Friday 17 July 2009

Japanese bands to see at Fuji Rock Festival

While you're at Fuji Rock Festival, make sure you catch some Japanese bands.
Here are my suggestions:

Yukihiro Takahashi. He was a member of the amazing, influential electronic group YMO, and continues to make interesting electronica pop. The Words on YouTube (Sorry, embedding disabled)

Shibusashirazu Orchestra. Amazing extravaganza! I wrote about a recent concert of theirs here. Unfortunately they clash with Takahashi-san.
Here they are at 2002 FRF:

Why watch Oasis when you could be watching pop band Clammbon?

The best way to start off on Sunday will be to watch the wild new-wave sci-fi band Polysics!

To dance away Friday night, in the Orange Court you can see some electro-hip-hop with Newdeal x Tamaki ROY. Following them is the Shibuya-kei king of electro-house, DJ Towa Tei. Yes, he was in Deee-Lite too! After Towa Tei, Tadanobu Asano will do a short DJ set. Yes, he does music too! Otherwise, for something weirder, stick around Red Marquee to see DJ EY∃ (from Boredoms). I've seen him DJ before - wild and highly danceable!

UA - the unusual but extremely popular jazzy pop singer with a very unique voice will be playing the Green Stage on Saturday.

On the intimate Gypsy Avalon stage, you should see Oni from Afrirampo play solo. Expect something quite different than what she does in Afrirampo!

Progressive piano/guitar/drums trio COMBOPIANO appear at Naeba Shokudo.

Super hyperactive DJ De De Mouse will rock the White Stage, probably with a guest drummer. Although at the same time reformed 90s indie-pop band Sunny Day Service will fill up Field Of Heaven.

80kidz will have the electro kids packed in to the Red Marquee after midnight on Saturday night.

Instrumental post-rock trance band Rovo will be returning to FRF to get everyone dancing. For more wild dancing, neconemuru will have the Naeba Shokudo diners going crazy.

Other bands to check out:

Like girls with accordions? See ryukusanburu kouen!
Psychedelic tribal trance hippies? Dachambo.
70s political rock? Zunou Keisatsu.
Weird experimental electronica? coppe' will play at Café de Paris.
Rock n' Roll with traditional Japanese influences? Soul Flower Union.
Jazz/ska/party rock shenanigans with Sakerock.
Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra will get Friday off to a fun start.
Playing at the same time as TSPO, is Asa-Chang & Junray.
One of the loudest bands to play this year is Guitar Wolf.
Cute and odd Jpop singer Chara will play at the same time at Lilly Allen.
You will have two late night chances to dance to Takkyu Ishino from Denki Groove.

You must check out some of the up and coming bands on the Rookie A Go-Go stage. Some highlights this year are Harp On Mouth Sextet, SuiseiNoboAz, nenem, Kate Sikora, Kowarekake no Tape Recorders, animanimus, and Mahiruno.

There are plenty more great musicians from Japan on the timetable.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Monday 13 July 2009

Kazuki Tomokawa and Mikami Kan, psych-folk legends live

The livehouse Showboat in Koenji is having some great shows in July and August to celebrate their sixteen year anniversary.

Two of the shows will be organised by the amazing label PSF Records.
PSF (Psychedelic Speed Freaks from the High Rise album title) releases underground Japanese psychedelic rock and folk, and free and improvised jazz from the 70s through to now. Their two legendary psych-folk singers, Mikami Kan and Kazuki Tomokawa, who have both been making music since the 70s, will be appearing at Showboat as part of the celebrations.

On the 14th of July, you will have the opportunity to see Mikami Kan. A raw and intense singer who became something of a folk star in the 70s, and also a poet, novelist and actor. He has continued his original take on blues and folk, ignoring musical trends, and creating something deeply personal and Japanese. He will be playing in a duo with guitarist Kazuo Imai. Imai is another important underground Japanese musician, famous for his original improvised style combining free jazz, avant-garde and experimental classical and world music. To make the gig even more unmissable is their support, the duo of psych-folk singer/guitarist Ai Aso and avant-garde guitarist Hisato Higuchi. Gig details.

On the 16th of July, you should take advantage of the chance to see 59-year-old acid/psych-folk singer Kazuki Tomokawa live. Known as the "screaming philosopher", Tomokawa has an amazing voice full of pain and emotion with occasional screaming that sends shivers down your spine. His songs have appeared in Takashi Miike films, the most famous being a bizarre, mad performance in Izo. His 2008 Album Blue Water, Red Water was one of my favourites of last year. Tomokawa is also a poet and a painter. Expect an intense performance and snapped strings. Gig details.

Kazuki Tomokawa live at Shibuya Apia:

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,

Tuesday 7 July 2009

Fuji Rock Festival tips

Check out the Fuji Rock Festival website for the timetable and ticket information.

Here are some tips, advice and a packing list for the festival.


Echigo Yuzawa stationLocal Jietsu line trainTake the shinkansen from Tokyo or Ueno to Echigo Yuzawa station. It takes over an hour and costs 6490yen from Ueno one-way. Go to any JR counter of a big station and get tickets in advance if you can. Then get your return tickets when you get to Echigo Yuzawa. There are free shuttle buses from Echigo Yuzawa station. Last year I had to wait over an hour in a queue in the rain for a bus.

To save money on transport, you can get local trains for about half the price of a shinkansen (3260yen), but it takes more than twice the time. Take the JR Takasaki line from Ueno to Takasaki, then the JR Joetsu line to Minakami, then the infrequent Joetsu line extension to Echigo-Yuzawa. If you're going on the Thursday or Friday, the 6:27am Takasaki line from Ueno will get you to Echigo-Yuzawa at 10:21am, or the 10:20am train will get you there at 2:17pm. Check train times at Hyperdia.

To save even more money, get a seishun juhachi kippu. This gives you five daily tickets of unlimited travel on JR local and rapid trains (not express or shinkansen) for only 11500yen. You can divide the 5 tickets among your friends and it'll work out to be only 2300yen to get to the festival! You will need to travel together though. Even if there are only two of you, if you use it on the way there and back, it'll only cost you 2875yen each way. More info at Japan Guide.


Camping areaThe essentials: clothes, camera, tent, sleeping bag, sleeping mat, pillow, toiletries, tickets.

Torch (flashlight). It's essential if you're camping, but also useful finding your way around the darker parts of the festival grounds at night.

Sunscreen, hat and sunglasses. You'll be spending a lot of time out in the sun.

RaincoatsRain poncho or light rain coat. You can't bring umbrellas into the festival grounds and you are guaranteed to get stuck in the rain at some point. You can get plastic ponchos from 100yen shops, but they break easily so bring a couple.

Plastic tarps/covers/garbage bags to cover your backpack and camping gear on the way to the festival in case it rains.

Cash. There are no ATMs.

Insulated PET bottle cover. You can get them from a 100yen shop.

Batteries. For your phone recharger, torch, camera etc.

Insect repellent, especially if camping. You will be spending time at night in the forest.

SittingMorning toothbrushingOrange CourtIcy-cold water
Something to sit on. Small tarp, light fold-up chair, or even just a plastic bag.

Towels. Big towels for the shower/bath/hose-shower/creek, but also small towels for mopping up sweat and rain.

Swimwear/shorts/clothes you can wear if you jump in the creek or wash yourself with a hose. Those shower and onsen queues are ridiculous!

Sensu (folding fan) can be handy. There is no air-conditioning!

Shade tent or tarp and rope to rig up a sun-shade. The early morning sun will turn your tent into a sauna so it's good to be able to sit around/sleep near your tent in the morning.

Flip-flops to wear around the campsite. You'll slip all over the place and get your toes trodden on if you wear them into the festival.

Shoes that may get destroyed. You will be doing a lot of walking, probably in the rain and mud. A spare pair might be good. Wellingtons/gum boots are popular, but they're sweaty and uncomfortable.

Light jacket. It may get cool at night, so bring something long-sleeved.

Small padlock. Theft isn't really a problem, but if you're worried about leaving stuff in your tent, put a small lock on the zipper.

Something to mark your tent. There are thousands and they all look the same! Tape or a flag or something.

Rope. This is very handy when camping to rig up a clothesline or sun-shade, or to secure broken tents. Remember a knife to cut it!

A mallet or hammer. Bashing tent pegs with a rock is not much fun.

Portable ashtray if you are a smoker.

Tissues. Bring some of those freebies that they hand out on the street in case there's no loo paper or you get a runny nose, or if you're a messy eater.


Bad camping spotCampsiteCampsite. Get there on the Thursday to find a good flat spot to camp. You don't want to end up pitching a tent on the side of a hill miles from the toilet in a place that will flood.

Alcohol. You can't bring glass bottles or cans into the festival grounds. You can bring whatever you want into the campsite or hotels though, so mix up drinks in PET bottles in your tent/room and then you can carry them into the festival. Bring a cooler box/bag along and get ice and mixers from the store near the front of the Prince Hotel. Plastic cups are useful if you want to drink at your campsite. Most alcoholic drinks in the festival grounds cost 500yen.

Mobile phones. Bring your phone but don't rely on it too much as you often can't get reception at the festival. Plan places and times to meet friends in advance. Bring a battery-operated phone recharger.

Garbage bags. The staff hand out garbage bags when you enter the festival. These are very useful, not only for your rubbish, but also to sit on if the ground is wet or dirty, and to cover your bag/camera/self when it rains.

Bus queueQueues. Be prepared for queues for the bus to and from Echigo Yuzawa station (so get there early on Thursday), queues for your armbands when you arrive (get there early), queues for toilets, queues for food and drinks, queues to use showers, sinks and hoses, occasional queues to enter stages and super-long queues for merchandise.

Sending stuff. You can get stuff sent to and from the festival by Yamato for reasonable prices. There is a counter near the entrance where you can pack and post stuff. Very useful if you're too tired to carry all your stuff home. Details here. The Yamato counter can also store your luggage throughout the festival.

Food stallFood. There are plenty of good food stalls throughout the festival grounds selling all kinds of food, and it's not too expensive. There's plenty for vegetarians too. There is also a small shop near the Prince hotel where you can get snacks and drinks for your campsite. There is organic food around Field of Heaven and Gypsy Avalon.

Shop. I didn't discover this until the final day last year, but there is a small convenience-store-like-shop between the festival entrance and the Prince Hotel. You can get ice, water, drinks, snacks and instant noodles here. They even sell some camping gear, hats etc in case you forgot something. There are some decent toilets here too.

BoardwalkWalking. The festival site is very, very large and the paths can be crowded, so get fit and expect to spend a lot of time walking between stages. Please take this into consideration when planning which bands to see. If you want to head to Orange Court to see a band starting at the same time as the finishing time of band you just saw at Red Marquee, well you'll probably miss most of their set. The walk from the campsite to the festival is also quite long.

Plan. Study the timetable before you go and work out who you want to see. Check out the websites of bands you don't know and discover some new stuff you can catch at the festival. Look at the festival layout and work out if it will be possible to walk between stages between bands in time to catch them.


Cable car DragondolaDay Dreaming stageSilent BreezeHammockNaeba Shokudo
Watching supergroups at the Green and White stages, Red Marquee, Orange Court and Field of Heaven can be a bit tiring for 3 days, so plan some time to check out the other stages and areas of the festival.

For a real trippy experience, take the 20-minute cable car up to Day Dreaming/Silent Breeze way up on top of a mountain. Some cool hip-hop and electronica acts play up there, there are weird games and costumes, a flying fox, a restaurant, dragonflies and a really fun relaxed atmosphere where you are allowed to act like children.

There are hammocks you can hang in, in the forest between the Gypsy Avalon stage and NGO area. Take a look at the NGO booths while you're there.

Naeba Shokudo is near the world food area/Red Marquee and you can get some nice Japanese food and sake there as well as catch some bands on the small stage.

Mokudo-tei is a tiny stage set up on the boardwalk in the middle of the forest where bands play intimate sets.

All-night action can be had outside the festival entrance in a bizarre area around the Crystal Palace tent. Dance, play, have some cocktails and watch the Mongolian circus. Check out some great up-and-coming bands on the Rookie A Go-Go stage. There are some great artists playing there this year. More info at Palace of Wonder.

If you have time, go right down to the very end of the festival beyond the Orange Court to Café de Paris, a Moulin Rouge cabaret inspired area with chanson and gypsy music. You can also get some good cocktails, chill down in the creek, and jam on the drums at Stoned Circle.

So, who wants to join the Tokyo Gig Guide Fuji Rock '09 cohort?

Labels: , , , , , ,