It almost doesn’t feel like a music festival. Your feet aren’t stamped to death, no-one’s pushing your back, your safety never really feels threatened, the crush of the crowd is more like a cuddle, and it has to be one of the only music festivals in the world where the food is of restaurant quality.
The annual Fuji Rock Festival came to a close yesterday, with 120,000 music lovers from Japan and the world over making the pilgrimage to the Naeba ski resort for three days of fun and frivolities.
But it’s not just the gentile politeness of the crowd that makes this music festival so special. Or the location – the surrounding mountains of the central Niigata prefecture bring an amazing sense of freedom and peace to the area. It’s that the loos are always clean and fully stocked with loo paper, and there’s copious amounts of disinfectant hand wash provided. And did I mention – festival food that actually tastes delicious.
The first day of the festival had most of the acts that made the ticket price worthwhile: Lily Allen . . . Peaches . . . Simian Mobile Disco . . . M83 . . . Oasis . . . White Lies.
American indie rock band Longwave started the day off. When they played ‘Everywhere You Turn’ from their second album The Strangest Thing the crowd began dancing and singing to the NYC outfit’s tunes with carefree abandon and the good-time mood was established for the day.
The night before the rain had set in and during the day it alternated between various levels: spitting, coming in from a sideways direction, drizzle, and just general ‘bucketing it down’. Wellies were the order of the day as festival-goers tried to hold their balance as they trudged through the water and mud trying not to spill their beer.
Next were White Lies on the Green Stage (the main stage of the festival). Lead singer Harry McVeigh only had to utter the words “I love the feeling when we lift off, Watching the world so small below” and the crowd was in raptures. Fear didn’t have a hold of anyone as the crowd visibly did lift off. The rain only added to the memorableness of the moment with no one wanting his or her feet to hit the ground. It wasn’t even 1pm yet.
Cut to 2pm in the Red Marquee and M83 were playing like it was midnight and they were the main act. For many this was the highlight show of the festival as the French band tore up the stage. More punchier, rockier and tighter live than their albums suggest, M83 really did own the sky.
Then if it couldn’t get any better, Peaches came on stage stripping down to a variety of outfits – angular jackets, a lycra leotard, a jagged belt across her midriff that spelt out her name in a way that looked like the KISS logo – and ‘Talk To Me’ and ‘Fuck The Pain Away’ kept the crowds feet moving, hands in the sky and smiles on their faces. It wasn’t so much listening to music, but participating in live performance art.
Lily Allen, getting skinnier by the minute, came on stage in a designer dress, pale blue shoes that looked like they had heels at least 10 inches high, a sparkling blue mask painted around her eyes, vivid purple lipstick and a shaggy bobbed hairstyle.
Dressed like a lady, acting like a sex bomb and looking like a woman in control, she had the crowd eating out of her hand as all the hits like ‘Smile’, ‘Littlest Things’ and ‘The Fear’ came out. Smoking and sitting on the corner of the stage (and asking the cameras not to film a close up of her as she stood back up), she also covered the Britney Spears hit ‘Womaniser’ and on closing she mockingly asked the audience if they liked country music as she began singing ‘Not Fair’ to rapturous applause.
The largest outdoor music event in Japan isn’t just known for the quality of artists that play the bill, but also for its commitment to the environment. Volunteers directed festival revelers how to sort their rubbish for recycling, and plastic bags were handed out to collect your own litter – though for many they became another line of defense against the incessant rain. The festival created the atmosphere where it just felt plain wrong to throw your beer cup on the ground while queuing for a refill. Many festival-goers even carried small portable ashtrays with them to prevent litter.
Not only is Fuji Rock Festival peaceful with its mountainous background, hilly trails and sparkling streams, there’s also an onsen nearby to relax in if the backwards and forwards march from the beer tent to the stage gets to be too much. Though walking through the festival with the stages spread out through acres of forests can be just as relaxing so long as you’re not rushing to catch a band.
But back to the music. Patti Smith, who looked more than a little ravaged by time, came on as the night came in and the mountains behind formed a silhouette that created a perfectly natural amphitheatre. Paul Weller sang ‘Shout To The Top’, ‘The Changing Man’ and other hits as festival goers killed time before Simian Mobile Disco were on at the Red Marquee.
There was no gradual warm up, nor a gentle build up to a crashing crescendo as the English duo began their performance. It was just hard from the first beat as they played their all too danceable beats with the right hooks to an appreciative crowd, all in the name of a good time. ‘Hustler’ brought the crowd – now all confirmed fans – to its knees, with many revelers torn between staying and seeing the set out, or leaving to watch headliners Oasis.
Looking rather bored and non-fussed with it all, Liam Gallagher in a baggy khaki anorak sang the Oasis anthems to a crowd that just wanted to sing and feel the festival spirit of many voices becoming one. ‘Wonderwall’, ‘Champagne Super Nova’ and ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’ took those old enough back to the 90’s in a heightened state of nostalgia.
No sooner was Oasis off the stage did the crowd then disperse to other stages, with many choosing to see the night out watching Gang Gang Dance in the Red Marquee.
Saturday saw a slow start as finally the clouds broke and blue sky could be seen. For the 15,000 people camping in the mountainside this was a welcome relief. Being battered by solid rain for two nights straight, the city of multi-coloured tents was looking more than a little rain damaged.
Back in the central area, sitting in the newly found sun, drinking the day away and eating food like margarita wood oven fired pizzas, salt and pepper squid and scallops with shallots, people slowly made their way to various stages; whether it was to chill out to Räfven at the Café de Paris tent, or to listen to Ben Harper and Relentless7, Bright Eyes or Dinosaur Jr.
The night culminated in Franz Ferdinand headlining the main stage. Many in the audience won’t be able to get the ringing of a furious version of ‘This Fire’ out of their ears for a long time to come. Most festival-goers then spent the remainder of the evening in the Red Marquee. Playing until 5am were Fake Blood, 80kidz, The Bloody Beetroots, The Shoes and Crookers. It was soon daylight and time for a few hours sleep before starting again . . .
But for many the third day was just too much. Music was an after thought as tents were packed, raging hangovers were in full force and three days without a shower, a comfortable bed and minimal sleep were getting too much for some to bear.
Heading back to Tokyo on the train, some of the attendees didn’t want to wash the mud off them, as it was a reminder of a time in their lives when reality couldn’t touch them. It was just the music, their friends, lanterns hanging in the trees and no obligations – just freedom, fun and partying.
Fuji Rock Festival 2010 can’t come quick enough.