The summer is here and for some people that means getting together with friends, family, and complete strangers, standing in a field and watching some of your favorite bands play live. Yes, summer means music festival season and in Japan we have one of the world’s best. We are talking about Fuji Rock Festival.
Fuji Rock Festival is a three day music festival that has been held annually since 1997, and this year it will be on July 28-30. The festival’s name comes from the famous Mt. Fuji, the base of where the first festival was held. Although after the first year, it has been held at Naeba Ski Resort in Yuzawa Niigata with up to 100,000 people attending. The festival site has seven main stages with some minor stages dotted around, showing a mix of Japanese and international acts ranging from underground artists to behemoth superbands.
As always Fuji Rock 2017 is a wildly eclectic event with music to push the buttons (or pluck the strings) of any music enthusiast, though it has to be said that there is a distinctively ‘naughties’ vibe going on this year.
Friday is perhaps the rockiest day of the weekend with British band Catfish and the Bottlemen bringing their distinct brand of Oasis revivalism to the White Stage, where they will be followed by immense tubthumpers Queens of the Stone Age. Keep an eye out for the unleashing of material from their new album ‘Villans’.
Things are getting a little less sweaty on the Green Stage where Japanese indie-pop heartthrobs RADWIMPS will be prompting the biggest singalong of the day with their ubiquitous hit Zenzenzense. Things begin to get a bit moody with beautifully dark Londoners The xx, but headlining the night is the amazing return of Gorillaz, showcasing their new hip-hop-heavy, and decidedly Albanesqe album. For a 2D band, they put on a spectacular live performance!
Saturday continues the rock fun, with The Amazons pumping out their earworm riffs and catchy choruses, while The Ramona Flowers take stadium rock and edge it towards the electronic side of the spectrum. If electro-rock is your thing, then you will no doubt be sticking around for New Yorkers LCD Soundsystem, whose recent track ‘Call the Police’ has been ever present on my Spotify list since it was released a few weeks ago.
From there the electronic sounds continue apace with The Avalanches returning with their huge box of sampled tricks, and the night concludes with the epileptic-electro-insanity of Aphex Twin, who shot to late-90’s fame with the track Windowlicker thanks to its equal-parts awesome-and-terrifying music video. Hip-hop heads will no doubt be seeking out A Guy Called Gerald, bemusingly low down the bill on the Tribal Circus stage.
The final day starts off with more lad-rock in the guise of leather-clad Aussie footstompers Jet, and perennially youthful ’60s enthusiasts The Strypes headlining the Red Marquee stage. For a bit of a calm down, you can try out the singer-songwriter folk stylings of Ron Sexsmith, and if you want to get your body winding, groove to the reggae fusion dancehall charms of Major Lazer.
But really, Sunday night is the time when the ladies finally take control.
The penultimate act of the weekend will see the younger generation flock to the Green stage to catch the disturbingly gifted, voice-of-the-Millennials, Lourde, with whom you can perhaps expect to see a singalong extravaganza with her sickeningly catchy (in the best possible way) hit ‘Royals’.
Following that would be tough for most acts, but not for the ever-exhilarating, ever-exciting, ever-eccentric undisputed pixie queen of pop, Björk, who will be bringing her bonkers brilliance to quite (possibly) literally tear the festival down. Do. Not.Miss!
Tickets can be purchased for either individual days or the full weekend, meaning you can do as much or as little as you like. For those wanting the full experience there are plenty of accommodation options, with many of the local ski lodges, ryokans, and minshuku welcoming the summer crowd.
For those on a tight budget or wanting to stay close to the action, the best option is to camp along with the 17,000 people who share one of three camping grounds of a nearby golf course. This being Japan, most people will be prepared with camping stoves and the like, so do not be surprised to find semi-professional kitchens sprouting up. If you aren’t well stocked, you can shop at one of the many food stalls, but be sure to recycle any rubbish to help the festival in its aim to be the greenest of it’s kind in the world. The festival site itself is large and varied, and some of the trails between stages can be long but often beautiful. The view from the Daydreaming stage at the top of the mountain, accessible from Dragondola, the longest gondola lift in the world, is staggering.
Shinkansen is the most advisable way of getting to the festival and it takes one hour and 20 minutes to get to Echigo-Yuzawa station from Tokyo. Shuttle busses run to the festival site from there. You can organize a special shinkansen reservation plan by calling the JR Reservation Center on 03-3843-2001. There are also plenty of official tour operators organizing trips to the festival. You can find many of them here (Japanese).
Summersonic and SonicMania Tokyo
Rock in Japan Fes.