The first of my articles on this year’s Fuji Rock is up now on MTV 81. It’s a report on the Rookie A Go-Go stage, where the amateur or little-known bands play in The Palace of Wonder, almost a little separate free mini-festival of it’s own just outside the main gates.
To be honest, the first night was pretty horrible, although obviously in the report I tried to be more positive than that, firstly because, you know, MTV and all that — gotta be nice! — and also because as I’ve said before, I don’t think putting the boot into new and unknown artists is a particularly edifying exercise of journalistic principle. I will just use this blog to flag up the bands I really did enjoy though, and the first one to really grab my attention was the Homecomings.Homecomings: Sunday
M’colleague Patrick St. Michel has already written about them at The Japan Times and he’s bang on in singling out their harmonies as being what sets them apart from so many other Japanese indiepop bands (although there’s a lot of other good stuff out there which I wrote about in a different article recently too and I’ve just realised I really should have remembered to blog) and if you ignore their lapse into the tedious indiepop cliché of the found-footage music video, there’s something charming and fresh sounding about their music.Oboreta Ebi no Kenshi Houkokusho: Washa-washa!! Gugyagyagyagya!!!
Mitsume are a good band but the vague, milling, casual crowd wasn’t really tuned into their more subtle charms, and while I also quite liked Suichuu Zukan, it was Oboreta Ebi no Kenshi Houkokusho (“autopsy report of drowned shrimp”), henceforth known as “that bloody prawns band” that stole the show, which they did mainly by dressing up in fluorescent prawn costumes, but also, it has to be said, by making genuinely interesting music. The gimmick started to grate a bit after 20 minutes or so, and unless they can incorporate some costume changes, I can see them being quite an annoying prospect over the 40-minute or so set they’d be expected to perform if they graduate to one of the bigger stages, but anyway, it would be spiteful and childish not to admit that they were good.
On the final night, it was all about Oni no Migiude. There’s no easy way to do justice to how awesome they were, and they were one of my top five acts of the entire festival, not just their own little indie bands ghetto. A friend of mine said their melodies sounded “Asian”, although I could hear stuff that reminded me of what might have been Bulgarian traditional music or God knows what else.Oni no Migiude: Sono Kane wo Narasu Toki
They were a bit new wave, which obviously endeared them to me greatly, and a bit krautrock, which endeared them to me more, but they were very difficult to pin down. They seemed to have an understanding of harmony, counterpoint and musical structure that went beyond your average Tokyo underground band and which suggested that they might be music students with at least some classical or music theory training. In any case, what they did was simple and complex at the same time, as well as being hauntingly beautiful and strangely funky.Oni no Migiude: Peroron
I came out of the festival still with a few questions about the extent to which Rookie A Go-Go is useful. If Fuji Rock are trying to provide a forum to develop new music and give it a chance to break out of the underground ghetto, that’s laudable, and by giving one band a year a chance to go up to one of the main stages, they’re making a small step towards that. However, the booking policy and the casual festival crowd who are going to be most of the audience at Rookie, seems set up to just reinforce the kind of thing that they already book for the main festival, since fans who came to the festival to see certain kins of bands are just going to vote for “Rookie” bands who sound like what they already came to see. Developing new music and helping new, original music grow an audience probably still needs to be done in small clubs and through touring — big festivals, even ones as diverse and enormous as Fuji Rock, are I suspect really only of marginal value. That said, however, it’s still a venture I strongly approve of, and despite a few awful bands this year, I came out of it feeling glad for having been there.