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Dec 07

[event report] Dir en grey at Kinokuniya New York 11/10

sign4The weather’s getting colder, the holidays are approaching, and somewhere in midtown there’s a line of young women with multicolored hair sleeping on cardboard boxes outside a concert hall. By now, every Jrock fan knows what that means: Dir en grey is back in town.

The metal monarchs’ 2009 American tour brings them to New York once again, this time for three consecutive shows at the Gramercy Theater. It’s the night before the first performance and this evening they’re gracing Japanese bookstore Kinokuniya with their presence, sitting down with Miz Diva Vélez of The Diva Review for an interview followed by an autograph session. The event is private and exclusive: only about sixty lucky fans — winners of an online contest — and their guests are able to attend.

The reason for the exclusivity is soon made clear. The “event space” at Kinokuniya is more accurately a corner of the bookstore with all the displays pushed off to the side. Press is herded into the adjacent café area, where photographers battle sandwich shelves for a decent view. The band sits at a table wedged into the corner; a few feet in front of them is stretched a black velvet rope, behind which approximately a hundred fans are packed into the spaces between the bookshelves. The environment is certainly cozy, and I can’t think of another instance of this infamously aloof band presenting themselves to their fans in such an informal, personal way.

The interview portion of the event lasts just under a half an hour. Like most interviews with Dir en grey, the discussion is pleasant but bland. Host Diva Vélez is personable and well-spoken, and to the delight of the excited crowd — some of whom have taken a break from waiting on line at the theater to come to this event — many of her questions focus on the upcoming concerts. Towards the end of the discussion she gives the fans the microphone, inviting them to tell the band how they feel about Dir en grey’s music and performances. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that a few brave fans jump at.
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As the band answers questions, it’s hard to resist the desire to look them in the eye. It shouldn’t be something that needs to be resisted — they’re speaking to us, after all, and it’s them everyone’s here to see. But they cross their arms and look down at their laps, trying their best to avoid the gazes trained on them; attempting to breach the walls erected by their body language feels like an intrusion. If only they would look back it wouldn’t seem so invasive, but of course they keep their eyes lowered.

By the band’s own admission, these types of intimate fan-oriented events are extremely rare for them. Their lack of experience at confronting their fans outside the magic circle of the concert hall is obvious in their hunched shoulders and shy smiles. The mood is light, but bassist Toshiya admits embarrassment, drummer Shinya pulls his knees to his chest and sits with his arms around his legs, and reclusive vocalist Kyo isn’t even present: officially due to exhaustion, but unofficially due to cold feet, as guitarist Kaoru lets slip. All the members except Kaoru, who as usual fields the majority of questions, seem on the verge of fits of giggles through most of the event. I once or twice catch even the usually stolid band leader restraining laughter behind a smile and a hand.

sign7These men are world-class performers and no strangers to the stage. It takes a certain kind of person to do what they do up there; it’s not for the shy or the faint of heart, and if any of them were shrinking violets they wouldn’t be where they are today. They’re used to having all eyes on them. But speaking to fans face-to-face is a different story than performing for a crowded theater.

Because the band is not in control of what happens here, in this open space; they aren’t standing four feet above everyone else and dictating emotions like they do in the closed space of the stage. They’re not here to entertain but still find themselves on the receiving end of an expectant crowd’s penetrating gaze. It reminds me, in a way, of Manet’s Le déjeuner sur l’herbe, which introduced to the Paris art world the subtle but significant difference between the revelatory naked and the performative nude.

One can’t blame Dir en grey for being embarrassed about their nakedness tonight. They don’t have much experience with it, yet — haven’t discovered how to turn it into something more useful, haven’t figured out that we only want to look because they don’t want us to see. But that’s okay; everyone was a beginner once. Spend enough time in America, and it’s a lesson they’ll learn soon enough.

For those fans who were unable to attend the event, or anyone else who is interested in listening, Samurai Beat Radio has graciously posted a downloadable Podcast of the interview here. Thanks, SBR!

Photos by Leisl Schrader

15 comments

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  1. Lona Pendergraft

    Easily, the article is in reality the sweetest on that laudable topic. I agree with your conclusions and definitely will eagerly look forward to your approaching updates. Simply just saying thanks definitely will not just be sufficient, for the enormous lucidity in your writing. I will certainly directly grab your rss feed to stay privy of any updates. Very good work and much success in your business efforts!

  2. Catherine Catanzaro

    Guys, keep the fandom wank out of here. Take it to batsu or something.

  3. boo

    Conspicuous by his absence: Kyo. Further proof that he’s a superhero.

    1. KB

      It sucks that no one brought up the possibility of re-releasing previous albums like Vulgar and Kisou (or tour DVD’s like Code of Vulgarism) for affordable American prices through their U.S. distributor so a wider group of fans could buy ‘em. I got a pm to one of the winners; Karen aka Coffee Bunnies, a pal of the infamous She Who Shall Not Be Named (begins with M and ends in Y), who strangely enough, was friendly and curious herself about what they’d say, unfortunately the message didn’t reach her until -after- the day of the interview, damn Batsu and it’s slow delivery of pm’s. I guess the world will never know… unless PSky ever snags an interview with them… *puppy dog eyes towards Boo*

      1. KB

        Here would be (imo, atleast) the ideal set of interview questions, of course… most of the people who get to interview them wouldn’t bother and would just ask more “So how are you enjoying [insert country]” filler stuff.

        ** Many fans outside of Japan initially discovered Dir en grey’s music through mp3 files that were put up on internet fan sites and file-sharing services as early as 2002. How aware were you of this connection between The Internet and the sudden increase in popularity of your music outside of your home country?

        ** “You’ve put out many albums and DVD’s before your U.S. debut, Withering to Death, was released through Warcon in 2005. Would you ever consider re-releasing some of the older albums and DVD’s through your current U.S. distribution so that a wider group of fans could afford them, or is that strictly up to your record label in Japan?

        ** You released a DVD for the Japanese leg of “The Rose Trims Again” tour. The DVD was made available on The Omega Order’s website, but at a very steep $80. Would you ever consider recording a Full Length Live Concert DVD in America and releasing it through The End Records? Something like that would be far more affordable and accessible for the U.S. fans, and it’d also be very special to them.

        ** As a special treat to fans in New York, you performed an older song which you haven’t played in almost ten years. Will this willingness to play songs from earlier albums spill over into your next American tour, or was this something just for New York?

        ** Is there any song from your past that you would -NEVER- want to play again, no matter how many fans asked you? (probably Garden, lol…- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L2vT65xV2BI& – or maybe ” i’ll ” – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D35ydMr-rUI)

        ** Does it bother you that alot of your veteran fans, both Japanese and Americans alike, still think of you as a Visual Kei band, even though you no longer fit this classification musically and in appearance?

        ** Toshiya once said [in another interview] that one of the things you -DON’T- want to do is “be like the Backstreet Boys,” would you say that the Visual Kei genre is now more like the American Boy Band trend of the late 80’s and 90’s? (Bands manufactured by big record labels getting by more on their looks than actual musical talent).

        ** Do you have a favorite American band that you listened to alot as a kid?

        ** Kaoru said [in another interview] that he likes Nine Inch Nails, you also allowed Chris Vrenna to remix one of your songs (S from their first record, MISSA). Would you guys ever make an “Industrial” album?

      2. Victoria Goldenberg

        There’s an interview with them right above this post.

        1. KB

          “The interview portion of the event lasts just under a half an hour. Like most interviews with Dir en grey, the discussion is pleasant but bland.” (Because no one ever asks them anything that hasn’t been asked already) – Or were you saying there’s an interview that PSky did with them too? I’d like to see that…

          1. Kytrax

            There’s an interview with Toshiya. Go look.

            The questions you asked have been answered before in various magazines and online. Maybe not in the exact wording, but seriously, they’ve been asked before.

            Before you ask me to go look them up for you, I’m going to say no. Go look them up yourself.

          2. KB

            Sooo, there’s actually an interview somewhere where the person asked them about the possibility of re-releases of the pre-WtD albums through their U.S. distro? Cuz I’ve searched out interviews with the band and haven’t seen anything like that asked yet, guess I’m not googling hard enough.

          3. KB

            Ohhh whoops… I didn’t see the other interview as I had came to this post through Google and didn’t know that by “There’s an interview with them right above this post.” you actually didn’t mean The Diva Review’s interview…

            Still the only thing that I see being asked as far as ‘albums’ and ‘U.S.’ is whether or not they’ve thought about recording in the states, so still nothing about re-releases of older albums and DVD’s for U.S. prices through The End. Oh well… someone will bring this up to them eventually. Maybe, FullMetalJackie will next time she talks with them.

          4. Kytrax

            Releasing older albums in the USA is not up to the band. It’s up to the record label they first recorded that album with. It also requires someone forking up the cash and time to publish and distribute them in the USA. Many Japanese labels require payment up front for rights to release in the USA.

  4. Kathy Chee

    I love the descriptions in the article. I can imagine all the jostling photogs. Hopefully nobody from Wire or Getty with their big old flashes and bad attitudes.

    1. Catherine Catanzaro

      Thanks! Yeah, the event was well organized but the space itself was pretty cramped. Some photographers had to stand on chairs and stools to even see the band.

  5. Victoria Goldenberg

    The opening is great.

    Perhaps the experience was educational for Dir en grey.

    We’ll have to find ways to use the sandwiches tag more often.

    1. Catherine Catanzaro

      Thanks! I always have such trouble with openings, and usually save them for last. I’m glad this one was successful.

      I couldn’t resist adding the sandwiches tag. It just needed to be done.

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