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Japan summer music festival guide

10 Comments
By Dan Grunebaum

Festival diehards have by now mapped out their summers, but the rest of us may just be starting to consider our summer music festival plans. From pricey weekend blowouts to in-town afternoons to far-flung island adventures, Japan’s music festival scene caters to every style and budget imaginable. Recent years have even seen an influx of Asian visitors making Japan’s music fests part of their destination travel, easing the challenges facing the music biz in the form of the nation’s youth population crash.

Fuji Rock Festival

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The Green Stage at Fuji Rock Festival comes alive at night. Image: DAN GRUNEBAUM

The granddaddy of the lot, Fuji Rock Festival, takes a different tack for its 2018 edition at its traditional location deep in the Niigata mountains. In place of the rock and electronic acts that have dominated recent lineups, promoter Smash opted to lead Friday and Saturday nights with hip-hop artists N.E.R.D and Kendrick Lamar. Closing the event Sunday is 77-year-old troubadour Bob Dylan & His Band — a first for a major Japanese rock festival.

The two-pronged strategy targets millennial and boomer demographics, while offering Gen Xers second-tier artists like Jack Johnson and Fishbone. It will be intriguing to see how the audience receives the politically “woke” material of Lamar, who won a Pulitzer Prize for last year’s "DAMN." Pharrell Williams’ N.E.R.D has also just issued a politicized new album in the form of "No One Ever Really Dies," on which Lamar and many other hip-hop luminaries feature heavily.

On the preponderance of hip-hop, Smash’s Johnnie Fingers says the democratization of music production technology and early uptake of electronic music in Japan paved the way. “Hip-hop has taken longer as it’s English language based,” he notes. “But being pervasive on the net it has arrived in Japan and is the backdrop sound of the present generation.”

While these acts top the bills on the largest Green Stage, the lesser stages will offer up a wide number of excellent and intriguing artists, some of them performing in Japan for the first time. Anderson Paak & the Free Nationals smash together hip-hop and alt-R&B willy-nilly to uproarious effect, while David Longstreth’s The Dirty Projectors are this generation’s answer to the stylistic mashups pioneered by Beck.

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10 Comments
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There are way way way too many summer festivals in Japan.

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On the preponderance of hip-hop, Smash’s Johnnie Fingers says the democratization of music production technology and early uptake of electronic music in Japan paved the way.

There's a name I haven't heard in a while. Had no idea Johnnie was in Tokyo!

Hip-hop be going for 40 years. Like rock and roll (taken from the blues) it has been derided and critics wrongly predicted its early demise.

Still going strong!

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While i would love to attend one of these festivals, I would not be able to survive the insane heat. Why don't they hold these festivals in autumn when it's cooled down a bit?

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Hard to believe that it has been 21 years since the first Fuji Rock Festival, which I actually went to!!

But....

I still remember the classic shows...

"Live Under The Sky"

Who else remembers those shows?!

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No music no life.

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Um, if Johnny Fingers thinks hip-hop is English languaged based (ok, never mind all the hip-hop groups/artists all around the world?), then you could say the exact same thing about pop, rock, metal, hard rock, etc - it's all English languaged based in English language countries, and non-English languaged based in the countries where the acts/artsts reside. What is the point Johnny Fingers?

Even Smash Corp have stated there are too many festivals in Japan's summer. It leaves the industry oversaturated.

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There needs to be more Metal Shows. They got Loudpark, but tickets are way overpriced. In the states nobody pays 150-200 bucks for a good Metal festival.

Worse. In Japan, you cannot even tailgate most venues. Or go into the mosh-pit.

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Um, if Johnny Fingers thinks hip-hop is English languaged based (ok, never mind all the hip-hop groups/artists all around the world?), then you could say the exact same thing about pop, rock, metal, hard rock, etc - it's all English languaged based in English language countries, and non-English languaged based in the countries where the acts/artsts reside.

Yeah, I don't entirely agree with his statement. I been listening to MC Solaar, Manau, Caparezza doing their thing for years and language isn't a barrier if the music and passion is there.

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Here's some Japanese hiphop from 1996, 22 years ago. There is earlier stuff if you care to look.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ejqskHE-Y_U

I would wager that Rhymester in 1996 were more mainstream in Japan than any dance-based electronic act. That's before Underworld, Daft Punk, and the Chemical Brothers broke Japan. I would say a main reason Fuji Rock has not had hiphop artists before is that it is modeled after Glastonbury and it took a long long time for Glastonbury to have black artists headlining. Even very popular hiphop acts from the past, Public Enemy, De La Soul, Wu Tang etc. never headlined Glastonbury. John Peel used to play Public Enemy a lot on his show, so there wasn't a lack of awareness among Glastonbury goers.

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There's some other reasons why you don't see an abundance of rap/hip-hop here. One reason is the likelyhood that the entertainment visa will be denied due to past criminal records (drugs, firearms, violence related). Another one is that rap/hip-hop artists are notoriously uncaring about day of show schedules - often not showing up to sound checks (and then later complaining about sound-related issues - go figure), as well as being overly laxed about making their set time. Shows have curfews, even for the headliners, and people on a festival schedule showing up late bump everyone else back.

As for the metal shows, most are being taken on by smaller promoters now. They can't offer the bands the travel money that Creativeman/Smash can. So you'll see more hardcore bands, and less bigger metal bands. WIth the big seat venues, the production costs are very high, and metal bands have to be stacked up to make it pay off in the end. Much safer to deal in the world of rock/pop in Asia due to giant costs of bringing the bands out this way.

Of course nobody pays 150-200USD/EU/etc for concerts/festivals in the US/EU unless it's multi-day pass like the big EDM Fests. But in Asia, it's all due to the vast bodies of water between continents and countries. Putting on major concerts is a big financial undertaking and risk. Even for sold out arena shows, the profit margins are very low, and there is no guarantee of even breaking even.

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