A couple of weeks ago I received an email announcing “Three Japanese bands coming to San Antonio Jan. 30.” While readers may remember that Jeremy Martin’s Calendar Pick from last week pointed out something a little stinky about the contact information listed for advance tickets, I was far too busy poring over the attached photos of elaborately dressed alien-like creatures to give it much thought.
In the following days, I learned that the show had been organized by Cherry Blossom Productions, a booking and promotions company specializing in Japanese acts, some of which fall into the genre “Visual Kei,” which combines elements of performance art with elaborate, androgynous costuming. I emailed Jen Landry (one of the company’s four employees), and asked if she could arrange for me to photograph the bands on the bill — Buranden, GPKISM, and Seileen (featuring DJ SiSeN). We emailed back and forth for a week or so and finally agreed that I would arrive at Atomix an hour before the concert started.
When I arrived with my gal pal Angelina (designer to SA’s most discriminating clotheshorses), we couldn’t believe the cast of characters waiting in line outside.
“Oh my God,” Ang said, “That one’s dressed like Rainbow Brite, and they’re all, like, 12!”
An alarming number of these creatures of the night (it was all of 7 p.m.) were wearing face masks — a must-have accessory in the world of Japanese cosplay. A boy named Zak proudly showed us that his friend Tatiana was wearing a bedazzled surgeon’s mask of his own design. “I think I need one,” Ang whispered.
Inside, we met a guy named Jared who was wearing a rubber gas mask and wielding a glowing wand reminiscent of an air-traffic control device.
Sitting in the bar’s lounge area, a few other trends became apparent — colored contact lenses (especially of the cat-eye variety), and ripped and reconfigured fishnet tights.
“I’m ready for a beer, but the bar doesn’t really look open, does it?” I asked Ang.
Upon closer inspection, we realized that the bar was indeed open, so we ordered two Dos XX ($3.50 apiece) before noticing that we were possibly the only people of legal drinking age in the crowd. Wearing dowdy daytime outfits, we must’ve looked like the designated parents, watching over our multi-colored flock of cyber-youth.
Finally, we spotted Jen, fresh from an appropriate costume change involving red and orange hair extensions. She regretted to inform us that Selia, the statuesque lead singer of Seileen wasn’t in the mood to be photographed. Instead, we stood at the bar and watched as Selia put the finishing touches on her look, which would’ve fit in perfectly at a Baroque wedding ceremony.
When Buranden took the stage, we were surprised to find that the lead singer wasn’t Japanese after all, and was singing in English. “Maybe he’s turning Japanese,” Ang suggested. As it turns out, during a study abroad program in Tokyo, classically trained opera singer Brandon McInnis found his niche in the world of Japanese pop, and reinvented himself as “Buranden” (the “u” is not silent).
As for headliners GPKISM (comprised of Gothique Prince Ken (or GPK) and Kiwamu of the now-defunct band Blood), their sound is a cinematic blend of classical, industrial, and electronic music.
Unfortunatley, Bar Tab had other commitments and couldn’t stick around for what was shaping up to be an unforgettably strange evening. Although the concert took place on a Saturday, our new friends confirmed that Friday is the best night at Atomix — with upwards of 100 clubkids of all ages dancing to ’80s and ’90s industrial music in outfits their parents probably don’t know about.
I spoke to Jen the following day to ask her how everything went. She described GPKISM’s performance as “epic,” and was “awestruck” by Selia’s voice (she also happens to be a classically trained opera singer). In short, we missed the best part, but we made an exciting discovery: Cosplay and Visual Kei are alive and well in SA. • -Bryan Rindfuss