James Blake: Express yourself

James Blake at the White Stage | Mark Thompson photos

James Blake doesn’t seem like the kind of artist who would headline a stage at a major music festival. His music is subdued, and he doesn’t possess the kind of personality that makes a show dynamic. Still, the White Stage field was packed for his Sunday evening show, and the audience waited patiently and quietly, because that’s the way he approaches his music.

Blake is at heart a soul singer with a close familiarity with the appeal of classic R&B, but he’s also a pianist who likes complex chord structures and elaborate arrangements. His fans appreciate his emotional directness, which comes through in his pure tone, but he likes his electronics, too, and sometimes his use of them is even weirder than Thom Yorke’s. The only other people on stage were a drummer and a utility player who could handle everything from cello to an elaborate bank of dials and buttons.

His affection for hip-hop is obvious, even if he lacks the kind of effusiveness required of hip-hop. He’ll never be a rapper, so he hires the best (Andre 3000 in this case) and even loops them for his concerts. And while subdued is the operative word, he can build up a head of steam and even jam when the occasion calls for it.

But it’s clear that what the audience wanted was the kind of cathartic emotionalism that made Blake’s name in the first place. He’s in his element when he’s heartbroken and ruminative. It’s an odd job description for a pop star, but you could tell the crowd was never happier than when he could barely express himself.

Courtney Barnett: Telling you how she really feels

Courtney Barnett at the White Stage | Mark Thompson photos

Courtney Barnett at the White Stage | Mark Thompson photos

A good part of Courtney Barnett’s success, especially in Japan where she’s managed to generate a dedicated cult, is her seemingly unforced honesty, a quality that is manifest in the Australian rocker’s songs, which sound like a person you really want to know talking in plain language. The fact that she can marry this artistic sensibility to kickass guitar rock without making it sound ironic or contrary only makes her that much more unusual, even in the rarefied world of indie rock.

She had a lot to contend with during her afternoon set at the White Stage, for the most part an audience whose exuberance was literally dampened by one of those downpours that soaks you to the bone in less than a minute. There was actually a river running through the north side of the White Stage field. She voiced her appreciation for us standing there just to hear her play, and then she ripped the place up.

Another saving grace was that she looked great. Gone are the baggy T-shirts and homemade haircut. She looked rock star ready in her pure white tank top and tight black jeans, and when she tore through one her patented pick-and-strum (no pick!) solos the crowd got back a little of its mojo.

“You know this is the best festival in the world,” she said near the end of her set. “Thanks so much for making it possible for me to come.” Gratuitous pleasantries in most artists’ mouths, but Barnett makes her living telling it like it is.

She even played a new song called “Everybody Hates You,” proving that honesty cuts both ways. When she started her last song, the rain stopped, as if the weather decided it would give her, and her fans, a break.

Unknown Mortal Orchestra: Ruban’s sandwich

Unknown Mortal Orchesta

Unknown Mortal Orchestra | Mark Thompson photos

Ruban Nielson, the leader of New Zealand’s-by-way-of-Portland band Unknown Mortal Orchestra, doesn’t seem to know what he wants to be: a guitar god, a slick R&B vocalist, or a fusion bandleader. He demonstrated all three skills within the first four minutes of taking the White Stage on Saturday afternoon before a very appreciative audience, though they didn’t quite know what to think when he almost immediately jumped off the stage with his guitar and continued playing a solo while five security guys and a roadie followed him as he went deep into the audience. Guitar god? Check.

Several songs later he did the same thing but without a guitar. All he had was the mic, as he kept singing a sweet love song. Sex-you-up R&B lover man? Check.

Then, a song or two later he conducted the whole band as they chugged into an improvisational freakout that ended with a manic sax solo by his father, Chris. Fusion pretensions? Check.

The band they reminded more than any was probably Steely Dan, not so much in terms of sound but rather ambition. The tricky time and key signatures should indicate pretensions of a less laudable sort, but UMO pulls them off so seamlessly you don’t register them as “difficult,” and there’s a Top 40 vibe to Nielsen’s songwriting that makes you wonder if he would have been a star if he’d come up in the ’70s instead of the ’90s or ’00s. As it is he’s just another indie mensch who tends to get misclassified.

And if it’s any consolation to him, I did see one white dude mouthing the words to “So Good At Being In Trouble,” so obviously Nielsen’s reach is longer than I thought. And when he tried an Elvis move that weirdly turned into a JB move you know he yearns for the kind of pop popularity he thinks he deserves. I think he deserves it, too.

Jay Som: It never rains in Southern California

Melina Mae Duterte is a real SoCal kid, and writes like one. As Jay Som she revives the sunny West Coast sound we tend to associate with laid back guys like Ned Doheny, though in her case the songs service a much more personal, circumscribed world. She calls herself a bedroom singer-songwriter because that’s literally where she produces music, and even with a full band in tow at the Red Marquee on Saturday afternoon, she looked and sounded like a lone soul: dressed ultra casually in camo cargo pants, a loose-fitting khaki T-shirt and floppy white hat, she could have been a wannabe army reserve slacker.

Her music would have been perfect in an open air setting with the sun shining, but it was raining again, and while the shed preserved the illusion of fair weather, it put a damper on the sunny feelings. The crowd dug the groove — this is just the kind of ’70s style music Japanese kids seem to like, and while the volume and hardness of attack came and went, the melodic impact never wavered. A few people were even dancing, though Jay Som doesn’t play what you would normally call dance music. More like sway music. And every so often there was nice soaring guitar line to add that requisite rock rush. It must get real crowded in that bedroom sometime.

I’m a-walkin’ in the rain

As the skies started to really open up, Fuji Rock fixture Gaz Mayall stepped behind the turntables and just happened to have the perfect song. HOW did he KNOW it would actually RAIN? Uncanny.

Chemical Brothers: Standard bearers

While I was walking to the Chemical Brothers set at the Green Stage, a lot of people passed me, apparently upset that they might miss the opening notes. Some were running, but an equal number were skipping, obviously delighted at the prospect of seeing their idols.

Though I have not positive evidence, I would surmise that the Chemical Brothers have headlined the Green Stage more than any other artist, and while it would seem that over-exposure would diminish their chances, in Japan, and specifically at Fuji Rock, the exposure has only intensified their popularity, and it’s easy to see why.

Their specific style of dance music is custom built for huge fields, expansive and large-bodied, and the crowd was pumping and jumping for most of their two hour set. It’s odd. Fridays are often the odd man out at Fuji, but today was packed.

Some said it was Thom Yorke, who followed the Chemicals at the White Stage, but they weren’t that many people when Yorke’s set started. The Chemicals were the draw, and for the most obvious of reasons: They met people’s expectations in the past, and were sure to do so this time as well.

Fuji Rock 2019: A word before you go

MARK THOMPSON PHOTO

We’ve seen the worst of times and the best of times at Fuji Rock. And we’ve been more than a few times. So here are some tips, both musical and practical from Philip Brasor, Elliott Samuels, Mark Thompson and Alyssa I. Smith.

Also, make sure you’ve gone down the FRF survival checklist. Sure, the selection of amenities sold at the camping site and on the festival grounds has improved over the years, but it’s also likely they’ll be considerably more expensive … so save yourself the hassle and the yen by planning ahead.

Must-see shows

  • ES: The Comet is Coming: It’s possible The Cure may indeed end up playing for three hours to close the festival as it did back in 2013, but this electrifying electronic jazz trio could actually be as epoch-ending as its name suggests …
  • ES: Khruangbin: No one knows exactly how to pronounce its name, but this trio from Houston, Texas, produces psychedelic grooves that takes its influences from places as diverse as Thailand, Afghanistan and Iran. It’s like crate digging without a record player.
  • ES: Vaudou Game: This where the party starts. Think James Brown meets Fela Kuti and throw in some 1970s funk from Togo, Benin and Nigeria for good measure. This Afrofunk outfit is playing twice on Sunday and so you’ve really got no excuse to miss its infectious jams.
  • PB: King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard: Wigged-out psychedelic garage rock from Australia that’s way cooler than you, though they may not look it.
  • PB: Janelle Monae: She dances! She sings! She raps! She acts in movies! She may even have sex with robots, but in any case she’s the biggest star at this year’s fest even if she isn’t a headliner, and her stage show is just that side of mind-blowing.
  • MT: Yaeji: Will the weather be in sync with “raingurl”? At least, Red Marquee has a roof.

Solid bets 

  • MT: Shibusashirazu Orchestra: A surrealist troupe of gypsies par excellence. How many musicians and dancers they’ll pack on to the stage this year is anyone’s guess.
  • MT: Chemical Brothers: They never fail not to fill space in front of the Green Stage with the block-rockin’ beats. Since you don’t really need to see them pump their fists in the air from up close, probably best viewed from on top of the hill, for the full visual spectacle.
  • MT: Jim West: Spinner of rare vinyl guaranteed it put you back in the groove. You’ll find him almost every night at Blue Galaxy’s DJ tent.
  • MT: Takkyu Ishino: Alas, it might be awhile before we see Pierre onstage for Denki Groove, at least we have half.

Blast from the past

  • ES: The Cure: Even if you’ve already sat through every single song these goth icons have ever produced at their headline performance in 2013, we’re talking about a line-up of glorious tormented stadium rock melodies that are a perfect final curtain call for a Fuji Rock Sunday on the Green Stage. 
  • PB: The Waterboys: Mike Scott’s albums are not quite as effortlessly soulful as they were back in the early ‘90s, but his live shows never flag, and with Japan as his new second home, the Scottish-Irish troubadour should be in his element. 
  • MT: Cake: “Short Skirt/Long Jacket”

 

Call us curious

  • MT: Sia: Will she even be on the stage? 
  • MT: Daito Manabe: Probably better known for his video/electronic art.
  • MT: Matador! Soul Sounds: Offshoots of The New Mastersounds and Soulive. Sure to make it funky.
  • ES: Thom Yorke: Having not followed much of the Radiohead frontman’s solo work, his recently released third album, “Anima,” sounds almost like noise that has been deconstructed and reassembled into someone’s never-ending nightmare. The final track on the album’s even called “Impossible Knots,” which sounds like a painful mind-bending experience if we’ve ever heard one.
  • PB: DYGL: This Anglophone Japanese rock quartet comes across on record as being sly and capable but somehow subdued. If they loosen up, it could be very good.
  • PB: The Paradise Bangkok Molam International Band: The name sounds like a ringer, but this Thai group reportedly plays club jazz and funk on traditional instruments. Color me intrigued.

 

Must indulge

  • MT: Pizzeria La locanda del pittore Iwappara
  • MT: Sours at Tokoro Tengoku as you dip your feet/head in the river
  • MT: Coffee at Field of Heaven 
  • ES: Hang out at the Blue Galaxy DJ tent near the international food court/bar between the Red Marquee and Green Stage. If you’re lucky, you might even find an empty chair nearby.
  • ES: Drag yourself all the way to the area near the Café de Paris when you’re feeling like you need a break. Featuring random buskers, activities such as 10-pin bowling and slacklines, AND Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, it offers a true oasis to escape the musical intensity when you need to.

Must pack

  • MT: Fully charged portable battery charger and all the right cables. There are a few charging stations near stages, but who wants to waste time?
  • ES: A pocket flashlight. You really don’t know what you’re missing until you can’t see anything at all.
  • PB: Small towels for whatever. Band-aids
  • AS: A folding chair so you’re guaranteed a comfortable place to sit even when the ground gets muddy. Something light and easy to pack. 
  • AS: A hat. Handy for any kind of weather, rain or shine. 

Pro tips

  • MT: Factor in the fact that unless that you’re staying near the festival entrance, you’ll gonna need at least one bar of energy to walk back to your bed/futon/sleeping bag. Alternatively, you could just pass out the Palace of Wonder.
  • ES: If you do decide to choose rain boots over other forms of footwear (the perennial Fuji Rock conundrum), slip some comfy sole supports into the bottom of them. After standing for much of the day, your feet will certainly thank you for them. 
  • PB: Heineken is the official beer vendor, but it’s worth waiting until you get to the Field of Heaven or further for a brew, since they have some craft beer stands out that way. Also, in the World Food Court there are British beers. 

 

Here’s to you, Fuji fans, and all you did

Fuji Rock crowd
Mark Thompson photos

A full weekend of shows spread across multiple stages: Sounds fun (and it is) but it’s no walk in the park. There was the extreme weather to contend with. Blustering typhoon winds and rain, creating pools of slippery mud, one day, then blistering sun and dust clouds the next.

And because there are so many of you, invariably you had to line up for food, a beer, the toilet, the next stage. You had to jockey and jostle to get a seat or a spot in the front of your favorite band.

But you persevered and got what you came for, be it the stellar performances of guest musicians or just a chance to fly your freak flag for a weekend.

You sang, you danced, you moshed, you jumped, you cheered, and you invariably got told what a wonderful audience you were.

See you again next year?

Next best thing …

So you couldn’t make the trip to Naeba to experience Fuji Rock in person? You’re in luck. For the first time, YouTube is streaming select shows all weekend! Up today are two performances we’re gunning for: Let’s Eat Grandma at the Red Marquee and Parquet Courts at the White Stage … which is going to require a sprint to catch both. Wish us luck.

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FUJI ROCK FESTIVAL YouTube OLEDICKFOGGY 全世界生配信決定! 現地苗場の模様を全世界に向けて YouTube ライブ配信が決定、配信アーティストが発表されました!! 全ての配信はフジロックのYouTube 公式チャンネルにて公開されます。 FUJI ROCK FESTIVAL'18 YouTubeライブ配信 日程  2018年7月27日(金)28日(土)29日(日) フジロック公式チャンネル www.youtube.com/fujirockfestival ライブ配信協賛 ソフトバンク株式会社 また、Google アシスタントでも、このライブ配信をお楽しみいただける機能を提供しています。スマートフォンの Googleアシスタントや Google Homeに「OK Google、フジロックと話したい」と話しかけてフジロックのActions on Googleを呼び出して下さい。配信アーティストのタイムテーブルを教えてくれたり、見たいアーティストのライブを見逃さないよう、リマインダーを設定することができます #oledickfoggy #fujirock

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Let the good times roll

Crowds cheer the Red Hot Chilli Pipers at the Green Stage of the Fuji Rock Festival
Green Stage … before the rain | Alyssa I. Smith photo

Welcome to the Japan Times live blog of the 2019 Fuji Rock Festival. We’ll be here for the duration.

You’re beautiful, Fuji

MARK THOMPSON PHOTOS

If you were at the festival, you probably heard it a dozen times from the stage. But we’ll say it again: You’re a beautiful audience and we love you. The dancers, the singers, the shouters, the moshers, the ravers, the groovers. You’re the greatest.

De De Mouse

We listened to De De Mouse’s noontime set at the Red Marquee from the newly installed boardwalk across the way leading out from the old international food court, so we could enjoy Daisuke Endo’s perky EDM just fine but weren’t able to see his typical gyrations and extreme gestures behind the console, which is just as well. They’re sort of distracting and beside the point. But here are some pix anyway.

Yogee New Waves / Group Tamashii: Dirty minds under cloudy skies

Forecasts to the contrary, the opening day of Fuji Rock 17 was hot and overcast. There was a sprinkling of rain around 11 a.m., but then the sun came out, sending everyone prematurely to the tents for beer and water and sports drinks. Some things never change.

But one subtle change that was noted several weeks ago by Patrick St. Michel in the Japan Times was notable: the preponderance of Japanese acts at this year’s festival (and, for that matter, at Fuji’s rival, Summer Sonic, as well). There are a number of good reasons why there should be a preponderance of Japanese acts at Fuji, the most prominent being that we are in Japan, goddammit, and there are a lot of great bands here. Except for the Spanish hybrid rock outfit, Doctor Prats, who wowed ‘em at the Red Marquee last night and launched the White Stage this morning, the opening acts on all the stages were locals.

Yogee New Waves

Yogee New Waves | MARK THOMPSON PHOTO

We caught some of Yogee New Waves’ disco surf pop at the Field of Heaven before bolting for the Green Stage to see Group Tamashii, a band whose presence as the main opening act sums up this presumed turn to domestic product rather starkly. Fuji Rock is a huge draw for foreigners, and not just those who live in Japan. Last night we met several groups of Asians who had flown in to spend the whole weekend, many with their families in tow. Though Group Tamashii is a rocking good show, they’re also Japanese to the extreme. Actually, they’re a comedy group, and you know what they say about how humor translates…

Group Tamashii

Group Tamashii

Dressed ostentatiously in leather, the group has pretty much one theme: Sex, and not sex as an enjoyable pastime or a seminal aspect of living, but as a joke. Moreover, a dirty joke. Lead singer Hakai, who occasionally bombarded the audience with cheap plastic slippers he flung like frisbees, kept up a steady stream of blue language — he didn’t even bother with double entendres — that left the Japanese chuckling and the rest of us scratching our heads.

Group Tamashii

Group Tamashii | MARK THOMPSON

It’s not that we don’t understand sex jokes when we hear them—at one point, the portly backup singer Baito-kun came out dressed as a school girl and Hakai said, “Your clitoris is showing”—but these gags were soaked in Japanese pop culture, referencing names and situations that only Japanese people would be familiar with. (There was a five-minute routine about Kabuki guild names that had the Japanese in stitches) Given that Fuji prides itself on being a family-friendly event, one had to wonder what some of the Japanese parents thought.

Group Tamashii

Group Tamashii | MARK THOMPSON

Prurience aside, Group Tamashii is a nifty, tight little outfit, slaloming smoothly from thrash metal to punk to a disco song about sushi and a pretty faithful Michael Jackson parody. Actually, the foreigners who don’t know any Japanese and anything about Japanese pop culture probably got the better deal: It was a nice way to rock in the weekend.

Prefest is best

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We pulled into Naeba through the tunnel expecting rain, since that’s what was forecast. Instead, we were met with overcast skies studded with patches of blue. A pleasant surprise, for sure, though, given the serendipity of nature, I wouldn’t want to venture on how long that will last.

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As usual, the prefestival party, open to all for free, was packed. The Bon Odori event in the middle of the Oasis rocked the crowd, who didn’t seem that interested in the lottery (ticket stub numbers) that was conceived to make people interested. People were already interested. Fuji Rock is interesting by definition.

It’s mostly a matter of anticipation. Three days of nonstop partying and excellent music ahead of them, the crowd that shows up for the prefestival party wants to get ahead of everybody else. They probably expect too much. They probably laugh too much. They definitely drink too much. When the fireworks marking the official start of the festival take off at 8 pm, they go batshit (which isn’t surprising–the Japanese do fireworks better than anyone), thus making the spectacle that much more spectacular.

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And, of course, they anticipate that prefest act that will transport them, which is natural to expect. Tonight there were various Japanese acts, all excellent and appreciated, but the main event was Doctor Prats, a Basque dance rock ensemble that fit the bill to a T.

Loyal Fujirock lieutenant Koichi Hanafusa came out before the band took the Red Marquee stage and gave a rather long-winded introduction, saying how the prefest party had become such a tradition that it had been memorialized in a book, no less, and then, of course, he had a photographer take a picture of the crowd, which was enormous and chomping at the bit. He introduced the band as being in the tradition of “revolutionary” Basque groups like Furgin Mugurizuka and Manu Chao, and in that regard Doctor Prats did not disappoint. For the next 30 minutes the crowd jumped and pumped to the organic breakbeats and clever stage choreography. They did exactly as they were supposed to do. They were the perfect audience, because they wanted to be. Undoubtedly, it was the best show Doctor Prats had ever done in their career so far. The prefest party guaranteed nothing less. 

(Text: Philip Brasor; photos: Mark Thompson)

This weather

This is the 18th Fuji Rock we’ve attended, and we would have to admit the weather was never this good. Of course, there’s still one more day to go, and mountain weather is infamous for changing on a dime, but based on the quality of the clouds in the sky right now, it doesn’t seem likely. Even in the past when the weather was generally good, it usually rained at least once. So far, nothing.

The problem with that is the dust. Usually, the organizers are careful to spread water on the paths and in front of the stages to keep the dust down, but we haven’t seen anything like that yet. Then there’s also the danger of dehydration, and there are lots of announcements to drink enough liquids, which, of course, you have to pay for. We’ve already seen a few people being carried to the first aid stations.

Don’t get us wrong, we’re not complaining, but sometimes a little squall is just the thing to break the heat. Besides, we want to try out our new rain coats.

Smart Soul Connection

Never heard of Smart Soul Connection? Think Peter Sellers meets the blues in a Showa Era lounge. Lyrics often amounted to just one word – SPYS! – shouted at the appropriate intervals.

For the finale, the singer jumped into the crowd and spread the gospel of the blues harp. We say Amen to that.

Disclosure

We were a little late to the Disclosure show at the White Stage and by the time we arrived the party was going full blast, the area one would normally call the mosh pit a churning mass of humanity. 

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It was just the Lawrence brothers on stage, sans high-profile vocalists, who were represented by recordings, so most of the action was in the audience. Disclosure’s frantic, bass-heavy, poppy dubstep almost never lets up, but the crowd didn’t seem to require a break, at least not while we were watching. When they launched into “Carnival,” you could finally understand the title. It was a song made for this kind of huge, unhinged crowd.

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In the end, vocalists would just have been an unnecessary distraction. It was certainly the biggest dance party we’d seen at the White Stage in a long time. We’re tired just thinking about it. (text: Philip Brasor; photos: Mark Thompson)

Sigur Ros

Obviously, no one came to headliner Sigur Ros’s show on Friday night to dance. Still, there was quite a bit of spectacle. It took the Icelandic group’s large crew more than an hour to set up their stage set. It was as they were building a house. When the band took the stage they were only half visible, because the front of the structure had a kind of louvered surface with tons of LEDs. It was as if you were watching them play behind a sparkling venetian blind. 

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Over the course of their show this structure gradually fell away, though we couldn’t tell you how, but eventually they were exposed for all to see, sawing away at their instruments and keening in that uniquely wild fashion. The visuals didn’t stop with the set, though. 

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The giant monitors on the sides of the stage showed images of the band that had been radically processed–something they looked like skeletons, other times like ghosts, which simply added to the group’s somewhat self-conscious anonymity. Only the music had character, and whether you like that kind of ethereal psychedelia, it was a real show. (text: Philip Brasor; photos: Mark Thompson)

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James Blake

Sometimes circumstances conspire to create the perfect show. Though we’ve always been less than enthusiastic about the art of James Blake, the British singer who configures conventional R&B tropes into electronica expressions, we admire him for his earnestness and his ability to convey that earnestness into heartfelt emotion.

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Circumstances did conspire on Friday night. The weather was partly overcast, but the setting sun made itself known. Moreover, Blake made it clear that regardless of the specific situations of which he sang, he was talking about things everyone could relate to. He thanked the audience in Japanese for showing up and said what an honor it was to play in Japan, as if he’s been asked to perform by the Emperor. But he was sincere, and that sincerity came through in interesting ways. On record you tend to notice the electronic processing, but live everything felt immediate and unfiltered. The lighting was clear and unfussy, and the sentiments were just as comprehensible. We stood on the top of the hill to the left of the stage, listening to those pure feelings for more than an hour and didn’t really want to leave. (text: Philip Brasor; photos: Mark Thompson)

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Courtney Barnett/The Internet

One thing we noticed about this year’s schedule is that more time seems to have been set aside between acts. We’re not sure as to the reason, since there’s very rarely a problem with someone going on late due to lengthy equipment changes. But one issue that has arisen is that instead of staggering acts on competing stages, often the acts will overlap. That’s only a problem when there are two acts you really want to see playing at the same time. Theoretically, the fans of Australian singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett are probably not the exact same ones for the L.A. neo-soul Odd Future outfit The Internet, but we happen to love both, so there was a quandary.

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Courtney played first at the Red Marquee at 3:50. Dressed all in black, with a T-shirt inscribed with the words “BAD SEED” on it, she was even looser and more confident than when we saw her last October at a club in Tokyo. The shed was totally packed, despite the fine weather outside, and the response was warm and enthusiastic. Unfortunately, Courtney’s presentation, which is sort of sloppy and earnest, sounded like crap in the Red Marquee, which is not kind to loud, sloppy rock due to the acoustics. Since we know most of the songs, we could enjoy it, but you could tell some in the audience who weren’t familiar with her music couldn’t quite get a purchase on the melodies and the guitar work. We left during “Depreston,” one of her mellower tracks, and it actually sounded perfect for that reason.

We booked over to the White Stage to catch the Internet, which took a little longer owing to the crowd that was leaving the Field of Heaven, so we missed the first song. Syd the Kid, resplendent in a dark grey hoodie, was relaxed and affable, joking with the audience and marvelling at how many people had actually shown up to see them. “This is a big-assed crowd,” keyboardist Matt Martians said, and got everybody to scream at the top of their lungs just because he wanted to see what a big-assed audience sounded like. We suppose that means The Internet doesn’t normally play to big-assed audiences.

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Syd, for her part, got the crowd to deliver the chorus — “you fucked up” — to the song “Just Say,” and we acquitted ourselves admirably, but the whole set was even looser than Courtney’s and sounded ten times better. Despite the big-assed audience, the group played as if they were in someone’s living room, and Syd’s cool, sexy voice delivered her stories of heartbreak and jealousy with all the anger and passion of Nina Simone. It was a great show by a singer and a band who know how to please because they are obviously difficult to please themselves. (text: Philip Brasor; photos: Mark Thompson)

Suchmos

Continuing with the “urban” theme that would prevail at the White Stage during the afternoon, Kanagawa Prefecture’s Suchmos played a well-received set of quiet storm, funky pop, and jazzy R&B. Lead singer Yonce strutted like Teddy, and though his relatively thin voice didn’t convey the kind of sex-you-up vibe his body was trying to sell, the band was up to the challenge and a fairly good crowd accumulated as the set progressed. (text: Philip Brasor; photo: Mark Thompson)

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Little Creatures

Takuji Aoyagi is a misleadingly simple guitarist. He purposely writes melodies with lots of repetitive noes and phrases, and while he sings in a pleasant tenor and knows how to rock out and even get funky, his trio, Little Creatures, do very little of what you would call sololing, though, in principle, they’re an instrumental band. Deceptively skilled musicians, they build on these repetitive patterns to create moods that they then manipulate at will.

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Under an occasionally blazing sun, they cut a striking figure on the Field of Heaven stage, and while no one really danced, the solid rhythms of bassist Masato Suzuki and drummer Tsutomu Kurihara worked their magic on Aoyagi’s patterns. Sometimes, when they hit a climax the crowd would gasp. Not exactly jamming, Little Creatures nevertheless kept us guessing, and always seemed to have the right answer in the end. (text: Philip Brasor; photos: Mark Thompson)

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Kohh

Japanese rap can be political, it can be personal and honest, and it can even be funny. What it often isn’t is caustic. The young rapper named Kohh, who seems to pattern his stylings after dark American acts like the Onyx, pretty much shot his wad as soon as he took the White Stage shortly after lunch. 

Sporting a ragged shriek-sing that would not have been out of place in a Norwegian death metal band, he writhed, skipped, and threw himself around the stage while his DJ cranked out industrial strength noise. The audience, much of which seemed to know his material, found the rhythm way before we did and dipped and waved accordingly.

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Though the air of menace was mostly an act, it was an act that couldn’t quite survive Kohh’s between song patter, during which he chatted amiably with the audience and commented about the weather, which was cool, breezy, cloudy, and very dry. 

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Proving that he understands what constitutes hip-hop in the post-millennium, he used some Auto-Tune, brought out a two-man crew to chant the phrase, “dirt boys,” and spell him for a bit with different types of flow, and did a song about drugs, which, in Japan, is bolder than doing a song that includes copious references to “bitches.” The guy has a future, even if he doesn’t have any more real estate available for tattoos. (text: Philip Brasor; photos: Mark Thompson)

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Boredoms

The 20th Fuji Rock Festival started the same way the last 19 did, with announcements from NGOs about recycling and donating to disaster relief funds. etc. The two grizzled emcees joked a little less this year, but managed to mention the fact that Pokemon Go finally launched in Japan this morning.

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Given Boredoms’ sense of mischief you might have expected them to somehow incorporate Pikachu into their act. For sure, they seemed an odd choice to kick off the festival on the Green Stage. Boredoms’ monumental drum circle thing seems better suited for the night, and while the air was cool, the sun was intense. In such a bucolic setting chanting and howling had an even more shamanistic cast to it, and what was so interesting about the visual aspect was the mundane nature of the instruments, many of which were just metal hardware. You could do this at home, but don’t. The neighbors will be pissed.

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Maybe Eye Yamataka is making his bid to be the successor to the late Kiyoshiro Imawano, the mayor of Fuji Rock. Of course, Boredoms’ style has nothing to do with Kiyoshiro’s rock’n soul hybrid, but if you wanted a clean break to welcome in the next 20 years, you couldn’t ask for anything starker. (text: Philip Brasor; photos: Mark Thompson)

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