2017 broke the sunny streak of the past couple years at Fujirock and the infamous rain and mud returned. While most of it was a rain-soaked affair, this year didn’t disappoint and had plenty of unforgettable performances. Here are a few of mine, in approximate but not necessarily particular order:
5. Doctor Prats
Scanning through the list of bands on paper in the preliminary Fujirock lineup announcements, Doctor Prats are a band you probably skip over. A picture of a horn-toting partyboi squad with ska/funk/electronica listed in their bio and lyrics all in Spanish doesn’t necessarily put them at the top of a must-see list, at least from my perspective. But put them on a stage and mannnn, can they get the crowd going. It may have been a stroke of luck that they landed a spot playing the “zenyasai” Thursday opening night party because without that opportunity, many may have missed out on their non-stop energy packed set, myself included. Though they had multiple appearances throughout the weekend, it was as though the Crystal Palace tent were built specifically for them, as they made late-night crowds go wild to their danceable, uptempo horn-driven mishmash of genres in its mini-stadium like circus tent atmosphere, suiting their party vibe perfectly.
Fresh off a SXSW festival run and a hot lap of an American tour, Rookie A Go-Go girl rockers CHAI are not exactly rookies. Doing live shows regularly in and around Tokyo, the Nagoya-based four piece already has a large following that continues to grow even larger after each performance. Their short set as Rookie A Go-Go entrants found them in all pink silk (pajamas?), changing the lyrics to Taylor Swift’s “Shake it Off” to hawk their tour merchandise, performing skits between songs, doing a short acapella cover of the Beatles’ “Yesterday” (why?), and cracking up the crowd with hilarious stage banter.
Getting the crowd to make a ‘thumbs down’ gesture and repeat “booooo” over and over again loudly during “Gyaranboo” must have been shocking to anyone joining the set midway though, thinking the crowd hated the band. The band’s stage tactics may sound gimmicky but the best part about CHAI is that they don’t come off that way. Their comedy adds depth to the act but it wouldn’t work if they weren’t such impressive musicians. There is a innocence and originality to their humor, but its the music that holds up in the end. Even if these girls don’t win the Rookie A Go-Go this time, don’t be surprised if they land a spot on a larger stage next year.
3. The xx
Going into Fujirock 2017 with ultra-high expectations for three big-name Green stage acts, I came away somewhat underwhelmed with two of them. Gorillaz delivered sonically, pacing was spot-on and never dull, but overall seemed to lack that extra special something to make their performance truly memorable. It had dashes of brilliance but basically what we got was a live performance in front of a screen playing their music video greatest hits catalog.
I had been waiting over 16 years to see The Avalanches live, so naturally hype was at an all-time high, but featured live guests tried and failed to fill the shoes of ‘Wildflower’ guest performers, and selections from ‘Since I Left You’, one of the greatest and most musically influential albums of my youth just didn’t translate as well live as I was hoping they would.
It was the third of my big-three that hit a home run: The XX. Cooly breezing through pretty much every song I wanted to hear and sticking to their trademark “keep it simple, stupid” attitude, the trio had great chemistry onstage and effortlessly pulled maximum effect out of minimal production. With a stage setup as bare bones as their song arrangements, there was nothing to distract from the emotion and personalities of the three members, and giving them a primetime spot on the Green stage only amplified the impact of their straightforward yet moving performance.
On the opposite end of the spectrum was Yahyel, their performance heavily reliant on the visual aspect of their stage production, which synced with their live sound to a T. Strobing colorful lines and shapes actually felt as if they twisted and intertwined with the music itself.
While grouped in with a pack of new, young and stylish Japanese bands making waves at the moment, it’s Yahyel who set themselves apart the most, with depth and an original identity that is sure to make them outlast the hype they’re currently experiencing. Major props to who was responsible for the visual element and lighting design, elevating their performance way beyond what could have been simply a great sounding live appearance.
1. imai (group_inou)
Most of my best memories at this year’s Fujirock are centered on the performances that I saw with warm, dry non-mudcaked feet. However, put imai (one half of funky electronic/hip-hop duo group_inou) on a tiny stage in the middle of nowhere at 4:00am and I’ll happily flail around stomping in rain puddles until the morning birds start chirping. No surprise for anyone who has seen a group_inou show, imai constantly thrashes about, twiddles knobs and squeezes all the jumbled video game soundtrack womps and bloops he can from the sampler. Like a crazy cartoon character, his ever changing facial expressions and unpredictable wild movements on stage never cease to entertain.
It was utterly unbelievable to me that such a captivating and talented performer should be relegated to a random booth near the Cafe de Paris (not even under the tent!) at such an ungodly hour, but that was also what made the performance so unforgettable. A large amount of bias as a group_inou superfan comes into play here (they were my favorite act in Fujirock 2015 too), but trying to match imai’s awkward, hyper-jerky moves behind the decks and splashing around in the mud alongside 10 random strangers felt like the most personal and outright fun set of the whole weekend. Barely 20 minutes into his allotted 30 minute performance, he stopped abruptly, saying “That’s all”, and I spent the long walk back to my bed with cold, wet muddy feet and a satisfied smile on my face.