Monday 3 October 2011

Versailles at Islington Academy - 02 October 2011

Hizaki of Versialles

The queue has formed two hours before the venue opens its doors. The heady mix of extravagantly dressed Goths, metal heads and cosplay aficionados are drawing stares from the muggles passing by.

We are here to see Versailles (aka Versailles Philharmonic Quintet in some territories) who are one of Japan’s foremost exponents of visual kei metal and are over for a European jaunt.

This form of music values appearance almost more than the songs themselves, and the more elaborate, androgynous and rococo a band looks, the better it goes for them.

There is a strict moratorium on all types of photography, video recording and images recorded by mobile phone. Although you might argue that this is the equivalent of KISS going “Don’t look at us!”, the ban is impeccably observed throughout the show.

The venue is about three quarters full and there is an incessant chorus of girly voices chanting “We Want Versailles!” They keep this up for twenty minutes solid.

After a minor delay, the lights go down and the show begins. Each member introduces themselves in isolation, slowly rotating to show off their finery, flashing devil horns and whipping the crowd into frenzy. It’s kind of like the music box opening from an episode of Camberwick Green, but in better costumes.

And then they start with thunderous kick drums and squealing guitar solos. This is good old fashioned thrash – with a twist.

A typical Versailles song lasts around ten minutes and consists of crescendo after crescendo. Everything they do sounds like the very final encore of a Metallica gig. It’s almost unrelenting.

The band look amazing. Singer Kamijo is dressed in a red frock coat that drips with gold brocade and incorporates a gossamer cloak that he can sweep in front of him.

The twin guitarists are Teru, who has silver sculpted hair like an anime hero and the other is the quite astonishing Hizaki, who is dressed as a lady of Louis XIV’s court. And is male.

Hizaki’s guitar work is extremely impressive, as is his dedication to his character. He maintains an impassive poker face throughout. Whilst most metal guitarists screw up their faces and stick their tongues out, Hizaki’s face remains as expressionless as a porcelain doll- even with one foot on the monitor, which is not something you often see from someone dressed in a crinoline.

Bassist Masashi is dressed in black and mostly stays at the rear of the stage, occasionally hulking over the others and drawing appreciative screams from the audience whenever he does so.

The band are tightly choreographed, always moving in synchrony with each other. They have perfected a graceful wave at the end of each guitar flourish – a courtly, feminine gesture a world away from the windmilling of the likes of Pete Townsend.

Versailles also often spin around, as though they are dancers in an elegant waltz rather than purveyors of metal mayhem .

At the halfway point, the rest of the band scoot off for a quick rest, leaving Kamijo to sing a slow, hugely lachrymose ballad. Most of the audience have purchased glowing fluorescent roses, which are waved in unison amongst a sea of hands.

The rest of the band return and it is back to the bombast.

At one point Kamijo and Hizaki dive off the stage into the audience, who were clearly not expecting them. No one is hurt.

Versailles are (obviously) an unusual proposition. In some respects they could be deemed to be very limited in what they do – any twenty minute passage is much the same as any other. Yet they are hugely entertaining and their ninety plus minute set passes in a blur.

Versailles have completely achieved their goal. They are a beautiful, intricate clockwork toy that is completely artificial and could almost be put under a glass display case. And they rock too.

I forego the opportunity to meet the band afterwards and spin off into the night, waving gracefully.

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