Rage Against Fuji
Ryotaro (ex-Kulu Kulu Garden), Ikuko (Merpeoples), Lana and I took the shinkansen to Echigo-Yuzawa station. It was a relatively quick 70 min ride to this quaint area in Niigata prefecture. We all bought some 'ekiben' (train station bento) to eat on the way there. Ikuko scored the highest number of ekiben cool points by feasting on an entire saba (mackerel) over rice while drinking Suntory Premium Malts beer.
From Echigo-Yuzawa station we took a 40 min shuttle bus to the Naeba Ski Resort where Fuji Rock Festival is held.
To get the true wilderness experience of Fuji Rock... and to save money, the gang decided in advance that we would camp out in a tent vs staying at a hotel or B&B. (though secretly I would have said "F*ck Mother Nature! Give me air-con, bug-protection and internet access." hahaha!) It took us a while to figure out how to set up the tent since the instructions were in Japanese and couldn't be more vague. But we managed to do the math and voila:
We named our tent: お洒落テント君 (oshare tento-kun) :)
It was already about 1am and we had the option of going to sleep or checking out the Rookie-A-Go-GO and Crystal Palace stages which are free to anyone. (We only had passes for the last day of Fuji Rock and couldn't enter the main festival area until 9am) We decided to check out the festivities (big mistake! I'll explain why later). The area was crowded and lively but well-behaved. Lana was surprised at how people were having fun but not getting too drunk and out of hand. Fuji Rockers are peaceful partiers.
We missed out on Kettles who I was interested in seeing perform at the Rookie stage. In the Rookie/Palace area we bumped into Matsuda Koutaro (drummer of デロッピードロッピー) and Yoshifumi Shinmen (Gt/Vo of Happy!Mari) who are really good friends of グーミ. We also met Kaname (Ian Martin's wife) and Ian's friends from Japan Times/Metropolis. Before we knew it, it was already 3am. It was nice and cool outside and getting really late but we decided to use the free showers by the hotel to freshen up before hitting the sleeping bags inside oshare tento-kun. Ryotaro (the smart one) was the only one to skip the showers and go to the tent early to try and get some sleep.
The line-up for the showers was brutally long (90 min wait). Apparently there was an onsen 20 min walk away where the wait was much shorter. Then by coincidence Koutaro and Shinmen showed up and entered the queue behind me. They said "Wow. What are the chances we would meet Steve at Fuji Rock and end up taking a shower behind him?" It was way too awkward a scenario so I tacitly communicated to Lana that we should definitely walk to the onsen instead. Lana agreed yet Ikuko who was clueless to my plight tried to convince Matsuda and Yoshimi to come with us! Doh! Fortunately Lana and I managed to drag Ikuko away and head towards the onsen without Yoshimi and Matsuda.
I totally forgot what the system was like at a public onsen. Basically it's a long line-up of guys standing buck naked waiting to use a sit-down shower and wash basin. Then when you're clean, you sit inside a natural hot-water spring bath. The guys' section is separate from the girls' (unfortunately) ;) It's a pretty weird experience and by weird I mean massively awkward and gay sausage party. Like this video except noone's wearing towels and no cute Yuko-chan to distract you.
By the time Lana, Ikuko and I finished up at the onsen it was 5am and already sunrise. Walking back to the campsite we saw thousands of people lined up for the shuttle buses. These were people who didn't have passes for the 29th and were leaving early. Yikes! That means the line-up would be even worse the next day when the festival ends. In order to use the campsite it costs 3000 yen ($35). There were dozens of people squatting and sleeping over at the onsen to save money. It only cost 600 yen to use the onsen. Even more frugal were these guys who slept on the concrete just outside the camping grounds:
At nightime, it's nice and cool outside but once the sun rises it's blazing hot and f*cking humid. The tent became an incubator and I felt I was being barbecued. I thought Ryotaro made the right decision in trying to get sleep early but in fact he said it was freezing inside the tent at night and the music was so deafening he couldn't sleep. Oh and the reason, Ryotaro was so cold is because he was in such a rush to leave the house for Fuji Rock that instead of bringing his brother's sleeping bag.... he brought his brother's foldable jacket instead. Bwahahaha! How do you not notice the difference? Ryo's excuse is that they're the same size and color when the sleeping bag's rolled up compactly. I can laugh because by the time we got back to the tent it was way too hot to wrap oneself inside a sleeping bag so I never used my sleeping bag either! I just laid there inside the tent for 4hrs not getting any sleep whatsoever. Ryotaro, Lana and I were completely sleep deprived. Only Ikuko who could fall sleep on a roller coaster in the middle of a thunderstorm managed to get a reasonable amount of rest.
We redeemed our tickets for festival wristbands and got some tasty breakfast. Overall the food at Fuji Rock isn't amazing but there's lots of variety and some great shops amongst mediocre ones. The egg bacon roll they served out of this pizza truck was the best thing I had at Fuji Rock.
The path to get into the Fuji Rock festival grounds was gridlocked even at 10am. We took the token touristy pic in front of the main entrance:
Lostage were playing at Red Marquee bright and early at 1020am. They started off LOUD and full throttle but then started to play some emo-ballad songs. We watched the first half of their set before trekking all the way out to Orange Court to watch ゴジラ・放射能・ヒカシュー (Gojira-Hoshano-Hikashu) an ensemble that would include Charan Po Rantan!!
Hikashu are incredibly skilled music veterans who play avante-garde folk. They recruited a slew of guest musicians for this day and played a bunch of Godzilla themed songs that were intricate prog-folk masterpieces. 2 drummers, 2 keyboards, 1 guitar, 1 bass, a horn section, a theremin and the vocal gymnastics of Makigami, Marianna (Kinoko Hotel) and Charan Po Rantan. Although I wouldn't listen to music like this at home it was an awesome sight and experience to behold. Charan Po Rantans' manager let me borrow his backstage pass so I could meet up with Momo and Koharu backstage.
Charan Po Rantan describe their Fuji Rock experience here.
During Hikashu/Charan Po Rantan we met up with Sayaka of Merpeoples. We ate some lunch near the Avalon Stage area where Sayaka had the 2nd tastiest food item I ate at Fuji Rock. It was supposed to be Vietnamese pho... but it wasn't.... but it tasted just as good. When I went back later on so I could order my own bowl they were sold out.
Ikuko and Sayaka split up from us while Lana, Ryotaro and I decided to watch toe play at the Green Stage. The Green Stage is the largest stage and it was PACKED. The following photos doesn't even convey how ramped the area was.
None of us had any sleep and we were all feeling the effects of staying up all night. This is how Ryotaro and Lana spent the entirety of toe's set:
I actually went up near the front for the first half of toe's performance. When I returned to our designated meeting spot at the Green Stage grounds where Ryotaro and Lana were lying down, I tried my best to stay awake for the rest of toe's set but started to doze off at times too. toe were f*cking intense but their music is too chill and meandering at times and sometimes I zone out watching them even when I'm not particularly sleepy. This was probably my fourth or fifth time watching toe perform. They're a great band and Kashikura's one of my favorite drummers but I'm going to be honest and say I have to be in the right mood to watch them.
By this time I was DYING from the scorching heat and dripping with sweat. I hadn't slept in what seemed like days and I felt plain MISERABLE. I decided to head back to the tent which was still a veritable furnace. I could hear Toronto brethren FUCKED UP! performing in the background. I needed to take a shower so I grabbed a chance of clothes and a towel and headed towards the hotel. It turns out that what we thought were public showers was just another public onsen like the one we went to at daybreak. Oh well, another awkward sausage party but at least I felt clean again. But due to the humidity i felt like crap within 30 min even though it wasn't nearly as hot as before.
It was only 5pm and there was still Radiohead, At The Drive In, group_inou and Charan Po Rantan still to see. But I had had about enough and was seriously considering leaving the festival. I paid an arm and a leg ($400) for tickets but felt I could just cut my losses, beat the mad rush going home and finally sleep in a comfortable bed with air conditioning. I didn't really care if I missed out on Radiohead or ATDI. The main reasons I went were to finally experience a summer music festival in Japan, hang out with some good friends and to support the NMFT alumni group_inou and Charn Po Rantan. I headed back to the festival grounds and bumped into Lana. She talked me out of leaving and we made an agreement that I would watch Radiohead with her (though I was more interested in ATDI) and she would watch group_inou with me afterwards.
There was still 2.5 hours until Radiohead started so Lana went to the onsen and I caught a bit of Jack White and Elvis Costello at the Green Stage and headed to Gypsy Avalon to watch tricot.
On the way I bumped into Ikuko and Ryotaro who were getting food before they camped out at the White Stage for Refused and At the Drive In.
I watched tricot soundcheck. I was hesitant to go up to them and say hi since I was such a bastard in not bringing them to Canada in May and because I wasn't even sure I could watch even one song by them since they started at 9pm and Radiohead at 9:30 and I needed to meet up with Lana and Sayaka who wanted to watch Radiohead up close as possible. I ended up leaving Avalaon to head back to the Green Stage meeting spot at 8:50. Neither Lana nor Sayaka were there, my cell phone had zero reception and was practically out of battery power for that matter and the whole area was unbelievably crowded. I stayed for 10 min and figured Lana nad Sayaka probably gave up on finding me and had seeked out a decent spot for Radiohead. I figured it was futile trying to look for lana and Sayaka so went back to Gypsy Avalon to watch tricot. I saw tricot play "夢見がちな少女、舞い上がる、空へ" and "GNS" when Lana called (phone miraculously worked for once) and asked me to head back to the meeting spot so we could watch Radiohead. Crap! I had thought I would get to watch tricot and At The Drive In after all but I ran back towards the Green Stage amongst an ocean of people. I hooked up with Lana and Sayaka. Since we were going to leave Radiohead slightly early to make it in time for group_inou we decided not to trap ourselves too close to the stage otherwise it would take forever to wade our way out. Radiohead played primarily newer songs. I was a huge Radiohead fan circa Pablo Honey/the Bends/OK Computer but sort of lost interest when everyone and their pet iguana started worshipping them. Prior to Sunday, I had only seen Radiohead perform once way back when I still lived in Vancouver. It was during the release of the Bends back when music critics thought Radiohead were going to be one-hit wonders with "Creep." The show was at the Commodore (capacity 1000) before they renovated the floor and was dangerously bouncy. Back then I knew all of Radiohead's songs (well they only had two albums at the time) and it was definitely one of the best shows I've ever been to (the dancefloor was like a trampoline!)
Fast-forward back to the present. The only songs I recognized were Karma Police and Kid A. While I did enjoy their performance, similar to toe, Radiohead's slower songs can be sleep inducing especially when you haven't slept a wink in 48 hours. Ohmigod I was struggling to stay awake despite the great music playing in the background. We couldn't get that great of a view from where we were so we relied primarily on the massive video monitors. Thom Yorke emceed a little bit in Japanese, "これは綺麗です!" (This is beautiful!) and gave a heartfelt and energetic performance. After their main set (found out later they ended up playing a double encore) Sayaka, Lana and I rushed over to Red Marquee. We could still hear Radiohead playing in the background... but with accordions... and female vocals? WTF?! Oh shit! I just realized it must be Charan Po Rantan. They were playing in the food village area (Naeba Shokudo) connected to Red Marquee. I figured they had already finished but they were only halfway through their set. We ran over to where they were playing and watched them play a BADASS version of Paranoid Android (Lana's favorite Radiohead song). Momo was crooning a la Thom Yorke whilst wearing a large cardboard drawing of a radio on her head. It was great! We watched one more song and then you could hear group_inou starting their set 50m away with the opening notes to RIP. Koharu of Charan Po Rantan joked that she's stopping the show so she can watch group_inou too.
Lana, Sayaka and I rushed over to Red Marquee. The area was only a third full since so many people were watching Radiohead and ATDI instead. But those that were at Red Marquee were going NUTS!! However, just 10-15 min later the crowd started to build quickly and before you knew it Red Marquee was completely packed and definitely the place to be for all the party people at Fuji Rock.
Three quarters through their set, Imai shouted, "We know the time table (ie Radiohead and ATDI). We know the deal. That's why we waited and saved the best for last!"
They ended up playing "Quest", a new song and ended things off with "MAYBE" which instantly had the crowd in a frenzy. group_inou put on by far the best show out of anyone I saw at Fuji Rock and the entire audience was geeked. Apparently Radiohead played super extended encores and finished with "Paranoid Android" Hopefully Lana doesn't find out or she'll kill me for missing "Paranoid" but at least she saw Charan Po Rantan's cover version (which, again, was awesome!) and she ended up liking group_inou a lot.
Making our way back to the campsite took forever since Radiohead's encores and group_inou's set ended up finishing at around the same time. This time I managed to get at least a modicum of sleep. The line-up for buses back to Echigo_Yuzawa station was BRUTAL. There might have been 5,000 people and it was only 430am. But Fuji Rock staff were well prepared and had a huge fleet of buses constantly coming and going.
It's funny how I bitched about the conditions at FRF when in fact these is the best weather they've ever had in the history of Fuji Rock. It's just that for me hot/humid weather is the absolute worst and I'd much prefer cold and rain provided I'm dressed adequately for it.
I missed two shows by my fave band Akai Koen to go to Fuji Rock. Not to mention I must have spent close to $800 on tickets and gear (jacket, sleeping bag, etc). I'm glad I went through the experience and I did have fun especially at night when the weather was much cooler. But I don't think I'll be heading back to Fuji Rock again next year. Given the choice I'd much rather watch a band perform at a live house instead of at a summer festival where it's like watching a band perform on TV or on Youtube. Having said that, I'm going to Rock in Japan festival Aug 4 but at least this time I'm getting in for free. :)