Truth is, Smash (the organizer promoting the 3-day, 130,000 strong festival) did try to hold it at the foot of Mt. Fuji in its inaugural attempt back in 1997, but a typhoon famously, disastrously swooped off the sea and cancelled the show. Hence Mt. Naeba, a ski resort in Yuzawa, Niigata, a large rural prefecture located on the northwest shores of Japan (Yuzawa is the setting for Kawabata Yasunari’s classic Snow Country), has been hosting the country’s largest music festival since Hidaka Masahiro started it in 1999.
Fujirock – Festival of the Future and Past
Boasting musicians the likes of Lee “Scratch” Perry, Grand Master Flash, Bootsie Collins, Spearhead, Ian Brown and Primal Scream, this year’s lineup is eclectic to say the least. It includes many seemingly peripheral acts, though acts that have been delivering strong, rock-steady performances before some of these young concert-goers were out of diapers. Other plusses are the community spirit and low crime despite the close quarters (camping’s the norm unless you book a hotel a year in advance). Corporate sponsorship remains low, despite the relatively blasé attitude most Japanese have toward ever-advancing consumerism, and the banning of fliers and product campaigns with their annoying bullhorn approach to sales is almost as refreshing an experience as the near constant rainfall which seems to annually bless or plague (depending on your religious affiliation) the festival. Another aesthetic asset is that the festival aims to be “the cleanest festival in the world” and seems to be on the mark. Although garbage and recycling stations are relatively far apart, your young, well-behaved and environmentally conscious attendees are generally diligent about toting their own portable ashtrays and plastic bags (given out by the staff at the entrance) for hours at a time.
Minuses are the rocky pathways, which though peaceful and serenely set in a beautiful wooded area, are generally overcrowded and one-way, making getting to the Green Stage, for example, in time to see My Bloody Valentine headline Friday night from the Special Others (a great Japanese jamband) playing the Field of Heaven stage logistically impossible. Thank Buddha for press passes. But wait, the press doesn’t actually get anything resembling press passes at all, save for a lime green mesh photo jersey in which to sweat profusely. No press tent, no lockers or storage for necessary camera gear, no wi-fi. It’s truly roughing it.
The biggest, most internationally friendly event in Japan has come a long way since ’97 and still has a long way to go. I for one would like to see a more concerted effort to introduce a bit of anarchy into the three-day carnival atmosphere, but unless it occurs organically of its own volition, well, that would be a contradiction now wouldn’t it.