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New York Cool - Music


Two Japanese Music Festivals:

July 25 -27,2008
Summer Sonic
August 9 - 10, 2008

Written by Jeremy Schreiner
Fuji Rock: Photographed by Dan Nuetel
Summer Sonic: Photos Courtesy of Summer Sonic

Opposite Photo: Jacob Dylan
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.

“Who’s playing?”

“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, All….

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 ever (Pavement.)

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

George Yanagi. Darn good. This guy is on TV in Japan, according to Nuetelica.

Janet Klein & Her Parlor Boys

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 to mention.

Jakob Dylan

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.

Summer Sonic
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 is killer.
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.

The Subways

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 already.

The Pillows

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 disappointed.
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

Click here for more information about Fuji Rock.

Click here for more information about Summer Sonic.

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