgyny could be a cool thing. Later when he cut his hair, he started looking more like a wild little boy.

Hyde is undoubtedly a excellent entertainer. His first love was the guitar long before he ever considered singing and used to be a guitarist for a band called Jerusalem's Rod before Tetsu recruited him for L'Arc~en~Ciel. For some songs Hyde still plays guitar. Sometimes he even plays harmonica, saxophone or a simple tambourine. He also writes practically all of the lyrics for the music and is responsible for much of the middle-eastern or mediterranian aesthetics of the band.


Heart - 1997


Heavenly - 1995


Dune - 1993

The band was started by the bass player Tetsu in 1991. Since he created L'Arc and is a mother figure to the band, he's considered to be the band leader. Tetsu's song writing sensibilities are more on the pop side having created songs such as Blurry Eyes, C'est la Vie and Kaze ni kienaide. All of the members songwriting have touches of pop, but not as much as Tetsu. I never appreciated it at the start, but in live performances, I came to realize how much Tetsu is an increadible bass player. One of the best. His bass plays a very strong role in the sound of the band. L'Arc~en~Ciel has far more frontal use of bass in their songs than most other bands and is always well done whereas most bands have basslines that play in the background and are scarcely heard clearly.

Ken the guitar player is the oldest member of the band. Although all of the members do contribute to writing songs, the vast majority of songs are written by Ken. So he's a huge part of their sound. He's a pretty funny guy who doesn't seem to take himself too seriously and has quite a bit of energy on stage. He wears makeup more often than the others, but with his looks instead of looking feminine like some visual rockers try to do, it just makes him look like a really obvious cross-dresser. But I think that's the gimmick he was going for. He doesn't do it much anymore though. Now he has the "unshaven, chain-smoking rock star" look going for him and now looks like he aged ten years even though it's only been since last year. Ken's guitar skills are very distinct. There's a very unique quality to his guitar playing which I don't think I've ever heard from any other guitarist. It's this guitar style that I came to equate as the most identifiable feature in the band music. More than Hyde's voice or Tetsu's throbbing basslines, Ken's guitar style is the most distinct part of the L'Arc sound.

Sakura, who is no longer with the band, is an excellent performer who played drums as well as a variety of other percussion instruments. He's a pretty strange guy who rarely gives a straight answer and prides himself as a bit of a womanizer. His relationship with Hyde was very unusual and it was quite enjoyable to watch their humorous interactions on TV interviews. Sakura was an integral part of the band's sound and persona, moreso than most drummers who are usually the least important members. But Sakura is no longer with L'Arc~en~Ciel. In March of 1997 he was arrested for heroin possession and found guilty. He was put under probation and by November of 1997 it was announced that Sakura was no longer a member of the band. 1997 was a very hard year for L'Arc~en~Ciel. Apparently before the arrest, they were already having problems with Sakura which were threatening the band's future. With the arrest it made things a lot worse. Throughout the year without this one very important member, the activities of the band were put on hold. All releases of their single at the time the Fourth Avenue Cafe (one of my favorite songs) were pulled from the shelves and the whole thing was cancelled. It seemed to be a real possibility that they could disband indefinately. But luckily they eventually pulled together and went on to become even more popular than before. It is not totally clear why Sakura had to leave. I'm not sure whether it was the other members, Sakura himself or the record company that made the final descision. But the case seems to be that their management forced Sakura out so that the unsavory stygma that he carried would not endanger the band.

I'm a bit divided over the whole issue. On one hand I really miss what Sakura contributed to the band. Without Sakura it's just not the same anymore. But on the other hand I'm mad at him for putting the band in jeopardy this way and being so foolish. But I know that he's now regretted his mistakes and misses the band, so I've forgiven him. I'm a bit more irritated at the record company officials for making such a big deal out of such a small thing. Countless rock stars in America are caught with drugs and continue to have careers as long as they make an effort to rehabilitate (or at least try to pretend). Kicking him out permanently seems a bit too drastic. Anyway it's all water under the bridge now. L'Arc~en~Ciel has moved on to greater successes.

All the while L'Arc was without an official drummer, they had a support member in the background which was Yukihiro. He was an ex-member of another band "Die en Cries" which had disbanded in 1995. He had known the other members for a couple of years prior so they had a slight history together. As of January 1st of 1998, Yukihiro was made an official member and became the regular drummer. I don't think they could have found anyone more different from Sakura than Yukihiro. This was what a lot of fans have complained about. Forget that charismatically speaking, Yukihiro doesn't measure up to Sakura or any of the other members for that matter. Musically that's a non issue and I like to think I'm above such shallowness. The big deal is their difference in style. Yukihiro has a much harder rock style with stronger beats while Sakura's style was more smooth and eclectic. Some new fans like Yukihiro's style since it's stronger and has more techno influence, but I feel that Sakura's drumming fit the band's style more accurately. Of the songs Yukihiro has had a hand in creating, the style is a harsh new-wave style that I'm not to fond of personally. I also miss the family-like dynamic between the four original members. The way they were so closely knit together made them an increadible team onstage, and really fun to watch offstage. Yukihiro is not bad either but the feeling that he's an adopted member of the L'Arc~en~Ciel family is always there. The interaction is friendly, but quite different from what it used to be.

In late '97 and throughout '98 and '99 L'Arc~en~Ciel has successfully climbed the ranks of Japanese recording artists to become among the most famous and sought after bands in the industry today. But along with their increased popularity, their music is slightly different. Most of their newer songs are less spiritual and mysterious. L'Arc's sound is becoming more and more rock based than before and feature little of their earlier innovative and experimental sound. Esentially it still bears the trademark emotionally driven music that one comes to associate with the band, but to me the overall mood and sense of creativity is not the same. I've begun to miss their older music style (not to mention fashion style) but I can't complain too much since they're still making great music. Their current style is still very cool. Even now L'Arc remains one of the most creative bands you'll ever come across.

Notes:

- As mentioned L'Arc~en~Ciel has been releasing a lot of singles in the recent past. They had 8 new singles out since late '97, but still no new album. Mind you at this point, an album would mostly just consist of the old singles and have very little new to offer. Not wanting to disappoint the fans, amazingly they produced two albums, with four singles on each and released them at the same time. Not a double CD set, but two totally seperate albums. One titled "ark" the other "ray". With these two albums, you can tell how the band is no longer the same. Their rock songs are really harsh while their poppy songs are very pop. With the exception of a few songs like Snow Drop and Dive to Blue, it no longer has that trademark sound I used to associate with the band. Although it was evident since their last album, here it truly becomes a concrete reality. They've truly been reborn and will no longer be the L'Arc~en~Ciel we all used to know. But I'll support them no matter which direction they decide to take their music.

- L'Arc~en~Ciel has done quite a few tie-in songs with TV shows, anime and movies. As mentioned, Blurry Eyes was used as the theme to DNA˛. The Fourth Avenue Cafe is another song which was used for a short while in the second season of the Rurouni Kenshin TV series as the ending theme song (but was quickly removed after the Sakura fiasco). Niji was used as the main song for the Rurouni Kenshin movie. Also their song Shinsoku~Lose Control was part of the soundtrack for the Japanese release of the Godzilla movie. There were some others, but nothing American fans would have ever heard of.

- Hyde is apprently experienced in Shaolin Kung Fu which his father made him take at a young age.

- Despite their cool image, Hyde, Ken and Tetsu often speak in heavy Osaka dialect. The speaking patterns and accent of the dialect is considered by most other Japanese to sound unrefined and goofy. You rarely see the dialect on Japanese TV except for in comedy. So it does throw people off whenever they hear those three speak naturally. Usually they try to affect a Tokyo dialect that Sakura taught them, but sometimes they do slip up.

 
Mason's Favorite Album
Heavenly

(1995/9/1)

It was a really hard to settle on one CD seeing as I've never heard a L'Arc~en~Ciel song I didn't like and regard every one of their 7 albums as perfect. It wasn't really possible to choose based on which has better songs so I chose on a purely emotional basis. I think I have the strongest attachment with their 3rd album Heavenly although I'm hard pressed to explain why. This album marks a transition point for the band when they were making the change from a visual group to a more mainstream rock group. In short, they were trying to reinvent themselves with this album and it produced some interesting results. While their earlier two albums are more mystical and spiritual in feel, the mood in Heavenly is one of romanticism and melancholy. The album seems infused with a sort of French film noir idealism in both mood and musical style which I have a certain attraction to. It's a totally different feel than any of their works previous or prior to this album. Here L'Arc begins to interject more pop into their songs to make some of the catchiest songs you'll find in any of their albums.


Mason's top 50 favorite L'Arc songs (out of 84 total songs)

1. Natsu no yuuutsu [Time To Say Goodbye] (midi sample)
2. Dune (midi sample)
3. Cureless (midi sample)
4. The Fourth Avenue Cafe (midi sample)
5. And She Said...
6. As If In A Dream
7. Loreley (midi sample)
8. Kaze no yukue
9. All Dead
10. Be Destined
11. Blurry Eyes
12. Tsuioku no jokei
13. Vivid Colors
14. Blame
15. Forbidden Lover
16. C'est La Vie
17. Wind of Gold
18. Lies and Truth
19. Snow Drop
20. Good-Morning Hide
21. Butterfly's Sleep
22. Floods of Tears
23. Heaven's Drive
24. Dive To Blue
25. Niji
26. The Rain Leaves a Scar
27. Voice
28. HONEY

29. Gurasu dama
30. Entichers
31. It's The End
32. Flower
33. Brilliant Years
34. Inner Core
35. Winter fall
36. Pieces
37. Kasou
38. Taste of Love
39. Promised Land
40. Kaze ni kienai de

41. Shutting From The Sky
42. Fate
43. The Silver Shining
43. White Feathers
44. Ibara no namida
45. Shout at the Devil
46. Shinshoku ~ Lose Control
47. What is Love?
49. Dearest Love
50. The Ghost in My Room

L'Arc~en~Ciel Links

Rockin' Heaven: L'Arc~en~Ciel
Androgynous Minds: L'Arc~en~Ciel
Visual Dream - L'Arc~en~Ciel
As If In A Dream - L'Arc~en~Ciel
aruaru hyde homepage