July 25 -27,2008
August 9 - 10, 2008
Fuji Rock: Photographed by Dan Nuetel
Summer Sonic: Photos Courtesy of Summer Sonic
Photo Credit Dan Nuetel
July 25 -27,2008
After three years of J-pop, Avril Lavigne, and
Coldplay, when the chance to finally see good music
in Japan presented itself, I jumped at the opportunity.
I called up fellow unemployed ex-pat, Nuetelica.
Nuetelica was in the grips of a Van Halen flashback
and answered the phone screaming like a maniac.
“Wanna go to Fujirock?” I asked after
I calmed him down.
“Umm, Van Halen, Metalicca, Joe Satriani,
Korn, and a few others.” And just like that,
with a few lies, I had my partner, my tickets and
the excitement of a Japanese schoolgirl at Disneyland.
And then I looked at the band list….
Fujirock is a huge music festival in the usually
peaceful, pristine mountains of Yuzawa Onsen in
Japan. But for three days every year, the mountains
are overrun by thousands of people from Tokyo who
trade in their three-piece suits for some stylishly
ripped jeans and a Nirvana T-shirt. Nothing like
a Nirvana T-shirt to bring a smile to the face of
geek like me, especially on body of a cute Japanese
chica on the train to Yuzawa. Flash her my pearly
whites. She responds with a look of scorn and quickly
moves seats. It’s as if she can smell my unemployedness.
Girls—Japan, America they’re the same
everywhere. So I go back to concentrating on the
band list and slowly let my sense of rejection turn
into a sense of dejection.
I mean, come on! Who are these guys?
Lettuce, Asparagus (I’m not kidding), The
Death Set, Yurayurateikoku, The Zutons, The Cribs,
Friday has the best lineup—My Bloody Valentine,
Bloc Party, Mice Parade, Spoon, Grandmaster Flash,
Special Others (great Japanese jam band), Rodrigo
y Gabriela—but unfortunately, I can’t
be there Friday.
Underworld is the big headliner for Saturday. Who
the heck’s Underworld? Primal Scream is on
right before Underworld. The same Primal Scream
from my middle school days? Yessiree. Speaking of
middle school, The Presidents of the United States
of America are playing on Friday.
I notice that Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks are
playing on Sunday right before The Breeders and
I can feel myself getting excited again. I have
no problem sitting through a couple of Gogol Bordello
sets to catch the ex-frontman for the best band
The Scene at FujiRock
The Scene at FujiRock
Nuetelica and I get to the campsite,
set up our tent and make our way down to the bedlam.
Right as we’re about to cross the threshold,
I have a flashback from the last Phish show I went
to. I see smelly hippies shoving weird paraphernalia
in my face. There’s garbage and mud all over
the place but no one’s wearing shoes. I’m
surrounded by bad, overpriced food. I’m about
to scream when I open my eyes and look around. It’s
clean. No garbage, no filth, no drugs, no fights,
no cops, no crazies. And people are wearing shoes!
Amazing! A music festival that’s civilized…
fancy that! And in fact, I do take a fancy to it.
It’s awesome. Here’s a quick rundown
of the bands we saw on Saturday:
George Yanagi. Darn good. This guy
is on TV in Japan, according to Nuetelica.
Janet Klein & Her Parlor
Janet Klein. Super weird.
Gogol Bordello. Sick.
Primal Scream. Surprisingly good. Bobby Gillespie
looked like a washed-out heroine addict, but who
am I to judge? And after the show, “Country
Girl” was stuck in my head for about a week.
Underworld. Boring. Halfway through the show I left
to go to sleep.
I woke up when Neutelica came back at 1 o’clock.
“It’s awesome down there.”
“The music ended hours ago. Shut up, I’m
trying to sleep,” I moaned. “No. There’s
some wild party going on down there.” Wild
party, an oxymoron here in Japan. So I get up and
go back to festivities to make sure Nuetelica isn’t
hallucinating. And sure enough, he’s right.
It’s wild. There’s a makeshift bar or
two, a little casino, and a stage with live music
still playing. In the bar, there’re girls
dancing on tables. Outside, there’s the hottest
girl I’ve seen since about two seconds ago
wearing nothing but a bikini. I go up to talk to
her, change my mind, and pretend like I would rather
watch the live music. And the live music turns out
to be damn good. This band called Oledickfoggy was
fantastic. In fact, with their raw style, I think
they were probably most enjoyable band I saw all
weekend. Anyway, when I noticed the sun coming up,
I finally dragged myself away to bed—happy
to be there.
The next day played out pretty much the same way.
You couldn’t have asked for a better scene.
You’re in the mountains. It’s beautiful.
Everyone’s happy to not be in Tokyo. The women
are beautiful and you can’t understand them
when they make fun of your disgusting dreadlocks.
Way better than a music festival in America. The
music though, could’ve been a little better.
There’re two bands in particular I wanted
Jakob Dylan. Can it get any more boring? Sure, he
has nice eyes. Who cares? His guitarist needs a
new perm. On second thought, the band needs a new
guitarist. And lead singer. Actually, they don’t
need to change a thing but Dylan’s last name.
And moving on….
Stephen Malkmus. I could probably say the same thing
about Malkmus as I did about Dylan (minus the perm
comment). The difference is that I knew Dylan would
put me to sleep beforehand while Stevie-boy and
Ichiro Suzuki have been the two frontrunners to
dethrone Huck Finn as my hero. I was more excited
to see Malkmus than any other band here but, as
Nuetelica so eloquently put it, “it felt like
I was watching battle of the bands in high school.”
I’m an idiot for not seeing The Go!Team instead.
In any case, I don’t really want to blame
FujiRock for the fact that Malkmus cares more about
his hair than his music. Because to be honest, FujiRock
was probably the most fun I’d had since the
last time the Yankees won a World Series. FujiRock
wasn’t about the music. It was about standing
next to a girl in a bikini, listening to a great
young band play their hearts out at one o’clock
in the morning. With shoes on.
August 9 - 10, 2008
So the itch to actually see not just good but great
music in Japan was still there. Thankfully, Summer
Sonic was only a couple weeks away. Trying to compare
the two big Japanese music festivals is futile.
They’re completely different. For starters,
Summer Sonic is in Tokyo. It’s not outdoors.
You don’t camp out there overnight. But it’s
got one huge advantage over FujiRock—the music
Los Campesinos!, The Subways, Death Cab for Cutie,
The Kills, Band of Horses, Super Furry Animals,
Spiritualized, Vampire Weekend, Justice, and plenty
more. Coldplay was the big headliner on Sunday.
Could someone please explain this too me? Wasn’t
there like a memo or something sent out to the world
that declared Coldplay the antichrist? Whenever
someone tells me they like Coldplay, I always assume
they mispronounced “cold milk” or “cold
chicken wings.” Japan just doesn’t seem
to get it. Or maybe I’m the crazy one.
Tokyo Police Club
Anyway, on Saturday, every band I
saw, except Band of Horses, was amazing. Even The
Subways, who I don’t even like, was incredible.
In particular, Tokyo Police Club and The Pillows
rocked my socks off. Tokyo Police Club is young
and loud and energetic. Most of the time, I couldn’t
tell whether the keyboardist was having a seizure
or not. Their style was a perfectly blended mixture
of pop and chaos. With a little fine-tuning, they’ll
be full blown rock stars soon enough, if they aren’t
The Pillows is the best Japanese
rock band I’ve heard. The stage where they
were playing quickly filled up. I was the only non-Japanese
face I saw in the crowd and I tried to blend in.
Everyone was doing the exact same dance the whole
time, so it wasn’t hard. I raised my right
arm, stuck up my index finger, jumped up and down,
and everyone thought I was Japanese. When they started
playing “Little Busters.” The crowd
went nuts. “When the kids think of the future/
Many kids don’t eat the mustard!” the
crowd chanted in tune with charmingly-handsome-yet-cartoonish-looking
singer. I went nuts too. I mean, I hate mustard.
A future without mustard? Count me in! (Actual lyrics:
“With the kids sing out the future/ Maybe
kids don’t need the masters.”)
Sunday was the hottest day of my life.
I’ll almost didn’t go back to Summer
Sonic because I didn’t want to leave air conditioning
for even a second. But I convinced myself to go
pretty much just to see MGMT. And I wasn’t
The lead singer of MGMT looks about 16 years old
with the arrogance of a full-blown rock star. He
was wearing a ridiculous getup. At one point he
shouted out something along the lines of “Yes,
you can have my children!” He was obviously
very much in love with himself. But then again,
if I could make music that good, I would love myself
too. Their performance of “Time to Pretend”
was masterful. I almost cried. I’m not even
kidding. Have you ever really listened to the lyrics
of this song? They’re extremely poignant,
especially if they’re coming from a 16 year-old
kid. In any case, they closed it up with another
great song, “Kids,” and at this point,
practically in tears, I decided to skip out on Coldplay.
With MGMT lyrics floating through my head (“I’ll
miss my sister, miss my father, miss my dog and
my home”), I wandered around Tokyo thinking
about New York. It’s great here in Japan;
don’t get me wrong. Where else can five great
days of music go off without a hitch? Where else
can a music festival be so clean and peaceful and
organized? (“I’ll miss the comfort of
my mother and the weight of the world.”) But
to be honest, I can’t wait to get back to
New York. I like my music with a little bit of chaos.
Subway Crowd Surfing
here for more information about Fuji Rock.
here for more information about Summer Sonic.