Best of the Fest: Jonathan
Boy oh boy, what a ride
Phew, what a weekend it was! While the weather may have tried to keep us down, the good festival vibes were there to raise us back up. A lot of our yearly staples were there, and a few new sights to see as well, like Sun Effects Japan’s illumination on the boardwalk. I hope you were there to see it before the rain shut it down, and I hope they will be back again in the future to do it again.
Great food, beautiful nature, wonderful people. But of course a music festival wouldn’t be complete without the music! There were so many good shows to choose from this year. The Cure brought back emotions I have repressed since my mid-teens. Chemical Brothers gave me flashbacks to a much different time in music (and made me want to watch The Matrix), Sia fought against the rain and gave one of the most artistic and inspiring performances of the festival. While the Green Stage is where all the big hitters swing, I have to admit I am partial to the smaller stages. With that in mind, here is my list of the top five shows of the festival, in no particular order.
I have been a fan of GEZAN for quite a few years, and tracking their rise and seeing them make it to the White Stage made me proud. Putting these personal sentiments aside, this show was also undeniably unique and engaging. It was one of the hardest-edged shows I saw over the course of the weekend, and my only personal spotting of crowd-surfing. It was also one of the most artistically creative and playful sets I saw, GEZAN being willing to do things on stage that other bands would question the sense in. And the crowd was absolutely into it, myself included. They are just a band that, on paper, shouldn’t work. But absolutely, 100% do.
2) Shibusashirazu Orchestra
I have wanted to see them perform for years, but every time the chance came up it somehow slipped through my fingers. In a way, though, I am glad this was my first experience, because I don’t think I could have asked for a better one. Before the set I managed to grab a great craft beer and snap the coveted highest spot on the bamboo trellises at the back of the Field of Heaven area. I was all set to just sit back and take in the show. When the band hit the stage and started wailing, however, I knew I just watching this set wouldn’t be enough, I had to be a part of it. Within 30 seconds I had downed my beer, abandoned the perch and thrown myself head-first into the crowd. Boy was it worth it. Then partway through the set something special happened, that made me scream and pump my fist (and get some confused looks for it). Makigami Koichi, lead singer of the band Hikashu, joined the group. Now I am a really big Hikashu fan. Here is was, Makigami freaking Koichi and Shibusa freaking shirazu. It was an amazingly weird and engaging and inclusive set, and it was well worth the years of waiting.
To be honest, before the festival I wasn’t too familiar with Mitski. I had heard a few tracks, and I did a little research into her. I liked her songs, I thought her lyrics were witty and endearing. I wasn’t expecting the show I was treated to, though. I have seen few performers in my life be able to control the stage the way she did. Every move seemed deliberate without seeming over-rehearsed. She performed like a burlesque dancer with a degree in semiotics, and did it to great effect. If the rumors are true, this may have been one of the last chances to see her perform live. I just hope you were as lucky as me to have seen it while you had the chance.
4) Susumu Hirasawa + EJIN
I have always been a fan of P-Model. Actually let me clarify, I have always been a fan of early P-Model, when they were a weird new-wavey post-punky kind of group. In all honesty I kind of lose interest when their catalog starts getting more electronic, and I never really listed to any of Hirasawa-san’s solo work. Now I think I need to go back and reappraise a lot of his music, because this performance was jaw-dropping. Susumu-san has the kind of charisma only a veteran real like him can have, and he really knew how to perform like a mad-professor in a musical laboratory. He basically strummed lasers as his primary instrument, for the love of pete. Add to that EJIN, the birds of death in white suspenders flanking him, to really set the theatrical mood. Then have one of them use a Tesla coil as an instrument. I honestly have never seen a show quite like it, and if you weren’t there than neither have you.
5 The Buskers!
I must admit, I am a big fan of the busking crew that comes to Fuji Rock. Their leader has been a staple at the event for 20 years, and the retinue he brings with him is diverse. I think one of the things that appeals to me the most is the busking model itself. Basically if you like it, you pay. If you don’t, you don’t. If it rains and they can’t perform, they don’t get paid. This is much different than most of the performers on the stages, who have their contracts all worked out regardless of how things go. It might sound like I am focusing on the money here, but I’m actually more interested in how it informs the art. These performers need to learn how to be individual, engaging and charming in a unique way. Their paycheck depends on it, it leads to some truly interesting art, and the festival would feel a lot more bland without it. While magician Masato Moja, one-man-band EPPAI and avant-garde mime Kano Mami may be my personal favorites, each of the 11 performers who came to the festival this year added to the flavor of the fest in crucial ways.
While I may be happy right now to have taken a shower, eaten some vegetables and taken a nap on a real mattress, I can’t help but wish the weekend could have gone on forever. If I didn’t see you there this year, I’ll be sure to in the next.