BY LILY MOAYERI
In a desert blooming with electronic and hip hop acts, the hairsprayed and leather-clad blistering rock of X Japan is sure to make an indelible impression as one of the few hard rock acts at Coachella 2018 over the next two weekends. The iconic Japanese uber-glam heavy metal group makes its Coachella debut on Saturday, April 14, but it’s also a comeback of sorts. It’s their largest show to date since bandleader and drummer Yoshiki underwent spinal surgery last May to insert an artificial disc in his neck after 40 years of all-out metal drumming and headbanging took its toll.
“To be honest, I’m very scared,” says the mononymed Yoshiki via phone from Japan, where he is rehearsing with X Japan. “I don’t think I can play the way I used to. I don’t mean the actual drumming technique, but style-wise. My neck is not completely healed so I have to be very careful. But when I’m on stage, after so many years of playing a certain way, I’m probably going to still play pretty hard.”
Headed by its enigmatic drummer, X Japan is the most successful band of its kind in Japan, with over 30 million albums and singles sold since starting in 1982. They enjoy a feverish, cult-like following with devout fans across the globe. No stranger to big stages, X Japan has sold out the 55,000-capacity Tokyo Dome a record 18 times. The band hasn’t performed in North America since their 2014 concert at Madison Square Garden in New York City, but almost a year after his surgery, Yoshiki, who is in his early 50s, is ready to bring his A-game to the Coachella stage.
“I’m completely excited,” he says, speaking of the Coachella shows. “But I’m also nervous, because there are not very many rock bands playing. But X Japan is eclectic too, and I’m honored to be part of the festival. I’m sure we can rock the audience.”
The group is playing two warm-up shows, of sorts, in Japan on April 10 and 11, the first since the group’s March 2017 performance at SSE Arena, Wembley, London.
Also coming to Coachella with X Japan are a few special guests that cannot be revealed quite yet (though it may be a good bet that any high-powered musician you might have seen in photos with Yoshiki has a solid chance of making an appearance). Yoshiki’s famous friends are also finding their way onto the upcoming X Japan album, the group’s first in over 20 years. Though an official release date has yet to be determined, two songs have been released: “Born to be Free” and “La Venus,” which may or may not end up on the album.
“Nobody believes me because I’ve been saying this for the past several years but the album is 99 percent done,” says Yoshiki. “Everything is tracked, we just need sound effects and mixing — that’s it. It’s very close.”
As to whether the album will only feature Yoshiki’s drumming or also include programmed drums, he says, “I play normal drums first, but I add EDM-ish sound effects as rhythm track. But that’s not a raw drum sound — everything you hear that’s an acoustic drum sound, I play. The mix engineer might add a sample snare, but that’s a combination. I’m a little bit against all-programmed sounds, if we’re talking about rock. If it’s electronic music, that’s very normal and I don’t hate that at all. But rock needs a little more rawness in its sound and that’s what makes it interesting.”
On April 18 the Grammy Museum in Downtown Los Angeles hosts a special screening of the award-winning Stephen Kijak documentary on the group called We Are X, followed by a Q&A with Yoshiki himself (it’s already sold out). Originally released theatrically in 2016, We Are X is readily available DVD and BluRay and is also streaming on Hulu.