Creativeman President Naoki Shimizu says he had the perfect idea for this year’s Sonicmania. The event, an all-night party that comes ahead of Creativeman’s Summer Sonic music festival, would feature EDM heavyweight Skrillex and long-running synthpop outfit New Order as the headliners, bringing out young fans and seasoned punters in equal droves.
Unfortunately, this fantasy booking couldn’t happen due to scheduling, so Shimizu decided to nix Sonicmania altogether.
“I tried to think of other artists, but I didn’t think we could get the perfect booking,” Shimizu tells The Japan Times from an office packed with “Star Wars” memorabilia in Shibuya Ward. Hostess Entertainment will instead handle the only additional programming on top of the festival, an all-night bash with Dinosaur Jr., Animal Collective and more.
Shimizu has no shortage of other projects, though. In recent years, Creativeman has started putting on shows for Japanese acts in Europe and North America, while courting offers to spread the Summer Sonic brand across the burgeoning Southeast Asian market.
The company even got into the restaurant game, opening a Tokyo branch of New York eatery Cafe Habana in Daikanyama and buying the basement space beneath it that once housed Club Air, which they’ve turned into a new club and concert venue called Sankeys TYO.
“Now, Japanese clubs are so EDM-focused. They’re more about the VIP system and Champagne. I don’t like that,” Shimizu says, adding that he wants Sankeys to be more like a traditional club. “Air had a good image and brand, so I want to keep this image. That’s why I’ve kept the DJ booker from Air.”
Shimizu’s first priority, though, remains Summer Sonic. Creativeman’s signature music festival, it began in 2000 and is held concurrently over two days in Osaka and Tokyo. While it has grown in popularity, Shimizu says he wants to improve on a few shortcomings from 2015.
“Last year, we mainly booked dance and pop acts, and the audience was really excited to see them,” he says, “but in the past, we’ve booked big rock artists like the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Radiohead, and I think their audience didn’t turn out. We didn’t sell out last year.”
To remedy this, he has basically split the festival into two thematic days, with British dance outfit Underworld and American pop star Fergie headlining one day, and more rock-oriented acts — headlined by Radiohead — for the other. Although Summer Sonic remains an event where fans of nearly any genre can find something to enjoy, the number of rock bands seems higher this year. Shimizu points out appearances by rising British group The 1975 and Japanese heavyweights such as The Yellow Monkey and Sakanaction in particular.
“I wanted to book a Japanese artist before Radiohead, and checked out groups such as Radwimps, but my final answer was Sakanaction. They were the best to play before Radiohead,” he says. And the British band agreed.
Shimizu says Sakanaction could also eventually help solve a problem facing festivals in Japan and overseas.
“Look at Radiohead and Red Hot Chili Peppers,” he says, referring to the California alt-rock act that headlined this year’s Fuji Rock Festival. “These rock artists have been headlining festivals for 15 or 20 years. We don’t have new acts who can headline a festival.”
He adds that certain acts who can hold down a big-font spot in the West, such as Mumford & Sons, lack clout in Japan.
Still, at the moment he thinks Japan’s festival industry is healthy. Although many smaller events have sprouted nationwide, only two massive gatherings featuring international acts exist thus far: Summer Sonic and Fuji Rock.
“Everybody thinks Summer Sonic and Fuji Rock are fighting,” Shimizu says. “But the concepts are really different: countryside vs. urban festival. That’s why we are still here. We make sure to have a good relationship with Fuji Rock, and keep this market healthy.”
Shimizu went to Fuji Rock’s 20th anniversary festival this year, and was encouraged by how many young people he saw there.
One recent development Summer Sonic shares with Fuji Rock is an uptick in the number of Japanese acts on their rosters.
“Honestly, I didn’t like Japanese acts, that’s why Summer Sonic is really an overseas act festival,” Shimizu says with a laugh, before clarifying. “It wasn’t that I didn’t like Japanese acts, I just liked overseas artists more. But I think the quality of Japanese artists has jumped up as of late.”
It helps that Creativeman has put on shows for Japanese artists abroad recently, highlighted by gigs from Kyary Pamyu Pamyu and Man With A Mission.
“The festival is a good platform to introduce Japanese artists. And so many people from outside, especially Asia, come in,” he says.
Japanese highlights on the main Marine Stage include Suiyoubi no Campanella, [Alexandros] and Gesu no Kiwami Otome.
“We don’t mind the scandal, we are rock,” he says with a laugh, referring to Gesu’s lead singer Enon Kawatani’s highly covered affair with TV personality Becky. “As long as it isn’t drugs!”
His immediate plans rest in Asia. Creativeman has teamed up with Singaporean electronic festival ZoukOut on a stage at this year’s fest, laying groundwork for a possible edition of their festival in Japan. Shimizu says he has gotten offers to take the Summer Sonic brand to cities across Asia, but is in no rush, partially affected by false starts in South Korea and Shanghai (“it was so hard working with the government … it’s too soon to work with China”).
For now, he’s focused on Summer Sonic in Japan and a smattering of other Creativeman festivals, including a domestic-act-centric pair held in his hometown of Shizuoka, titled Fuji Sonic and Magurock (regarding the prior, which raised some eyebrows due to its similarity to Fuji Rock — “I think it’s funny. Don’t worry,” he reassures me while laughing). And he’s pretty confident Sonicmania will be back next year, his ideal lineup already taking shape.
“I don’t want to put on a 30 percent or 50 percent festival anywhere,” Shimizu says. “I want it to be over 80 percent — 100 percent!”
Summer Sonic takes place at QVC Marine Field and Makuhari Messe in Chiba, and Maishima in Osaka, on Aug. 20 and 21. One-day tickets cost ¥16,800, two-day tickets cost ¥30,500. For more information on timetables and performers, visit www.summersonic.com.
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