X Japan's Yoshiki: "I’m almost killing myself every show"
Venue: Wembley Arena
They’re all-conquering, Godzilla-sized monsters of rock in their home country, and now they’re bringing the X factor to the world
Wembley Arena is on Tokyo lockdown. It’s three hours before the most important European gig of X Japan’s career, and every cranny of the venue attests to just how big in Japan they are. Nineteen cameramen, many on the band’s staff for years, point from the stalls, faithfully recording even the smallest move the group make. The narrow corridors backstage are choked with the entourages of the five band members, whose separate dressing rooms have impassable Japanese sentries.
As We Are X (a new film from the producers of Searching For Sugar Man) explains, X Japan are Japanese rock. They battered down the doors of their nation’s mainstream with visual kei, an extravagant, androgynous, highly localised hybrid of metal and glam. But the saga that has gripped their fans since they formed in 1982 also includes two band members committing suicide, and their singer, Toshi, being brainwashed by a rock-loathing cult.
The driving force behind their survival, and this first European arena show, is drummer, pianist and songwriter Yoshiki. He was so asthmatic and sickly as a child that his mum didn’t expect him to live. We Are X shows him enduring multiple injections to combat chronic injuries, including a neck bone deformed by decades of headbanging, a torn ligament, tendonitis and carpal tunnel syndrome, leaving one drumming wrist in a splint. “I should not be playing,” he confesses casually.
An oxygen tank and mask are routinely kept side-stage for when he collapses.
Yet here Yoshiki is, in a dramatic soundcheck that’s also a tune-up for his lithely athletic-looking but internally fucked body. He begins on his own-brand, glass-topped piano, then he drums, for 30 bruising minutes. The bass drum sounds like the heavy rumble at the start of the Flash Gordon theme, and there’s sonic chaos as he works round his kit to a symphonic backing track. The lights pin him, glittering silver-white like a cyborg. Then he drums with just his busted wrist. Eventually he stands stock-still on his drum stall, pinned in a heroic pose by white lasers. “That’s it, thank you,” he states.
Only then are the thousands outside let in for a pre-gig screening of We Are X.