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.
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 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.
- 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.
1. Natsu no yuuutsu
[Time To Say Goodbye] (midi sample)