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Patrick’s Best Of The Fest
Fuji Rock 2018 was defined by spectacle. All of the viral moments from this year’s gathering out in Naeba felt like potential once-in-a-lifetime sights — Skrillex and X Japan’s Yoshiki collaborating on the Green Stage, Mac DeMarco having Kiki Mizuhara and an assortment of other famous models just chilling out on stage while he played songs in front of Earthbound footage, Post Malone drinking out of some guy’s shoe (ehhhh, actually, I could see him doing that on a weekly basis). As much as Fuji Rock prides itself about being about the music man, this installment leaned heavy on big Instagrammable moments that often had little to do with music, or felt bigger than the songs themselves (say, like Bob Dylan headlining Sunday). This sense defined the festival for me personally, and my favorite acts tended to lean into it, whether through sheer visual antics or the sight of a band actually elevating themselves up the Fuji Rock chain.
Watching this one live at the Red Marquee mostly left me baffled — why does every song sound like its about to dissolve into a pile of sludge? Why is Gen Z obsessed with nostalgia and digital leftovers? Why do they keep showing a Nintendo 64 controller on screen, are they trying to say it’s old…no, noooooooooooo! But Superorganism’s super-packed Red Marquee show has stuck around in my head more than most following Fuji Rock. That’s partially because of the disjointed and stoned-out music (plus accompanying YouTube Poop visuals), but mostly because of lead vocalist Orono Noguchi’s troll job on the crowd. Between brushing off the band playing the festival, using intentionally bad Japanese and generally “not giving a fuck,” she added a weird energy rarely seen at Fuji Rock. This made me feel a million years old, but also proved pretty darn fun.
Dude is a pro! Hammond brought pure energy to the White Stage Friday afternoon, bolting around and hopping on whatever he could over the course of his quick-tempo set. The songs themselves sounded solid, zippy rock cuts accented by his hollered vocals and the occasional guitar heroics. But the pure enthusiasm he brought to this show really locked it down. Plus, it is rarely fun to watch someone pull a microphone cable around, but Hammond elevated it to an art, tugging the thing along with him as he darted about. Even the hiccups proved endearing — crew had to rush out and move one of the other artists lights from the front of the stage because said cord got caught in them. “Who puts out shit this early?” But then he was right back to playing.
Reasons to keep going to a music festival year after year, part one: watching a group totally hit their stride in the most triumphant way possible. cero have played Fuji Rock multiple times, from the Rookie Stage late at night to the White Stage in the early afternoon, and they’ve been solid previous times I saw them. But nothing like their Sunday night show on the White Stage, where they delivered a rollicking set moving between chilled-out funk and polyrhythmic workouts. A lot of this comes from the fact they’ve also hit an artistic high with their latest album Poly Life Multi Soul but being able to translate that energy live — and slot in older material alongside it without any awkwardness — was huge. This was a proper breakout, and now it’s time to see what comes next. Speaking of…
Reasons to keep going to a music festival year after year, part two: watching a group climb the proverbial mountain, reach the peak and flourish. Sakanaction was my favorite performance at the 2012 Fuji Rock Festival, back when they were on the White Stage, and six years later they arrived on Green, playing right before Friday headliner N.E.R.D. And they nailed it, delivering a perfectly paced show moving between moody numbers, electronic rumblers (shout out to including a portion where they basically noodled around on computers and DJ equipment) and big all-together-now pop. A lot of it felt like a throwback to their last Fuji Rock gig, but bigger — which was fine with me, as Sakanaction simply elevated everything they’d done well in the past. By the time they reached the climax of “Shin Takarajima,” they showed that they deserved to be among the biggest names at the gathering.
As mentioned, Fuji Rock was all about spectacle — so top spot has to go to the biggest one of them all. Skrillex’s set — played out during one of the lighter stretches of rain Saturday — featured fire, Drake memes, the EDM trailblazer waving a Japanese flag while a snippet of LMFAO’s “Shots” played, and an interlude wherein Skrillex brought out…a family?…to teach the crowd a dance purportedly popular in Europe (fact check required). Oh, and it crested with the most surreal moment of the weekend, which was Yoshiki coming out and joining Skrillex (now playing guitar) for two songs. Nothing came close to matching that in terms of pure absurdity.
But beyond all the visual overload, Skrillex’s set ended up being the most absorbing for me personally at Fuji Rock 2018. Listen carefully — or check Twitter — and you’d see a select few griping out how little “rock” there was on the bill this year. Yet what made this year’s festival memorable for me was the sheer diversity of sound on display. Rather than have to endure Liam Gallagher, I could see Kendrick Lamar take a shot at the Green Stage, or check out any number of performers who don’t traditionally get fest love in Japan. Skrillex crammed all of this into one package, as he pinballed between bass-jacked dance numbers, U.K. garage mutations, American hip-hop and even nu-metal (System Of A Down, sure!). It was all over the place, but constantly engaging, and just stupid fun. I’ll probably always think about him and Yoshiki hugging each other while the latter screamed “thank you Skrillex!” dozens of times…but I’ll also always make room to remember the rollercoaster ride that was the music itself.