Geography as destiny might explain the different characters of the summer’s mega-festivals: Fuji Rock and Summer Sonic. The sylvan hills and babbling streams of Naeba have undoubtedly contributed to the slow insinuation of a hippie-dippie vibe at Fuji Rock, with its Field of Heaven — at first a tie-dyed afterthought — becoming an increasingly attractive venue. Even the bigger names are clamoring to play there. UA might appear out of place on the Heaven roster, but in the past year she has shed much of her R&B roots in favor of a looser, ethnically tinged ambient pop that should fit the bill nicely here.
The popularity of the Field of Heaven and its friendly ambience (no hulking security surrounding the stage) has led to this year’s creation of the Orange Court and the Gypsy Avalon. Be sure to check out Date Course Pentagon Royal Garden — which expands its jams into free jazz; Cicala-Mvta, which jams on Eastern European melodies with a touch of chindon; and the Indian edge of Asa-chang and Jun Ray, currently garnering praise in the British music press.
The main venue of Summer Sonic in Tokyo — Makuhari Messe’s impersonal concrete maze — evokes a different response entirely: urban alienation, confusion, aggression, in short just the sort of emotions that underlie much of the arty, new wave-influenced rock currently emerging from Stateside cities.
Summer Sonic’s roster includes three of this trend’s biggest names. Garage-pop heroes The Strokes need little introduction. The Rapture harkens back to the angular guitar sound and noisiness of New York’s no wave and while their recordings haven’t lived up to the hype, their live shows are apparently killers. Interpol has the dark, electronic drone of Joy Division, and rumor has it that their live shows, too, surpass anything on record.
As if to celebrate the arty new-wave scene past and present, Summer Sonic is also bringing over Blondie and Devo. Blondie hasn’t changed much in the last 20 years, but Debbie Harry has charisma that doesn’t require embellishment. Meanwhile, Devo’s Mark Mothersbaugh, who has carved a niche for himself writing music for children’s television, remains one of the weirdest purveyors of pop.
None of the newer bands exactly owe a musical debt to either Blondie or Devo, but new wave has always, in essence, been about style and delivery. A product of its environment perhaps?
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