I recently had the opportunity to get out of town and see one of my favorite bands, Dir En Grey, live in concert. I do not possess any musical talent or skill myself, but am a huge music appreciator. What I look for in bands is the ability to be diverse and work in a variety of styles while still staying true to their own unique creative expression, and Dir En Grey is one of the best examples of this I can think of. Each of their albums has its own distinct sound and story, and they can move between beautiful, melodic, and soothing and intense, hard, and aggressive seamlessly within the same song. I went into this experience with no expectations, just excited to hear a band I have enjoyed since late high school live. I never dreamed I would be so emotionally moved by an experimental metal band, or that I would leave with such a much-needed refill of artistic inspiration, a spark lit that caused me to reflect on my own life as both an artist and as simply a human being. The key to this connection was vulnerability.
The name of the tour was “This Way To Self Destruction“, and throughout the performance singer Kyo was playing a character that you could see slowly self destructing until their brand new, epic 10 minute song “World of Mercy” played at the end. The movements and miming, dance, and entrancing images played on the screen behind the band were so emotive that though the lyrics were in Japanese I could still understand exactly what each song was conveying.
Many of the band’s lyrics deal with depression, suicidal ideation, isolation, hopelessness, and anxiety, their art revolving around a lot of darker themes and imagery. However, the approach they use doesn’t glorify or romanticize negative emotions, but instead lays bare the things we all experience to some degree and asks us why there is so much greed, hatred, struggle, betrayal, and immorality in our society. Why is our world so hard to survive in? This raw honesty and straightforward, no-bullshit communication through their music is what makes them stand out, especially coming from a culture like that of their home country of Japan where transparency and public displays of emotion and opinion are more repressed and often considered inappropriate.
My friend Joannah, whom I attended with and who actually is a musician herself, posted this favorite quote of hers from 2007 before the show. For context, Kyo was asked in an interview ‘Is the purpose of Dir en Grey to disturb and unsettle your audience rather than simply to entertain?’
“Maybe neither. I hate entertainment, but I’m not trying to disturb either: what I’m trying to do onstage is express the pain and frustration we all feel in life but also to look beyond it at a different world without that. If you’ve always lived in the light, then you won’t know what darkness is, and if you’ve only experienced happiness, then you can’t recognize real sorrow. You have to experience all of life to be truly alive.”
Just as their music moves back and forth from intense screams to melodic vocals and instrumentals, their ruminations on the burden of life are not without hope.
As a creator myself, I believe vulnerability is an inseparable entity from the creative process. Connecting with your viewers, watchers, or listeners requires honesty. One of my favorite TED Speakers, PHD Research Professor and Author Brene Brown, talks a lot about the power of vulnerability. I’d encourage you to take some time to watch her talk; it’s life changing.
I will leave you with another quote from Kyo,
“I think everyone has bad experiences and things they don’t want to say and I think there is meaning in letting it out.”