Thursday, 31 July 2008

Fuji Rock Festival part one: days one and two


After four hours of annoying people with our massive amounts of luggage on local trains, we finally arrived in Yuzawa. Then came an hour standing in the rain waiting for the bus to the festival. Rain is an unfortunate but unavoidable consequence of holding the festival at a ski resort way up in the mountains of Niigata. Rain is what caused me to get drenched on Sunday, the only day I forgot to bring my poncho, and probably why I now have a cold.

campsite golf

Getting there on Thursday is definitely the way to go. We managed to find an ideal camping spot near some toilets, a stream and not on too much of an angle. In the next couple of days we witnessed people pitching tents all kinds of wacky places like the side of hills, in swamps and in the trees.

tentpole tent disaster

The atmosphere on Thursday night was amazing. There were fireworks and surprise bands and thousands of grinning fujirockers. We mixed up some drinks at the campsite and went in to the festival. Takkyu Ishino got us dancing, and soon we were drinking more and more and making friends with almost everyone who passed, people who we kept running into and hanging out with throughout the festival. A bunch of 20-year-olds we met happened to be our campsite next-door neighbours. Despite the language differences, they had a great time with Pete drinking at their campsite until they started vomiting in their tents. Who taught Pete "iki iki"?


my tent sleep

As it did every day, the bright morning sun woke us up way too early and turned our tents into saunas, causing us to seek alternative places to sleep. Fellow Melburnians, Midnight Juggernauts kicked off Saturday in the Red Marquee with a solid dancable set that got us in the right mood for the rest of the day.

midnight juggernauts frf

Then it was time to explore the festival site and make ourselves familar with the location of all the stages. It is an incredibly huge place! Walking over to Orange Court took about 40 minutes and on the way we had to endure a couple of The Presidents of The United States Of America songs. Who invited them? Once at Orange Court, we only got to see a couple of songs by French hip-hop group, Hocus Pocus before it was time to turn around and start heading back to Red Marquee again to see Spoon.

hocus pocus orange court

On the way back we watched a couple of Quruli's songs. Well-polished Japanese indie-rock. Spoon gave us more indie-rock and I was happy that they played lots of songs from their last two albums (their best, in my opinion), and the big Spoon fans would have been happy that they played lots of oldies too. It started raining when I wandered over to get food and I heard Travis from the Green Stage very appropriately playing 'Why Does It Always Rain On Me?'

The Gossip were up next in the Red Marquee and Beth put on an amazing show that was definitely one of the highlights of the festival. She howled, sweated and announced, "Japan is so hot!", taking off a layer of clothing. The crowd loved her and went absolutely wild, especially when she came down from the stage to sing among them. They included a very punk cover of 'Like a Virgin' as well as their hits like 'Jealous Girls' and 'Standing In The Way Of Control.'

Unfortunately, the main role of the security guards was to stop people from taking photos, so it was hard to get any decent band shots.

Maybe it was partly because of Gossip's amazing performance just before, maybe it was partly because of the rain, or maybe it was because I had such high expectations, but whatever it was, although I did enjoy them, Bloc Party failed to impress me all that much.

bloc party boardwalk

My Bloody Valentine were everything I wanted them to be. Incredible. They played my favourites from Loveless and Isn't Anything and even some from their EPs. They even did 20 minutes of delicious noise in the middle of the last song! The fans absolutely loved them, and Pete, Meri and I were speechless for a long while after they finished. The rest of our group didn't dig them much though.

mbv my bloody valentine

Wandering over to Orange Court, we caught a bit of The New Mastersounds who sounded as good live as they do on record. Unfortunately, Orange Court was ridiculously crowded making it impossible to properly appreciate Dexpistols and Denki Groove. We had to sit right up the back on the side of a hill trying to balance our drinks. Should have just stayed and watched The New Mastersounds.

It was time for late night hip-hop back way back at the Red Marquee. I've been really loving Dan Le Sac vs Scroobius Pip's debut album lately so I had been looking forward to seeing them play live. This duo from England ended up being one of my highlights of the weekend. For their song, 'Thou Shalt Always Kill,' Scroobius Pip changed the words to include Fuji Rock bands.

Grandmaster Flash reminded us that he is the DJ who first made the turntable an instrument and that he is the first hip-hop artist to be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame countless times, told us to put our hands in the air countless times, and continually ranted about a Japan Times interviewer who he thought had dissed him (in fact, all he did was ask why many Japanese people didn't know who he was). But he also played a fun selection of old and new songs that got us dancing, and we all loved him because, well, he is Grandmaster Flash! At one hilarious point, after referring to the Japan Times reporter yet again and boasting about how Japanese people loved him, he played 'Smells Like Teen Spirit!'
I heard that song three times throughout the festival...

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Saturday, 26 July 2008

My Jero

While I was slinking to the station after just another day at the office in Shiodome on Wednesday, I stumbled on a free gig by Japan's newest It Boy: Jero the pseudo-hip-hop enka singer.

I figured I might as well check it out to distract myself from sulking about being too broke for Fuji Rock this weekend.

Certainly most of the ladies seemed enthralled by this American crooner, who says that his Japanese maternal grandmother introduced him to enka and the Japanese language.

I was more enthralled with his jarring image. Jero eschews kimono for gear straight from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, but still performs traditionally: standing in one place, overusing facial expressions and randomly grabbing at the air as his diamond earrings glitter in the light.

Behind him, Jero promotional videos rolled on a screen, instead of, say, cherry blossoms and oceans like in the usual enka videos. His voice was a bit deeper than I expected, and while quite pleasant, I'd like to hear it again in a few more years when he's got a bit more polish and power.

Because his image is so jarring, I was expecting him to add his own touch to the music, but the arrangements he sings over are starkly traditional -- no beats, samples, skits, or other accouterments of modern hip-hop.

During the post-performance harassment -- err, questioning -- by Nippon Television flunkies, Jero remained soft-spoken and gracious. He must really be a publicist's dream: a novelty, but not enough to alienate anyone, and seemingly tireless, as shown by his endless number of TV appearances, gigs and coffee advertisements.

What do you think, is Jero nothing but shtick or is he the real thing?

(photo is from Jero's official blog)

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Thursday, 24 July 2008

The Battle Continues

Naotoxin battles The Watermelon BootlegLaptop Battle Tokyo, vol. 3
7/16, SuperDeluxe

Combining the craziness of computer-generated music and the thrill of competition, the sporadic Laptop Battles at SuperDeluxe are becoming some of my more anticipated events in Tokyo. It's a way to see how individual musicians, working in the very solitary medium of computers, can translate their gadgetry to a live performance.

The third edition did not disappoint. The music is always the focus, but this time I feel like the competitors upped their showmanship. While some may dismiss crazy masks, wigs and dancing as gimmicks, I figure that if you already know you can throw down, you might as well go for entertainment value as well -- something the judges seemed to take into account.

The battle featured eight musicians in a bracket-style tournament, competing for software and gear. It was off to a strong start in the first round, when Hiroaki Oba's mix of disco-y influences rightly won out over Azop Corp's more technically proficient but rather standard beats.

I won't go into detail of each round, but highlights for me included lots of samples from old-school Nintendo games, and the stage antics of Lastboss (who went on to the final) and Naotoxin, a competitor from the first laptop battle who unfortunately was eliminated.

Technical problems terminated competitor T3 from the running, but perhaps his dark, expansive music wasn't cut out for the competition.

The final paired ambient DJ Yuko Ono with the spastic stylings of Mancunian mixer Lastboss. It was a tough call because the two are so different stylistically. The crowd seemed to favor Ono, but Lastboss' supporters definitely knew how to be vocal.

Ono started out strong and I was sure she had it, but her second offering wasn't as sure. Lastboss was consistent in his seizure-inducing glitches and samples, and maybe it was his technical prowess and showmanship that won him the title.

Even though I thought the decision should've gone the other way, I don't think that Ono lost out, and I hope to see her again soon.

Check out the Laptop Battle website for lots of info. And anywhere else for pics better than mine.

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