Rock in Japan is a summer music festival focussing on bigger name indie bands and alt-bands on major labels. Curated by Rockin'on magazine it has a corporate and very "processed" feel in its presentation. I've had disappointing experiences in the past at Countdown Japan which is also run by Rockin'On. Before this current trip to Japan, if you asked my opinion on which summer festivals to check out I would have said: "Don't even bother with summer festivals! The weather's unbearably hot and humid, it's nasty! Plus it's like watching bands play on a TV screen or on Youtube!" "But if you have to see a festival at all costs, I'd recommend Fuji Rock or Rising Sun"
Now that I've been to RIJfes, my opinion's changed. I had a LOT of fun at Rock in Japan.
Thanks to late night drinking with Akai Koen staff the night before I woke up at 8am but couldn't drag myself out of bed and get ready to leave my hotel room until 10am. I reached Ueno station just after 1030am and boarded the Super Hitachi train to Katsuta station (70 min). On the train I couldn't resist trying this weird drink that Suntory just released called Espressoda.
It wasn't terrible. It was something I was curious to try once but probably won't buy again.
From Katsuta station I needed to take a shuttle bus to Hitachi Seaside Park where RIJfes was being held. If you click on the preceding link, you'll see that Hitachi Seaside has some beautiful gardens.
Unfortunately I didn't have time to see the gardens because I was in a rush to catch, if possible, even a few last notes to Chatmonchy's set before it ended.
1245h No dice. Chatmonchy had finished at least 10min before I reached the entry gate to RIJfes. Not a big deal since I saw them perform and met them at Shindaita Fever last month but all I had to do was leave the hotel 30min earlier.
I stuck around the Grass Stage and watched くるり (Quruli) for a bit then went to but some RIJ merch and band T-shirts. I bought a Perfume shirt size medium for my pal Rob Perry. Rob said he'd pay for it himself (3000 yen = $38) but I'll give it to him for free... because it's HIDEOUS. hahaha. Nakano Pierre (Rin Toshite Shigure) was DJing near the merch area and had the kids in a frenzy.
I decided to head over to the 'Hungery Field' area where they had a myriad of food stalls. Overall the food at RIJ seemed a bit better than at Fuji Rock. The line-ups were long. I went with a wagyu Saeboburger and a kurobutabara (Berkshire Porkbelly) skewer.
The saseboburger tasted a lot like the hamburger my mom makes... only 10x better (sorry moms). The Berkshire poekbelly skewer was melt-in-your-mouth sublime decadence. Well worth the ~30min wait in line.... until I found out much later I had special privileges unbeknownst to me.
1400h While waiting in line I missed mudy on the Sakuban playing nearby at Seaside Stage but I could at least hear them play.
I headed back towards the Grass Stage and watched エレファントカシマシ (Elephant Kashimashi). EleKashi are a legendary band who have been around for a while but it was my first time listening to their music. They played power-pop mixed with straightforward and loud guitar-heavy rock akin to Thee Michelle Gun Elephant.
1515h I decided to head to the Seaside Stage but because i had trouble finding it I caught just the last two songs by the Salovers. Although my guest pass said Akai Koen, I think it might have been the Salovers' manager who actually hooked me up with the pass. So I felt bad that I didn't make it for the entire set.
Akai Koen were scheduled to follow the Salovers on Seaside Stage at 1620h. but if I booted it I could catch some:
1530h: Kimura Kaela. Watched her perform "Magic Music" and "Beat." In fact she played a lot of classics from her earliest albums from what I could hear as I traversed the festival grounds towards
1555h: ZAZEN BOYS playing at Sound of Forest. Because Sound of Forest (near the Lake Stage) is quite far I could only afford to watch ZAZEN BOYS play two new ongs off their upcoming album before I had to head back to Seaside Stage for the beginning of Akai Koen. The two songs I watched Zazen perform both had a prog-new wave sound akin to "I Don't Wanna Be with You" with Mukai on keyboards. Powerful but necessarily intricate drumming by Matsushita and a lot of tricky stop-start instrumentation by the rest of the gang. Yeah, I know it doesn't help much but they sounded as tight nad badass as ever. One of the songs had the word "midnight" repeated in the chorus so I assume it was "気がつけばミッドナイト"
1615h Made it back to Seaside Stage with 5 min to spare. Headed as close to the stage as I could near the middle but there were already about 50 people in front of me. Eventually hundreds of people crowded up behind me and the area was quite packed giving Akai Koen as good an audience you could hope for at Seaside Stage.
You're not allowed to take pictures during performances so here's a photo of the Seaside Stage just before Akai Koen went on:
I could hear the girls yelling and screaming as they psyched themselves up backstage. I can't remember what theme music they used for the entrance but the crowd roared as Nao, Hikari and Maisa walked on stage sequentially with Chiaki taking the stage last. Maisa accidentally told me which song they'd be kicking the set off with last night at the izakaya and they indeed aimed for an impressionable start with "のぞき穴" (nozoki ana). The song for their upcoming, debut single and probably their most fun dance/mosh inducing number which they usually play closer to the end of their sets. They were an immediate hit with the audience. One thing I noted is that I think it might be the first time all four members wore shoes. Hikari and Chiaki almost always perform barefoot but I'm guessing the stage floor was too hot for them to do so.
Their set had a great balance of fun pop and sheer fury. All four members seemed to be having the time of their lives on stage. Even Maisa who usually tries to play it cool with a straight face was all smiles. Chiaki repeated a variation of the joke she used the night before by announcing to the audience she wanted to tell them something EXTREMELY important then proceeding to whisper something completely inaudible.... as Maisa and Nao followed with "Kamome" "Kamome" and the band ripped into a killer version of "Katamari." I'm sure my presence had nothing to do with it but they played "Kui" (unreleased older song they rarely play and one of my favorites which I requested during NMFT) second last. During the outro to "くい" where Nao absolutely PUMMELS the drums at breakneck speed, Chiaki, Hikari and Maisa lined up and did that 'delayed spiral dance' (like Merpeoples at the end of this promo but with much better co-ordination). It was my 14th time seeing 赤い公園 and I've also seen video footage from Super Saitama arena but their performance at Rock in Japan had to be the best I've seen so far. It was a great setlist ending with four killer songs in "Katamari" --> "toumei" --> "Kui" --> "Fuyakeru" But primarily beacuse they nailed the performance, the crowd absolutely loved it and the girls were clearly on cloud nine. For me, that was it. I didn't have to watch anything else. I could head home and be happy. As the crowd dispersed I looked around for Chie (A&R who I had seen earlier) to thank her for the guest pass and tell her how awesome the girls were. I couldn't find her but another staffperson told me I could go backstage with the guestpass and that I should say hi to Akai Koen right now.
The girls were so thrilled before, during and immediately after their performance that they seemed to be exhausted. (Not to mention it was 29 deg C). Chiaki was missing but I congratulated them on putting on such a breathtaking performance and the best I've seen them play to date. Even though I noted down the songs on my iPhone, I asked Maisa for a copy of the setlist as a memento.
I'll get them to sign it later on. They seemed too 'beat' at the time. Chiaki came just as I was about to leave. I told her how the performance was so good I was borderline in tears and she started crying and gave me a hug. That was sweet. I wasn't in any rush to see more performances but felt I should leave the girls alone to bask in their moment. I ended up leaving with friends of Akai Koen who also had guest passes. They clued me in that not only did our guest passes give us access backstage (anywhere!) they allowed us to go to the artists' catering area where we could get free food and drinks!!! Whaaaaaat?! Why didn't anyone tell me this earlier?! The saseboburger and kurobutabara skewer were top billin' but I could have been finedining with Chatmonchy and Perfume the whole time! hahaha.
On our way to the catering area we watched a bit of 9mm Parabellum Bullet at the Grass Stage. There must have been a crowd of at least 20,000 strong going nuts for kyuu-miri. They used to be one of my favorite bands when they had more of a hardcore and less cheese-metal sound but they sounded surprisingly aggressive and powerful that evening like the 9mm of old.
At the catering area I had some crab and メンチカツ (deep fried minced pork/beef cutlet). I bumped into 'Juuuudo Ni-dan' Matsushita Atsushi and he took me over to where the rest of Zazen were camping out.
We chatted a bit and I told him how a ton of fans in Canada and the US are deeply anticipating the new album. Also before any talk of bringing Zazen to Canada a 2nd time he'd prefer I bring Kimonos.
The day before Takeo Hori (チーナ's manager) posted a photo of some awesome dessert that looked like an ice cream float inside a real melon.
I didn't realize he had taken this photo while at RIJF until I saw the food stall selling them outside by the Grass Stage earlier in the day. When I saw that food stall I knew I had to go back at some point for that real melon cream soda float. But guess what?! They were handing out those ice cream floats in a melon at the catering area for free!!
That dessert was no joke. It was heavy as hell but incredibly tasty! The girl who made it for me said I could come back to get refills on the soda and ice cream. Would I? Oh hell yeah!
Out of a ridiculously extreme coincidence I bumped into Takeo Hori (who had posted the melon dessert on facebook) in the catering area. We were both interested in watching Perfume so we headed to the Grass Stage. Also, the catering area leads to a path that goes directly near the front of the stage so we had a pretty good view. I'm not a huge fan of Perfume but the girls are cute (のっち being my favorite) and Nakata is a genius at crafting pop songs. This was easily the biggest crowd I had seen at Grass Stage thusfar. I'm guessing there were ~40,000 and Perfume had them all in the palm of their hand. Well not me because I was still too busy enjoying my ice cream float in a melon dessert that still weighed a ton. hahaha. But seriously, any instructions Aa-chan, Nocchi and Kashiyuka gave to the audience the 40,000 strong followed immediately like lemmings. It was surreal watching soooooo many people as far as the eye could see jumping up and down in unison and performing all the hand gesture dances instructed to them by Perfume.
At the beginning I wasn't too impressed watching three girls on stage lip-synching. So after 4-5 songs (the 2nd song being their latest in English "Spending All My Time" which got a decent crowd response) I decided to head back to the catering area to get a refill on my ice cream float in a melon. :) I promised Takeo I'd be back (although finding him in a sea of 40,000 would be hard even though we were near the front).
At the catering area I got my refill... and I also bumped into Chiaki (Akai Koen)!!
Notice in the photo above that there's an entrance that goes right to the Grass Stage! I wasn't kidding! Also, I'm wearing a Maps & Atlases shirt. :)
I found Takeo relatively easy and was enjoying my melon float refill. The girl who made the float told me that this time the melon fruit which was earlier frozen should be soft enough that I could eat the bowl from the inside. Seriously, this dessert alone makes RIJF completely OWN Fuji Rock. hahaha.
On my return I found myself enjoying Perfume's performance alot more. In fact, as soon as I got back they played "Chocolate Disco" and some songs I didn't know but with beats that seemed to get better and better.
I have to hand it to Perfume. Everyone knows they're lip synching but they still have such great charisma, dance choreography and stage presence that the crowd just adores the f*ck out of them. It was such a grand spectacle that I was actually impressed and started to really enjoy the performance as well.
Having said that, Takeo and I decided to leave a bit early to make it in time for the beginning of モーモールルギャバン (Mow Mow Lulu Gyaban). Takeo knew a shortcut to Sound of Forest that artists/guests had access to. At Sound of Forest we ran into Maisa who was still in her all-white attire and hadn't changed since her performance. She said she needed to meet up with someone and would try to meet up with us to watch Mow Mow later.
I wanted to get up close to the stage to watch Mow Mow but Takeo seemed hesitant and said he'd go for a smoke or something. Later on I when I looked back I saw Maisa and Takeo chatting out in the distance. Whatever. Mow Mow were about to start.
Photo of Sound of Forest before Mow Mow Lulu Gyaban took the stage.
Mow Mow kicked their performance off with "野口、久津川で爆死" I don't remember the whole setlist since I haven't listened to the last couple albums too closely but they played "サノバ・ビッチェ", ユキちゃんの遺伝子, "POP! 烏龍ハイ", a ballad that I thought was their weakest song and ended with "サイケな恋人"
Mow Mow are the closest thing to ミドリ were in terms of pop sensibility, superb musicianship and absolutely chaotic performances. They f*cking RULE live which is why I've always been trying to get them to take part in NMFT since the get-go. They've been too busy and they were smart to concentrate on making it big in Japan which they most certainly have. Hopefully I can get them for next year if the price isn't too high.
So yeah, Mow Mow absolutely killed it and the corwd pleaded for an encore by yelling "パンティー！ パンティー！ パンティー！ パンティー！" (Panty! Panty! Panty!) non-stop until Gary Bitch and the crew finally came back out on stage. Gary stood up on the stool behind his drumset and stripped off his "panty" and threw it into the audience only to have another set of speedos underneath. (note: this was the third set of underwear because he threw his 1st set off during "サイケな恋人." )
Before starting the encore, Gary announced they would be bringing a special guest on stage... "赤い公園 !!" WHaaaaAAAAAT?!! That's insane!! If I were still drinking that ice cream float in a melon I would have done a spit take so hard melon bits would have reached the stage. Absolutely, completely UNEXPECTED and unfathomable. I guess that's why Maisa had to stay back and Takeo because he works with Victor (Mow Mow's label) Taking photos isn't allowed but I snuck this quick and lame shot while I could.
I don't even know the name of the song that was played during the encore but it was just absolutely fantastic seeing Akai Koen and Mow Mow Lulu Gyaban on stage together. Akai weren't playing instruments just singing chorus and dancing but it was totally worth it sticking around for the encore even though it meant I would likely miss my last train back to Tokyo.
Since most of the stages ended at around the same time it was a mass exodus of 60,000 people scurrying to catch buses back to Katsuta station. It was a seemingly endless sea of people queuing for a limited number of buses so I thought it would be impossible to catch the last train back to Tokyo. But miraculously after about an hour of lining up, I made it onto a bus and got to the station just in time to catch the last train. I even managed to get a seat.
This was definitely a more enjoyable experience than Fuji Rock. Even though Fuji Rock had unprecedented great weather without any significant rain (normally it pours down like a mofo at least one of the three days turning the grounds into a mudswamp), it was blistering hot and humid with minimal areas allowing for shade. At RIJ there were plenty of shaded areas and they purposely turned on a few of the sprinklers so you could lightly soak yourself and cool down p.r.n. Toughing out the weather at Fuji Rock is part of the experience but to me it's an unnecessary ordeal and a pain in the ass that wears you down and detracts from enjoying the music. RIJ was also hot and humid but the provision of shade and useful amenities to cool down made it so much more civil. At Fuji Rock I felt like my skin was coated with three layers of nasty and even if I were able to shower I'd feel the same way again in 15 min. RIJ felt just as much like an outdoor festival as Fuji Rock but a lot less stressful.
I can definitely understand Fuji Rock's appeal towards the Japanese since it affords them a rare chance to see big-name Western indie acts like Radiohead, James Blake, Stone Roses etc all at one time. However, my interests lie in Japanese indie so I'm not too amped to see bands and artists like Fucked Up, Caribou and Japandroids whom I can see almost anytime back in Canada.
Fuji Rock is considered the quintessential summer music festival in Japan while RIJfes connotes corporate merchandising and asskissing. I'm at -1000 scene points just for mentioning the fact I attended RIJfes. But the wholehearted truth is I had a much better time at RIJ than I did at Fuji Rock. Having said that, I don't think I need to go to either festival again next year. I'd much rather watch my favorite bands play in a livehouse setting.