With the second largest music
market in the world, Japan has an audience for just about every kind of song imaginable.
And over the past few decades, a range of music festivals have sprouted catering to all
tastes. From rock to world beat and everything in between, Music Editor Dan Grunebaum previews the summer' music
Summer music festivals in Japan didn't begin with Fuji Rock or the Newport Jazz Festival.
The Japanese have been beating the drum, singing and dancing in the streets ever since the
summer Bon Odori festivals emerged in the distant past. Only now, rock, world music,
classical, jazz and techno take their place alongside Bon Odori in providing sonic relief
from the summer heat. In the words of Virgin Records' Miki Monta, "Summer festivals
have become an essential part of culture for Japanese music fans."
Fuji Rock Festival
FRF wasn't the first rock festival in Japan, but since its launch five years ago, it has
certainly grown into the mother of all Japanese rock events. With its commitment not only
to introducing Western acts to Japanese audiences but to creating a vibrant rock culture
in Japan, promoter Smash has crafted a three-day extravaganza that runs the gamut from
classic rock to cutting-edge electronica.
But things weren't always so good. After a typhoon swept Mt Fuji, causing the cancellation
of the first FRF in1997 and the hospitalization of fans for exposure, things looked iffy.
FRF '98 took up residence temporarily at the Tokyo bayside, before Smash settled on the
green slopes of Naeba Ski resort for FRF '99, a location that has proved a good fit, with
plenty of room for the festival's five stages.
Smash has already announced the lineup for FRF '01, with a noticeably more mainstream
emphasis than a year ago. "Last year it was difficult to get headliners because all
the acts that were available had already played Fuji Rock in previous years,"
explains Smash pointman Johnnie Fingers. "We wanted to get Neil Young last year, but
he wasn't available. This year's headliners Neil Young, Oasis, and Eminem are the first
thing people notice. But Fuji Rock every year has close to 100 acts performing on five
stages over three days. We also try and make it an event where people get a chance to see
and enjoy artists that they normally would not be exposed to."
Other marquee acts include
Welsh rockers Manic Street Preachers, singer-songwriters Alanis Morissette and Ani
DiFranco, '80s electropop pioneers New Order, alternative rockers Tool and Dropkick
Murphys, and veteran rock poet Patti Smith. Electronica heavyweights include Coldcut,
Autechre, the Orb and Richie Hawtin, while Japan is represented by indies favorites
Brahman, Kemuri, Dry & Heavy, and Eastern Youth, and rappers Rappagariya and Nitro
Pick: Brian Eno, founder of Roxy Music, modern ambient music pioneer, and
producer of classic rock albums from the Talking Heads' Fear of Music to U2's Joshua
Tree, will be making a rare visit to Japan, exclusive to Fuji Rock. Eno will be
performing with his new unit, Drawn From Life, a collaboration with emerging German DJ
Ex-Smashing Pumpkin Billy Corgan to join New Order at FRF.
has reported that Billy Corgan, former frontman for alternative rock superstars the
Smashing Pumpkins, will be joining New Order onstage at Fuji Rock. A fan of New Order for
years, Corgan also appears on their forthcoming album, Get Ready, due out in
Where: Naeba Ski Resort, Naeba Prefecture
Tickets: JY14,500 (one day), JY29,000 (two days), JY38,000 (three days)
Info: FRF '01 Info Center: 0180-993-998
Fan site: www.fujirockers.org
Green Stage: Oasis, Manic Street Preachers, Travis, Asian Dub Foundation, Dropkick
White Stage: Tricky, Mos Def, Nitro Micro Underground, Muro, Rappagariya.
Red Marquee (daytime): Husking Bee, Semisonic, Feeder, Mo Solid Gold, Super Butter Dog,
Red Marquee (Planet Groove nighttime): Stereo MCs, UNKLE Sounds.
Field of Heaven: Boredoms, Miracle Young, Kururi, Auto Pilot, Labcry.
Green Stage: Neil Young & Crazy Horse, Alanis Morissette, Stereophonics, Patti Smith,
Hothouse Flowers, Number Girl.
White Stage: New Order, Alec Empire, Mogwai, Yamakaze, Regurgitator, Eastern Youth.
Red Marquee (daytime): Echo & The Bunnymen, Powderfinger, South, 28 Days, Mo'some
Red Marquee (Tribal Circus nighttime): Wagon Christ, Dub Squad, Fumiya Tanaka, Richie
Field of Heaven: Kemuri, Shibusa Shirazu Orchestra, Rovo, Soul Flower Mononoke Summit,
Double Famous, Pe'z.
Green Stage: Eminem, Tool, System Of A Down, Xzibit, Dry & Heavy, Brahman.
White Stage: Drawn From Life featuring Brian Eno and Peter Schwalm, Coldcut, Autechre,
Squarepusher, Y. Sunahara, Little Tempo.
Red Marquee: Ani DiFranco, Ron Sexmith, Tom McRae, northern bright.
Field of Heaven: Hothouse Flowers, Ruffy Tuffy, Bigfrog, Sion, Kisel.
Although they won't perhaps say so, likening Summer Sonic to England's Leeds festival if
Fuji Rock Festival is its Glastonbury, Summer Sonic - launched last year by Creativeman -
is clearly the challenger to FRF. But, says Virgin's Monta, there's plenty of
room for both. "Fuji Rock had 50,000 plus last year, and there are the other
festivals which are successful as well."
Despite the rivalry, Summer Sonic is structured quite differently from Fuji Rock Festival.
A two-prong, lightning attack sees the festival take place over two days with two stages
in two locations, Kanto and Kansai. Last year's Summer Sonic took place on the slopes of
Mt Fuji, but this year, says Creativeman's Kunihiko Koike, "We wanted to bring it
closer to Tokyo." This year's Kanto festival is set for the convenient location of
Chiba Marine Stadium and the nearby Makuhari Messe convention center, allowing
festival-goers to walk to and fro between the two stages.
In contrast to FRF's sprawling array of styles, SS focuses more laser-like on rock, with
headliners Marilyn Manson, Slipknot, Primal Scream, Beck and Rancid, just to name a few.
Pick: France's excellent electro-pop duo Air have just released the
superb new album 10,000 Hz Legend, with vocal contributions from Beck, and will
be appearing in Japan for the first time. Although Creativeman's Koike says scheduling
will make it difficult for Beck to join Air onstage, anything is possible.
When: August 18-19
Where: Chiba Marine Stadium and Makuhari Messe
Tickets: JY12,000 (one day), JY21,000 (two days)
Info: Summer Sonic 2001 Office: 0180-993-030
Chiba Marine Stadium: Beck, Primal Scream, Rancid, Cibo Matto, Incubus, The Living End,
Rize, MxPx, King Adora.
Makuhari Messe: Air, Matthew Sweet, Bilal, Love Psychedelico, Jet Black Crayon, Russell
Simins, Soulwax, Gloss.
Chiba Marine Stadium: Marilyn Manson, Slipknot, Zebrahead, Ocean Colour Scene, The Cult,
Shea Seger, Reel Big Fish, Skrape.
Makuhari Messe: Tahiti 80, Mercury Rev, Eels, Elbow, My Vitriol, Cosmic Rough Riders.
The latest entrant to Japan's festival circuit comes in the form of Beast Feast, launched
this year by the folks at Club Citta longtime rock venue in Kawasaki. Slated for Yokohama
Arena on August 25-26, the festival, says Club Citta, is intended as Japan's answer to
America's wildly successful Ozz Fest, with the emphasis squarely on heavy metal. Leading
thrash acts Slayer and Pantera have already signed on as headliners, with some 30
headbanging bands - including Sepultura and Biohazard, as well as Japan's Cocobat -
scheduled to perform over two days.
When: August 25-26
Where: Yokohama Arena
Tickets: JY9500 (one day), JY18,000 (two days).
Info: Beast Feast 2001 Office: 0180-99-3544
Rock in Japan
J-pop's answer to the Fuji Rock Festival and Summer Sonic is Rock in Japan, the festival
produced by Rockin' On Inc., publisher of Japan's leading rock e-zine Rockin' On.
Launched successfully last year, this year's festival will span three days and two stages
at a seaside location in Ibaraki Prefecture. The lineup boasts some of Japan's leading
contemporary artists, from established stars like chart-topping hip hop collective Dragon
Ash and soul songstress Aco to alternative rock faces-of-the-moment Rize and the stalwart,
ganja-fueled electro-dub stars Audio Active.
When: August 3-5
Where: Ibaraki Prefecture, Hitachi City, Kokuei Hitachi Kaigan Koen
Tickets: JY9500 (one day), JY18,000 (two days), JY24,000 (three days)
Info: Rock In Japan Festival: 0180-993-611
World music: vocalists
Tokyo Summer Festival
Entering its 17th year, the Tokyo Summer Festival is the city's high culture music
festival, focusing on classical, world and new music. With the theme of
"Voices," this year's festival will see a range of unusual singers from around
the world and Japan converge on the metropolis to perform in a diversity of traditional
styles at a range of venues during the month of July. Just a few of the intriguing acts
slated to perform are: Ahn Suk-Son/Voices of the Heart, who will perform a program of
traditional Korean music on July 12 at Katsushika Symphony Hills; Kass Mady Diabat from
Mali, who will recite and sing the griot (epic) of the Mali Empire on July 15 at
Sogetsu Hall; Uighur, Kyrgiz and Kazakh Masters of Xinjiang, who will present the program
"Voices and Instruments of the Silk Road" at Tokyo Opera City on July 26; and
"Voices of Japan 2," in which blind priests from Kyushu will chant Buddhist
sutras while playing the biwa at Sogetsu Hall on July 22.
When: July 9-28
Where: Venues around Tokyo
Tickets: Prices vary according to each event
Info: Tokyo Summer Festival Ticket Center 3400-5999, www.arion-edo.org
Newport Jazz Festival in
While Japan has a dedicated and dynamic jazz scene, its jazz festivals have faced
difficulty in establishing themselves. With the Ocean Blue festival bowing out this year,
Japan's version of the storied Newport Jazz festival - launched in 1954 - is the only game
in town. The lack of competition means that Newport can expect to equal or better the
20,000 fans who converged on the green slopes of Madarao ski resort in Nagano last year.
This year's festival, says promoter Miwako Sato, will feature jam bands to bring in a
younger crowd and mix things up. Meanwhile, the headliner comes in the form of saxophonist
Wayne Shorter, a veteran of Miles Davis' group and Weather Report, who will be performing
with his quartet. Also on the bill are the Latin sounds of the Arturo Sandoval Sextet, the
Kurt Elling Quartet, the jam band funk of Karl Denson's Tiny Universe, Japan's Tropical
Jazz Big Band, and New Face/Toku. The festival is divided into two events: the afternoon
"Jazz Picnics" for the headlining performances and the "Night
Sessions," in which members get together for more unstructured, free-form jam
When: August 3-5
Where: Madarao Kogen, Iiyama City, Nagano Prefecture
Tickets: Jazz Picnic (11am-4pm): JY6000 (adv), JY7000 (door). Night
Session (7:30-9:30pm): JY4000 (adv), JY5000 (door). Jazz Picnic & Night Session:
JY8000 (adv). Call Kyodo Tokyo: 03-3498-9999.
Info: Madarao Kogen Jazz Festival Committee: 0269-64-3081
Launched in 1999 by leading Japanese electro idol Takyu Ishino as a showcase for his Denki
Groove unit and his techno superstar friends from Europe and the US, Wire has quickly
grown into Japan's largest indoor rave. This year's Wire01 will feature, in addition to
Ishino and Denki Groove, UK star C.J. Boland, Finland's Ural 13 Diktators, Chicago techno
innovator Jeff Mills, Germany's Westbam and DJ Hell, and Japan's own dependable Fumiya
Tanaka and DJ Tasaka. A pre-night party will also take place at Liquid Room on Friday
before the event kicks off.
When: September 8
Where: Yokohama Arena
Info: Odyssey: 03-3796-9999
Solstice Music Festival
Drawing over 5000 ravers to the slopes of Mt Fuji last year, the Solstice Music Festival
has quickly taken its place alongside Equinox, Vision Quest, Anoyo and Arcadia as one of
Japan's leading psychedelic trance parties. This summer's Solstice Music Festival 2001
will see a formidable array of talents from the trance world descend on Motosu Highland, a
different location from last year - but also near Mt Fuji - for two days of alternating
madness and chilling out in the mountains. From abroad, leading acts include Shpongle, the
new unit launched by Simon Potsford of Hallucinogen, KoxBox, Synthetic and many more. From
Japan, the always-dependable DJ Tsuyoshi will of course be on hand as master of
ceremonies. For a preview of the festivities, check out Shpongle's CD, Tales Of The
Inexpressible, due out July 1 on Solstice Music.
When: July 20-21
Where: Motosu Highland, Yamanashi Prefecture
Info: Solstice Music: 03-5775-3388
of the Heart
World music: percussionists
Since its inception 14 years ago, the Earth Celebration at the end-of-the-earth location
of Sado Island has been one of Japan's best-kept secrets, and one of those ultimate
destinations for world travelers in the know. Launched by the Sado-based Kodo traditional
wadaiko drum ensemble, the festival sees percussion specialists the world over make the
trek to the island for performances, workshops and all-night jam sessions. This year's
EC2001 features India's acclaimed Taal Ensemble, presented by tabla master Zakir Hussain,
who will be joining with Kodo for a cross-cultural percussion extravaganza. Another
hallmark of the festival is the opportunity to take part in a variety of workshops in
wadaiko, Haka Hawaiian percussion and other percussion and dance traditions.
When: August 17-18
Where: Ogi Town, Sado Island
Tickets: Prices vary according to each event
Info: KODO: 0259-86-3630.
Reggae: The End?
Throughout the '80s and '90s, massive reggae festivals became an indispensable feature of
summer in Japan. Reggae Sunsplash Japan and Reggae Japansplash drew hordes of young
Japanese dreadlocks to groove to the sounds of big Jamaican names such as Gregory Isaacs,
Dennis Brown and Inner Circle. But with the end of Reggae Sunsplash Japan a few years ago,
and promoter Tomorrow World throwing in the towel on Reggae Japansplash this year, this
summer will be the first in memory without any major reggae festival. As none of the
promoters contacted by TC are planning any in the future, the so-called
"reggae boom" in Japan may have finally run its course. Fans will have to
content themselves with occasional smaller concerts at venues such as Liquid Room, and
Tokyo's still numerous collection of reggae bars.