HESO Magazine

Photography, Music, Film, Hitchhiking, Craft Beer – Cultural Pugilist

Tag: Japanese Music Festivals

Hitchhiking in Japan - Beautiful Strangers

Hitchhiking in Japan – Beautiful Strangers

Summer in Japan means hitting the festival circuit. The best way to do this is gliding along in the cool comfort of the air-conditioned shinkansen, then taxi-ing to the local Four Seasons and hanging out by the poolside bar for an hour or so, before eventually being whisked past security backstage to listen to the band in their chill room. But if you’re not doing as well under Abe-Nomics as the news says you should be, then you might consider doing the pilgrim’s trail. Become a watarimono (渡り者) — be the wanderer. Which is easy since you’re unemployed. One of the best things about being funemployed and hitchhiking in Japan is meeting people. Meeting people offers an opportunity to explore deeper within the human psyche, but also means plenty of ride opportunities for the adventurous hitchhiker to see the undiscovered country. Here are a few things to keep in mind if you should choose to go the road (more or) less traveled.

Hitchhiking in Japan – Beautiful Strangers

The first rule in hitchhiking is that there are no rules. Approaching the road with a concrete set of values is the same as being a rigid oak tree during a typhoon: you end up lying prone and wet on the side of the road (Don’t Panic! Bring a towel, just in case).

Tokyo is exciting and glittery and full of great people, but it’s a big city, and as big cities go they are pretty much the same all across the world. Like Mary Schmich famously said, “Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard. Live in Northern California once, but leave before it makes you soft. Travel.” So, leave behind the shambles of a hard winter and travel, expand outward into the countryside, not expecting anything at all.

It’s at these times, when you least expect it, as they say, that things tend to happen. You wander around nameless back country roads surrounded by rice paddies. Exhausted by the heat, you seek solace in things. You go into strange cafes and order something you have never tried before. You wander into antique shops and peruse the esoterica of different cultures and ages. You open doors to restaurants you can’t read the name of and eat and drink strange and delicious things. You meet people. The inevitable eye contact, the nod and smile. No expectations.

Let’s just have a drink together and you can tell me all about this place you call your town. Ok?


By the way, I’m doing this project, do you mind if I take your photo…? I hope you don’t mind.


Don’t worry about it…this light is very flattering.

If you insist.

I insist we get some sushi and beers.

Yes, let’s.

Or something like that. You talk and drink and eat. But sometimes it goes further. There is an intimacy that can arise between strangers that is so sincere and open as to restore your faith in humanity over nothing more than edamame & Sapporo drafts. Granting personal access to yourself gives you access to these beautiful strangers and the secrets of their own weird trips. They open up, they smile and act coy, they hide and seek, they pose and croon in awe, they trust you and open up their humanity and you reciprocate. All you do is try to show that honest power inherent in every molecular flicker of energy swirling around the galaxy trying to make sense of all the infinite range of motion in life. You do your best.

No expectations.

Part of the Hitchhiking Japan Series. Read more here:

Hitting the Tokaido Road

Fujirock Festival - The Good The Bad The Wet

Fujirock Festival – The Good The Bad The Wet

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.

Fujirock – Traversing Musical Landscapes

Fujirock – Traversing Musical Landscapes

“I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by MDMA…”

All the festivals I have ever been to ran like modern versions of Ginsberg’s “Howl”- there were boys with dinner-plate eyes rocking back and forth in darkened corners of tents, girls wailing that they’d dropped their baggies in the mudfield outside the mobile toilets, and the campsite was like the Somme, littered with trench-foot victims and burning piles of trash. Showers? Not unless you count the spray of warm beer and amyl nitrates flying overhead. They were, in a word, messy.

Now, considering any substance harder than Suntory or cigarettes is pretty underground in Japan, I wasn’t expecting to find so many revelers comatose in front of the main stage on Friday morning, looking like they’d all overdosed on the Kool-Aid. But then I remember that the Japanese national sport is sleeping- not Sumo, as everyone assumes- and that this was an opportunity for all the card-carrying members of Narcoleptics Anonymous to recover from their punishing working hours. In contrast to the behavior I’d observed at other festivals, the aim seems not to lose one’s memory/dignity/housekeys/lunch, but rather to survive the inevitable mud-bath with panache and dry socks. Hence the thousands of camp chairs. And the fashion for head-to-toe waterproofs. In fact, the whole festival looks like the North Face A/W 2010 catalogue, as if was actually being held on its mountainous namesake, as initially intended.

I make my way through the sleeping bodies to catch Local Natives on the White Stage, eager to hear one of my favorite albums of last year-Gorilla Mansion-live. Having caused murmurs in the press following their “big break” at Austin’s SXSW, they unfortunately don’t seem to have made waves in Japan just yet- although a mention of the country in the nostalgic single “Airplanes” raises a cheer. The record’s quiet/loud orchestral dynamic translates to their live show extremely well, while the soaring three part harmonies are beautifully led by Freddie Mercury-lookalike Taylor Rice. Their sound is modish enough to have been described in terms of their contemporaries- a “cheerier Fleet Foxes”, or “a West Coast Grizzly Bear”- but their raw honesty and genuine energy punch through to make them sound quite unique.

Next up are Broken Bells, the unlikely collaboration between The Shins’ James Mercer and producer Danger Mouse, which produced some addictive pop gems last year. Mercer’s unmistakable reverb’ed vocals stay intact, while Danger Mouse provides diverse backdrops that veer from neo-psychedelia to the ethereal, spliced with a little old fashioned indie. “October” is the stand-out, with its violin intro, squelchy guitar and spooky chorus of “Does one want to get more used to/The mall and the misery, the dead mouths it costs to be alive?”

The weather gods must have known that the XX were up next–a band best listened to in damp weather, under the covers, suffering some form of heartache–for the rainstorm suddenly worsens, thundering down on the Red Marquee as dozens huddle by the edge. Yet even the uninitiated are pulled in with the hypnotic “Intro,” which is all ‘80s revival synth and jangly guitars. Vocalist Romy Madley Croft stays rooted to the spot for the whole of their atmospheric and minimalist performance. Having lost one band member last year, I thought they might sound sparse- yet the sound emitted from just the keyboard and guitar is enough of a foil to Croft, who seeps emotion with every syllable. The somber mood lifts for a jazzy “Basic Space” before they close with a subdued, but quietly powerful “Infinity”.

With the rain having receded, it’s time for some dancing. I head over to the most un-google-able band in the world, !!!, who sound as close to an aural equivalent of exclamation marks as one can get. Nic Offer struts around in his tiny shorts like a spaniel with ADHD, licking glow sticks, jumping off the stage to get intimate with the audience, and pulling dance moves camper than a row of tents. Shannon Funchness holds fort at the front of the stage shaking her tambourine like a woman possessed, as Offer bounces around her like a pinball. The other band members are infected with the same energy, thrashing around to their distinctive mélange of disco/punk/funk/jazz to the delight of the revved up crowd. The banter with the crowd is hilarious, music impossible not to move to, and the visual spectacle the highlight of the day’s acts. Ending with a cover of Saturday headliners Roxy Music’s “Virginia Plain,” they bowed out, leaving everyone hungry to get their hands on the upcoming album, aptly titled Strange weather, isn’t it?.

Maybe it was the rum, but staring at the pertest ass this side of Havana, I suddenly realize that when I grow up I want to have a day job where I can wear nothing but feathery plumage, satin heels, and a sassy smile. Click To Tweet

Fujirock – Traversing Musical Landscapes

Saturday’s line-up was simply a good reason for sleeping in late, taking a leisurely three hours to queue for a shower, and having a gin-induced nap in the most distant field. The festival is rather irritatingly arranged linearly, meaning that it takes a good half an hour to traverse even when the human traffic is good, and prevents much spontaneous flitting between the stages. It does mean, however, that the Green Stage’s sound system, possibly the loudest I have ever heard, is inaudible by the time you reach the boardwalk. Glinting with disco balls and swaying decorations, the passage way provides a pleasant respite- until it gets bottle-necked in the evening, meaning I miss MGMT and get shunted around like cattle in the thick crowd.

Wet weather in the afternoon brings about the day’s highpoint in the Cabaeret Fiesta tent, where I get wasted on mojitos and fall in Sapphic love with a salsa dancer named Carolina with the Willie Martinez and Mambo Loco band. Maybe it was the rum, but staring at the pertest ass this side of Havana, I suddenly realize that when I grow up I want to have a day job where I can wear nothing but feathery plumage, satin heels, and a sassy smile.

I come crashing back down to earth when I venture back to the Green stage, where John Fogerty, a relic from Creedance Clearwater, is blasting out his dad rock dirge. Never have I more wanted to unhear something- or felt more envious of all the oblivious camp-chair dozers. Fortunately, a few slices of the superlative pizza from the Niseko Pizza van brings my mood up again.

Another curious choice for the main stage was “special guest” Chris Cunningham, whose spastically dark electronica and macabre visuals gave everyone the heebie jeebies, prompting a mass exodus, bar a hardcore few raving it up. As a fan of his Aphex Twin-esque brand of nightmarish noise, I kind of relish the shuddering, apocalyptic beats as they boom around the valley. The night ends in the Vegas and Milk bar with a hefty amount of gin and the barmaid distracting everyone from the human cannonball by going all Coyote Ugly with a blond wig and PVC catsuit.

On Sunday everything perks up. I wake up to bright sunlight and manage to sneak into a friend’s room in the Prince Hotel for a luxuriously hot shower. On the way out I discover the best souvenir I have ever seen- Niigata Bust Pudding. Unhooking the cardboard bra strap reveals two pert breast-shape custard puddings, complete with nipples and sauce to splatter- I mean pour- on top. I still can’t bring myself to eat it.

I kick off with Yeasayer in the Red Marquee, followed by Vampire Weekend; two bands who both simmer their eclectic influences into their own distinctive sounds. Even those who gave a lukewarm reception to Yeasayer’s second album, Odd Blood, went as crazy for the single “ONE” as the crowd do here. Singer Chris Keating over-emotes just a tad- scrunching up his face and beating a tightly gripped fist in the air- but between songs, he’s supremely bouncy and enthusiastic, telling us all how excited he is to be in Japan for the first time, “Four minutes until my vacation starts, people!” The holiday vibes continue with Vampire Weekend, whose afrobeat-indie brings out some magical California feeling, just as the sun comes out.

I’m glad it dries the ground enough for a little dancing, as Foals provide possibly the most electric set of the weekend. There isn’t any banter with the audience, with the band breathlessly jumping from one song to the other, seemingly bent on driving themselves to exhaustion. Incorporating a few songs from their first album, including the high-octane “Balloons”, which builds from a wiry beat up to a furious crescendo, and the fidgety, spiky “Cassius”, the crowd is the most animated I’ve seen all weekend. Spent from running at full gallop, the fivesome then slow the pace for a few of the more expansive and emotional numbers from the second album, Total Life Forever. Yannis Philippakis’ heartbreaking falsetto on the standout track, “Spanish Sahara”, sends shivers down my spine.

Matching them for intensity is a more unlikely rock star: James Murphy. Tubby, stubbly and kind of shy, it is easier to imagine him as a shoeless drunk instead of fronting LCD Soundsystem, one of the greatest dance/punk band of the noughties, but then he’s always been a kind of outsider within the genre. Despite making his name with hits that scorn the hubris of the hipsters and poseurs that populate the “scene,” one wonders whether the fans actually understand that the joke is on some of them. Here, the language barrier means most certainly don’t, but he still manages to manipulate the audience with aplomb. While his backing band seem calm, even bored at first, he turns it up to 11 from the get-go, upping the energy generated by Foals by screeching into a microphone that he clutches with the desperation of a drowning man. Soon the whole band is swept up in his buzz, running through each of their funky, beat-driven hits as Murphy throws himself around the stage with masochistic glee. “I can change! I can change!” he screams to the audience, who look like they’d like him to stay exactly as he is. Darkness falls as an impressive light show begins, and they close with the explosive and epic “Yeah”.

Wrapped up in LCD, I forego the first half of much-hyped Atoms of Peace, even though the second half suggests Thom Yorke’s sartorially challenged performance seemed to be worth catching. Having assembled a supergroup to reinvent his solo album The Eraser, he seems to have made a break with his Radiohead stage persona (sullen, static) to take on that of a crazed, skinny P.E. teacher. Dressed in a head band, vest and white shorts, he dances like a bullied twelve year old alone in their bedroom. I had no idea how the Red Hot Chili Pepper’s Flea might fit in with Yorke’s surreal, epileptic vocals and muffled beats, but somehow he does.

While my friends made for the bar, I stuck it out to see Scissor Sisters. The first show to offer more eye-candy than aural pleasure, their uber-camp theatrics were received well by the audience, who completely fail to catch the innuendo flying around. It’s easy to dismiss the Sisters as fluffy pantomime, yet they are far more than their stage schtick. Their hits- “Tits on the Radio”, “Laura”- are pure manna for the disco fan, and their gutsy cover of Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb”, complete with Beegees falsetto and taut guitars, is a masterpiece. Best of all is the chemistry that ripples between Ana Mantronic and Jake Spears, who bounds around looking like a kinky Nureyev in his chestless leather man-tard.

As the torrential rain threatens to dampen their proverbial fireworks, I retreat to the Vegas and Milk bar once again to drown myself in a different liquid (gin). It’s quiet, with all the day trippers having left and a Sunday mood creeping in like the mist outside. The North Face raincoats aren’t so box-fresh any more, and there’s probably a few sandal-wearers still trying to extricate their feet from the mud soup- but the most civilized festival in the world has left the best minds of my generation intact, and content.

The Flaming Lips at Summer Sonic (HESO Magazine)

Why Summer Sonic Sucks

They made me sign a contract stipulating I wouldn’t badmouth the show. By writing this I will most likely not be invited back. I am fine with this. I am of the opinion that these massive festivals should be done way with altogether. The only thing a baseball stadium should be used for is burning Celine Dion in effigy or, well, baseball. Certainly not an exposition of “music” blasted as it were through stacks of speakers like so much dynamite used to tunnel through mountainsides. But you get what you pay for, and yet despite it being the tenth anniversary of the three-day showcase put on by Creativeman, apparently the punk dudes and goth girls are fine paying nearly $175 per day and showing up well into the afternoon. That must be their rock n’f’n roll sensibility: arrive just in time for Nine Inch Nails’ last Japan tour while missing Marine Stage openers Boys Like Girls, who seemed to have trouble getting through whole songs, or maybe those were just their songs. Either way, I decided to start drinking early.

Phoenix played a strong and instrumental heavy showing on the “Mountain” 2nd tier stage at the far end of the warehouse, de facto winner of worst stage name ever Click To Tweet

Why Summer Sonic Sucks

Why Summer Sonic Sucks

I Hate Rock N Roll (at Summer Sonic)

I made my way stage by stage (seven in all) early on before absolute indifference strangled my spirit and managed to catch bits and pieces of Totalfat on the Island (it’s a parking lot with that fake golf grass) stage and Fukuhara Miho at the aptly named Beach stage (who ironically enough first appeared on a Celine Dion tribute album). Bouncing between the Dance and Sonic stages (both indoor a massive concrete warehouse) I caught bits and pieces of School of Seven bells and Fujifabric, whose guitarist needs to get a new band, before jumping back to witness Kyte’s occasionally more than interesting Spacemen 3 and Coldplay lovechild’s version of rock orchestraic shoegaze until well, enough of that 1/16th beat programmed high-hat at 2pm. It was time for Girltalk anyway, who exploded onto the Dance stage for some one-legged cross-genre mash-up fun. I now know where my ¥2000 Eco-Friendly fee went after witnessing Gregg Michael Gillis’ cut-off clad twin ingénues literally blowing through twenty packs of toilet paper and confetti with their day-glo air guns. Though this bothered me at first, as soon as the stage filled with twenty-odd crowd-turned-dancers and Gillis reiterated, “I wanna take it to the next level!” while hop-scotching on the decks with one leg (his preferred dance) and pumping his fist in the air, I didn’t mind the loss of the industrial strength single-ply so much. This is what music is all about: Dancing. The sweat and taut skin of youth grinding away in oblivious joy on some stage somewhere likely under the gaze of disapproving eyes. This is Footloose. Short as his set was it provided much of the Day One highlights, what with Katy Perry A.W.O.L., so how could Paramore or Mercury Rev ever hope to pick up the slack?

Perhaps not so surprisingly Phoenix played a strong and instrumental heavy showing on the “Mountain” stage (the 2nd tier stage at the far end of the warehouse, de facto winner of worst stage name ever) in support of their latest album Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, despite all appearances of not knowing where in the world they were playing today. Mewling around for more alcohol to relieve the concrete doldrums a decision was made, and though sacrificing Jack Peñate on the Beach stage at sunset was likely the most difficult of the long weekend, Nine Inch nails managed to carry the day- despite SSSS (shit stadium sound syndrome) with an eclectic retrospective of an hour-long set including “March of the Pigs”, “Closer” and a violent “I’m Afraid of Americans” before closing with- you guessed it- “Hurt”. A thunderous downpour soaking run back to the Sonic stage to see an alternatively brilliant and uninspired set by Mogwai, flip-flopping between mirroring the Thor-like hammering sky outside and waffling around in their own piddle puddles like sad wayward children. Follow the left-brain lads. Aphex Twin was even less brilliant and more disappointing given the rehashed run-of-the-mill dj set Richard James seemed satisfied performing to the easily amused crowd. Giving my bladder the impetus to win out over my sense of dharmic duty to actually finish listening to the entire set. To pee or not to pee. Depends on the DJ.

Despite Saturday’s promise of Joan Jett, Elvis Costello, CSS, and the Specials I decided to take a personal day for consumption of proper amounts of Pizza and Belgian Ale, as well as to consider my friend’s overarching indictment that Summer Sonic was like a government-sponsored music festival in Singapore. That bad…or good? I’ll give you a moment to ponder that. While you do so, why not check out the review of Fujirock?

Why Summer Sonic Sucks

Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne rolling overhead

I arrived early-ish Sunday with high expectations that the lineup would overshadow the venue’s shortcomings. The Sonic Stage alone could be depended on to deliver one from the melancholy humidity and violent sonic reverberations. Repeat after me: Grizzly Bear, The Vaselines, Teenage Fanclub, Sonic Youth & The Flaming Lips. The Veronicas, Five Finger Death Punch and Gogol Bordello, among other compelling acts appearing strewn across far-flung stages, would have to be sacrificed for the greater good.

It’s possible I may be being overly harsh but Tame Impala sounds like a really lame Sterolab, which I suppose is better than a shitty Keane, who are pretty shitty, so kudos for that. After a refreshing slam of the head against the concrete and the first of quite a few contraband whiskeys, The Temper Trap came on and actually reclaimed some of the pride they lost when they chose that name, solely by the intensity of their live set, though the guitarist has to get a new move because Girltalk already has the one-leg-hop-fist-pump trademarked. Though the Vaselines entered to a subdued midday crowd, their three guitar strong call and response post punk ditties soon got the audience ready for the three other 20+ year old bands on tap. Power pop progenitors Teenage Fanclub, who despite putting out nothing but strong albums since the early 90s, always sound better live. So good in fact I decided to kick up my heels with the other flashbackers in the back with a drink, almost tasting that special blend of tea I drank one night in the mid-90s while locked in a room with only Bandwagonesque and an iguana named Ray. Great. Album.

For the third day running the pounding rain outside the cattle-pen-esque warehouse quartered into “stages” and separated by the same movable walls you had in your elementary school when the budget was slashed made it an easy choice between Ne-yo at the Chiba Marines Stadium and Sonic Youth alongside another two boilermakers where I stood. Since the addition of ex-Pavement bassist Mark Ibold has freed up Kim Gordon to occasionally double him on bass, pick up a guitar or just jump her ass off in her silver go-go girl skirt, the quintet has found an even happier equilibrium- if that can be believed- between their straightforward punk and their trademark harmonic dissonance, which is the balance the band struck amazingly well throughout their eleven-song set. Performed in a dueling banjo-like fashion with Lee Ranaldo and Thurston Moore cross-riffing with Gordon and Ibold to Steve Shelley’s constant beat in time to the positively and negatively charged ions making their own beautiful clash of sound skyward pouring down and dredging up on their closer “Death Valley ‘69”, quenching the thirst of the sonically deprived audience. Hands raised to toward the heavens- Hallelujah.

Why Summer Sonic Sucks

I went to Summer Sonic and all I got was stranded in the rain

There is always a certain point when even the most die-hard sexual participant (or in this case concert-goer) recognizes that all-too-familiar lower backache and the tired, cramping legs which inevitably come in between overlong bouts (waiting between sets…) and with unstimulating partners (…for shitty bands). Yet seeing as how the Flaming Lips began their ninety-minute show (long by S.S. standards) by emerging from a video projection of a psychedelic vagina in close-up shooting day-glo sparks, I would doubt the Oklahoma City denizens have ever had problems with either, not that I would know in the latter, but I do have to admit that the adrenalin pumping through my veins when they started in with “The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song” as Wayne Coyne rolled overhead in his plastic bubble certainly eased two days of concrete stupor. After which Coyne, perpetually decked out in his natty godfather of rock threads, urged everyone to, “C’mon Motherfuckers!” before launching into Soft Bulletin classic “Waitin’ For A Superman”. Careening through less familiar Zaireeka and newer At War With The Mystics material (though oddly omitting the excellent Clouds Taste Metallic completely) the foursome of Lips- accompanied on stage by a bevy of frogs, bunnies and the random light saber guy- happened on more familiar ground with a stripped down Dylanesque revisioning of “The Fight” and “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots Pt. 1” in ethereal organic gospel beauty amid comments like, “Never thought we’d be playing at the same time as Beyonce…” as well as more bullhorn blared, “C’mon MFers!” That was when they almost destroyed their carefully crafted momentum by marching everyone through a somber “Taps” (as a simultaneous eulogy / protest song for the Iraq War) to only the second completely silent audience I’ve ever been in with minimum 1000 other people (Mogwai live at El Rey in LA. circa 1999). Their rather obvious closer, “Do You Realize??” punctuated by gong peals and confetti blasts- was preceded by heartfelt gratitude toward Summer Sonic (“We played the first Summer Sonic in 1999…I mean 2000!”) which perhaps clarified for me why western bands and local fans alike revere this celebration of commercialization and concrete.

It is often unfortunately taken for granted that due to the relative affluence of its large middle class, its rampant consumerism as well as acceptance of foreign medicines, technology and cultural values, that Japan is a western nation. This occasionally causes individuals to overreact to what are viewed through ethnocentric eyes as social peccadilloes, which is another essay altogether. Yet, in general, due to its relative comfort, high salaries and lack of laws pertaining to alcohol, it is often easy to forget that Japan is an island in the far east- the pacific gateway to Asia- and that being so located, the majority of North American and European artists popular on the tour circuit don’t necessarily have the means or resources to pull off an extended tour of Asia, or even a mini-tour of Japan. Flights, equipment costs, hotels number among many other obstacles facing touring artists, who often have to depend on their labels to fund trips due to local promoters offering bare bones remuneration to all but the biggest attractions. Sure, ticket prices are higher here, but so are all domestic charges, so bands rarely see an extra cut. Pedestalized (but not paid) as they are, what they do get is the best service in the western music-loving world. Delivery, translation and succinct efficiency have come to define Japan’s concert industry so much so as to guarantee Summer Sonic the hottest acts at the peak of the summer festival season. Though all this has come to actually guarantee both artists and fans only one thing- a single appearance (maybe two or three if you count Osaka and Nagoya) once every new album cycle or reunion tour grab for cash. Beyond saving the artists exorbitant travel expenses, logistical headaches and giving the Japanese fan what they crave in an otherwise dry international music scene Creativeman can pack as many people as possible into probably the worst venue that ever was. And sadly, boasting their Sex Pistols t-shirts and ripped jeans, these sardines willingly part with their hard earned cash.

Soylent Green is People! © Zebriography

Soylent Green is People! © Zebriography

The setup at Makuhari Messe is a fire hazard, pure and simple. As well as being ripe for a disaster, which I realized might be tap for Sunday’s 8pm headlining Lips’ set when a 7.1 earthquake set anxious feet prematurely to dance. Few paid any real attention to the temblor, despite the obvious risk to the thousands of avid fans crushing ever closer to the stage, as staffers packed them in like so many tuna in Tsukiji. Creativeman’s exit strategy looked woefully similar to Bush Jr.’s in Iraq until the Lips (Read as Obama) came in with musical advice to avert battle weary troops from further PTSD. Which is the reason the fans don’t mind the crowds, the lackluster sets, the high prices, the shite sound, the constant rules shouted through megaphones, all set in an acoustic nightmare of a wharehouse just made for corporate seminars: Music trumps all.

It’s specifically because of this- apart from the inherent and ignored danger (though that is kind of punk isn’t it?), the ubiquitous concrete and heavy-handed commercialism- Summer Sonic’s producers look to have at least a few more years of success left, what with the stature of the bands they can attract (what can’t massive ego-stroking accomplish when coupled with cold hard cash?) and the intelligent decision to have bikini-top clad cuties pouring drinks to cleavage-starved lads. It might surprise you to know, but among the other western amenities adopted by Japan, drinking milk for strong bones and lean bodies has had an increasingly positive effect on the female population. Now if only we could get Celine Dion to defect…

**Editor’s Note**

Apart from attempting to dictate the content of the article, Creativeman also was quite fascist about cameras, not allowing us any access other than what the rudimentary fan would get, thus maintaining the monopoly on imagery for their DVD sales and sponsored quid pro quo write-ups, hence the eclectic shot selection.

The opinions contained herein are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent HESO Magazine.

Fujirock Festival – Sideshows Steal The Show

Two questions are typically asked surrounding Fujirock: “Are you going?” and “How was it?” Recently the answer to the first has been yes, while the answer to the second generally begins with “Wet” and gets more complicated from there. Despite the weather perpetually being an issue during the three-day megafest in the mountains of Yuzawa, a little known town in rural Niigata, the mainstay of the now 13 year-old music festival is almost always the sideshows. So a fan would be excused if they were lured to the expensive midsummer exposition upon hearing that the likes of Oasis, Weezer, and Franz Ferdinand were headlining, but despite often disappointing sets by Green stage acts it’s the smaller, more carnival stages which hold the real untold treasures, just waiting to be discovered by the intrepid, if muddied, troubadour festival-goer.

Fujirock Festival – Sideshows Steal The Show

Fujirock Festival - Sideshows Steal The Show

Swedish gypsy punk band Räfven electrifies the audience at Fujirock

Truth is with over two hundred acts spanning the twelve or so stages it’s impossible to see everyone you would like to, or even a fraction of the talented musicians from all over the globe coalescing in the pine tree scented paradise of Naeba. So you pick, you choose, you try to schedule, but often you end up guessing or just plain stuck due to traffic jams, sudden downpours and mud delays. Sometimes these forays into chance take you toward the mini Naeba Shokudo stage on the edge of the Oasis foodcourt, sandwiched between the massive Green and more club-like Red Marquee stages, to happen upon bands like The Inspector Cluzo, a duet of drums and guitar who seem to have the classic bluesy-soul guitar rock highlighted with vocal bird call arpeggios sound down to a beautiful science. Or to the Orange Court, the farthest of the big stages (which was to host All-Night Fuji on Friday but had been turned into a field study in rainwater collection) to discover the gypsy jamband folk-punk stylings of Räfven (who performed an astonishing nine times), a infectively rabid band of street musicians all the way from Gothenburg. The Orange Court is also a place where someone like Juana Molina’s immense talent and ethereally disturbing voice and intricate instrumentation goes unappreciated on Sunday afternoon. Yet on Saturday evening in the more intimate Gypsy Avalon, it’s perfectly accompanied with a bit of wine from the nearby Organic Village and a space on the- shock and awe- semi-dry grass!

By far the best place to be a fan in the front is the Red Marquee, which was the only dry place in town all weekend. Potential electrocution might explain why Dinosaur Jr., who unloaded at least five more Marshall stacks on top of the already well-endowed PA equipment on hand, was scheduled to close the covered tent Saturday night. Not only is J. Mascis’ guitar – a massive wave of undulating sound wrapped in distortion in perfect time and balance to bassist Lou Barlow and drummer Murph- the loudest thing I’ve ever heard, it’s one of the most beautiful and melodic. Sadly, a few songs before they undoubtedly encored, I made a break for Public Enemy at the White Stage, headlining arguably the best stage / lineup combination of the entire weekend (Melvins, Zazen Boys, Bad Brains). Despite missing Flava Flav and Professor Griff due to “visa problems”, Chuck D promised a “real hip-hop show” and if the audience’s reaction was any indication, him promising to play their second studio LP It Takes a Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back in its entirety (broken up only by a tribute to MJ, name dropping various websites – publicenemy.com, rapstation.com, and introducing a new artist) was the performance they were waiting for.

Fujirock Festival - Sideshows Steal The Show

Band Member Teaches Crowd to Live Tweet During Bright Eyes final show at Fujirock

Starting off well is paramount to lasting on your feet all day and into the night, and the best way to do that is by taking the Dragondola, which claims to be the world’s longest gondola lift (despite that not being true), for a ride. Lasting about 15 minutes and not only soaring 5.5 km toward the 1800-meter high Mt. Takenoko, it provides a much needed and breeze-filled getaway from the muddied hordes milling about like so many insects below. As the early afternoon creeps closer and the big names crawl out of their luxury hotel suites to fulfill their 50-minute sets, hitting the airlift back down the hill and grabbing a couple of the tastiest and cheapest beers at the festival from Tokyo Brewing Company is a must before braving the over-crowded walkways for the likes of frenetic rock Nordlander Ida Maria and her succinct pop-punk ditties or the fragile-looking Nick Cave cohort Rowland Howard whose snaky, smoky, whiskey-honed voice will do things to you long after he exits stage left. And then there’s Bright Eyes who, according to Conor Oberst, is not a band anymore. So their appearance at Fujirock was part of a “one-night world tour”, and will disband after the release of their next album. All this didn’t seem to bother the largely perplexed and oddly small audience gathered to hear the strong Saturday afternoon set in the Red Marquee tent. What was confusing was the attractive young lady sitting in a chair, texting, twittering, and occasionally giggling, next to the caterwauling Oberst (who can pull some truly interesting sounds from a simple acoustic guitar), working the crowd up into mini Midwest tornadoes of passion, ennui and release until finally, our mystery lady pulled out her voice -alongside Mike Moggis’ Cornet- and stole the show. Sayonara Bright Eyes.

Fujirock Music Festival

Fans Reach Out to Touch Peaches as She performs an out of her ind set at Fujirock

Other notables were Tortoise, DJ Towa Tei, Longwave, Simian Mobile Disco and the standout State Circus of Mongolia. Glam and electronica rocker Peaches wins for most mouth-wateringly fruitlike S&M-ish costumes, fuck you swagger and stage presence, the longest stage dive (that I was witness to) while maintaining the song’s chorus (“Harder, harder”) perfectly, and just overall raw sexual energy and love of music. As the forty-plus year old Merrill Nisker (backed by the Herms) deftly maneuvered her hour-long set to the audience’s rapt glee, in support of her latest album, I Feel Cream, no one was thinking, “Hmmm, who’s on at the Green stage?”

Holy Fuck opening for the Airborne Toxic Event on the White Stage was an auspicious beginning to Sunday which turned out to peak with Clap Your Hands Say Yeah’s powerful set (see full gallery of CYHSY photos) of first album classics interspersed with a few newer tunes before petering out with Animal Collective’s introspective- at times masturbatorial- and overly hyped performance. By the time Röyksopp Nordic electro-magnetic vibes began spewing forth I had the good fortune to catch a guitarless Rivers Cuomo crooning the classic “My Name Is Jonas” while simultaneously being bitten by several ticks before passing out from three days of mud and blood, sweat and bugs, and of course lots of great side acts who deserve main stage attention. Like Räfven, Juana Molina, Diplo, Comeback My Daughters, Wilko Johnson, Justin Nozuka, Soil & “Pimp” Session, The Inspector Cluzo, Zaz and Seun Kuti & Egypt 80, among many others, who made multiple showings across three days in what feels more like an attempt to fill time slots than any genuine desire on the part of the lower echelon of artists’ to extend their stay. Perhaps I’m mistaken, but among other possibilities, it could be they weren’t invited to play at Fujirock’s sister festival in Korea, the Jisan Valley Rock Fest, like scores of other larger names were. Enough politics, the fans scream, give us more music. No problem.

Fujirock Festival - Sideshows Steal The Show

Patti Smith live at Fujirock

Ebony Bones takes home best costumes and most color amid the rock-steady downpours of Friday at the Green Stage. Despite hearing that Oasis wasn’t that bad (I couldn’t bring myself to actually watch) and stripping White Stage headliners The Neville Brothers of any audience whatsoever, the Green Stage redeemer is by far Patti Smith, who put on one of the more powerful performances I’ve been witness to at a festival. Shame that it came on Friday afternoon, as she seems as confident as ever, spitting and smiling alongside longtime guitarist Lenny Kaye and surprise guest Tom Verlaine. She sang as sure of voice as the wind pushing the sheets of rain down on the thousands gathered, watching her stomp through guitar romps and shake her trademark black beanie in the air declaring, “this one’s for the children!” amid dedications to Haile Selassie and MJ. Ending with the explosive “Rock and Roll Nigger,” aided by Verlaine’s intricate guitar work, Smith can still go blow for blow with the biggest names and walk away smiling.

Rumor has it Naeba’s days of hosting the popular festival are over and the days of Fujirock being nowhere near Mt. Fuji may be at an end. Who knows where the roving Japanese festival will end up? Likely I will be asked, “Are you going?” to which I will undoubtedly say yes (if I can hitch a ride out there…) and to the always difficult to answer, “How was it?” I’ll likely say, worth the time, effort and extraneous cash, if you should have it.

Fujirock Festival – Rebel Without A Raincoat

Japan’s Music Festival Mania

As any casual observer can tell, Japan is all about seasons and as the Japanese summer gets underway, there are a number of ways to not only survive the onset of the rainy season (and soon thereafter the typhoon season), but revel in it, most of them having to do with the sundry music festivals happening across the country from Hokkaidō to Okinawa. If you’re going to try to hit all thirteen of Japan’s major music festivals you are going to need fairly deep pockets (less so if you hitchhike), access to more than one boat and just about all summer to do it. So pack your ponchos and portable chopsticks, your sunglasses and mosquito coils and get your thumbs warmed up. It’s Go Time!

Fan faces at Fujirock (Manny Santiago)

Fan faces at Fujirock

6/12-13 Miyako-jima Rock Festival: Often Japanese festivals are distinguished more by setting than by the music, located amidst amazing natural surroundings, the forest and the mountains, the sun and the sea, allowing us an access to the stars at night Tokyo wouldn’t think of dimming its neon for, yet more often than not it is the Zen sense of ephemerality that tinges the Japanese Music Festival with unforgettable moments. So you won’t be too disappointed that this rock and dub based festival on Miyako-jima is already over. Rather, your excitement for this festival held on the tiny island of Miyako in the Okinawan archipelago in its fifth year will continue to grow as 2010 swings around. Don’t dwell on the past (nor the future) and head north young traveler.

Japan’s Music Festival Mania

Info: 2-day pass ¥7000 – Miyakojima, Okinawa
Miyako Festival

7/16-23 Total Solar Eclipse Festival 2009: An opportunity to see one of the longest solar eclipses (7/22) in your lifetime comes two days before Fuji Rock and in possibly one of the remotest locations in Japan, making travel to and from difficult. But dem’s da breaks when it comes to experiencing the only total solar eclipse you’ll probably ever see on a lost little tropical island in the east pacific with all the other young, gyrating creatures and their summertime inhibitions at an all-time-solar-eclipse low. Mostly DJs spinning wax all week long. Though it’s probably too late to get a hotel anywhere, book travel and make tent arrangements asap.

Info: 9-day Pass ¥30,000 ¥5000 campsite – Amami Island, Kagoshima
Amami Total Solar Eclipse Music Festival

You will walk a lot...especially in the rain...come prepared

You will walk a lot...especially in the rain...come prepared

7/19-20 Nano-Mugen Festival 2009

Hosted by Asian Kung-Fu Generation since 2003, Nano-Mugen is one of the year’s major rock festivals, finally garnering the likes of Yokohama Arena in 2005. Of course Yokohama Areana is convenient and within easy reach of Tokyo so, depending on how you look at it, this could be a good warmup just before Fujirock, or your last chance at meeting a yamanba that’s not actually a mountain spirit. Featuring Asian Kung-Fu Generation, Ben Folds, Manic Street Preachers, Nada Surf, Straightener, OGRE YOU ASSHOLE, SPITZ, Sakanacushion, and more.

Info: 2 1-day passes EACH ¥9,600 – Yokohama Arena, Yokohama, Kanagawa
Nano-Mugen festival

7/24-27 Fuji Rock Festival

More than a month after the Miyako-jima Festival gave us a taste of pristine Okinawan beaches, some strong Awamori hangovers and a great variety of music, arguably the biggest-longest running festival rolls up her summer yukata to show a bit of backwoods leg. The Fuji Rock Festival being nowhere near the haunted forests of Mt. Fuji, but rather nestled in 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), which has been hosting the 3-day, 130,000 strong festival since Hidaka Masahiro started it in 1997. The morning fog, the inevitable rain and ensuing deluge, all add to the inescapably mesmerizing atmosphere of the self-styled “world’s cleanest festival”. Cleanliness aside, once the rain starts and clears and starts again, there will be plenty of mud and lots of space provided by stunned rubber-neckers should you opt to slip and slide in any of the eleven or so performance areas, so be sure to pack your slicker, a sturdy pair of shoes and extra beer money to treat all the people who pick your muddied person up (should you decide not to camp on an incline) hitchhiking to and from the isolated area. Featuring Franz Ferdinand, Paul Weller, Public Enemy, Brahman, Melvins, and Tortoise among innumerable others.

Info: 3-day pass ¥39,800 Camping ¥3,000/person Parking ¥3,000 – Naeba Ski Resort, Yuzawa, Niigata
Fujirock Festival

8/7-9 Summer Sonic: Little need be said about Summer Sonic. It’s a massive affair in every aspect, spanning three days of heatstroke inducing conditions in both Tokyo (the site says Tokyo, but it’s actually Chiba) and Osaka. Besides flaunting one its best lineups for its 10th anniversary, SS offers a maelstrom of interactive booths, exhibits, artworks, a movie and photo gallery, seaside village (depending on which venue), basically any kind of food you can imagine, oh, and lines…long ones. This being Japan bring plenty of cash, sunscreen, sunglasses, squirt guns, walkie talkies to find lost friends, anything to distract you from the improbable task of getting from Nine Inch Nails in time to see Mogwai. Cheer up though, if you can handle the crowds, maybe Beyonce will share her portable bootie fan with you backstage or the Flaming Lips will bounce giant water balloons through the crowd just as Lightning Strikes The Postman crescendoes.

Info: 3-day pass Tokyo- ¥39,500 – Chiba Marines Stadium & Makuhari Messe – Osaka ¥37,000 – Maishima Summer Sonic Osaka Site

8/8-9 Festa de Rama: The alternative to Summer Sonic’s massive commerciality, this demure festival offers a bit of everything for fans seeking a musical escape from the humidity of the mainland. Now in its fifth year, it’s slogan is a truism for the ages, “One good thing about music: when it hits you feel no pain.” While FdR- whose other mantra is “PEACE. MUSIC. LOVE. SUMMER. BEER.”- is technically in Hiroshima, it is actually in another world altogether. Set in Setoda Sunset Beach on Ikuchishima, one of many islands in the Seto Inland Sea between Hiroshima and Okayama, Festa de Rama has alternately kept a low profile among Japanese festivals while growing in abundant influence annually. A worthwhile trip, indeed.

Info: 2-day pass ¥9900/¥12,500 w/Campsite
Festa de Rama

8/8-9 Isla de Salsa: Come August Fukuoka is on the map with the largest Latin music festival in Japan, which is good news for all those who didn’t want to traverse the country during the high end of the tourist season for Summer Sonic. Stay at home, see a ballgame (the festival site is right next to Yahoo Dome where the Hawks play) and then head to the beach for some salsa, some grinding and what is described as “Borderless music, borderless mind” in its 13th year. Don’t forget your bikini. ¡Qué bueno! Vamos…

Info: 2-day pass ¥8800 – Momochi Beach, Fukuoka
Isla de Salsa

Over 2-3 days...gotta sleep sometime

Over 2-3 days...gotta sleep sometime

8/9 World Happiness 2009: So far as I can tell the only summer festival actually in Tokyo proper, World Happiness is, aptly enough, being held at Dream Island Park. If Gautama Buddha were here today (shhh…he is) he might suggest that this dreamy (manmade) island park would be the perfect place to catch some oneness with any of the number of artists appearing at the show with names like Love Psychedelico, Granola Boys, The Dub Flower or Moon Riders. The final performance is done around 8pm which means clocking in at roughly 8-9 hours this will be the pound for pound most expensive “festival” all summer. At least early has the benefit of allowing plenty of time to get back to reality for a drink before the last train home.

Info: 1-day pass ¥8500 or ¥9000 w/ 1 kid – Yumenoshimakoen, Koto-ku, Tokyo
World Happiness

8/14-15 Rising Sun Rock Festival in Ezo: Like anything in a country as collectively uniform as Japan, one must search a bit harder to find distinction, but once you do watch out someone doesn’t lose an eye or go out of their way to find yours and pick it up for you. The Rising Sun Rock Festival in Ezo, barely taking the prize for the northernmost festival in Japan (just beating out Teine Highland), is described as an “handmade, outdoor event,” but if the name “Ezo” gives any indication, this festival is its own little world. Ezo is the ancient name of Hokkaidō and was at one point (1868-69) a separate republic from Imperial Japan. Festival frequenter J. Hadfield attended last year’s event and called it “a two-day extravaganza where goodwill is taken to occasionally ridiculous extremes.” That’s old Ezo, where people smile and high-five, the winter comes early (dress warm for cool nights) and the music doesn’t stop until the sun rises.

Info: 2-day pass ¥21,000 w/campsite – Ishikari New Port, Otaru, Hokkaido
Rising Sun

8/29 Wire Music Festival: Started in 1999 The Wire is an all-night Techno Fest featuring more talented European (largely German) and Japanese DJs than anyone would even think about shaking a glow stick at. Not to fear, with a handful of live acts and a few VJs to round the evening, the Wire should prove to stick around at least another ten years. Located just a few minutes walk from Shin-Yokohama station this may very well be the most conveniently located festival in Japan, so why not hit it up for kicks?

Info: Advance ticket ¥11,550 – Yokohama Arena
Wire Festival

8/29-30 Sapporo Teine Highland All-Night Music & Art Camp: If you listen to talk on the festival circuit there is quite a bit of mystery surrounding what actually transpires at Teine Highland All-Night Music & Art Camp. Situated in the Teine Ski Resort, the website “about” section makes reference to a lot of “magical” this and that, dropping adjectives like “moving”, “unique”, and “living” alongside nouns the likes of “nature”, “forest” and “hope”. What do we get for our hard-earned yen besides hippy allegory? Apparently a tent space (which despite it’s “all-night” boast, might actually come in handy), possibly a bike (what is a natural bicycle?), lots of art (40 or so works / installations) and over 80 musical acts (50-50 DJ-Live). Is that worth the trek? If you have never been to Hokkaido before, that alone necessitates the journey, and likely the most “natural” festival experience you’ll experience anywhere let alone in Japan.

Info: Natural Bicycle & Magical Campsite ¥7,500 – Sapporo Teine Ski Resort
Magic Camp

9/4-6 Sunset Live: Sunset Live takes the prize for longest running music festival in Japan, going on its 17th summer out at Keya Beach on the immaculate Maebaru peninsula just an hour south of Tenjin in Fukuoka. Surrounded by mountains and the ocean the ongoing mantra is “Love & Unity”, which should ward off any stray Yakuza if the granola and hackey sack doesn’t work. If you’ve seen Sonatine you know it could take a lot of sand to do that. Crossover artist Gilles Peterson, instrumentalist extraordinaires Special Others, and Fukuoka’s own Zazen Boys headline this laidback event on three stages.

Info: 3-day ¥16,300 – Keya Beach, Fukuoka
Sunset Live

If you happen to be in town all summer, you’ll notice that the beaches have mysteriously become vacant some September. While the new school year and the jellyfish migration may have this effect on the majority of the population, there’s no reason for your hitchhiking adventure to end because of a little sting in the water. Keep on trucking! Though if you’ve made it this far you may be having a touch choice to make come the first weekend in September when the Metamorphose and Otodama Festivals both compete for your musical yen.

9/5 Metamorphose: Originating on Mt. Fuji, this all-night festival will showcase about 30 – 40 eclectic international and Japanese artists on three different stages just outside of Tokyo’s megalopolis in Shizuoka. So while you’re in the area, why not head on down to the Izu peninsula to close up the summer festival season in style, get yourself in a hot spring, and try to recreate Hokusai’s majestic view of Fuji through The Wave? It’s definitely one of the better places Japan has to offer. Featuring Prefuse 73, Afrika Bambaataa, Richie Hawtin, Tangerine Dream.

Info: Advance ticket of ¥11,500, parking ticket of ¥2000, tent ticket of ¥2500 are available from 7/1 – Cycle Sports Center in Shizuoka
Metamorphoses Festival

9/5 Otodama: Otodama, meaning the “Spirit of the Sound” is the official festival of Shimizu Onsen, or vice versa. It’s unclear from the website. As is much about the festival altogether, except that there will likely be guitars, amps, meat on sticks and lots of beer, which could all be good enough reasons to trek into the heart of Osaka’s harbor area. Though not exactly the forbidding place it must have been during the samurai’s reign there could be some action. After all Osaka can be seen as the tough and cool little brother to Tokyo’s buttondown sterility. Even Osakan salaryman walk and talk fast. You never know what great bands or trouble (or both) you might find.

Info: 1-day ¥6500 – Itsumiotsu-Phoenix in Osaka

Taicoclub’09 Kawasaki: This all-night festival in Kawasaki Higashi Ogishima Park will close out the summer festival circuit in Japan with what looks to be a promising lineup, featuring Múm, British electronic duo Plaid, Isolée, and techno DJ Carl Craig. All the way the future in mid-September away, the staff probably figures they have time to work on the website, you know, providing maps and prices and other small details like that. A big suggestion to all festival websites that don’t already have them: English versions will increase sales! Annoying but true. Let’s rock, trance, jazz and samba out on islands (manmade or natural), in the mountains (ski resorts and golf courses), on the docks or in seaside big parks (like where the Taicoclub will be held in Kawasaki- whose lead-in description begins “the park will serve as a staging ground for foreign aid and staff in the event of a major earthquake disaster in the Tokyo metropolitan area), better than before and do it together.

Info: 2-day ¥? – Kawasaki Higashi Ogishima Park, Kanagawa

To see a bit more what kind of hot water you may be getting yourself into, check out the plotted trip map below.

View Japan Music Festival Mania in a larger map

*Big thanks to Madman Hadfield for providing many of the above links.

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