You can’t fault the organizers of Fuji Rock Festival for failing to predict how thoroughly the COVID-19 outbreak would engulf the planet when they released a solemn announcement in late January, titled “Festival Crisis.”
Granted, those were earlier, simpler times. But it still felt a teeny bit hyperbolic to speak of a “crisis” in the context of a discussion focused not on the climate or public health emergencies, but on garbage, good manners and camping chairs.
First, some context: After hitting a thin patch during the previous decade, the past few years of Fuji Rock have been a roaring success, even if torrential rain has left the site looking like a scene from Sam Mendes’ “1917.”
While it once seemed to be preaching mostly to a band of aging converts who could tell you exactly who headlined back in 2003, the festival now draws a younger and more international crowd. This has given it a welcome injection of vitality, but also put strain on its laissez-faire attitude.
That’s presumably why the opening shot in this year’s promotional campaign was a lengthy list of prohibitions, aimed at curtailing boorish behavior and reducing the mountains of garbage generated each year. Most of the rules weren’t new, and those that were felt like a welcome corrective, but the cumulative effect was like getting dressed down by an officious schoolteacher.
An English version of the announcement hailed the festival’s community spirit and called for a return to collective responsibility. The original Japanese didn’t make the same effort to sugarcoat things.
That was then, of course. Now that every day seems to bring a new and more alarming update about the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s hard to imagine things ever returning to a state of sufficient normality in which you can wonder if your camping chair complies with regulations (it probably doesn’t), or sit back and say: “Gee whiz, I didn’t realize The Strokes were still together.”
But they are, dear reader! What’s more, they’re set to headline this year’s Fuji Rock, assuming that we aren’t all still stuck at home then, re-watching old “Terrace House” episodes on Netflix and wondering how much longer the final roll of toilet paper will last.
In addition to The Strokes, audiences can look forward to a headlining set by Australian psych-pop titans Tame Impala, plus less guitar-centric sounds from Disclosure, FKA Twigs, Major Lazer and Mura Masa. All of them are repeat performers at a festival that prefers to keep its friends close and let its enemies play at urban rival Summer Sonic.
Summer Sonic isn’t happening in its usual form this year, of course, due to a certain major international sports event that also probably isn’t happening.
As for Fuji Rock, only international acts have been announced so far, but you can expect a sizable Japanese contingent. Maybe it’s foolish to expect anything at the moment. I’ve already bought my ticket. Reading lineups for festivals at the moment can feel like speculative fiction and, in the case of Fuji Rock’s, it’s fiction of a very comforting kind. Those who grumbled that some recent editions were too heavy on hip-hop will be delighted that the 2020 bill is crowned by representatives of that most enduring of genres: white men playing guitars.