This is my review and experiences of Fuji Rock Festival 2010. A warning to the potential reader: This post contains a lot of pictures and also covers only the bands I was able to see for the duration of the festival. Many more bands performed, but due to not being quantum and exist in two places at the same time I did not see them live 😛 . So here goes!
The most famous music festival in Japan has to be the Fuji Rock Festival. It is held every year in the last weekend(Friday included) of July, In Yuzawaza, Naeba Ski Resort, Niigata prefecture. It has the unique characteristic of being dominated mostly by foreign artists when compared to other Japanese rock festivals such as the Rising Sun Rock Festival.
As you can understand with it being held in a ski resort the only possible accomodation would be the nearby hotel, making it hard for the hordes of people coming every year to find a place to stay. That’s why the organisers give you the choice of getting a camping ticket for all 3 days (around 3000 yen) and provided you have a tent and know how to use it you are set for a nice adventure and at the same time you secure the cheapest accomodation you can find 😛
This year’s lineup was magnificent. It contained many of my favorite bands and I just had to go and see them live. Unfortunately none of my friends at the dormitory or any of my japanese friends shared the excitement so it quickly became obvious that I had to go solo.
This year’s festival was held on July 30th, 31st and 1st of August. So being the adventurous guy and an avid music fan that I am I just got my tent, got into the train and left for Echigo Yuzawa station, the closest station to the festival site. Upon reaching the station I kept meeting tons of people carrying huge backpacks all with a smile on their face. The whole station had flyers about fuji rock and signs pointing you to the bus stop for the free shuttle bus to the festival site
Something happened to me in the station which deserves a whole blog post on its own about japanese honesty so I will not cover it here. Anyway as I was saying there is a free shuttle bus constantly doing routes between the festival site and the station. It was a really useful commodity since it ran from early morning to late night. After arriving at the site it was time to exchange the tickets for a 3-day wristband and a campsite ticket. As you can see from the picture below, the queue of people lining up to exchange their tickets was huge, and consider that this was one day before the festival actually started, 02:00 at night and while raining quite hard.
I guess this only shows how many people came to the festival. This queue only got bigger and bigger as the morning was getting closer. It is there that I met some of the first friends I made in the festival. Did not take much, just a hello, some questions about which bands we all look forward to seeing and the musical and cultural exchance was well underway.
And of course setting up my tent in a lonely spot would be bad, so we decided to set up tents in the same spot so we could hang out together for the whole duration of the festival. Setting up a tent in muddy mountainous terrain at 03:00 in the morning while it is raining is not an easy task but thankfully I have had plenty of previous outdoors experience so after a while the tent was set up and I had a cozy place to take shelter from the rain and sleep.
After some drinking and talking with the newly acquired friends it was time to go and sleep since the coming day was going to be a pretty long day.
Friday 30/07 – Day 1
The next day started with hordes of people queuing up for the wristband exchange, thankfully we came one day earlier and had this arranged already. The shows started from 11:00 so we just looked around the festival site. As you can see from the picture below it was extremely crowded. In the festival grounds it had many tents selling all kinds of food you can imagine. Delicacies from all around the world…provided you can afford them.
From there you could also get a nice view of the campsite. Even though it does not manage to capture it in its entirety, you can get a good idea of what part of the resort was dedicated to us campers and of course of the sheer number of people who chose camping as an accomodation.
In the first day I chose to watch Superfly, urged by my japanese friends since I told them I like japanese rock. They were nice, but I would categorize them as j-pop rather than j-rock. After them in the same stage came Ash, a british alternative rock band which I was looking forward to seeing. They were quite good and the crowd seemed to like them.
Following that and a trip to the Red Marquee we went to see the band “Ogre you asshole”, a Japanese band as you can guess from the name. Not something memorable. Of course between band performances the necessary photos were taken. Just like everyone else, being completely unoriginal, I took a photo of myself at the gates of the fuji rock festival. Note the blue rain coat to protect me from the constant rain we were facing.
While moving around the festival site I came across a band which I did not know before but really became fond of very quickly. Their name is MuteMath and they play a genre of alternative rock called Math Rock. They put on an interesting show and played some very nice and uplifting songs. I really enjoyed them and I think I will be listening to them more often from now and on.
Fourty minutes later on the same stage came Ken yokoyama an artist considered by most as THE punk rock god in Japan. I was looking forward to seeing him live since I like many of his songs. I really like this kind of punk rock but the only thing I hate about punk and generally japanese rock in general is the fact that they try to mix english lyrics inside when they would have been a lot better off just with japanese ones. Below you can see a picture of the Green stage from far away while ken yokoyama is getting ready to come on stage.
After them it was time for hard rock Supergroup Them Crooked Vultures.
They are a supergroup consisting of artists from Led Zeppelin, Queens of the stone Age, Foo fighters and more. I really wanted to see them live and they did not dissapoint. Hard sound, great lyrics and a show that made the crowd move.
You can see them performing Gunman on the Green stage from the video below.
When they finished you would have thought that people would have no energy for anything else. But that could not be less true since next up came Muse.
I would be lying if I said that they were not the band I was looking to seeing live more than any other band. They are one of my favorite, if not the favorite, alternative rock band and … well they are MUSE 🙂 . They played many of their best hits such as “Time is Running out”, “Starlight, “Map of the Problematique” and “Newborn” but also of course almost all of “The Resistance”, their latest album. It was an amazing show.
Also just to give you the feeling of how their show was I will link two videos uploaded by other people who attended the show on you tube. The first one is “Uprising” with a bad sound quality but it gives off the feeling of how it was being there watching them perform.
The second one is “Starlight” with a lot better sound quality. Starlight being one of my favorite Muse Songs could not be missing from here.
When Muse finished it was already 23:30. It was time to go to sleep but I could not do that just yet. Not when bands I wanted to see live were still playing. All night Fuji (bands playing until morning) was starting. Incidentally one of these bands I really wanted to listen to. Fischerspooner, an electronic music duo from USA was playing in the orange court at 0:00. So I had to literally fight my way through the crowds returning from Muse to reach their stage located in the total opposite side of the festival grounds. Fortunately I reached there on time and enjoyed a very nice show by Fisherspooner. It was amazing and they even played my favorite song , called “Happy” 😀 . It was time to go to sleep and rest a bit for the second day of the festival.
Saturday 31/07 – Day 2
Next day forced to wake up very early due to the rising sun making a sauna out of my little tent we made our way to the Green stage to rest under the shadows cast by the trees. This is something I did every day there, there is nothing better than resting under the trees of the Green stage while watching the first morning band. Note the muddy shoes and the pulled-up jeans so that they get as little mud on them as possible ^^ .
This morning it was a punk rock band that woke us up. Since my friends knew I like punk rock they suggested we go and see Hawaiian6. It was a very nice choice since there is nothing better than punk rock to wake you up in the morning. They were powerfull and made their japanese fans go crazy just like any good punk rock band. They really reminded me of Ken Yokoyama, which makes sense since they were ex-members of his former band.
After them, I made my way to the orange court to see a strange folk music band from the Solomon Islands. They are called the Narasirato pan pipers band, and as their name implies they are pan pipers. Their music was unique and very nice to the ears. I have to admit I really enjoyed listening to something so nice and different.
On my way back from the Orange Court music from the White Stage caught my ear and so I found myself listening to Third Eye Blind , an alternative rock band from San Fransisco. It was the first time listening to them but I was attracted to the white stage by their music and stayed till the end of their show. It was a very nice show and their music is definitely close to my tastes and I am sure I will be listening to them more frequently from now and on.
One funny thing about them is that they kept repeating how they participated in the very first Fuji Rock Festival back in 1997, on Mt. Fuji. And funniest of all is how this very mention made the crowd go berserk and cheer for them. The japanese really love dedicated gaijin bands I guess.
A very nice thing about the festival is that while walking between stages one can come across indy artists who are performing and trying to catch the people’s attention so that they can get their chance at getting famous. One such artist was the guy in the pictures below. He was literally an one man band as you can see from the pictures. His music was not that bad and he was handling all these different instruments pretty well. He was an interesting guy.
In the Green Stage the famous Rock Artist John Fogerty was about to come into stage.
He was very nice to listen to even though many of his songs sounded like the classic good oldies collection CDs you would buy from a record store. Still none can argue that he is still alive and kicking and that he still has the spark needed to make and perform music. He put on a nice show and people really liked it.
I especially liked all the songs which included violin sounds in them since I have a very soft side for that instrument. Not to mention that the violinist in his band was really good. The violin was on fire when he played it.
After John Fogerty I had to rush for the White Stage where One Day As A Lion were making their first debut in a festival ever.
It is the solo project of Rage Against the machine frontman Zack De La Rocha and the former drummer of The Mars Volta. The crowd expecting to see them was huge. All attracted by the name of Rage Against the machine’s frontman. They played all of their EP with the same name as the band and then some RATM covers. They were very nice and the mix of hip hop and rock made the crowd move a lot.
Below you can see a video of them playing “Wild International” the most popular song out of their latest EP.
Right after, on the very same stage came MGMT, an electronica/alternative/psychedelic group from Brooklyn, USA. Incidentally one of the bands I was really looking forward to seeing live in Fuji Rock.
The organizers of the festival made the mistake of putting MGMT on the White stage, the second biggest stage, underestimating the amount of people wanting to see them. They should have put them on the Green stage instead. As a result the white stage closed and none could enter or leave its premises, fearing people could trample each other if more tried to enter. Anyhow as with any other band I watched, I was in the very front so I did not care much 😛 . MGMT started their show and played many of their top-hits disproving the nay-sayers who say that they don’t play oracular spectacular songs in their lives out of spite of people not liking their latest album, “Congratulations”.
They played Kids as you can see from the video below
They also played “Time to Pretend” and other hits from the album Oracular Spectacular while not omitting to play their newest songs such as “Congratulations” from the same named album. Below you can see them performing Electric Feel
MGMT’s performance was spectacular (maybe even oracular 😛 ). I loved every moment of it, especially when they played “Kids”. It’s like the crowd was resonating when they played that song. A funny fact about the performance is that when they finished, a completely naked non-japanese girl came from somewhere backstage, and bowed to the audience laughing, while 3 security guys tried to get her off the stage.
It was time to go to sleep after yet another day full of music. As usual though we did not go to sleep, instead we stayed up until sunrise hanging around the entrance of the festival drinking, and talking about our experiences so far. As night changed into day up in the mountains the scenery was very interesting.
Sunday 01/08 – Day 3
The third and last day of the festival started quite nicely. The first band in the morning was none other than Asian Kung-fu Generation a Japanese rock band that I really like and had never had the chance to see live before. They have written many songs that have been used as openings for japanese animations but also have some very unique songs that are among my favorite Japanese songs ever. What’s more they are a band that got known through Fuji Rock Festival. They appeared in the Rookies section of Fuji Rock Festival 10 years ago and became widely known from there.
Their performance was great, they played many of their songs I like and especially “Riraito-Rewrite”. I really enjoyed seeing them live for the first time and would see them again if I was given the chance to do so in the future.
After AKG, we went towards the White stage to watch Akihiro Namba, yet another japanese punk rock group. Afterwards we mostly strolled around the white stage and other stages close to it watching various bands such as Riddim Saunter a japanese indie rock band with great music due to many talented musicians and a mix of musical instruments in their performance.
After that we visited the Field of Heaven, a place hosting a small stage but also full of small shops with refreshing beverages and foods. There we took a good rest to replenish our energy for the rest of the day. My japanese friends were very excited about many of the japanese bands that were playing and were trying to rub off that excitement onto me but unfortunately I was clueless about many of the bands that they mentioned. Thanks to them though I learned about many new japanese bands 🙂 .
After that I split from my friends and went to watch vampire weekend, an indie rock band I like and did not want to miss seeing live.
Their performance was good, but not as good as I would have expected. Maybe when compared to all the other bands I saw I can say I was a little bit dissapointed. I guess bands can have bad days too. But it did not last. Right after them came BOOM BOOM Satelites who were suggested to me by each and every one of my japanese friends. I have to say that I did not regret going with them to watch this band. They are an electronic music duo which really rocked the stage. They played every kind of electronic music, from electropop, to pure dance music. The crowd was moving the whole time. I will definitely be listening to them more often from now on.
By the end of their performance the Green stage area was getting pretty damn crowded as you can see from the picture below.
I guess they were here for the Festival’s “secret band”, which got added to the lineup just 15 days before the festival. They were here to see Atoms For Peace.
It is Thom Yorke’s , RadioHead’s vocalist solo project. We all knew we were in for one hell of a show and Thom did not dissapoint us. He played all of his album “The Eraser”, then some new songs such as “Judge, Jury and Executioner” and “Give up the ghost” and finally of course some Radiohead covers.
Thanks to the kind people who take videos during the show (I did too, just did not have enough memory >.< ) you can see them performing three classics from the Eraser album. "Harrowdown Hill" here:
“The Eraser” here:
and finally “The Clock” here:
Of course I should also link a video of one of their new songs. So here goes “Judge, Jury and Executioner”:
As expected of Thom Yorke he put on an amazing show. His voice was, is and hopefully will continue to be amazing. Each one of their songs is built around his mesmerizing voice so that it makes the audience travel in that far away place and back again. It was a unique experience seeing Atoms for peace live. I have to admit I really enjoyed it, even though I was skeptical at first. The only thing that put me off was his appearance. As some people said he looked like a hobo, so very not like his usual self should you compare it with other pictures of him.
And now I had to run. In the red marquee one of my favorite electronic bands, Air the French electronic duo were about to start their performance. Unfortunately running through that crowd you saw earlier in that picture was not an easy option. So I took the easier, albeit a little bit dirtier option of running through the mud. Well it got me where I wanted to go, precisely when I needed to, so I guess no harm done.
They played many of their songs including “Cherry Blossom Girl”, “How does it make you feel” , “Remember” , “All I need” and a lot more. I love almost all of their songs, but I particularly like “Sexy boy” and they played it! I was ecstatic to listen to them playing it. And I was not alone, all of the audience loved each and every of their songs and kept asking for more.
Unfortunately I can not find any of their songs performed that day on youtube except a part of “How does it make you feel”:
and “Tropical disease”:
Their show was just amazing. They surpassed all of the expectations I had of them. They rocked my world. They are among the best eletronic music performers as far as I am concerned. The way they mix and handle music can send ripples of all kinds of feelings through your body. If I ever get a chance to see them live again I will do so without any hesitation.
When Air finished I had to run through the mud again in order to reach the green stage on time for Massive Attack a group hailed by many to be the creators of the trip-hop genre.
I like trip-hop so it would not be possible for me to not like Massive Attack. It’s a group with such a long history and so many good songs. What’s not to like!
A funny thing about their performance was that they had huge screens behind them showing statistics and messages whose purpose I guess was to make a point. The messages varied with the song but it generally had to do with moral and ethical questions, economic issues and recent events such as the Greek Debt Crisis and the Gaza Aid Floatilla Killings. They played many nice songs and many of the ones I consider my favorites such as teardrop as you can see below. For the whole duration of the song these pair of eyes were at the back blinking and “crying”.
The screens with the messages sometime later in the show started flashing famous quotes and after them news feeds with recent events that happened that contradicted these quotes, trying to show I guess that things don’t change with words alone? Can’t be sure.
You can find all of their performance on youtube but I will just link here the songs I wanted them to play live and kudoes to them for playing them!!!
First of all “Teardrop”:
Another song I was really looking forward to listening live. “Inertia creeps”:
And of course I could not omit “Atlas air”:
Massive attack played all of their most popular songs, gave a great show and made all of their fans, including me, very happy. Trip-hop is a unique genre and they are its creators after all. I couldn’t expect any less out of them. Finally listening to some of the songs I loved for years live, sent shudders down my spine.
After Massive Attack it was time to go. There were a few perfomances left in All Night Fuji but I was not interested in them, not to mention how tired I was feeling. So after saying our goodbyes with my japanese friends who would be going back by car (I already had a shinkansen ticket), I went and dismantled my tent, made my bags and headed for the shuttle bus. Being excited and hyper-active due to 3 days of non-stop music I could not sleep but thought that I would be able to do so when I reached the station and found a cozy sofa-chair to throw myself in.
The plan was to reach the station and rest there until 6:00 in the morning when the first train took off. How wrong I was…Upon reaching the station me and all the other Japanese who thought the same thing as me were met with an unpleasant surprise. The authorities had closed down the station at night for all 3 days of the festival because in the previous years people went and spent the night in there instead of booking a hotel or going camping so that they could save money. So that left us all at 1:00 at night outside of the station with no place to go and rest. The only choice was to follow a fat guy who went around the closed station like a vulture promising a nice cozy hotel, for 2000 yen a night. The end result was me and around 200 japanese just sleeping rough on the street out of the station.
Next morning at 05:45 the station opened its doors and a flood of people rushed inside to get first into the shinkansen queue. Thankfully I already had tickets so I was faster than most and got into the first train, and back in Tokyo.
Fuji Rock Festival was an amazing experience. It has to have been the best experience I have had so far in these 4.5 months I have been in Japan. Three days full of music, seeing bands I love and always wanted to see live, discovering new bands and meeting new friends through music. All that while camping out in nature surrounded by mountains.
There are only a few things I want to say that would need noting in the future. Any of the readers interested in going to Fuji Rock Festival in the future should also take note of these. First of all the prices there are outlandish. A bottle of water has 3 times the price it would have in Tokyo. As I saw many other people do next time I should bring my own supplies with me instead of counting on buying things from the festival grounds. Secondly…rain. Yeap rain. Lots of it to be exact. It was raining a lot and even though I had a raincoat that was not being prepared enough. I should have brought boots with me that could go inside muddy terrain and keep your feet dry no matter how much it rains. Finally the last thing to note is the trickiest! If you see my picture out of the station you will notice that I am burned all over my face and hands. But you will rightfully ask how the hell can this happen when it rained all the time? I ask myself the same question. When it was not raining it was cloudy. We had but a few spells of sunshine and that was not enough to justify such burns. Anyhow the japanese summer sun must be strong enough to be able to burn you through the clouds. So next time I would advise to have a strong sun-screen with me.
Well that’s all I had to say about Fuji Rock Festival 2010. It turned out to be a huge post. It does not matter, it was well worth it. I will close this post saying that if I am in Japan next summer, and if the lineup is even a little bit decent (which is the case every single year) then I will definitely be there next year too!