The second of my Fuji Rock articles is up on Nippon.com. With this one I focused primarily on the main festival, looking at the way Japanese and overseas music interacts. As I say in the article, it’s very rare to find Japanese music pitched up together with foreign stuff, so festivals like Fuji Rock (and the dreadful Summer Sonic) give a rare opportunity to see how they stack up against each other and how similar audiences react to each.
One point that I felt from the festival is that it would be very hard to imagine the bigger Japanese acts successfully making the return trip to a foreign festival. For all their popularity, Brahman are a thoroughly mediocre band by most Western standards. It’s clear that Japanese people listen to music in a slightly different way to Brits like myself, with the different musical traditions training our ears to expect different sounds, and as a foreigner, you tend to focus on the parts that sound familiar and tune out the bits that fall outside your experience. I’ve been here for twelve years now and spent more of my life as a music nerd in Japan than I did back in the UK, so I don’t think I do that so much anymore. However, that said, I think I sort of hang somewhere in the middle rather than really hear music as a Japanese person would. In any case, those caveats aside, I still think Brahman are rubbish. Japanese fans seem to treat them as a sort of lovable nostalgia trip that they kind of know suck and definitely know aren’t cool, but can’t help enjoying anyway.
The Japanese stuff that seemed like it would work best overseas was the stuff that came out of leftfield and didn’t really address any musical tradition in a direct way. Shugo Tokumaru has already gained some level of international attention, and Kenta Maeno was enjoyably eclectic. Uhnellys were just fucking intense, and there were a handful of bands on the Rookie A Go-Go stage (Homecomings for sure, and oddballs like that bloody prawns band and Oni no Migiude) that seemed like they’d be warmly received wherever they went. Chara I’m less sure about, but she was definitely good, displaying a power and charisma live that is only hinted at by her recorded work.
Looking a bit wider, one wonders where the more mainstream or popular Japanese acts who could bridge the gap with overseas bands are. Mostly playing at Rock in Japan I suspect, and it would be easy to imagine Sakanaction working in an international context. Capsule I have problems with. They’re really good, and Yasutaka Nakata is the closest thing mainstream Japanese music has to a genius, but Capsule’s music drifts too often into sounds that would be dismissed as goofy by electronic music fans in Europe (Americans made a star out of Skrillex so all bets are off as far as they’re concerned). Just to be clear, I’m not saying he should be trying to make cool European-style electro, just that I suspect he’d have his work cut out convincing music fans to take his work with Capsule seriously — his Perfume/Kyary stuff would have no such problems since as idol music, it forces listeners to check in their ideas of cool with their coats.
As for me, I was blown away by Mari Natsuki, and I don’t care that she’s in her sixties, I have a bit of a crush on her. It was music that needed to be played to a Japanese audience, and really wouldn’t work overseas, but it was all the more powerful for how specific its focus was. She knew her crowd and worked them with the confidence of a diva.