In a city filled to the brim with music festivals of various shapes and sizes all year round, there’s nevertheless something uniquely intriguing about Yume Fest, which takes place this Saturday in Tokyo’s Harajuku district. The festival is keen to stress its grassroots origins, reflected in its refreshingly ambitious aim to cover everything from music to fashion and art in a terse four-hour time slot, with live painters and visual artists performing simultaneously alongside musicians and DJs.
The bill features an eclectic mix of acts that lean toward the experimental side of hip-hop and urban music, with an emphasis on artists from New York and Tokyo. The two scenes are united in headliner Kojoe, a Queens-bred, Niigata-born rapper who during his decade-long stint in NYC became the first Asian artist to sign for Rawkus Records, the forward-thinking independent hip-hop label largely credited for revitalizing underground hip-hop, with genre-defining releases from Mos Def and Talib Kweli. Kojoe faces the unenviable task of trying to achieve simultaneous breakthroughs in the two hugely different international markets, a feat previously achieved with varying success by bilingual Japanese rappers Shing02 and Verbal (of m-flo fame), albeit at entirely opposing ends of the underground/mainstream divide.
Kojoe is joined by Raye 6, a larger-than-life female solo artist who has collaborated with the likes of Ghostface Killah and Joe Budden, but who is visually more Prince than Prince Rakeem, with costumes that would be at home at most hallucinogen- fueled trance raves. Her live performance promises to be one of the most interesting of the night as she combines a psychedelic brand of R&B with a sexually charged stage persona that reinvents the “girl power” message in an R-rated context. Other acts include mainstays of the Tokyo club scene DJ Kira and P.O.L.Style, as well as U.S. rapper Mecca Godzilla.
Given its unusually short time slot, it might be more appropriate to call the night a showcase rather than a festival. But with a strong concept and booking that refuses to just play it safe, Yume Fest might just live up to its name.
Yume Fest takes place Nov. 12-13. The main music performance will be held at Ucess Lounge in Shibuya Ward, Tokyo, at 6 p.m. on Nov. 13. For more information, visit www.theyumefest.com.