The joy of Fuji Rock is not in the headliners and the big stages. It’s in the small stages with bands you’ve never heard of capturing you as you walk by. It’s in the Red Marquee at 2am in the morning when a DJ you’ve never heard of blows your mind. It’s in the craziness of the Cafe de Paris, the funk and jazz of the Field of Heaven, the peacefulness of Daydream, the earnestness of the Rookie stage, the last beer at night being only 6 hours away from the first beer of the next day and the smiles and joy of the people around you. This year was no different, with shoutouts to the weather for breaking its sunny streak, the massive appearance of craft beer this year and the awesome E-team that made the trip up the mountains this year.
More the Man
Led by Tatsuyuki Hiyamuta, a former founding member of the Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra, the band’s lineage is not in doubt and they fully lived up to it with their raucous set of ska. With a show stealing performance from their saxophonist, the crowd was sloshing in the mud and skanking well past midnight with joy. Every year the festival throws more Japanese ska bands at me that I don’t know and every year I walk away impressed with their music, showmanship and heart. More the Man is definitely a band on the rise and one to watch.
Yogee New Waves
Indie pop is the name of the game for indie music at the moment and it takes a bit to stand out from that. These guys managed that and more, with their sunny adventurous brand of pop-rock proving strong enough to even drive back the rain. 3 years these guys were on Rookie and their evolution from there has been impressive, with frontman Kengo captivating the crowd. Their jaunty energetic approach is not afraid to borrow from other genres and this helped keep their songs fresh. They spearheaded this years’ ex-Rookie invasion of Fuji Rock, with this year featuring a huge cohort of bands from the last 6 years making it back to Fuji.
Kyoto Jazz Sextet
This set was all about the blaring brass which is corralled and conducted by the drums with the keyboard and bass along for the ride. This was a headlong dash into jazz territory with the instruments bouncing and challenging each other almost as much as the band’s tropical and leopard print wear challenged festivalgoer’s eyes. The soloing is out of this world, from the squealing shrieking aggression of the brass to the tasteful and perfectly chosen chord progression of the keyboard. One of the standouts on the Field of Heaven stage, for which they had plenty of competition.
As much as I said Fuji Rock isn’t about the big stages, there’s some bands that still manage to make their shows their intimate and special. The xx were one of these, with a stunning set of minimalist melancholy pop. Their set went in roughly chronological order and showcased their sound’s evolution and growth. The band is built on the shared melancholy between Romy and Sam, reflected in their yearning duets, instrumental interaction and even their movements on stage. Their raw, understated emotion made the Green Stage feel intimate, no small feat with thousands of people watching.
The duo assembled a full band for Fuji Rock and it worked a treat. They may be sold as a R’n’B band but their live show was anything but that. Borrowing equally from R’n’B, soul and jazz, each song organically grew and evolved. The band plays emotive yet intelligent music that flips and melds genre as they please. Their best feature is that they seem to enjoy playing with cliches from the genre before veering them off in unexpected ways. It was definitely a step-up from the normal jamband headliner the Field of Heaven is stuck with and shows that the future of the R’n’B genre is bright indeed.