LIVE REPORTbands7/30 –（AFTER）
James Best of the Fest
Fuji Rock 2018 had a different kind of vibe going in for me. There didn’t seem to be some of the same excitement as previous years. Buzz wasn’t as high as usual and there were no headliners I was dying to see or hadn’t seen before. I was fairly familiar with the festival by this point but as I learned, Fuji Rock is always evolving and will always be able to surprise you in a few ways that maybe you didn’t expect. This might not always be in the form of the music or an act, it might be say, getting your tent blown off the mountain in the middle of a typhoon, spending time with old friends and making new ones or it might be the last day discovery of a classic Fuji Rock artifact, the treasured Joe Strummer memorial. Reflecting back on this year’s festival, while everything and every act didn’t live up to my exceptions this year, the festival as a whole once again blew me away. Coming up with a meager top 5 things about this year was a snap here goes.
5. The Unfairground
This Fuji Rock one-off was a real treat. The Unfairground is a transplant from the legendary UK Glastonbury festival. This sideshow brought with them a collection of twisted sculptures, art displays, installations and classic UK electronic music from the late 90s. There was acid house, jungle music, techno, break beat, hardcore and more. A demented little piece of the late 90s rave and grunge culture had arrived to Fuji Rock completely stocked with the Unfair crew of circus freaks and tattooed misfits. It was wild to be a part of. So even though there was no all-night Fuji this year, 3 nights of the Unfair more than made up for it.
4. The Cafe Don
Fuji Rock must constantly change, adapt, grow and try new things to thrive. One of the new features for this year was the Cafe Don. You’d be forgiven if you missed it as it was barely advertised and only hosted one act a day at 11:10 pm. The location was also a bit of a mission as it was behind the Prince Hotel on the way to the Pyramid Garden stage. I thankfully stumbled upon this intimate little cafe one day in my travels. The small venue also serves food and drink, while housing a cozy dozen tables or so and a small stage. It’s like a more intimate version of the Cafe de Paris. I caught a bit of Hot House Flowers playing this little live house on the final day and it was a magical experience for both those inside the cafe and those crowding around the windows outside trying to catch a glimpse. This little Easter Egg of a stage was a great idea, it allows for an even more intimate experience with the bands and I hope it continues next year.
3. The evolution of The Blue Galaxy
DJ Jim West and his vinyl hut, Jim’s Vinyl Nasium, have long been an integral part of Fuji Rock. So when Jim got his own stage last year, The Blue Galaxy, I was thrilled. This year Fuji Rock took things even further and made his stage official. Artists were booked to play at The Blue Galaxy and schedules were created for it as such. Jim still got plenty of time to spin and share his amazing collection of 45s with all us Fuji Rockers, but now some of his fellow vinyl obsessed friends and colleagues could take their turn rocking the Blue Galaxy. My only qualm with the stage is that sometimes its sound got drowned out by the nearby Naeba Shokudo stage or the Red Marquee. Those times were few and far between however and was a small price to pay to get to hear thousands of rare records spun over the 3 days at Fuji Rock.
I figured I should throw an artist or two into my top 5 list, so I’ll start with a DJ. UK based producer/DJ, Jon Hopkins has been honing his craft these past 10 years or so. He’s in peak form with the release of his latest album, Singularity. The technology has reached a point where Jon is able to musically express his feelings in a way that guide the listener on a psychedelic trip of sorts. The Red Marquee was with Jon the whole way through his trip even when he pushed the speaker system to short out. Almost a week removed from hearing the set and I’m still thinking about it. If you don’t know Jon Hopkins you better get to know.
It’s no wonder this man and his group are getting respect and gaining popularity worldwide. Anderson is getting love from all the big critics and radio hosts in the game and was recently signed to Dre’s Aftermath Records. You know when billionaires start noticing you, you’re doing things right. In a Fuji Rock year that contained its fair share of hip hop acts like N.E.R.D, Post Malone, Kendrick Lamar and more, Anderson Paak was the performance that stood out for me. The main reason is that he is actually musical. Together with his band, The Free Nationals, they are all world class musicians. With Paak, there are no backing vocals, no autotune, just a fireball of energy when Paak grabs the mic or jumps on the drum set, which is more often than not. Tell your favorite rapper to perform a super emotional, blazing set and jump on the drums at the same time as he’s doing. There’s only even a handful of famous rock musicians who can drum and sing at the same time. In terms of skill and performance quality Anderson .Paak & The Free Nationals are on another level. They more than deserve my number one for Fuji Rock 2018!