Metamorphose welcomes Flaming Lips, Orbital to Japan

Rave faves Dub Squad to reunite for festival

by Jeff Hammond

Special To The Japan Times

The launch of Metamorphose just over a decade ago helped bring more choice to Japan’s summer music festival season. The event’s focus was on electronic-music acts, but over the years it has lived up to its name and broadened its lineup.

“When we started in 2000, there were only rock festivals or psychedelic trance raves,” explains festival organizer Mayuri Akama. “That was why I started Metamorphose — I wanted to listen to more of a variety of music outdoors.”

Akama notes that at the time Metamorphose was rather “unique,” but also that these days there are many more “unique” festivals that cater to many different types of music. Thus, “Metamorphose has changed, too. The music has become more diverse and includes club music, dub, jam and postrock bands, and many more.”

Despite branching out into new territory, dance music retains its grip on this year’s festival lineup. Scheduled to appear are British techno pioneers 808 State and Orbital (Leftfield announced earlier this week they would cancel their appearance due to one member’s illness), as well as DJs Derrick May, Cut Chemist and Moodymann.

Representing Metamorphose’s move toward new genres will be Galaxy 2 Galaxy, Ebo Taylor and The Afro Beat, and Nisennenmondai.

Akama is particularly looking forward to U.S. alternative act The Flaming Lips. The five-piece has never played Metamorphose before, though they have performed at Summer Sonic.

“I just can’t help getting excited,” she says, referring to the band’s live show. “There’ll be lots of confetti and balloons flying around, a sparkling mirror ball, and a huge LED screen.”

From finding the right venue to assuaging the locals of noise and other concerns, staging a festival is a mammoth task. “The challenges differ each time, depending on the situation each year,” says Akama. “The biggest challenge is booking artists. Sometimes it takes years to book top artists, but as we have became more credible, little by little it’s becoming easier to get them.”

Japanese acts have not been forgotten. Rave trio Dub Squad, consisting of Koji Nakanishi, Taro Yamamoto and Tatsuki Masuko, will be officially performing live together for the first time in seven years. Originally a reggae band, the trio embraced breakbeats and became prominent on the festival circuit, playing Fuji Rock and techno-music festival Rainbow 2000 in the late 1990s. After going on hiatus in 2004, the members kept busy with other projects. Masuko plays with improv band Rovo, and Yamamoto DJs regularly.

But the band says it wasn’t so difficult to work together again after such a long time, saying “We all see each other fairly regularly anyway, so we had no problem with communication. Maybe, it took us a little time to regain our sense of intuition, though.”

Intuition is the key word, here, as the group’s working method involves feeling their way through the music until it comes out right, with little resort to discussing the direction of a track.

“Our approach hasn’t really changed but maybe our sound and setup has become a little simpler,” the band says. “We are going to mainly play all new tracks this time. We are a live band, so we just want to get out there and play and see what the reaction is.”

Metamorphose branches out in yet another direction with a performance from New Orleans band Galactic, who played their brand of raw, live funk to audience’s here last year. Japan’s Deep Cover take the funk template into electronic territory, with the duo’s drummer and keyboard combination aiming to keep it dirty.

“They’re real electronic funk,” explains Akama. “People say there has been no one like them in Japan who can play this kind of funky music so tight, and I think it’s true.”

Akama also mentions Japanese quartet Rega while talking up Deep Cover. Being smaller local acts they might have been easier to get, but Akama admits with smaller bands it’s narrowing the choice that is the hard part.

“Rega are edgy, yet groovy and danceable — their live shows are so dynamic” she says. “I think they’re a great new band that has high potential and I’d like to introduce new, exciting artists at Metamorphose, no matter if they’re famous or not.”

Metamorphose takes place at Cycle Sports Center in Izu, Shizuoka Prefecture, on Sept. 3. (6 p.m.; ¥12,500 with extra costs for parking). For more information, visit www.metamo.info.