The first thing you notice about Japanese artist Hyde when he walks into a room is that he is beautiful. The second is that for someone who stands barely over five-foot-three, he radiates the charisma of a rockstar, which is exactly what he is.
A household name and music icon in his homeland, Hyde is a musician, singer, songwriter, producer, actor and, most recently, producer of his own clothing line. He was in town to promote his acoustic concert, which began as a fan club-only event in Japan and now includes stops in Shanghai, Beijing, Taipei and of course, Kuala Lumpur.
The Kuro Misa tour is markedly different from what Hyde is usually known for — playing to sold-out crowds in cavernous stadiums. This time, the arrangement is infinitely more intimate.
“It is definitely a different feeling. When you go for a rock concert it’s a chance for you to let out your feelings. But for an acoustic concert, it [the feelings] washes over you. In a way, it is more accessible to everyone, even those who are older,” he explains.
Dressed in all black, eyes shielded behind round sunglasses and with a broad-brimmed hat covering his short blonde hair, Hyde speaks slowly, almost deliberately. Part of that is undoubtedly due to the language barrier, but he also gives the feeling of being otherworldly and out of reach.
Yet, he occasionally lets slip his dry sense of humour. Asked where he draws his inspiration from, he answers that it comes from all aspects of his life. “There is also something wonderful called deadlines and wanting to make money,” he finishes with a bare smirk.
As calm as he is in person, on stage it is another story. Hyde is best known as being the frontman for Japanese mega band L’Arc-en-ciel — French for rainbow — which Forbes once called “the richest rock band you’ve never heard of”. Founded in Osaka in 1991, the band has sold millions of albums, had its music featured in anime and movie soundtracks, and headlined New York’s famed Madison Square Garden.
When you go for a rock concert it’s a chance for you to let out your feelings. But for an acoustic concert, it [the feelings] washes over you. In a way, it is more accessible to everyone, even those who are older
Hyde is also an accomplished artist in his own right, with solo projects and another band called Vamps, and is head of his own independent label, Vamprose.
As a rock vocalist, he is a powerhouse who belies his slight frame, effortlessly commanding the stage as the music swings between death metal and pop rock. It is also clear that image plays a big part of Hyde’s persona, given his intricate stage costumes and fully made-up face, complete with kohl-rimmed eyes.
“I am not of the generation that wears T-shirts on stage. It’s important to me to have presentation of self,” he says.
It is no surprise that Hyde is considered a fashion icon in Japan, known for his personal style that conveys a strong transgressive rock vibe. This is evident in his clothing line Switchblade, which he produces together with Japanese designer Hiromu Takahara.
At the time of this interview, his mind was completely focused on his acoustic tour, which allowed him to show his other side as a performer. Brought to Malaysia by organiser Toybox Projects, the May 12 concert was held at the MCA hall in the heart of KL.
It was hard not to think you were entering a church when looking at the setup of the stage. Candelabras covered almost every flat surface, while a grand piano and drumset occupied opposite ends of the stage. This feeling was further deepened by the elevated strings ensemble in the back, and the soft, barely discernible Gregorian chanting that served as background music.
In the middle of the stage was a bar stool next to a table covered in crystal jars. It was here that Hyde sat for most of the concert, dressed in a white lace shirt paired with sleek jacket, black cravat and the same hat, now titled at an angle. His face was mostly illuminated by an old-fashioned lamp housed in a standing bird cage.
For close to two hours he held the crowd in complete thrall. His movements were limited and he let his voice convey most of the emotions.
It is almost odd to say this, but in a world dominated by manufactured stars, Hyde is just as well known for his voice as his looks. His vocal innovations and dynamic singing techniques have made him one of the most influential artists in the contemporary Japanese rock scene.
At its most basic, his voice was melodious as it slipped over the ballads, and piercing when he reached the high notes in falsetto. But it was when his voice dropped to bass that you could hear the most character. For one of his songs, Cape of Storms, you could hear the rawness in lyrics that “[echoed] the pain I feel inside”.
The tone turned flirty and mischievous when he sang a more upbeat number, the rock grit clearly evident. This completely shifted, however, when he did a cover of Forbidden Colours, composed by multiple-award winner Ryuichi Sakamoto for the movie Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence. Hyde said it was a highly influential song for him as an artist. In his version, his voice became plaintive, almost pleading as he sang about forbidden love. His rendition brought the people seated next to me to tears.
In between singing, Hyde bantered with the crowd, throwing out simple Malay phrases and thanking the audience for coming and waiting so long for him. He was at times charming, personable and connected to everyone in the massive hall. Yet the air of aloofness about him remained.
As our interview session with him came to an end, we asked why he chose KL as the only stop in Southeast Asia, given that both Singapore and Bangkok are better known to artists, with better infrastructure and fans with deeper pockets.
He paused and explained that he saw KL as a growth area and as such, the potential for Japanese artists to grow in popularity is there.
“Who knows, I may want to move here some day,” he finished with an enigmatic smile, his eyes still hidden behind sunglasses so it was hard to tell if he was sincere or kidding.
And you got the inkling that that was exactly how he wanted you to feel.