Piping it in

AND THEY’RE OFF | Mark Thompson photos

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.

Fuji Rock 2019: A word before you go


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. 


Slowdive: Slow corps

Slowdive | Mark Thompson photo

By now, we’re pretty anxious whenever we step into the Red Marquee. Though the rain has mostly held off today, as soon as we entered the tent to wait around for the British shoegazer outfit Slowdive, it did start to rain in earnest, and we wondered it we were the cause. Actually halfway through the set we noticed some sunshine outside, but maybe that was our imagination, or a mirage. But in any case the rain seemed to have stopped.

Who knows? Maybe the band’s hypnotic psychedelic guitar sound appeased the weather gods. For sure, their music is not the kind of thing we listen to at home. It’s too redundant, the tempos are all the same, and there’s no dynamic range—songs start incredibly loud and remain that way. The only distinctions are melodic and harmonic.

Slowdive Mark Thompson photo

But live, this stuff works much better than you could imagine, and while some of the people definitely stopped by to get in out of the rain, by the end of the set, they were as hypnotized as those who expected to be. I mean, any band with three guitars has to be paid attention to.

At one point, Neil Halstead commented about Japan, “I really like that the weather doesn’t change here,” though maybe he was talking about the weather inside the Red Marquee. God knows it changed three times during their set outside.

Slowdive | Mark Thompson photo

Shugu Tokumaru: Boy wonder

Shugo Tokumaru is pretty much the standard bearer for that quirky brand of Japanese indie rock, and has been for a while. He’s become so good at it that he has no problem tempting ridicule with overly cute touches. There were lots of interesting things on the White Stage before he came out, including mechanical dolls.

The cuteness works not as cuteness but as something with meaning in an entertainment sense. Tokumaru is no longer a boy, but he still understands what impressed him when he was young and he tries to impart that wonder to his audience. During his afternoon set, when there was a lull in the precipitation, he explained that although Mount Fuji is far away, Fuji Rock Festival can still celebrate a great Japanese mountain, except that it’s Mount Naeba.

This imaginative and optimistic grasp of the world extends to the music, which is happy without being saccharine, quirky without being precious. Time and key signatures are as malleable as Tokumaru’s imagination, and he’s go the band to make it happen. Everyone except the drummer and the bass player double and triple on various instruments. The woman who was mostly on the accordion picked up the electric guitar for one song and stood on platform to shred, the keyboard player fanning her with a big board to make her hair blow like a real rock star.

Tokumaru also brought out Maywa Denki, the two-man performance group whose schtick is inventions for every situation, in this case an electrical percussion instrument that Maywa’s president word like a set of wings. He added beats to a great Latin tune and it made perfect sense. As did the bluegrass interlude in another song (Tokumaru is a great guitarist), and the crude AV touches, like streamers that came out during the climax of another song, a did the whistling and mouth percussion that formed the “solo” in another song.

In Tokumaru’s world, everything works because it works in his head. That he allows us entry is a privilege.

Real Estate / Ron Sexsmith: Hangover music

The Sunday openers are usually a very different breed of musician than those who start up Friday or even Saturday. Those people are supposed to jump start the audience, but the Sunday acts tend to be more soothing, since more likely than not anyone who manages to drag themselves out of their tents before noon is feeling the previous night’s excesses. So it was only proper that Canadian singer-songwriter Ron Sexsmith, who seems to play Fuji every two years or so, took the Green Stage with his gentle songs of love and pain. Self-deprecating to the point of ridiculousness (“Here’s one you may know…or maybe not”), he was dressed in a  spiffy checked sport coat and a straw fedora, his characteristically boyish features filled out considerably in middle age. He speaking voice is indistinguishable from the one he uses to sing: lilting and a little shy. When he occasionally breaks out in a solo on his acoustic guitar, you surprised he has that much fight in him.

Ron Sexsmith
Ron Sexsmith | Mark Thompson photo

Sexsmith dedicated the set to a woman who worked for Smash but apparently doesn’t any more. We’d hate to think she might have died, but it was difficult to tell in Sexsmith’s dedication, which didn’t seem particularly sad. He has lots of fans in Japan, despite the language barrier, and when we went close to the stage we saw a lot of them swaying to his lovely little melodies and mouthing the works. Most were couples. It’s the kind to music that seems to appeal to people who are happy in love, rather than those who aren’t, and when he left the stage after a strong 50 minutes, he received a heartfelt ovation that belied the tiny crowd. He’ll be back.

Ron Sexsmith
Ron Sexsmith | Mark Thompson photo

The White Stage had a relatively laid back opener as well. Real Estate, the New Jersey band who plays a satisfyingly redundant, slightly hazy take on guitar pop was the perfect band to ease the crowd into a Sunday that threatened to be as wet as Saturday, but toward the end of the set the drizzle let up and there was even a few patches of blue. Martin Courtney has one of those high, very white voices that wouldn’t hurt a fly even if he were reciting Danzig lyrics, and combined with the group’s infectious sense of melody, the audience, which almost filled the White Stage area, fell right into their mid-tempo rhythms. It was better than aspirin, and easier to take.

Nina Kraviz: Excellent student

Though as the crow flies, Siberia isn’t that far from Japan, in terms of making it from there to here as a DJ, Naeba might as well be on the moon. But there was producer Nina Kraviz taking the Red Marquee at 2 in the morning for an emotionally rich, often gorgeous 90 minutes of electronic music. Apparently, Kraviz got into the game in a decidedly unsual way—she actually studied to be a DJ-producer at the Red Bull Academy, after moving from Irkutsk to Moscow, where she formally studied dentistry but mainly fell into the city’s dance music scene.

At the Red Marquee she didn’t sing, which she often does on her records, but the music was lyrical anyway—open-hearted even. We wouldn’t call it happy music, like The Avalanches show earlier in the day, but it put us at ease. You danced because it felt good. You couldn’t resist.

Stuck between a rock and a hard place

It was bound to happen, though it also could have probably been avoided. There was a huge traffic jam on the trail linking the Green and White Stages in the early evening that stretched on into the night. The main problem was the Cornelius was playing the Green Stage and then his old music partner, Kenji Ozawa, was on the White Stage a little later. Naturally, it seems that everyone who is a Cornelius fan is also an Ozawa fan, but the White Stage area is much smaller and it couldn’t handle the overflow. In fact, the staff disassembled some of the barriers on the north side of the White Stage area in order to accommodate the extra people.

Aphex Twin: Man of mystery

Aphex Twin
Aphex Twin | Mark Thompson photo

Richard D. James has developed an enviable image of a reluctant star in his incarnation as Aphex Twin, and it’s always made sense. Electronica artists don’t need to be faceless, and James isn’t as obsessive about his identity as some people are, but his aim has always been to steer people’s attention to his music rather than to himself. And that music demands extra attention.

Though he’s produced danceable material, he’s also made a lot of stuff that is just plain out there, which is why it’s difficult to explain why he deserves to be a headliner at one of the biggest rock festivals in the world. His set at the Green Stage on Saturday—traditionally the one day of the weekend that is guaranteed to sell out for simply logistical reasons—was an organic, growing thing that didn’t necessarily rely on beats to draw the listener in. It was all shifting textures abetted by complementary visuals (none of him, of course) that would occasionally turn into something stimulating, even exciting, but never remained there long enough to get a dance pulse going.

Aphex Twin
Aphex Twin | Mark Thompson photo

The highlight, in fact, was when red lasers sketched patterns on the side of the mountain facing the stage. As was true all day, the rain came and went, and about 45 minutes into the set there was a brief downpour that obviously affected people’s relation to the music. People had gotten used to the rain, but it was still a distraction.

Death Grips: Don’t stop can’t stop

Death Grips
Death Grips | Mark Thompson photo

Certainly, one of the most memorable shows we’ve ever seen at Fuji Rock was Death Grips after midnight at the Red Marquee back in the early 2010s. Though we were familiar with their material up to that point, the manic energy of the performance was so disorienting that we couldn’t get a handle on the song, but the visceral impact was powerful. We left it shaken and somehow wanting more.

The trio returned this year to the more conventional White Stage during a lull in the rain of the day. Though the group had effectively called it quits in 2014, they somehow kept going, and the White Stage show proved just how far they’d actually progressed since their retirement. MC Ride, the group’s rapper and front man, has always come across as a purely performative figure, an artist whose whole being is invested in the moment, and for one full hour on the White Stage he never seemed to exit his own head. Naked from the waist up, he was the classic hip-hop MC, but with a personal grudge against the universe, inveiling against the social and systemic rules that marginalized him, but since the music itself is so dense and abrupt, it’s almost impossible to understand what he’s saying. But the crowd picked up on the desperation, despite the conventional lack of melody and structure. Zach Hill, equally topless, matched DC Ride’s emotional extravagance with drumming that seems almost superhuman in its capacity to keep things going, but it was programmer Andy Morin, who with his bizarre set of evil scientist expression behind the board who kept the set moving forward.

How do they do it? I mean, playing a full hour without a pause, shifting from one “song” to another with impeccable timing and without acknowledging one another. How do they compile their set lists and memorize them. Is there some instinctual connection that makes it all possible? All I know is that, for the full hour I was complicit in their violence, and unlike the previous night’s Arca show, there was not cynicism evident in their transgressive music. It was as honest as the drizzle that occasionally fell, afraid to interrupt. The best show of the festival, so far.

Death Grips
Death Grips | Mark Thompson photo

Arca: Difficult

Arca | Mark Thompson photos

Alejandro Ghersi’s midnight DJ set at the Red Marquee didn’t seem to channel much from the records he releases as Arca. Though the music was denser and bassier than his recorded hip-hop, it was equally challenging, and didn’t seem overly personal. He didn’t sing—though he did a lot of talking and there was certainly a diva quality to the performance. In other words, it wasn’t your usual DJ show, though he did manage to play music that people could dance to, at least every so often, but there was almost a begrudging quality to it. Arca would often leave his equipment and come downstage, strutting back and forth and vocalizing in various modes, but always sounding desperate. At times he seemed to be egging the audience on, but toward what?


Co-billed AV artist Jesse Kanda, who sat onstage to the left, had the whole back screen to himself and he really used it. The images, mostly of animals in some sort of distress, were extremely difficult to watch at times, and he would keep repeating them over and over, as if he were obsessively picking at a scab. Sometimes, he would throw in footage from the award-winning documentary, “Leviathan,” about a fishing boat in the Atlantic, and it was a welcome respite from the body horror. Combined with the darker shades of Arca’s selection and the DJ’s confrontational attitude, the visual portion completed a performative trifecta that was fascinating without necessarily being enjoyable. And it went on for a long time.


Sampha says

Sampha | Mark Thompson photos

Few pop artists have had to adjust their expectations in accordance with their failures as much as Sampha Sisay, the London native who held forth in the headline position at the Red Marquee on Friday. Having tried and pretty much failed as a hip-hop beatmaker, he ended up remixing others beats (such as The xx’s, who were playing almost at the same time several meters away). But in the end, he just had to put out his own R&B-inflected pop songs, composed on his trusty piano, and set to keyboards and drums.


Though the motif was simple, the presentation was anything but. Sampha, dressed in an odd white getup that looked as if he hadn’t completely put it on, was completely in charge and had the relatively small audience eating out of his hands. Alternately swooning and declarative, his uniquely hushed vocals made such an impression that people around me gasped at the emotional clarity. R&B has turned into a form that favors style over content, but Sampha doesn’t see much distinction.

The xx / Gorillaz: Making their cases

The xx were fairly humble during their amazing early evening gig on the Green Stage. Only the three of them, performing intensely emotional music with beats that penetrated to the core, and the overcapacity crowd felt every intention. Though Romy Croft and Oliver Sim fronted the band with their vocals and warm stage patter, it was Jamie xx Smith who commanded the show, perched atop his riser in the back with his battery of keyboards setting the beats and, for that matter, the general tenor of the show.

The xx
The xx | Mark Thompson photo

The xx’s peculiar brand of white bread R&B is founded on a distinctly downtempo model, and yet the hour-long show cooked and simmered thanks to Jamie’s instinctive gift for finding the kernel of a surefire melody in his search for the perfect riff.It was one of those nights of perfect synergy. Smash has occasionally, but not always, been able to program their Fuji Rock stages so that the acts complement one another.

The xx
The xx | Mark Thompson photo

The xx’s show flowed perfectly into that of the Gorillaz, a band that most people think exists only on digital media. The cartoon characters that front the group, however, remained in the background, on the back screen.

Though Damon Albarn and his backup band donned black surgical masks for the first song, it was mostly a feint. They discarded them and launched into a full blown band concert that never flagged. At one point, Albarn acknowledged that the band’s anime m.o. may have held it back as a live act. This was their second time in Japan, but the first time “at an industrial setting” in 2001 (Summer Sonic, to be exact), where the band played behind a scrim, was apparently less than ideal.

Albarn made up for it with a funk marathon that stretched his understanding of black music, and while he had to rely on various black rappers and singers to fulfill his ideas, it was for the most part Albarn’s show all the way, and he held his own. It may have been the most viscerally satisfying show we’ve seen on the Green Stage since Rage Against the Machine back in 99, and that’s saying a lot. The thing is, Gorillaz knows what it takes to rock a crowd of over 10,000 people. It’s a rare talent.

Father John Misty: The God of Sex surveys his heaven

Father John Misty
Father John Misty | Mark Thompson photo

We’ve already talked about how specifically Japanese acts may not connect in the way they’ve intended to foreign punters at the festival. However, Father John Misty’s early evening performance at the Field of Heaven demonstrates pretty much the opposite: How an artist flies over the head of the local audience and talks directly to those who understand where he’s coming from.

This particular truth was illustrated abruptly after the fourth song of the set. Misty apologized for all the “American and English” fans in the audience who were screaming out favorites and generally making a nuisance of themselves. “Silence make us very nervous,” he said, in deference to the Japanese audience’s…deference.

Father John Misty
Father John Misty | Mark Thompson photo

He had a point but also missed it. What’s mainly prominent in Misty’s show is the dramatic, performative element that becomes the kernel of his point. Basically, Misty is Kenny Loggins trapped in the body of an r&b sex god, and Misty exaggerated this quality to such a degrees that the Japanese fans in the audience could only look on in awed bewilderment, but the gaijin knew exactly what he was talking about when he sexualized the forest background and talked about getting it on with his significant other in a tent on the edge of Fuji Rock. It was perfect: He was localizing his musical sensibility, but, unfortunately, only the foreigners understood what he was getting at.

Father John Misty
Father John Misty | Mark Thompson photo

But drama always succeeds. The best joke in Misty’s arsenal is the fact that his band looke like variations of him: besuited, hirsute, white to the point of embarrasment. And while his sexual component is obviously a ruse, it’s also effective. During one song, I noticed two Caucasian women dancing with each other in sexual abandon and mouthing the lyrics to the song. That’s attraction.

And then there was “Honey Bear,” the epitome of his psycho-sexual ouevre, a song that he sang as if he were James Brown, kneeling and pleading with his love for her sexual favors, and even the Japanese caught on to the story. Though the crowd was relatively small, the reaction was nuclear. People erupted, they spent themselves.

Elvin Bishop: Rock will set you free, and it will also keep you dry

Jonathon Ng, the Irish singer-songwriter better known as Eden, was fifteen minutes late to his Red Marquee show, and then technical glitches delayed his first number by another five. It wasn’t an auspicious start, and so it was with some surprise that we noticed the place filling up quickly as his second song ended. The guy’s dark, one-man emo-flavored electronica has a certain morbid appeal, but we didn’t think it was magnetic.

And then we realized: It was raining. Pretty hard, too. Which means Eden was one of those chosen few blessed by what we like to call the “wet bonanza”: an automatic full house because people are getting in out of the downpour. As with most people who are visited by this blessing, he didn’t notice it—or, if he did, he didn’t acknowledge it, and, in fact, seemed pretty stoked by the size of the crowd. All his trespasses were forgiven.

Consequently, it took us a while to get out of the Marquee, what with all the bodies, and we wanted to get over to the Green Stage to see the Route 17 Rock and Roll Orchestra, a collection of studio and touring vets who have played Fuji before, usually in a revue style. Today, in the middle of a rainstorm they were featuring four big guest stars, and, miraculously, as soon as the first one, Tortoise Matsumoto, lead singer of Ulfuls, came out in a snazzy maroon suit, the rain stopped. We were thankful for that, not the suit or, for that matter, his earnest versions of American soul music, but the fact that he stopped the rain.


It was guaranteed kitsch, with a trio of dancing girls/backup singers dressed in colorful lame gowns. When Matsumoto was finished, veteran guitarist Chabo Nikaido came out and did some standard rock-type songs. Even since his former musical partner, Kiyoshiro, died he’s been trying to get his job as the unofficial mayor of Fuji Rock, and so he did a nice version of Kiyoshiro’s biggest hit, “Daydream Believer” (Yes, the Monkees song). The girl singers then did their version of “Please Mr. Postman,” punctuated by an appearance by Jason Mayall as the titular mail carrier. To lend the festivities the proper entertainment gravitas, DJ Chris Peppler came out to introduce Elvin Bishop, who looked as if he’d just rolled out of bed. He did a few blues and his one hit, “Fooled Around and Fell in Love,” which was sung by the black guy in an Oakland Athletics shirt who did a pretty amazing imitation of Mickey Thomas and was the best thing about the whole set. It wasn’t until he left the stage that we learned his name: Willie Jordan.


But the big name of the afternoon was the “wakadaisho” (young general) himself, Yuzo Kayama, who’s pushing 80. Kayama was one of the biggest movie stars of the 60s, but before he was an actor he was known as a guitarist in the Ventures digga-digga-digga-DON mode. He came out and played two instrumentals to prove he can still shred. He then did a passable version of a very good Elvis Presley song, “Blue Moon,” and then his big hit, whose title we can never remember, but it had the hold crowd waving and sniffling. Kayama couldn’t hide his age—his speaking voice is frailer than I remember it from TV—but he still looks good and thinks the kids are all right.

For the big finish, everyone returned to the stage for a version of “Johhny B. Goode” in tribute to Chuck Berry, who died earlier this year. It was obviously a rush job: Chris Peppler contributed a verse but had to read lyrics off his wrist. Even Bishop seemed to be watching the Route 17 guitarist for the changes—doesn’t everybody know the chords to “Johnny B. Goode”? But it all ended on an up note, and it didn’t rain a drop. 

(Text: Philip Brasor; photos: Mark Thompson)

Prefest is best


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)