Fuji Rock: Picks and pointers to get the best from the fest

Fuji Rock: Picks and pointers to get the best from the fest

With supergroups, supergroupies, hippies and hedonists, Fuji Rock Festival 2010 is going to be this year's most memorable aural adventure in Japan
Fuji Rock
The show must go on -- come rain or shine

There are just a few days to go until the Fuji Rock Festival 2010, aka the most iconic, loudest, craziest music festival in Japan, opens its gates and we get hit with wave after wave of awesome sounds and funky vibes. Rumors of who'll be playing and what'll be happening have been doing the rounds for months. So if you're new to the Fuji fest or heading back for more aural ecstasy, here's a preview of what to see and what to do to get the most from this musical bonanza.

Tip No. 1: Book your hotel… for next year, ‘cause if you haven’t gotten one yet, you'll be under the stars. Instead, bring a (distinctive looking) tent and prepare for whatever the weather gods will bring. Camping is fine at Fuji because rain or shine everyone is going to be feeling and smelling the same as you anyway by day two of this four-day music festival in the mountains of Naeba -- and after all that’s why you go.

Fuji RockThe big picks

You already know about the headliners -- Muse, Roxy Music and Massive Attack -- so let’s dig a little deeper. The rise of summer festivals has been a boon for super-group aficionados. Last year Street Sweeper Social Club, with politically feisty rapper Boots Riley and Rage Against The Machine's Tom Morello, blew the soggy grass off Fuji Rock’s Green Stage with “Let’s Fight, Let’s Smash, Let’s Win!” This year two more potential firestorms take the big boards: David Grohl of Foo Fighters, Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme and John Paul Jones from the evergreen Led Zepplin have formed Them Crooked Vultures, and the unholy alliance of Radiohead’s Thom Yorke and the irrepressible Flea from Red Hot Chili Peppers front Atoms for Peace, a touring band for Yorke’s solo album “The Eraser” that just kept going.

Tip No. 2: If you have the time, head up to Fuji Rock on Thursday night when it’s free to enter and enjoy a matsuri summer celebration, fireworks show and live sets from four acts that will play later during the weekend. Also free, and open throughout the festival, is the Palace of Wonder, where those still standing -- though not necessarily still coherent -- gather at the end of the night and things get wild in the Crystal Palace tent, home to an eclectic selection of retro-flavored acts.

Going local

Fuji Rock has reserved the far corners of the hippy-dippy Field of Heaven and gravel-strewn Orange Court, for larger Japanese acts headlining this year. But there are great finds sprinkled across the grounds. 

Fuji Rock

Playing the Crystal Palace tent is veteran axeman Makoto Ayukawa of Sheena & The Rokkets, a four-piece that could veer from rough Ramones-esque punk in 1979 to squeaky clean New Wave in 1980. Fronted by the always game Sheena, the band is playing tunes 30 years later that probably make the White Stripes’ Jack White wish he had a bassist  and a mini-skirted female Japanese lead singer. Ayukawa will be on his own on Saturday night for some gut-bucket Delta blues. 

If DJs Daruma and Marr -- aka Dexpistols -- arrive on Friday night, you might catch them checking out Fischerspooner (see below filed under “Art”) before their Saturday performance at the Red Marquee’s Tribal Circus slot. Even though they may be descendants of Fischerspooner’s Electroclash sound, with agro-rapper Zeebra, Dex Pistols are charting grittier territory that will get the outdoor warehouse shaking till late.

Anyango, playing Sunday afternoon at Gypsy Avalon should be a real gem. The 31-year-old Tokyo resident spent several years in Kenya, where she became famous for performing on the Nyatiti, a stringed instrument traditionally handled by men only. Newsweek Japan listed her as one of the “100 Japanese Respected Around the World” which could translate into a big turnout. Prepare for Anyango to chant along to an infectious mix of Afrobeat, funk and ambient music that could get Gypsy Avalon’s resident Forrest Girls and Herbivores to shake an African tale feather.

Lastly, Rookie-A-Go-Go at the Palace of Wonder, where unknown bands work hard for your love, is unpredictable in all the right ways. Check it out. And if you like what you heard on TV, Shiho Ochi of Superfly will be sure to break out their NHK World Cup theme “Tamashii Revolution” on the Green Stage for early risers on Friday.

Tip No. 3: Take care of your feet, they connect you to the ground. The debate rages every year: Rubber boots, flops or shoes. Ditch the shoes, they get soaked in the rain and are steaming in the sun. Boots? Dry but sweaty in any weather. Flops? Cool in the sun, seriously not ready for the mosh pit. Either way, when you feel like you can’t walk anymore, remember to dip your toes in the waters of Naeba; and, if you impetuously bought a pair of bright red Crocs to express that vibrant personality you’ve been hiding on the inside, know that Fuji Rock is the one place besides the beach that you don’t have to be embarrassed to be seen wearing them.

Fuji RockIndie credibility

FR 2010 has front loaded itself with indie cred: Afrobeat newcomers Vampire Weekend, local post-punk favorites Ogre You Asshole, who enjoy Johnny Marr -- currently of The Cribs, also at Fuji Rock -- as a fan, and the list goes on, MGMT, Broken Social Scene, Foals, Straightener, Matt & Kim, etc. Not only will these bands draw a crowd, most will have them dancing away, as will perennial booty shakers !!!, who kick things into gear Friday night on the White Stage; Scissor Sisters, who close up the main stage on Sunday; and the toughest choice for 2010: Hot Chip or LCD Soundsystem, both on Sunday at 18:20, which brings us to point number 4:

Tip No. 4: Don’t try to do it all. Inevitably, at Fuji Rock you have to make tough choices about who to see and where to stay. Make them, don’t worry about them, enjoy what you do catch, and, most importantly, don’t stick to your schedule. There’s lots to see at Fuji, and much of it isn’t from bands you know, or even from the music. Enjoy the scene and get weird.

Crazy sounds, weird dresses

Dirty Projectors are the buzz of the New York art scene -- think of them as the Animal Collective/ MGMT/ Department of Eagles that you don’t know. They craft a shimmering, quirky, vocally complex sound that could be nothing short of amazing Friday at the Orange Court; or grate on you till you contemplate desperately rushing across the festival to catch the last, sad song by The xx at the Red Marque. Don’t do it. It’s very very far for one sad song.

Fuji RockSee those hip kids on the Tokyo subway dressing like it’s the 1980s all over again? You can thank Electroclash pioneers Fischerspooner. Famous more for their excessive cabaret performances at the beginning of the new century -- Fashion! Art! Darling! -- and bankrupting record label Ministry of Sound than for their music, the fun will be in seeing who shows up at the Orange Court and what they’re wearing for the al fresco appearance. If Tokyo’s fashionistas aren’t out in force at All Night Fuji, it will be because they’ve all been locked up in the Trump Room for the weekend.

Tip No. 5: For most festival goers, there is standard uniform of shorts, funky T-shirt, rain jacket, fisherman’s hat, side bag of some sort for gear and a towel. You can go that route. Or you could dress like a complete freak -- put on fairy wings, don a giant rabbit’s head, deck yourself out as the Where’s Waldo guy. I am not sure who has more fun in the end, so dress to impress or dress to stay dry, whatever -- it’s a festival after all, best follow the immortal words of Digital Underground’s Humpty Hump, ”Do what cha like!”

(One last word: Don’t miss Beardyman. You. Will. Regret. It. If. You. Do.)