Neon Gravity ready to jack the party at Fukuoka’s Sunset Live

by Shawn Despres

Summer’s end may be near, but music festival season is far from finished. Featuring 70 acts, the 18th edition of Fukuoka’s Sunset Live will take place Sept. 3-5. Situated along the shore of Keya Beach, the event’s picturesque surroundings boast plenty of greenery, sand and surf for the anticipated crowd of 15,500 to enjoy.

Concerts start each day just before noon and run until 9 p.m. Each of the main performance areas — Palm Stage, Beach Stage, Sunset Stage and Bamboo Stage — has its own space for live painting.

Sunset Live 2010′s predominantly homegrown bill includes jazz group Pe’z, funk band Mountain Mocha Kilimanjaro, dance DJ Fantastic Plastic Machine, rock ‘n’ roll revivalists The Bawdies, dancehall artist Ryo the Skywalker and New Orleans-styled brass band Black Bottom Brass Band. Fukuoka’s reggae pop duo Brown Sugar and Nontroppo, who play psychedelic prog rock with an island twist, will add some local flavor.

Among the up-and-comers worth checking out are Neon Gravity. Although the band started only two years ago, their newbie tag is not entirely accurate. Originally a solo performer, bassist and singer Rei Mastrogiovanni recruited sampler Konnie Aoki, guitarist Yoshimitsu “4432″ and drummer Abiko as backing musicians for two albums issued under his own name: 2006′s “Happiness!!” and 2007′s “Relations.”

“When we went into production for my third album together, we realized that we had become a proper band,” explains Mastrogiovanni. “The lines between being a soloist and a band disappeared and we became Neon Gravity.”

Two months after adopting their moniker, the Tokyo quartet were invited to open the Dance Stage at the Osaka leg of Summer Sonic. Feeling that their music wasn’t strong enough for a major festival, they shelved the tracks they had and quickly crafted more material for their set.

“In a period of a few weeks we created all new songs to play,” shares Mastrogiovanni. “Thank God we did that. The crowd went nuts, dancing and jumping to those new songs.”

After making a tour-only EP in October 2009, Neon Gravity began work on their official debut EP, “db.” Released on Aug. 27, it was written and recorded between last November and June. Brimming with potential, “db” is a highly charged mix of dance-driven anthems. Lead single “Party Jacker” dabbles in electro-rock while other cuts are peppered with funk, soul, hip-hop, dub and ska.

“An EP is like a preview; it’s a process before a band finds its complete identity,” says Mastrogiovanni. “With ‘db’ you can see exactly where we are headed.”

“Step Out” features guest vocals by Angelo Moore of the influential American ska and rock group Fishbone, though in this case Moore performs as his alter-ego Dr. Madd Vibe. Watching Moore in the studio was an inspirational moment for Neon Gravity.

“He listened to the track for a few minutes, wrote lyrics on his computer, and then went into the vocal booth and nailed his spot in one take,” says Mastrogiovanni. “We witnessed the quality, speed and precision of a real legend and realized the level we must strive to be at.”

Neon Gravity will showcase “db” at Sunset Live, their first performance in Fukuoka.

“I can already picture having an amazing time on the beach with music in the air and beers in our hands,” says Mastrogiovanni. “We heard everyone is incredibly friendly, people drink a lot, and the food is amazing.”

Despite the fest’s laid-back atmosphere, Mastrogiovanni is confident everyone will be bouncing along with him.

“The moment we hit our first note, it becomes a giant dance party, regardless of whether we’re in a club or on the beach.”

Neon Gravity play Sept. 3 at Sunset Live, Keya Beach, Fukuoka Prefecture. Three-day tickets cost ¥16,500; one-day tickets cost ¥6,500. For more information, visit www.beachcafesunset.com