On Friday, the first annual Visual Japan Summit kicked off at the Makuhari Messe convention center outside of Tokyo, celebrating new and veteran bands of “visual-kei” — a thriving Japanese musical subculture with its own fashionable, flamboyant take on the Western glam rock genre. Headlining the event were the recently reunited, widely recognized pioneers of the movement, symphonic prog legends X Japan — whose founder, Yoshiki, has frequently credited KISS for changing his life and turning him on to rock ‘n’ roll. So, when Gene Simmons happened to be in town for the 2016 KISS Expo, he dropped by the Visual Japan Summit for a rollicking rendition of a KISS classic.
KISS’s notorious, tongue-wagging bassist joined X Japan and a gaggle of other wildly costumed visual-kei all-stars, including pop-rockers Glay (whose own 1999 Glay Expo gig at Makuhari Messe still holds the Guinness World Record for the largest concert ever held by a single act in Japan) and operatic heavy metal quintet Luna Sea, for a free-for-all singalong of “Rock ‘n’ Roll All Nite” that lived up to its title. Earlier that evening, backstage at the Summit, Simmons told Yahoo Music that he hadn’t even rehearsed with X Japan and had no idea what was going to happen. So this group performance was, admittedly, very loose — but it was also the very definition of rock ‘n’ roll.
But perhaps even more enjoyable, even sans Simmons, was a flag-waving encore of the Sex Pistols’ “Anarchy in the U.K.” — which was total anarchy in Tokyo, with Yoshiki handling guitar duties while X Japan’s Toshi, Luna Sea’s Ryuichi Kawamura, and Glay’s Teru switched off on gleefully screechy vocals.
The Visual Japan Summit, featuring X Japan headlining every night with Glay and Luna Sea supporting, is expected to draw 100,000 visual-kei fans over the weekend. Among the other acts on the bill are Hide with Spread Beaver (a group originally formed by late X Japan guitarist Hide), Japanese style icon Kiyoharu, comedy band Golden Bomber, A Taste of Chaos alt-metal tour veterans Mucc, the French Revolution-themed prog group Versailles, the hostess-costumed girl group Aldious (featuring the stepdaughter of Missing Persons’ Terri Bozzio), Ladies Room, Gargoyle, Tokyo Yankees, Nocturnal Bloodlust, By-Sexual, No God, the Slut Banks, and DaizyStripper. Also making a special appearance is Hyde x Yoshiki, featuring Hyde from the Nikki Sixx-championed Vamps and 40-million-selling L’Arc-An-Ciel (whom Forbes once dubbed “The Richest Band You’ve Never Heard Of”).
The X Japan rockumentary We Are X, which comes out in U.S. theaters Oct. 21, tells the band’s harrowing tale of redemption through rock ‘n’ roll, despite such horrific tragedies as the suicides of Yoshiki’s father and two bandmates, the temporary cult-brainwashing of frontman Toshi, and an acrimonious breakup. With a survival story like that, it’s no wonder that the band, particularly Yoshiki, got choked up Friday when the adoring Visual Japan Summit audience serenaded them with their own power ballad “Endless Rain,” warbling in unison: “Let me forget all of the hate, all of the sadness.” In a night full of thunderously loud moments — including Yoshiki banging on a gong and then throwing it down a staircase — this sweet a cappella singalong was actually the most intense.
Watch Simmons, who makes a cameo in We Are X, and Yoshiki discuss the film and their mutual admiration in the interview below.