Sound and sight merge together, create unease
This year’s Fuji Rock has been defined by visuals. The Green Stage headliners so far have relied heavily on some sort of image component, while many others all across the festival have relied on various videos timed with music or dazzling lights. Write the thinkpiece you want — what people see has become more important what they hear, or artists have become more savvy, or people demand more from big-stage concerts. Rising Japanese group yahyel know this clearly, and put on one of the more dazzling mergers of sound and sight in the Red Marquee Friday night.
The group, boasting a sound primarily built around electronics and counting a VJ as a member, spent most of the show as silhouettes. They stood in front of a backdrop loaded up with eye-catching visuals, sometimes simple geometric patterns moving about to more overwhelming collages full of images teasing something cryptic (“yahyel,” it’s worth pointing out, is a type of alien species set to make contact with humans…according to a cult, and this band dabbles in a cultish aesthetic). Everything was timed to the sounds, and simply watching the band play in front of these projections would be memorable enough.
But the key lesson from yahyel’s set — and from every show so far at Fuji Rock — is the flashiest visuals don’t mean much if the music doesn’t match. This quintet delivered though, with a throbbing electronic set full of tension and unease, with songs starting sparse before barring their teeth (closer “Iron”) or turning off-kilter come the hook (“Once,” an ominous exercise in space that turns wobbly at its core). There are plenty of moments one can dance to, but the compelling part comes in all the moments that make you feel just a touch uneasy. That mostly comes courtesy of lead singer Shun Ikegai, who often sings through a thick layer of digital manipulation, giving his voice an electronic edge turning dusty numbers such as “The Flare” a welcome weirdness (think James Blake moving from sappy to savage).
There are small nits to pick — Ikegai is a charismatic and attention-grabbing lead, but sometimes it feels like he’s not sure what he wants to do with his body, and opts to flail it about — but yahyel’s Fuji Rock debut stood as the year’s best moment from a young band yet thus far. And, even more important in 2017, it showed how forceful a show can be when sound and visual work in tandem just right.