Monday, 18 August 2008

Rising Sun Rock Festival 2008 in EZO

So hey! I went to an honest to god camping Rock Festival!

The last full on camping rock festival I attended was Glastonbury, many years ago, the year that David Bowie played and as many people jumped the fences as paid to get in. I still hold the opinion that while the music was wonderful, that was the worst place I have ever been in my life, so I kinda doubted I'd ever attend one of these things again. However, this is Japan, so while there are a number of things that you'll never be able to get away from at festivals (too much walking, crowds, unhealthy food, bad weather, camping etc.) it was wonderful really. The campsite was fairly quiet at night, which was symptomatic of a wider civility that the Japanese bring to rock festivals - i.e. don't act like a cock to other people. Crime never seemed to be an issue. The toilets never ran out of toilet paper. Seriously, the whole weekend... that's incredible. And although you did have to cope with using the Japanese squat versions of portaloos - think about it and that's actually cleaner and more hygenic than seated western style toilets. Do you see? I can draw you a diagram if you want.

The weather was pretty hard to stick. When we arrived it was raining, and it only got heavier while we were trekking around looking for our campsite and setting up our comically tiny tent (we had to buy one the night before as it turned out we couldn't borrow the one we thought we could). The sky for the whole first day was a dark grey ceiling that made the whole thing feel like an indoor event. The second day was glorious sunshine and inevitable sunburn.

The festival is a two day event, but the second day runs until 5 in the morning so that you can see the sun come up. This meant that at 4.30 in the morning the headliners Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra hit the main stage in gleaming silver suits and while
there were still plenty of people packing out the main standing area and going crazy, there were many people lurching around like slack-jawed zombies and praying for the first shuttle bus home.

There were lots of fun Japanese festival things like a small karaoke stage, a weirdly spectacular smoking area, an endless merch stand with a section for every artist, and collectable pin badges. This last thing was pretty interesting, there was a big row of gatcha-gatcha (bubble) machines, selling random 1" pins for 100 yen each. Every artist had a pin plus the festival had a bunch too, and collecting them all was quite a task so next to the machines was a whole tent for trading the badges, and people were taking it very seriously. As someone pointed out, it's pretty much rock-fest-pokemon.

The music was incredible too. I was pretty much desperate to go just to see Tokyo Jihen, Shiina Ringo and Zazen Boys and none of them let me down. I didn't bother taking snaps of them playing, they wouldn't have come out and they wouldn't have captured how great those artists were. Tokyo Jihen performed in robes while Ringo wore a kimono with the Tokyo Jihen logo and sang through a megaphone. The musicians were phenomenal and Ringo's extremely restrained, stylised performance was great. For her solo performance the next day she reworked some of her biggest songs for piano and string quartet, everyone dressed like doctors, and it was also great. Zazen Boys however... holy crap. I'm not too sure about their last single (their new album is out next month) so I wasn't sure what to expect, but they absolutely blew me away. Tighter than the tightest thing you can think of, their songs "Stop & Go" - as their singer joked - with brutal, thrilling intensity. A lot of Japanese rock music is in debt to western music to a large degree but Mukai, their leader, has carved out something unique and to me they have to be one of the best rock bands in the world. Yuki also became their new no. 1 fan too, that's how good they were.

Buffalo Daughter, in the lovely Crystal Palace building, were incredible too. Bloodthirsty Butchers despite the awesome, screaming guitar of Hisako from Number Girl, only reinforced my opinion of them as "pretty good". DJ Krush was incredible. The Vooredoms (Boredoms, whatever) were amazing. Mr. Children... kinda sucked.

And of course, it was a rock festival, so there was lots of hanging out with good people too, and sitting on the grass, and dozing in the shade. It was really a pretty great way to end my holiday.

My flickr set is here, for a lot more of the experience!

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