Best of the Fest: Jonathan

  • Best of the Fest: Jonathan

Photo by KentaKUMEI Text by Jonathan Cooper

Posted on 2021.8.23 10:10

A Model for Things to Come?

This year was a bit of a strange one, but I still think Fuji Rock was the cathartic release we all needed and earned, and a beacon of hope for festivals in Japan in the future. In a way it was refreshing to have an all-domestic lineup, a lot of the artists who performed over the weekend would probably have gone overlooked in a different year. But it showed what breadth of talent Japan has, and the enthusiasm their fans have for them. It was also a good year for families, the vibe was more mature, and even getting around was much easier. The buskers were, as always, a real treat too. Then there was the weather! Bits of rain here and there, but nothing too long or too disastrous. It was a fun, uniquely relaxing time. Now, with no further ado, my top 5 of the year.

1. Shintaro Sakamoto

I love this guy. Absolutely love him. Yura Yura Teikoku was one of the first bands that really got me into Japanese rock music, and one of my great regrets in life has been never quite being able to make seeing one of their shows fit my schedule. Then they broke up. Tragic. But I’m not entirely convinced I would trade a solo show like his Friday one for a chance to go back in time to see Yura-Tei perform. I might, but I’m not sure. It was that good. The set was weird, funky, sexy, dreamlike and totally did things for me that few performers do. Totally dug it, fantastic set.


2. Gezan

I have been a fan of these guys since they were just just little punk pups, and to see how far they have come almost makes me proud. Their 2019 performance was one of my favorite of the year, with its raw creativity and energy, but it was nothing compared to what they brought to the table this year. It truly felt like stumbling across a ritual to an eldritch god, just with a lot more guitar and a lot more rapping. The same amount of screaming I think. If you haven’t had a chance to see Tribe of Discord, the 2019 documentary film about them, I suggest checking it out. Also, of course, get yourself to a Gezan show if you’ve never been! You won’t regret it. Or at least you won’t soon forget it.


3. Number Girl

Maaaan, these guys absolutely rocked. I was in Hokkaido when their first post-reunion Rising Sun gig was slated to happen, and when their day got cancelled by a typhoon I saw the utter dejection on the faces of people who had traveled from all over the country just to see them perform. And I can see why. They played as fast and loud and aggressively as they did in their heyday, and it was kind of magical to see a band risen from the grave sound as fresh as they did in 2002.


4. Susumu Hirasawa

I really like P-Model, especially their early stuff, but tracking Hirasawa’s musical evolution since then is fascinating. The music is always great, but the ambition of what he does with his shows is stunning. Seriously, using a Tesla coil on stage like an instrument? Who comes up with an idea like that? Well, Hirasawa does. It was a fun, weird show to end a fun, Weird festival.


5. The People

I’ll be honest, I wasn’t sure if things were going to go off smoothly this year regarding safety measures. I wasn’t convinced people were going to follow social distancing or masking guideless, much less no alcohol ones. I was mistaken. People were genuinely considerate and really, really followed the rules. Even though trying to get a band out for an encore without being able to ‘woo’, or bumping into an old friend and having to just wave awkwardly from a distance, or drinking yet another Pocari Sweat because apparently beverages are just for hydration this year, made for a strange experience, it put my heart a little more at ease. I generally do not like saying things like this, but I don’t think this sort of thing could have worked anywhere but Japan. So thank you everyone, for being so mindful and respectful. And thank you for allowing us all to enjoy some live music, an essential element of life that we have all been lacking for too long.


I have never seen anything quite like that before, nor do I think I ever will again. I’m also not sure I’ll be able to look at traffic cones the same way.


[Photo: 1 All photo]