It’s apt that Rock in Japan takes place in between Fuji Rock and Summer Sonic. While Fuji sprawls myriad bands over a vast, scenic site and Summer Sonic hosts acts for a younger crowd in an exhibition hall and stadium, RIJ combines the best of both.
Staged at Hitachi Seaside Park in Ibaraki Prefecture, the slogan, as heard over the PA, of this year’s event was “love, peace and freedom.” It may sound trite, but you won’t find a more relaxed festival. And yet RIJ is geared fiercely toward younger music fans, as a conservative lineup of the latest chart-topping Japanese bands, smartly designed official merchandise and mirrors on the outdoor washbasins attest.
We asked the punters — of which there were 49,000 per day over three days — what they thought of this year’s festival, and even found a foreigner among the otherwise homogenous hordes.
Japan Times says: Their latest songs may not quite deliver, but at RIJ, the big news was that Polysics had brand new outfits. Out with the boiler suits, in with the stripy tees and sailor hats. Camp electropunk ahoy!
Our fan says: It was so good, I thought I was going to die. I got my Polysics boiler suit by mail order and the glasses are official Polysics goods. They cost ¥15,000. Their new outfits weren’t what I was expecting at all. I won’t be buying them because I haven’t got much money (laughs). This year alone, I’ve seen Polysics about four times. (Cho, 22, office worker)
JT says: It was only 11 a.m., but Oreskaband raised the roof of the Wing Tent with a ludicrously energetic set of poppy ska-punk bluster. They may be young, but these girls already have a bunch of infectious tunes that make them an irresistible live proposition. Dance? I nearly burst.
Our fan says: Oreskaband were extremely exciting. They’re such great players, even though they’re really young. I saw them about year ago — that’s when I bought this T-shirt, look!
My favorite member is the trombone player. She’s such a talented performer. I was dancing right at the very front. I was totally squished, but it was ace. It doesn’t matter that they played at 11 a.m. — there were loads of people.
I’m staying here for three days, but I’m not camping. I think the campsite looks a bit rubbish. This is my second time at RIJ. My favorite meal so far has been the umechazuke (pickled plum with rice), which I bought in the Hungry Field. (Tomohisa Watanabe, 26, office worker)
Vola & The Oriental Machine
JT says: Strong bass grooves, powerhouse drums, Latin percussion, scratchy guitars, weird melodies, androgynous vocals, a gong and lots of great hair — what more could you ask for? How about a singer with stars on his T-shirt to match those in his eyes?
Our fan says: I really enjoyed it. (Yutaka) Aoki, the guitarist, played supercool solos. My favorite part of the show was his solo on “Comeback In Darkness.” He’s really cool. And the drums were really intense too. I’ve seen them loads of times. (Urei Katogi, 22, student)
A foreigner speaks
What brought you to RIJ?
Daniel Markiewicz, English teacher, Canadian: The atmosphere and the strange band names. Have you seen some of these? Some marvelous names on day two. You’ve got Asparagus, Super Butter Dog, Special Others, Does, Doping Panda. We’re mostly just picking bands on the strength of their name.
Who has been the best band today?
Well, Polysics are always good. Guitar Wolf have yet to come. Ogre You Asshole were good too. Also a good name. They were actually pretty mellow. And we’ve missed Puke!, apparently.
This is my third time here. Last year was the best, but I just love the atmosphere. The vibe is pleasant, the weather’s nice, you can lie down on the grass. I was nursing a melon for half a day. They sell frozen melons over there. They fill it with soda water, and before you can eat it you have to cuddle it like a little baby for about 15 minutes. How many places are there where you can nurse a melon, lie on the grass and listen to music?
Why are there so few foreigners here?
No foreign bands, I guess. Everyone’s saving their money for Fuji Rock and Summer Sonic. I come as much for the bands I don’t know as the ones I do know. And, y’know, when in Rome, listen to Roman rock music. Last year on the Forest Stage I discovered Vola & The Oriental Machine and went off and bought their CDs.
HiGE on the rampage
With their skewed approach to grunged-up rock music, Tokyo’s HiGE were the weirdly wonderful headliner of Rock In Japan’s Sound Of Forest Stage. Taking to the stage with painted faces and sounding like one part Nirvana and four parts madness (the mental condition, not the band), the five-piece launched into off-kilter tunes that could — and should — be anthems. Singer/guitarist Hisashi Suto climbed the lighting rigs, kissed the colored plastic gels on the stage lights, then tightrope-walked along the crowd barrier, while his band delivered dual-drum debauchery on stage.
We collared a slightly drunk, giggling Suto backstage before the show to find out his thoughts on Japan’s friendliest summer festival.
How are you enjoying RIJ?
We haven’t played yet — we’re just drinking beer. And . . . (mimes shooting up heroin). Just joking!
You’re the headliner on the Sound of Forest Stage. How does that feel?
We don’t have a particular feeling about that, we just want to break the order, twist people’s expectations, maybe upset things a little. (Mimes pushing over the table.) We wanna smash things up — not literally, but we want to challenge the very boring image people have of rock music and break it. Most of the bands here are very gentle. We’re much more aggressive.
You recently opened the White Stage at Fuji Rock. Which is better, playing first on a huge stage or last on a smaller one?
It doesn’t matter at all. We feel just as good on any stage, whether we’re top or bottom. We go crazy wherever we play.
Have you been to see any bands today?
Not yet, we’re just sitting here drinking. But last year I did. Everyone’s very gentle and kind at this festival. It’s totally different from Fuji Rock, the way people enjoy themselves is worlds apart. The people who come to Rock In Japan are here to see the bands, whereas people go to Fuji Rock for the atmosphere, the feeling of being in the mountains, or whatever.
OK, now let me ask you a question. Which festival do you prefer?
I prefer Rock In Japan, because the weather is better and it’s more easygoing.
I’m really surprised to hear that. But since you said it, I now agree with you (laughs)! Wherever I am, that’s my favorite place. I always want to enjoy myself wherever I am.
How about the weather here?
The weather doesn’t matter at all. Anything’s OK. Thunder is fine. If it rains we’ll do the best we can, and if the weather’s good we’ll do the best we can. We’re strong; we’re not influenced by the weather at all.
I’ve seen a lot of people wearing HiGE T-shirts. They all seemed like weirdos. Why do you think your music attracts such strange people?
I don’t think our fans are strange. I don’t understand anyone who doesn’t understand us and our fans. I’m normal. The people who like HiGE are normal. Everyone else is strange.
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