Fujirock Festival - The Good The Bad The Wet

& the crown goes wild – Fujirock 2011

Millions in this our twenty-first century have danced with abandon and sensuous joy to music played under the sun and moon, clouds and stars, on massive sound systems, to humongous crowds, where it may be just as hard to remember the music as to forget it: I’m alluding to those events known as rock festivals—those history-making, life-changing celebrations that for some people in the crowd are merely business-as-usual, and for others turn out to be lost weekends. With feelings ranging from love to frustration, funkiness to drunkeness, revelers attending Fujirock 2011 often lost themselves in more than their favourite music.

Once the idea of Tokyo had receded far into the background, the increasingly fresher air reminded me that the Fuji Rock festival was held in the mountains of Niigata prefecture.

And this year with torrential rains and the threat of floods imminent, the combination of mid-summer rock music, brought on a boom of instant insanity? Right? Right? FUJI ROCK!!

Having never been to Fujirock—or any other Japanese Music Festival—before, I didn’t really know what to expect. Not being quite as outdoorsy as all the legendary mud, mosquitoes and bush-urinating required, I decided I would seek hotel-room floors and sofas as places to sleep instead of hammocks and tents. The music would be my focus, not camping hocus-pocus.

...many a Fuji rocker saving their money all year only to blow it all getting to and from the festival is ... DOPE. Click To Tweet

Fujirock Festival – The Good The Bad The Wet

Fujirock Festival - The Good The Bad The Wet

Reserved Late Night at Fujirock 2011

There are truckloads of bands, singers, DJs, “units”, experimental outfits, what have you, spread out across acres of forested area, packed with people concert-goers, all fighting the elements, who play at Fuji Rock every year, and you’ll never be able so see them all. It wasn’t until Battles played “Atlas” on the main stage Saturday afternoon that I really “connected” with the Festival. That’s such a wicked, bad-ass song-for-the-ages, and experienced LOUDLY with what felt like millions of people around me stomping simultaneously to it, it’s even better. Right then, I was all fist-pumping like, “ROCK!” and I didn’t even feel ashamed to be modern for a minute there, in that moment. Walking away after the Battles set, I couldn’t help but hope that the infamous Yellow Magic Orchestra, would be even more bananas.

In case you don’t know, YMO are basically the Beatles of techno pop, and for many a serious music fan, they and their scene are like the holy grail of Japanese pop. Innovators in modern music, recording technology and stage visuals, they bring the realness. Overall, a sophisticated subtlety pervaded their set of mellower, more organic-sounding renditions of their classic songs. Their pro-technology statements having been made three decades ago, they played their music on this evening for fun, exploring its possibilities and filling it with little surprises to delight their fans. Being the last group to play the main stage with home-turf advantage, crowd participation climaxed to its pinnacle with the fists-pumping anthem “Rydeen”…I can die happily now.

Eagerly anticipated by many, the Faces reunion, did not disappoint. No one was saddened when Rod Stewart failed to appear. In his place as lead vocalist was the equally great and equally English Mick Hucknall, whose whiskey-soaked voice felt right at home with the rest of the original Faces. He put the songs across beautifully, felling this weeping writer to his muddied knees. Like the Stones, the Faces’ music can’t be called anything but “rock” and in that regard, they were the most “rock” at the Fuji “Rock” festival. Knowmsayin’?

Fujirock Festival - The Good The Bad The Wet

DJ Nu-Mark at Fujirock 2011

The side stages had just as much, if not more, action going on. DJ Numark had all the younger DJs taking mad notes as he played two mind-blowing, (almost) totally different sets on consecutive nights, probably doing more with his turntables than any musician did with his / her respective instrument all weekend.

At the Field of Heaven, Todd Rundgren did his beautiful, white soul thing as the reddening dusk sky filled with lilting bubbles. Soil & Pimp Sessions were psychotically good, setting the booze-drenched audience on fire at the indoor Red Marquee. Big Audio Dynamite, at the outdoor White Stage, got rained on and doused the crowd’s expectations at the same time. A nameless Japanese band was observed playing hard rock with no pants on on one of the many micro-stages in the black of night. Yet perhaps the best discovery for many Fuji rockers was Tinariwen, whose unique music—a trance-like blend of guitar and percussion played in a West African blues style, wafted over the surrounding hilltops and drew you right in. To see the band dressed in their desert garb only enhanced their mystique: who are these strange Arab instrumentalists, their music the next most beautiful thing to silence?

One of the greatest aspects at festivals of this size is the high you feel from everybody around you enjoying their favourite music live, which maybe isn’t your favourite music, but with everybody getting high on music, the atmosphere during the whole festival is unlike any other. Fuji rockers get wild, but they are also very gentle and respectful of everyone else’s experience. Nobody bashes any of the bands or fans of the bands they hate, everyone is super chill, and there is none of the opportunism in the form of jacked-up prices or shoddy food and merchandise that afflict many western events of similar size. Although I lived mostly off potato chips and free vodka Red Bulls, the food that I bought was often pretty dope. Foodies were not heard complaining.

The dragondola, usually in full operation, hardly ran this year. Too bad, because I hear it affords amazing, verdant views of the site and its surroundings, as well as opportunities for a relaxing smoke. Word on the street is that the gondola, tents and vans in the parking lot are the only places Japanese people will smoke up at the festival. It may seem strange, but one thing you will never smell in a Japanese festival crowd watching Incubus is weed. This do-it-in-private mentality is good because it helps keep the festival clean and safe for kids, who are at the festival in spades, faces painted with rainbows and Pokemon, getting pushed through the mud in strollers by their tireless parents, having their poor, innocent eardrums squandered on blaring Chemical Brothers’ music and sappy Coldplay Britpop. Although apparently Jamaican dub-reggae pioneer Lee Perry represented by toasting a fat one on stage during his Friday set.

Fujirock Festival - The Good The Bad The Wet

Ron Wood of Faces at Fujirock 2011

This year’s fashion trends followed suit with past rain-soaked festivals by displaying rubber boots and plastic raincoats, with strap-on headlights the hot ticket to streamline nighttime travel. Of course the more attention-seeking and individualistic dressed the part, from Native-American headdresses and viking helms to jester caps with bells on them. Although a lot of great vintage rock t-shirts were spotted, these days you never can tell if that means the wearer is a fan or not, especially when worn in combination with Patagonia ski pants and Crocs.

Perhaps if all the brand-name outdoor gear, plastic and high-tech gadgets were stripped away you would see what looked more like traditional rock fans. It’s not a very sexy festival, but it is beautiful in its own way.

I don’t know if what I heard about many a Fuji rocker saving their money all year only to blow it all getting to and from the festival is good or not, but seriously, it’s DOPE.