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.
The 2019 Fuji Rock Festival officially kicked off at 8 p.m. on Thursday night with the big fireworks display. Up until that point it was the usual fare: bon odori followed by a lottery drawing. The folks on hand could attend for free, because that’s the way Fuji rolls on the night before the actual festival starts. It’s supposed to be a celebration in appreciation of the local folks, but over the years it’s turned into something much different. It’s essentially a show of commitment by the Fuji Faithful, those who show up year after year regardless of the headliners or the weather. And this year, the faithful showed up in force. By the time the fireworks started, you could hardly move.
Part of the problem, if you can call it that, was that people to the north of the main platform were exercising their right to sit, in camp chairs, a situation that’s becoming increasingly dense during the festival, but was practically unheard of during the prefest party in the past. Consequently, the line around the food court moved at a snail’s pace. At least people stood up when the fireworks went off.
Of course, everybody moved over to the Red Marquee when the first of the evening’s live acts, the Red Hot Chilli Pipers, did their half hour set. The band, which is essentially an earnest cover band with bagpipers for novelty effect, captivated the audience completely. All bands who deign to play the opening slot at the prefest party are undeniable hits, because those who show up are raring to go; ready to party, and probably drunk enough to make good on that claim. Realistically, it was almost impossible to get even into the tent, the place was so packed. The repertoire was predictable: Journey, Queen, Deep Purple riffs. But with bagpipes substituting for classic guitar lines, how could anyone resist?
And then it finally started raining, though no one seemed to mind, and not just because the majority of punters were inside the tent. “Don’t Stop Believing” and “We Will Rock You” are pretty bullet proof songs, even on bagpipes. Or maybe I should say water proof?
It promises to be a great weekend.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Since last we were at Fuji (last year) the organizers have built a new route that cuts a bit of time out of the trek from Gypsy Avalon to the Green Stage. They laid out a web of paths in the woods between the White Stage and Gypsy Avalon that connects to the boardwalk that takes people from the White Stage to the Green. In addition, the warren of paths is lined with small craft businesses and some odd “artwork,” which we won’t spoil by letting on what it is.
Last night’s splendid weather held up til this morning and even improved. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky when we woke up and while the temperature promises to be high, there’s a nice breeze coming in from the south. We also heard from a staffer that the typhoon has “veered off,” so we’ll keep our fingers crossed.
Apparently, tomorrow and Sunday are sold out, but there are still tickets available for today, and the crowds going through the main gate were lighter than we’ve noticed in the past. So for today, at least, we don’t have to worry about mud but rather dust.
It’s been perfect weather so far. Cool and clear, with a full moon marking Fuji Rock’s 20th year at Naeba. We walked the half mile to the entrance and the place was already hopping for the prefest party, which is open to everyone for free. We must have missed the bon odori dance, but the raffle was happening (some kid from Canada won a towel and some cash and the MCs were making fun of his lack of Japanese, but in a good natured way). The fireworks went off as scheduled at 8 p.m., and for once you could chart their definitions in the sky; no obscuring mist or clouds.
Koichi Hanafusa, one of the major domos of the festival, made his usual opening remarks at the Red Marquee, noting the 20th anniversary and making a special note of the international flavor of the festival, greeting the assembled crowd in about ten different languages. Of course, that’s part of Fuji’s appeal, which may be increasingly rara, even in Japan, where diversity isn’t quite as celebrated as it might be, though, compared to the U.S. at the moment, it’s doing better than could be expected. In any case, Fuji’s ecumenical spirit is celebrated most fervently at the prefest blowout, where groups who deign to play for free get to strut their stuff in front of the most receptive crowd of the weekend–the prefest punters, who get in for free, but are already itching for great music. The adrenalin is already present.
Interactivo, the band that opened the festival, is from Cuba, which is as ecumenical as they come. They started with a funky fusion instrumental and quickly devolved into salsa sensationalism. The crowd loved every minute and danced their best latin moves. It was over in a quick 25 minutes, and we drifted out into the food court, enchanted by the moon and the easy, friendly vibe. It should be a great weekend, rain or not.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
We were pleasantly surprised to see that Keen shoes had a booth this year at the festival, just east of the Green Stage area. We always wear Keen hiking boots at the festival and they’ve never let us down, despite all the walking we do over the course of the festival. Even more interesting is that the booth offers shoes for rent…or maybe we should say they lend shoes, since they don’t charge you for their use. Sandals, too, though we tend to shy away from sandals because pebbles always find their way in. Of course, the purpose is to get you to like the shoes so that you’ll eventually buy a pair. We’re already sold.
For once, the rain in Tokyo didn’t intrude on Naeba. When we left the capital in the early afternoon it was pouring and rained most of the way up to Niigata Prefecture. As we climbed the winding roads up to the festival grounds, the rain became more intense, but as soon as we surmounted the hump it was dry–overcast, but dry.
The pre-festival party is free to everyone. It’s sort of a thank you gift to the locals, but a long time ago it just became an integral part of the festival. For some reason they cut the bon odori dance this year, opting instead for a raffle (tickets were given out at the entrance to anyone who passed through). It was sort of cheesy. It was also packed, as if the party had already started and everyone who was going to be here was already here.
The fireworks didn’t have to compete with the rain or mist this year. Though it was overcast, the hanabi came through clear, even if the emcees on the stage at the center of the Oasis seemed hard put to get the crowd excited. After all this time you could call them jaded. They were already settled into their festival faces, happy, slightly drunk, itching to be impressed.
Con Brio, the San Francisco soul-funk outfit was maybe the best Prefest opener I’ve seen here since Danko Jones more than 10 years ago, and for the same reason. The audience didn’t know them and that itch to be impressed was thoroughly scratched. Lead singer Ziek McCarter shimmied and slid across the stage as the six-piece backup churned a greasy soul stew that ust became more intense during the half hour they commanded the stage. Festival regular Koichi Hanafusa introduced them by trying to find out how many in the packed Red Marquee had been there for the first Fuji Rock 20 years ago. Not many, you can imagine, and hardly anyone cared. The great thing about Con Brio was that they made you appreciate the moment all the more. Screw those memories. Live for today and raise your hand.
Firestarter + flyboys @ Palace of Wonder (aka Field of Hell).
The current state of the former Orange Court. In the distance is the Cafe de Paris and an amusement area featuring buskers, a drum circle, and bowling alley.
While deadmau5 shook the trees around the Green Stage with chesthumping doofdoof, the DJs at Jim Vinyl Nasuim found a simpler way to make us dance.
The foundations of the Naeba Shokudo are shaken nightly after the Green Stage shuts down. And every night you are guaranteed a bands that have no problem getting up-close and personal with their fans. Aside from the keyboardist and drummer, every member of ska powerhouse The Man took a stroll through the crowd while playing. And they blew the roof off the mother.
Perfect festival weather. Check.
Morning exercise at Kodomo no Mori (Kid’s Forest).
No toil, no trouble