Saturday 1 August 2009

Fuji Rock Festival 2009 review

station sign. campsite. (photos by craig)

Even though I had a cold and it only saved me about three thousand yen but took about three times as long, I decided upon the local train adventure vs the shinkansen comfort and left very early on Thursday morning. I like to feel the distance I am traveling. The first shuttle bus finally came after waiting around Echigo Yuzawa station and we were on our way up the twisting mountain roads to the festival site. Then after queueing with my giant backpack squashing me and some hassle at the counter, I got a camping pass and scrambled into the campsite where I secured a good camp spot. Perfect really; under some trees on flat ground. Then it started raining. So it was nap time in my ¥3900 Don Quijote tent before meeting Jay who also managed to fit in the tent for two nights.
Some fireworks and cheering started off the opening party before the first guest band, Räfven came on stage at the Red Marquee and played gypsy music. They were lucky enough to get to play a million times throughout the festival.
Next, macho funk band The Inspector Cluzo annoyed the hell out of us very quickly with their tired Fuck The Bass Player thing. The singer said "fuck Michael Jackson." Ooh, so controversial. Cluzo also somehow managed to score a number of slots throughout the festival.
Outside the Marquee I spotted Tadanobu Asano who Jay, a big fan and an aspiring actor, chased and met. Asano didn't seem to be annoyed or rude at all. Nice bloke. He was set to DJ the next night and his wife, Chara, was set to perform too.
The State Circus Of Mongolia came on to perform their super-human feats. Some ridiculously flexible girls first twisted themsleves into impossible contortions and balanced on each other, then the strong blokes lifted and threw around heavy objects. Wow.

ganban stage. (photo by craig)

The time soon came to dance in the rain at the Gan-Ban stage. DJs Yatt had everybody going totally wild and getting very excited about Fuji Rock Festival starting. After a while, tiredness descended on our dancing bodies so it was tent time. However, not much sleep was had as we were too worried the tent would collapse while it blew around in the wind and pouring rain.

entrance. (photo by craig)

Luckily, the tent survived, and after we finally got up and I finally got my pass into the festival, we made our way through the rain and mud to the dryness of the Red Marquee where Longwave had already started. On our way to the stage it was hard to get excited about the festival starting because we were already so cold and wet and worried that it would just rain the whole weekend. Fuji Rain Festival. However, Longwave were quite impressive and soon lifted our moods with their cool shoegazer guitar sounds, obviously heavily influenced by My Bloody Valentine - fave band of FRF 2008.
Some mud splashing led us to the White Stage next to watch some of Ebony Bones who I really didn't know what to expect from. Her colourful crazy party music was highly enjoyable and further helped us to forget about the rain. A genuine performer, she worked the crowd with skill and with the help of her Japanese guitarist, got us all to move en masse left and right and forward and back. Fuji Dance In The Rain Festival.
We had to leave early to make it back to the Red Marquee in time for M83, one of the acts I was most looking forward to seeing at this year's Fuji Rock. What a combination - shoegazer and dream pop-Cocteau Twins sounds with spacey new wave electronica and huge synth wash-outs. The main guy Anthony was joined by a drummer and the gorgeous voice of Morgan Kibby. More dancing! What an amazing performance! They said it was their last show - did they mean of the tour or forever??
M83's music had cleared the Yuzawa skies so we sat around at the Green Stage next as Lily Allen and her band came on stage. I soon got bored and restless and knowing Chara was playing at the White Stage, I left Jay with Lily and stood at the back of the extremely packed White Stage area. Chara seemed happy and sad at the same time, like she was about to burst out crying as she poured herself completely into her performance. She talked about the sun and mountains and dragonflies and I was all grinning and swaying. Some good things do come out of Jpop.
Back at the Green Stage the legendary Patti Smith walked on stage. It was great to have the chance to see her even though I don't know many of her songs. I only have a couple of her albums from the 70s. She dedicated a song to Michael Jackson as I was leaving to commence the long hike to Field Of Heaven to see Tortoise.

field of heaven. tortoise. (photos by meri joyce)

It didn't take as long as expected to get to Heaven, so I was early enough to secure a spot at the very front of the stage. Tortoise played an incredible hour and a half set, with the members constantly switching between drums, guitar, bass, vibraphones and synths. They started with their head-bobbing numbers, moved into their more experimental jams and ended with their more rocking songs. They played most of their (great) new album, plus a few classics that threw me right back to 1998. Tortoise heaven.
I met up with some friends at the Red Marquee and caught part of Simian Mobile Disco who had me dancing, still on my Tortoise high. After them, I escaped from Oasis' whining and refilled my PET bottle drinks back at my tent, stopping to chill out for a while in the Crystal Palace tent where DJs Sim Cass/Jimbo Limbo had three people dancing enthusiastically to the 70s dub tracks they were spinning. I discovered my camera had broken, damn!
I managed to find my friends again back at the Red Marquee in time for EYE from the Boredoms who was about to DJ through midnight. All-Night Fuji over at the Orange Court where Towa Tei and Tadanobu Asano were supposed to be playing was canceled because the river was overflowing and Orange Court was a huge mudpit. Zannen. I'd seen EYE dj years ago and at that time he played awesome loud crunching trance noise. This time he played kind of tribal dance music that while fun most of the time, too often started falling into the typical late night Fuji generic dance music category.
Gang Gang Dance totally broke away from the typical thing and put on an unreal performance, continuing EYE's tribal elements and creating a theatrical unclassifiable orchestra of avante-garde sound. Awesome! One person on stage spent the entire show walking around with an umbrella.
I was pretty psyched to see Diplo up next but after a half-decent start, he soon started to play generic dance music. Hmmm. We were soon tired, bored and hungry so hung out on the wet tatami in Naeba Shokudo eating cucumbers and tofu and drinking shochu. Tent time.

orange court. sleepers. (photos by craig)

Jay had to leave early in the morning to go back to Narita to pick up the band he was interpreting and bring them to the festival so I was by myself for the morning. Although it was good that it had stopped raining, the sun prevented me from sleeping in making me feel pretty terrible, having only had a couple hours sleep the last two nights. Probably also from having taken cold medicine while drinking..
I got a keitai message saying that Asano and Chara had just announced their divorce! Wow, while they were both at Fuji Rock!

seun kuti & egypt 80. (photos by meri joyce)

The legendary Nigerian band started by Fela Kuti, Egypt 80 took to the Green Stage and soon lifted my mood with their long songs of funky big-band afrobeat. The first song was lead and sung by Baba Ani who was the band's leader after Fela's death. The flamboyant son of Fela, Seun Kuti, now the singer and leader of the band, came on stage to much applause. Nobody dances like him! They played a few long songs including "Many Things" and "African Problems". As predicted, Seun's shirt was removed revealing the Fela Lives tattoo across his back. Very literally, Seun is a born performer, mixing politics and charisma just like his father. He made a comment about the male gaze and women's bottoms which I didn't really understand. Actually, two female backing singers' main role was crazy bottom shaking.
When they finished, hunger drew me back to Naeba Shokudo, now my favourite Fuji Rock Festival spot. I was starting to feel crook again so I crashed out of the sun under a tree and tried to concentrate on UA's cool jazz-pop.
I decided Gypsy Avalon would be a better resting place so after hiking all the way down there, I lay down and watched Oni from Afrirampo who really impressed me, starting with acoustic neo-folk and ending with Afrirampo-style screaming and craziness.
I fell asleep for a while after that but people started stepping over me as they moved in to see Juana Molina who was set to play there next. She had all kinds of sound problems and looked rather annoyed that Melvins could be heard from the next stage. I was wondering if the Melvins would play Honey Bucket - I used to love that song. Anyway, Juana still put on a good show which I was feeling too unwell to properly appreciate. I decided I'd have to make sure to see her again the next day. After sitting in the light rain for a while in the NGO area scoffing vegan curry and falafel, I finally recovered.

river. (photos by craig)

A trek back to the Red Marquee had me pass by the White Stage where the Zazen Boys' bass player was doing some slap-masturbation. I had missed Bright Eyes, so sitting in the mud outside Naeba Shokudo for a while, I watched Ryukusanburu Koen, six girls playing some light happy songs with accordians, musical saw and recorder. Everyone was smiling.
I made my way up to the front of the stage at Red Marquee for Dinosaur Jr. feeling all nostalgic for my youth. J still had his huge hilarious stack of Marshall amps and long hair, albeit now completely grey. As soon as they started, I quickly regretted being at the front because a huge moshpit erupted with people surfing above me. I hadn't been in a mosh like this since, well, probably the last time I saw Dinosaur Jr., but that was more than 12 years ago! They played lots of songs from their surprisingly good new album including one which Lou introduced by saying, "The next song is from our new album. It sucks!" Lou used to be a kind of hero of mine. I loved his voice in Sebadoh and the way he attacked his bass. Tonight neither of them seemed to want to be there, barely looking at or speaking to the audience, except in a sarcastic manner. Everyone was very happy that they played Feel The Pain and Freak Scene.

forest. (photo by meri joyce)

I managed to squeeze my way out of the Maequee during their last song and trudged my way past the Green Stage where Franz Ferdinand were playing. They seemed to be pretty rocking but I was busy concentrating on getting to the White Stage for Public Enemy who had also already started. PE were minus Flavor Flav and a couple of other members who couldn't get in to Japan because of visa problems, so basically it was just Chuck D desperately trying to fill out the set. They played the entire album It Takes A Nation of Millions plus other songs, a bit of a Michael Jackson tribute turntable thing, and lots of talking about soulpower, hip-hop, their website, peace and how great and important they are. I'd had a lot of shochu and found myself among a group of very pumped-up fans so we did lots of jumping and putting our hands in the air and stuff. Loads of fun!

red marquee audience. (photo by jay hori)

I managed to relocate friends at Red Marquee after that where an enormous crowd was watching 80kidz. Even though I wanted to watch them, it was way too crowded and I was way too tired so ended up back at the tent where the music kept me awake until it was light.

It took me a long time to finally wriggle out of my sleeping bag and make my way to the White Stage where Polysics had already started. Their enthusiasm really caught on and they were the perfect start to a great day. Of course wearing their orange jumpsuits and straight-bar sunglasses, they put in a super energetic hyperactive performance (except the synth player Kayo who's trademark is to appear like a robot) of sci-fi-cartoon-neu-wave-vocoder-punk with Hayashi screaming between songs. They played some crowd-pleasing hits like I My Me Mine, plus songs from last year's album and one or two from their upcoming album.

polysics. juana molina. (photos by craig)

The crowd dispersed after them so I made my way to the front of the stage for Canadian band, Holy Fuck. One of the highlights of the festival, two guys facing each other did their electronica-noise thing using casios, melodica, a film synchroniser (I think) and various gadgets all held together by a tight, groovy, math-rock bass and drums rhythm section. They received a very positive response from the audience, especially their songs from their album. The guys around me thought it was hilarious to keep shouting "holy fuck!" or "fuck you!" between songs.
As soon as they finished, I dashed over to Orange Court to catch Juana Molina. A large crowd of smiling hippies were swaying to her trippy looped folk. She had a better sound today and seemed much happier, although she wasn't so pleased that Dachambo could be heard from the next stage. She did a sarcastic dance, said they were "scary" but "what can I do?" Other than that, most of what she said between songs was in Spanish. Juana was the perfect soundtrack for standing in the sun, surrounded by mountains, sipping shochu. Get her new album if you don't have it already.

café de paris. coppe'. (photos by craig)

I plunged into the icy cold river afterwards to bring myself back down to earth, only to be removed from earth again as I watched the bizarre Coppe' over at the odd cabaret circus tent Café de Paris. It had started to rain so I was happy to be seated indoors with a beer. Coppe' came on stage wearing a polka-dot pants and a bright pink top with stars over her nipples. She was backed by a jazz band of white guys on double bass, drums and keyboard over which she played a rack of synths and electronic toys. Her voice was so heavily processed and vocoded, even when speaking (in English, strangely) between songs, that I couldn't understand a word. Her smiling bounciness caught on and I grinned and bounced my way through the rain to Field of Heaven, passing the Orange Court to catch a bit of Zunou Keisatsu. A lot more rock and less psychedelic than I had hoped.
I failed to find friends at Field Of Heaven which was tightly packed with people in raincoats. They were there to see the reformed indie-pop band, Sunny Day Service who had us all nodding our heads and singing along. My nose and stomach lead me to the pizza oven at the side of the stage. Mmmm, pizza and Sunny Day Service, well, rainy day service perhaps.
The skies cleared up and alot of the crowd cleared away before ROVO came on stage. ROVO's building instrumental rhythms lead by 2 drummers caused me to return to that trance that Juana had earlier put me in.
I reluctantly left early but my early departure did gurantee my a place at the very front of the White Stage for Yukihiro Takahashi. I know Shibusashirazu Orchestra was playing at the same time and please don't tell me how good they were because I have convinced myself that I made the right choice! Seriously, Yukihiro was great. My favourite member of Yellow Magic Orchestra, he had a band of about 9 members including Keigo Oyamada (Cornelius) on guitar, and played a whole lot of songs from his excellent new album, a few oldies and two luscious Beatles covers. I should have asked the guy behind me for the setlist; he was carefully writing down every song and everything Takahashi-san said in his little notebook.
As Yukihiro finished, a crowd pushed its way to the front where I ended up against the barrier. They were all excited to see the over-hyped Animal Collective. The three members ignored the crowd and just played their songs, bringing no special energy into their performance. They kept building up their reverb drenched sounds, but they lead nowhere and I was soon bored. I'd only just seen Gang Gang Dance and Holy Fuck do a similar kind of thing, but much better.

rovo. röyksopp. (photos by craig)

While lining up for drinks afterwards, my curiosity drew me to the Green Stage where Weezer were playing. If you know me, you know I always sing Weezer at karaoke. Unfortunately, when I got there they were playing some awful song from one of their awful recent albums. Rivers hardly seems to play guitar anymore, instead he runs around the stage being the geeky rock star he is. His banter between songs was in surprisingly decent textbook Japanese! Next, they launched into My Name Is Jonas and Say It Ain't So which admit I sang along with, with karaoke-booth enthusiasm. Hey, shutup, almost everybody was singing along!
Some crappy new song was next, and that was my cue to get more drinks and get back to the White Stage in time for Röyksopp. I was very hyped-up and drunk by this stage, soon lost my friend and danced like crazy to their very smooth retro-future electro sounds. What a show! A giant old-school boombox prop behind them, Svein Berge wearing plastic superhero padding, beautiful vocals by Anneli Drecker in an owl mask, everybody dancing and closing their eyes, incredible!
I flowed with the flood of bodies that lead us to The Green Stage where Basement Jaxx were starting. For a house act, they went all-out with numerous guest singers and musicians, amazing costumes and all their best hits. Not that much of their performance was seen though, I must admit, we were all dancing like madmen and madwomen. Everyone was dancing. Limbs and sweat going everywhere. The biggest response was from Where's Your Head At? and Raindrops.
Afterwards, I continued dancing at the Red Marquee to DJ Tim Healey and Sonny J, until I burned out and finally met up with my misplaced friends.

the miniscule of sound. jay, meri & craig. (photos by meri joyce)

We ended Fuji Rock Festival by hanging around Palace of Wonder, unfortunately just getting to Rookie A-Go-Go as Mahiruno were finishing. Had a dance in the world's smallest disco and caught Cabaret Cats with JVC Force TYO in The Crystal Palace tent.
It was about 4am so I crashed in my tent, not waking up until megaphones started demanding us to pack up our tents. Raining again, of course. Slept on the shinkansen and had the nicest shower of my life back at home. Shampoo! Bed! I set up the tent on my porch, managing to both dry it out and confuse my neighbours.

Friends from Australia have announced they are coming over for the festival next year! Viva FRF 2010!

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Blogger Martine said...

Hey Craig, great to hear your Fuji Rock adventures. You know, 6 years in Japan and I never made it to that festival. I will get there one day..... especially now that (woohoo) Asano Tadanobu is single?!

Sorry to hear Animal Collective were so dull, I love those guys.

3:27 pm, August 02, 2009  

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