Crowd-surfing in the blazing sunshine, vodka-fuelled midnight revelry, and majestic views of Mount Fuji. That’s what any reasonable person would expect from the Fuji Rock Festival. Actually, for us it involved none of these things, but I still had such a good time that I’m already planning for next year’s festival.
The first Fuji Rock Festival was held on the slopes of Mount Fuji about eight years ago, but it’s been relocated a couple of times. These days it’s held in a ski resort called Naeba, about an hour or two out of central Tokyo.
I would like to have gone last year, but arrived in Japan a bit too late to organize it. But this year, thanks largely to Jo’s organizational efforts, I made it. On Friday morning, 25 July 2003, Joanne and I met up with Lora, and the three of us set out in search of music and fun.
First we took a bullet train to the nearest station, then a shuttle bus to the festival site. Light rain started falling after we got out of the train, as we were in the queue for the shuttle bus. Luckily we got to sit down in the bus – the ride took about 40 minutes. When the bus arrived we could already hear music thumping away.
Walked to our lodgings, about 5 minutes from the festival grounds. Our room was pretty small – 6 tatami mats (about 3.5m by 2.5m). It was pretty cozy with the three of us in there. We unpacked (potato chips, picnic mat, red wine, vodka, etc.), rugged up, and headed out into the rain. We joined the long queue at the gate and exchanged our tickets for the bright yellow wristbands that would be our constant companions for the next three days.
It was still raining lightly.
We started by exploring the huge venue. Trees and bush everywhere, including some rather nice paths lined with stars and covered by trees. Underfoot, however, was like porridge.
This did not stop at least one hardy young woman from dressing as if she wandering the fashionable boutiques of Aoyama. I wonder how much of the festival grounds were impassable to her and her 8cm heels.
We found the Avalon stage area, which also had interesting little market shops, a massage stand, and best of all, a dozen or so food stalls. And not just the usual noodle soup and fried octopus – there was Indian curry, Chinese noodles, Thai food, Middle Eastern kebabs, and even a half-decent selection of vegetarian food (good news for Lora). And cheap too – my excellent bowl of Tun Tun Men hot noodle soup was just 500 yen. To top it all off, apart from the usual beer, there was a cocktail bar serving mixed spirits, Margaritas, daiquiris and all manner of other concoctions from a well-stocked bar. I would happily have stayed there for the rest of the night.
We watched the band on the stage as we ate our noodles and things. They were pretty good, managing to get the crown moving despite the rain. They also had a juggler on stage. More bands should do this.
Eventually we decided to move on, to see our first appointment – Death in Vegas. On the way we found a lot of mud and very, very slow-moving crowds. There was one whole huge outdoor stage that we couldn’t get to without risking our necks on a muddy slope. Good thing there was so much else to see.
We arrived at the Red Marquee with relief – this was the only stage with a covered audience area. Saw the end of Eastern Youth’s set (three Japanese guys yelling with guitars – the crowd loved ‘em) and then waited for Death in Vegas. There was a DJ playing some fantastic records – crunching bass-heavy instrumental mayhem – I should have tried to find out who it was.
Death in Vegas had absolutely no stage presence, despite having two guitars and two basses as well as keyboards and drums. During the whole show, none of them said a word.
They had a screen showing weird little film clips, which gave at least some visual focus.
They also had a lot of different coloured lights.
The music was really good though. Their instrumentals just build and build, with lots of texture to maintain interest, and the sound was perfect – loud but not too load. Their music really needs to be played at high volume – that’s why they sound so much better live than on record. (I thought their first album was a bit boring.)
I was a bit disappointed that they didn’t play Aisha. Iggy Pop was at the festival too, so I thought there’d be a good chance that he’d join them on stage for that song. But I guess not.
The rain continued as we squelched back to the main stage where Macy Gray was singing away. She seemed quite fun – She thanked the crowd in English and asked any bilingual people to translate for their Japanese friends. She did know one Japanese word: “arigato” (thank you). That phrase, and its variants “domo arigato” and “arigato gozaimasu”, was used by most of the non-Japanese performers we saw during the festival. It’s nice they made the effort.
After this, we decided we were wet enough. We trudged home, playing a game based on us complaining about how miserable we were. It went something like this:
- Jo: I’m cold.
- Lora: I’m cold and wet.
- Bennett: I’m cold, wet, and miserable.
- Jo: I’m cold, wet, and miserable, and my shoes are full of water.
- (and so on, until:)
- I’m cold, wet, and miserable, my shoes are full of water, my nose is running, my toes are frozen and my feet hurt, I can see my breath, I’m hungry and my knuckles are white.
- (and so on)
Finally we ran out of complaints and made it back to the hostel, where we changed into drier clothes. Sadly, I had only one pair of shoes, my trusty Caterpillar boots, which were full of water (and my toes were frozen, etc.). So I had to put them back on as we headed out in search of food.
We didn’t have to look far. There was a cute little bar kinda place about 1 minute away, so we wandered in. The three of us sat down and ordered beer and edamame (salted soybeans in their pods), a popular beer snack. They were excellent, so we proceeded to order lots more food – I don’t remember what we ordered, but it was varied and delicious, even the stuff that I didn’t recognise. We ordered too much – I had to finish the rice bowl by myself, poor thing. We went home, thought about drinking the vodka, and fell asleep.
And then there was the next day…