The success of Kaya, an openly gay, outrageously flamboyant transvestite, was a wake-up call for Japan's notoriously conservative music industry. Born Tatsuya Kasei on July 17, 1983 in Tokushima, he started out in music in 1999 under the name Hime (Princess) in the short-lived visual kei bands Meties and Isola, but his career really started to take off when he met Hora, keyboardist of the band Velvet Eden. Together in 2001 they formed the gothic electro-industrial duo Rudolf Steiner, named after the 19th century Austrian mystic. They attracted the attention of famous producer Mana -- former guitarist of the massively successful Malice Mizer -- who signed them to his own label, changing their name to Schwarz Stein (pseudo-German for Black Stone). At the same time Hime changed his stage name to Kaya, after the name of the legendary bird karyoubinka.
Kaya's clear, pure, yet powerful tenor was especially suited to Hora's dark electronic music, and the duo's two albums, New Vogue Children and Artificial Hallucination, acquired cult status both in Japan and around the world, especially in Europe. In 2004, they split over musical differences, disappeared from the scene for two years, then reunited briefly in the project Another Cell, before launching solo careers.
Kaya's solo material combined Schwarz Stein's gothic trance sound with more commercial electro-pop elements and influences from jazz and French chanson. With his decadent and explicit lyrics, sexualized stage shows in which he performed with male and female dancers and drag queens, and public appearances while always fully made up and attired in elaborate rococo dresses, he aimed to demolish traditional notions of gender and sexuality. In 2006 he released the singles Kaleidoscope and Masquerade and his debut album, Glitter, following these in 2007 with the traditionally themed mini-album Hyakkiyagyou (Night Parade of a Hundred Demons) and the single Carmilla (named for the vampiric antagonist of Sheridan Le Fanu's eponymous novella), the first of a series inspired by female characters from literature and legend, as whom he dressed up in the accompanying promotional material.
In early 2008, fans were astonished when Kaya signed to Next Music, a sublabel of Universal. The very fact that a major label had taken him under its wing was hailed by many as a giant leap forward for the acceptance of homosexuality in mainstream Japanese culture. Unfortunately, his major career was to be short-lived. The label put out a re-recorded version of Glitter, the mini-album Bonjour Chanson, featuring covers of famous French chansons, and three singles -- two of which, Chocolat and Ophelia (named for Shakespeare's tragic heroine), were written by Hora -- before going bust the next year as a result of fallout from the worldwide financial crisis of 2008.
Kaya refused to be deterred, however, and during the next two years kept himself busy, turning his hand to writing short stories, playing shows abroad, and releasing two further conceptual singles, Awilda and Madame Rosa no Shoukan (Madame Rosa's Brothel), inspired, respectively, by a legendary Scandinavian pirate and the reviled Countess Elizabeth Báthory. ~ John D. Buchanan