Here in the West, we’ll grant the term “rad” to any New Rave/electro band in black eyeliner and neon Spandex leggings. Cutting-edge? Avant-garde? Not even close, compared to Japan’s Visual Kei rockers.

The Visual Kei (“kaye”) movement emerged in the late 80s, hit its stride in the mid 90s, and still rages today. For these bands (many of which have terrible French names), style is as defining as the music they play. And oh, do they put our Goth/glam rockers to shame! Think skyscraper hair in primary colors. Rocky Horror meets cyber-pierrot makeup. Androgynous aristocratic alien attire. The effect is not so much campy as it is fantasy escapism; the groups are closer in spirit to Ziggy Stardust than to KISS.

What does the music sound like? Considering the freaky outfits, you may be surprised. A number of groups play light J-rock – and are fronted by a male singer with a Minnie Mouse voice! Others, however, have a sound that draws from glam rock, punk, and metal. The live shows approach Spinal Tap proportions, with pompous sets and dramatic lighting – and let’s not forget the over-the-top “acting.”

Many Visual Kei artists are stunningly beautiful Goth Lolis in rosy headdresses and corseted velvet gowns. Believe it or not… nearly all of these lovely ladies are MEN. Cross-dressing and androgyny are very common in this genre. In the photos above, the “girl” is Mana, male guitarist of Malice Mizer. He is credited with popularizing Gothic Lolita and has a clothing line devoted to the style, Moi-Même-Moitié.

I’ve become acquainted with a number of Visual Kei artists through my MySpace, many of whom have a theatrical Gothic Lolita style. It’s not for the everyday – but it certainly can be inspiring. And so, I’m introducing yet another feature, devoted to Gothic Lolita fashion in Visual Kei bands. In each entry, I’ll post photos and YouTubes of a group, and comment on their music and fashion. I hope you enjoy it – and let me know if you want me to feature anyone in particular.